US Snowboard: The Organization for Snowboarding’s Future?

The worries of top US snowboarders hoping to get into the 1998 Olympics appear to be over thanks to an agreement struck between the Ski Industries of America and US Skiing on March 25, 1996.

In the agreement, sent to David Ingemie, president of the SIA by US Skiing President Tim Leiweke, US Skiing agreed to hold three open events each year where athletes from any organization could compete. During Olympic years these contests would act as trials for the Olympic Team. Not only that, but snowboarders would only have to be part of the US Snowboard Team during the Olympic games. The rest of the time they could choose own coaches, wear what ever they want, and ride the equipment of their choice.

“These are pretty amazing changes when you really look at it,” said Brad Steward, president of Bonfire Snowboarding. “This could be very good for snowboard competition as well as the industry.”

It was only four months ago during a organized competition roundtable discussion at the TransWorld Industry Conference in Banff, Alberta, that Sharon Harned, US Skiing’s snowboard director basically told the industry that US Skiing was taking snowboarding to the Olympics so the industry would have to get used to it.

The turn around apparently has something to do with Ingemie encouraging US Skiing to take a more serious look at snowboarding and the snowboard industry. This encouragement culminated in the meeting held in Chicago on March 25, 1996. Included in the meeting were members of the SIA snowboard committee, as well as representatives from the Professional Snowboarders Association North America, the United States Amateur Snowboard Association, the ISF, and US Skiing. The groups got together to hammer out the details. “Basically we all sat down and went down the list line by line and discussed them until we could agree,” Steward said.

Leiweke’s seeming eagerness to not only listen to the concerns of the snowboard industry, but to take action was a pleasant surprise, according to Steward.

Burton’s Vice President of Marketing, Dennis Jenson was also pleased. “What we presented was more like demands,” he said. “And US Skiing is doing the right thing.”

The right thing according to Jenson is getting the nation’s best athletes to the Olympics, and up till now it appeared that US Skiing didn’t really care. “Leiweke knows what his job is,” Jenson said. “That’s to bring home some medals. He’s like a general manager who knows he’s got a shitty team and he wants to change that.”

The big question is what does this mean to the rest of the competitive snowboard world? “It could be a great thing and it could be a bad thing,” said Shirley Hills, president of the International Snowboard Federation. “It all depends on who they have in charge. But I’m feeling really optimistic about the way things could shape up in North America. People are beginning to realize that the way you get things working is by sharing information and helping to educate people.”

Tom Cozens, the United States Amateur Snowboard Association’s liaison to the SIA believes what’s happening is good, while at the same time admitting his dislike for the situation in general. “It always pisses me off that a ski association gets snowboarding,” he said. “But I’m impressed with Leiweke. He’s been extremely responsive to the industry and has been willing to take a completely new look at the whole thing.

“As long as US Snowboard will let the snowboarders decide the direction of the sport this could work out very well,” Cozens concluded. The ISF is still actively pursuing becoming recognized by the IOC as the International Federation for Snowboarding. The issue is currently being pursued in court, but few people believe the ISF will win out any time soon, especially since the FIS has a rather vested interest in the IOC board of directors.

As usual, snowboarders of the world will have to take one day at a time while the politicians do their back room duties. Then one day we’ll see what they all decided for us. Funny how that works.