Snowboarding's Beginnings and the Men Who Started It All
Created in partnership with Alf Engen Ski Museum at Utah Olympic Park, Park City, Utah
On display 10/2015 - 5/2016
Combine the words snow and surfing and you get “Snurfing.” This is exactly what Nancy Poppen did in 1965 when her husband, Sherman Poppen presented a handmade Christmas gift of two skis fixed together to his ten-year-old daughter.
The stand-on-top-double ski was an instant hit among Poppen’s family and friends. Poppen recalled in a 2009 Steamboat Pilot & Today interview, “They just had so much fun. It’s a good thing it kept snowing that winter.”
As the snowy Michigan winter of 1966 progressed, so did Poppen’s invention. Poppen built a wide wooden board with an upward sloping nose and later added a rope to the nose. By March of 1966, Sherman Poppen had acquired a patent on the design as well as a trademark and copyright on the word Snurfer. He then licensed his invention to the Michigan toy company, Brunswick. The Snurfer was in production for 15 years and about 900,000 boards were sold, making it one of the most popular toys of the 1960s. Poppen eventually moved to Steamboat Springs and took up snowboarding at age 65.
In the late 1960s, two Utah boys caught the Snurfer fever. Howard Sorensen and Robert Patterson used their Snurfers on the steep, powdery mountains of Utah. Sorensen recalled, “The Snurfer was not meant for icy conditions, as it had no edges. It worked best in powder, which is exactly what we had.” The two riders took their boards all over the Intermountain West. Grand Targhee was the only resort that allowed Sorensen and Patterson to ride the lift; everywhere else they hiked up and Snurfed down. “As we began to jump with the boards they would simply fall away, so we added our own leather straps, usually out of our own elk hide since it was plentiful to us,” Sorensen said.
Sorensen and Patterson captured their Snurfer riding on film. After seeing the footage, Poppen said the riding was remarkable and was the earliest known powder-riding that he had ever seen. (Check out the video on Museum’s website: www.treadofpioneers.org)
In the late 1970s, using Poppen’s design, snowboard innovators like Jake Burton, Tom Sims, Chris Sanders, Dimitrije Milovich, and Jeff Grell began developing the snowboard, bindings, and boots as we know them today.
The Snurfer: Snowboard’s Predecessor Now on Display
Tales from the Tread by Katie Adams, Curator at Tread of Pioneers Museum
Article run date: Nov. 4, 2015