In western astrology, there’s this concept called “Saturn return.” The basic idea is that it takes Saturn 29.5 years to orbit the sun. When Saturn aligns to just that same degree as the day you were born, you pass from youth into adulthood. And even if you don’t like to read your Sunday horoscope, this concept of change as you enter your thirties is relevant to us, the snowboarding tribe.
By the time you read this, we’ll be on the cusp of the 30th Mt Baker Legendary Banked Slalom. When the first banked slalom took place back in 1985, snowboarding was in its infancy. Organized competition involved bashing gates on a groomed trail, for the most part. It was one of the first times that natural terrain came into play, and a stepping stone in carving out our own identity on the mountain.
As snowboarding grew through the 90s, it had its rebellious teen years—see the early US Open halfpipe contests and the “Whiskey” videos as Exhibits A and B—then that jock-ish moment with the inclusion of televised events like the Olympics and the X Games, and a simultaneous influx of corporate interests. There was even the resurgence of a slightly more responsible version of organized chaos over the past decade, where we learned to balance an increasing public presence with those formative years of utter bedlam.
In the past few years, there have been some quiet grumblings about where we are going in the future. Whether a bad snow year, a slight drop in participation numbers by America’s youth, or a concurrent leveling of participation numbers relative to skiers, someone inevitably hits the panic button. According to most astrologists (and many psychologists), this is par for the course. Entering one’s thirties often involves a deeper level of self-evaluation.
Yet snowboarding has experienced a different kind of growth that goes beyond macro-level metrics. According to SnowSports Industries America, the gender gap has closed two-fold in our sport over the last 20 years and women now make up a third of the snowboarding population. The median age of snowboarders has grown to 25. Nowhere is this growing diversity more on display than at the Banked Slalom, one of snowboarding’s more inclusive events. Last year, the field of competitors in the 30-39-year-old Master’s category nearly doubled that in the age 20-29 Older Amateur’s field, and there were more ladies charging down that same old ditch than ever before.
Indeed, snowboarding is maturing. It is no longer the solitary venue of younger folks with too much energy to burn. It’s becoming an acceptable adult past-time, albeit one with a lot more creative integrity and room for expression than most. And that’s a good thing for snowboarding’s future—growth and stability can’t only come from the fleeting fashion sense of impressionable youth, and people entering their 30s tend to make long-lasting decisions with an eye to the future.
Or maybe this is just another load of hippie nonsense. If that’s the case, say your prayers.
But I’m going to place my trust in Saturn.