How Snowboarding Works

By: Stephanie Watson

Snowboarding Competitions

Lindsey Jacobellis, Sandra Frei, Olivia Nobs and Tanja Frieden fly through the air in the 2008 FIS World Cup.
Lindsey Jacobellis, Sandra Frei, Olivia Nobs and Tanja Frieden fly through the air in the 2008 FIS World Cup.
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

The very first competitive snowboarding event was a small contest called King of the Mountain, which was held in Leadville, Colo. back in 1981. The next year, the first National Snowboarding Championships were held at Suicide Six near Woodstock, Vt. The event was so small that the organizers had to use an upturned kitchen table as the starting gate. In 1983, snowboarders from around the world converged for the first U.S. Open Snowboarding Championship, founded by Jake Burton Carpenter.

Snowboarding got its own governing organization in 1989, when the International Snowboard Association (ISA) was founded. The ISA changed its name to the International Snowboard Federation (ISF) in 1991, and two years later, the ISF held its first World Championships. In 1994, The Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS) took snowboarding under its wing and started its own World Cup Tour.


Competitive snowboarding involves several different events:

  • Alpine: The snowboarder speeds down a hill while navigating a series of gates. The racer with the fastest time wins.
  • Halfpipe: Snowboarders perform tricks on the halfpipe and are judged based on height, difficulty and other criteria.
  • Giant slalom: Two snowboarders race down a hill while navigating their way through a series of gates.
  • Boardercross: This event combines techniques from snowboarding and motorcross biking. Groups of four to six snowboard through a slalom course with various jumps and turns. The first two or three snowboarders to finish the course move on to the next round until there's one winner.
  • Slopestyle: This event is similar to the halfpipe, with the exception that the stunts are performed on obstacles in the terrain park.

There are also "big-air" competitions like ESPN's X Games and the World Extreme Snowboarding Championships, in which snowboarders perform more extreme stunts.

Next, meet some of the snowboarders who've taken gold at the world's top events.