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Skiers vs. snowboarders

On the slopes these days, most skiers and snowboarders give little thought to what is strapped to whose feet. They go about their similar goals of riding powder, catching air or just reaching the bottom of the slope.

Skiers and snowboarders even ride together as friends. The image of snowboarders as young, rebellious outcasts is long gone.

"The turf war is over," says Bob Matthews, owner of Rogue Ski Shop in Medford.

On a recent clear, cool day at Hoodoo Mountain Resort near Sisters, most skiers and snowboarders stuck to their respective groups, but the occasional skier and boarder would carve the slope together, watching out for those below and respecting other riders. There was a general feeling of respect and acceptance that is, for the most part, the norm at ski resorts today.

But it wasn't always that way.

"Twenty years ago there were major problems with snowboarders," says Hoodoo general manager Matthew McFarland, who both skis and snowboards. "The skier/snowboarder rift was huge. Snowboarders were looked at as the scum of the earth. They were looked at as the thugs ... the young punks doing everything they could to annoy the general population."

The animosity, Matthews says, was simply a reflection of larger societal forces at work.

"There was kind of a youth rebellion all over the place going on at that time," he says, citing the influence of alternative bands like Nirvana and their "grunge" image. "It isn't surprising that it made its way to the ski hill."

And while snowboarders cultivated a culture that welcomed virtually all comers, Matthews says, skiers maintained one of exclusivity. There are still three ski resorts in the country that ban snowboarders: Deer Valley and Alta in Utah and Mad River Glen in Vermont.

"The skiers were probably rudest in the beginning because they didn't let 'em go to the ski areas," Matthews says.

"The skiing people were kind of tech-y," he adds. "In order to fit in, you had to dress right, ski right."

Snowboarding's bad-boy image reached its peak in the 1990s when snowboarding was limited to a younger age group, according to Alex Kaufman, marketing director at Mt. Bachelor ski area. Then about 10 years ago, McFarland says, snowboarding started to become more mainstream as the early snowboard generation aged and began teaching its kids how to ride. These days, snowboarders in their 50s and 60s are a fairly common sight.

"Now it's just another way to get down the mountain," says Kaufman, adding that his 66-year-old father is a snowboarder. "It's a lot less polarized, because a lot of people do both, or a lot of people have friends that do one or the other."

At both Bachelor and Hoodoo, snowboarders constitute about 40 percent of snowriders, according to Kaufman and McFarland. At Mount Ashland, the split is almost 50-50, just slightly favoring skiers, says Rick Saul, the recreation area's marketing director.

Although snowboarding was predicted to dramatically increase lift-ticket sales, the sport has raised nationwide resort attendance just slightly, Saul says. Snowboarding, however, did much to stave off a dip in ticket sales that should have coincided with older skiers abandoning the hill, Saul adds.

Skiing has nevertheless enjoyed a recent resurgence with the advent of newer, better skis, such as twin-tip models, Matthews says. By contrast, sales of snowboarding equipment have fallen by as much as 12 percent each year over the past three years, he says. Snowboarding reached its peak in 2005, he adds, with about 550,000 boards sold nationwide.

Yet snowboarding's influence is evident in the growing freestyle ski movement, Matthews and others say. There still exists a need among skiers and snowboarders to make fun of each other, but it's mostly good-natured.

Despite the present harmony among snowriders, there are still lingering debates about the negative impact of snowboarders. Some like Matthews claim that snowboarders have a "blind spot" while riding down the mountain, which can be a safety concern.

"I wouldn't say that's true," McFarland says. "Skiers have blind spots, too. There's not really more of a blind spot for snowboarders, you've just got to pay attention."

Another claim among some skiers is that snowboarders ruin moguls by sheering them off with their boards and leaving sharp, deep edges on one side.

"But shorter skis carve moguls differently, too," McFarland says.

Snow enthusiasts like McFarland who both ski and snowboard are members of a very small group, Matthews says. But that number could grow.

"A lot of people choose what they're riding based on conditions," McFarland explains. "A snowboard is a lot easier to ride through slop and muck. You've got to have amazing muscle strength and lots of practice, and be willing to exaggerate your movements to ski powder. Whereas on a snowboard, you just lean back and you can skate right through it."

Although they get down the mountain in different ways, skiers and snowboarders have found some common ground that allows them to peacefully coexist on the slopes.

"It's not about what you're wearing on your feet," McFarland says. "It's about the attitude and having fun with your friends."

Mark Morical is an outdoors writer for The (Bend) Bulletin.

Snowboarder Jake Goodson, 37, left, of Portland, rides the deep powder snow with skier Ian Cummings, 25, of Eugene, foreground, and fellow snowboarder Peter Butsch, 36, of Bend, in the trees at Mount Bachelor. - AP Photo / Andy Tullis