Long before the term “snowboarding” existed—and at least 80 years before it was an Olympic phenomenon—people were zipping like surfers down snow-covered hills. The first known instance came in 1917, when 13-year-old Vern Wicklund stood on a modified sled that he rode down his parents’ backyard in Cloquet, Minnesota. Wicklund patented the idea nearly two decades later but produced only a handful of models. The sport picked up speed in 1965 when Michigan’s Sherman Poppen created the Snurfer by cross-bracing two skis and adding a string at the front for steering. Poppen sold close to one million units by 1970.
But the real breakthrough happened when Dimitrije Milovich, a Cornell University dropout, founded Winterstick, the first modern snowboard company, in 1972. With steel edges, laminated fiberglass and, most crucially, nylon straps for one’s feet, Winterstick’s boards allowed riders to fly through more treacherous topography than its predecessors had.
Snowboarding went mainstream soon thereafter amid a fierce rivalry between Jake Burton Carpenter and Tom Sims. Sims, a New Jersey-raised professional skateboarder more interested in aerial stunts than in speed, founded SIMS Snowboarding in 1976. Carpenter, a racing enthusiast from Long Island credited with coining “snowboarding,” created Burton Boards one year later.