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‘How cool is that?’: B.C. man remembers 1st snowboard to ever carve Big White

Carving and crashing on Big White in 1980

It’s been 44 years since Jim Howe strapped, what was basically a plank of wood, to his feet and carved a swath through fresh powder at Big White.

It was Jan. 8, 1980, and he had just received a Winterstick snowboard, specially ordered from the U.S.

Howe had been skiing at the resort since 1967-68, and was also an avid surfer, having been to Hawaii and New Zealand.

“One time I picked up this surfing magazine and there was this picture of a fellow on a snowboard and I thought how cool is that?”

He started looking into the sport, found the Winterstick company in Salt Lake City, Utah, and ordered one of their snowboards.

“It was called a Winterstick Swallow Tail,” Howe explained. “It had sort of a “v” at the back of the board. It was about 160 centimetres (five feet) long.”

The Revenue Canada Customs and Excise form for the board totalled US $377.66, including duty and sales tax, which is approximately $1,460 in today’s dollars.

“So I picked it up and ventured up to Big White with it and basically had to sell the board to mountain staff to let them know it was safe to be on the hill. Their biggest fear was if I fell off, which I did quite often, it would be like a toboggan and take off down the hill and hurt somebody.”

Howe trudged through knee-deep snow to find just the right spot to set off down the mountain.

“The board only worked in the powder, it wasn’t designed for hard pack,” he noted.

Not only was it physically challenging to find a spot to ride, but Howe also found himself crashing more than carving during that first day.

“Not enough to make me give up, but I’d be sitting there in the snow beside my board going ‘wow, that was a good one’.”

Sometimes he would get a tow from fellow skiers to get up some speed.

“Once you got into steeper terrain the board worked well,” Howe said.

Howe’s runs, and crashes, down the hill attracted a lot of attention from those riding in the chair lift above him.

“They would point at me and you could hear people banging their poles in excitement.”

There was much interest in the strange device he had strapped himself to.

“Not so much where could I get one, but what is it?”

While snowboarding has grown into the massive success it is today, it’s an experience Howe looks back on with some regret.

Perhaps it was jealousy, or maybe opportunity, but someone stole his Winterstick snowboard during a house party in the summer of 1980.

“So that was the end of it,” Howe sighed. “I didn’t have an extra $400 to buy another board and I couldn’t do what I wanted to do and that was import them.”

He recognized the opportunity snowboarding presented and tried to raise $5,000 from family and friends to obtain the B.C. rights to Winterstick products.

There were no takers.

“My dad said ‘Jim, this is going to pass, it’s not going to go anywhere.’ I remember it like it was yesterday. I was choked I couldn’t do it. I regret that I didn’t pursue it, big time.”

Howe figures the stolen snowboard would be a collector’s item today.

“It would be something that you would be proud to put up in your office,” he laughed.

After his experience in 1980 Howe never did ride a snowboard again, but he did keep skiing.

“I never saw another snowboarder on the hill for the next four years at least,” he said.

Howe, who is involved in the real estate industry, worked for the Schumann family, which owns Big White Ski Resort.

He marketed and sold units in the White Crystal Inn, and was involved in the Coast Hotel and Pine Estates developments on the mountain.

“It’s all good memories and good times. It was the best job in the world. Big White has done an amazing job. I tip my hat to them.”

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Gary Barnes

About the Author: Gary Barnes

Journalist and broadcaster for three decades.
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