This is part of a series of stories celebrating the 60th anniversary of Big White Ski Resort
It is perhaps serendipitous that Big White and snowboarding both had their humble beginnings 60 years ago.
The resort opened in December 1963, the same year Tom Sims, who along with Jake Burton Carpenter is credited with inventing modern snowboarding, fashioned a ‘ski board’ from a plank of wood and used his skateboarding skills to ride snow-covered hills in the New Jersey winter.
Two seasons later Sherman Poppen of Michigan created what is considered to be the first snowboard, the Snurfer, for his two daughters on Christmas Day 1965.
When it comes to the history of snowboarding at Big White, it cannot be told without Flynn Sneddon.
Another 20 years after Poppen’s contribution to the sport, Sneddon, his friend Doug Lundgren, and others began carving the legacy of snowboarding into the terrain of Big White.
They were avid skateboarders in the late 70s when they became aware of a new and exciting sport.
“The early snowboarders Tom Sims and Jake Burton were getting coverage in the skateboard magazines, that kind of sparked our interest,” said Sneddon, who has been director of terrain parks and outdoor events at Big White since 1996.
Lundgren is the resort’s avalanche control officer.
Sneddon and Lundgren started hiking and boarding the mountain in the winter of 1984/85.
The problem was that much like most ski resorts in North America at the time, snowboarders were not allowed on the hills.
But Big White gave the two friends a pass, as long as they behaved themselves.
“The mountain had kind of implied to us that if there were any problems our privileges would be taken away,” Sneddon said.
Also in 1984, Sneddon and Lundgren met Lester Quitzau, a Canadian roots music artist and snowboarding pioneer.
Sneddon explained that Quitzau had a small corner in a Skateboard-BMX store on Pandosy Street selling snowboards, made by another pioneer of the sport, Chuck Barfoot.
“He had access to these boards in the early 80s and we ended up getting a couple of these, we called them blanks at the time, they were rough-pressed boards. We would take these blanks and cut our own shapes in Doug’s garage and make the bindings.”
That’s what they would use to ride at Big White for the first time.
“Retrospectively, it’s so neat to go back and be part of something that was in its infancy,” Sneddon said.
Following three years of probation, snowboarders were officially allowed on the slopes at Big White in 1987.
Sneddon and Lundgren quickly took advantage by holding snowboarding demos at the resort.
“With another long-time guy, Jim Loyd,” Sneddon said. “He had been around Big White forever, he’s now retired. We decided that I would be the guy that would manage the new snowboarders coming onto the hill at that time.”
Sneddon was also installed as Big White’s first snowboard instructor.
The buzz around snowboarding continued to grow in 1987 as Sneddon and friends were being noticed on the mountain.
“The kids were getting into it once there was access to be able to purchase a snowboard,” he said. “They weren’t that readily available in the early days.”
As the sport took off, however, more and more snowboard-focused stores began popping up.
The first major event hosted at the mountain was the Inland Bank Slalom, in 1987.
“It was an idea that came from Doug that we took from the Legendary Banked Slalom at Mt. Baker in Washington,” Sneddon recalled.
Ten years later the event would be resurrected as the Neil Edgeworth Memorial.
He was a Big White local and pro rider who was killed in an avalanche in France in 1997.
The Neil Edgeworth Memorial is the second oldest banked slalom after the Mt. Baker event.
It was 1988 when the allure of another famous B.C. mountain would lift Sneddon, Lundgren, and Canadian snowboarding pioneer, Ken Achenbach, to new heights.
That’s when Whistler opened its runs to snowboarders.
“We opened the first snowboard shop in Whistler which was Ken’s second store,” Sneddon said.
Achenbauch had opened his first store, the Snowboard Shop, in Calgary at the age of 15.
Sneddon and others would spend the next seven years helping to build sport at Whistler.
“Then I came back from doing World Cup and competing in snowboarding from basically 88’ and I came back to Big White in 1995 and I’ve been there ever since.”
During that time his father had died, his mother was living on her own and Sneddon had also created an opportunity for himself in Japan where he was doing a lot of work in the snowboarding world.
“I just really felt drawn to be back in Kelowna, back at home with my mom, and to follow up everything I had learned and developed in my years away from Big White and bring it all back to the home resort where we had pioneered snowboarding to create something.”
The sport had grown significantly at the mountain during the years Sneddon was away.
“Big White, in the Interior, was the fastest-growing snowboard resort,” he said.
Sneddon was hired by the Schumann family, who bought the resort in 1985, and they enthusiastically supported snowboarding.
“They set me free to basically bring my vision. I had a great relationship with Big White from 1984 and I had ten years of experience and I was very keen to start a snowboarding program.”
One of the first things he did was to photocopy a map of the resort and colour in all the areas that he and other riders wanted to turn into snowboard terrain.
Sneddon added the mountain was open to giving up space on the hill to develop the early terrain parks, something he helped develop at Whistler.
“Whistler was the early Mecca for snowboarding in North America and globally from 1989. We were at the front of that movement when we were there.”
Within a month of returning to Big White for the 1995/96 season, Sneddon was tasked with staging the BC Amateur Snowboarding Association (BCASA) Provincial Championships.
“I had been a competitor pretty much from 1987 so I had a lot of event and competition experience globally,” he said. “Being part of the BCASA gave me the drive to develop snowboarding and competition at Big White.”
After creating terrain features and a small pipe on the mountain years earlier, Sneddon and other snowboard enthusiasts were then given the Easy Street Ski Race lanes in 1996/97 to build what is now known as the Snowcross.
It was a milestone in terrain park evolution at the resort.
“Terrain parks developed from skateboard parks and the theory of having skateboard style features that we used in the 70s and 80s,” Sneddon added.
Snowboarding continued to grow worldwide in the 1990s and Sneddon said it had a definite effect on skiing which he said saw a dip in popularity.
“Snowboarding came along and brought a real flair to how the resorts were being ridden. The ski industry took note and it started to open some minds.”
Sneddon added there have been dozens of highlights in the growth of snowboarding at Big White over the decades.
They include resort management allowing a superpipe to be built on the Speculation run, the addition of snow-making and a 13-foot half-pipe machine, the installation of an 1800-foot-long double chair over the Woodpecker and Easy Street runs, the installation of an Olympic-sized pipe and new terrain park in 2002, and the opening of Telus Park in 2004/05.
Since snowboarding came to the mountain, officially in 1987, Big White has hosted provincial, national, and world events and championships.
They include the World Para Snowboard World Cup, the SBX World Cup, the Monster Energy Boarderstyle event, and International Ski and Snowboard (FIS) competitions.
Looking to the future of the sport at Big White, Sneddon said it’s full steam ahead.