John F. Russell: Collecting sports history 1 board at a time

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John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by John here.

— He may not look like a historian, but when it comes to putting a collection together, Powder Pursuits owner Chris Smith has set a standard that should be the envy of any museum curator.

Well, maybe those who specialize in winter sports.

He collects snowboards like the rest of us used to collect baseball cards as children. He has all of the biggest names in the sport, but these items are not going to fit into a shoe box. Names like Poppens, Burton and Sims are represented in this one-of-a-kind collection. It's a collection that leaves most snowboard enthusiasts drooling.

His collection stretches across the history of the sport from the first toy-like board created by Sherman Poppens in the 1960s to today's cutting-edge boards. These are the boards that helped the sport carve its place on the mountain.

For those who love to surf the mountains of Colorado, checking out Smith’s collection would be like inviting a high school history teacher to check out artifacts from the Smithsonian Institution.

“There is a lot of history in my store,” Smith said by phone while riding up the gondola for a few runs Thursday afternoon. “I like the all wood boards — the ones before they started adding metal edges — there is something pretty special about those,” Smith said. “I have a board signed by Jake Burton. The name has faded since he gave me the board, but it’s still pretty special to me.”

For Smith, the boards represent the history and the journey the sport of snowboarding has made from its radical roots to its current level of acceptance. He is proud to say that he was one of our state’s first snowboarders and one of the sport's biggest supporters.

But the boards also are admired by the new generation of boarders — the ones who rip down the mountain these days because of the people who pioneered the sport in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

“They caught my attention right away,” said Andrew Burns, a 22-year-old employee of Powder Pursuits. “They don’t make boards like this anymore.”

Smith has been involved with the sport since the early 1980s when he began renting snowboards to his buddies out of his on-campus apartment at Fort Lewis College near Durango. Back then, nobody was snowboarding, and just getting a board on many of the mountains in Colorado was a challenge.

But the times have changed, and today, snowboards are as much of the mountain scene as their two-legged predecessors.

It wasn't that way when Smith moved to Steamboat Springs 26 years ago and began guiding backcountry tours, renting and selling equipment. He still remembers working to convince resort owners in Colorado that the sport represented the future of snow sports and that it wasn’t anymore dangerous than skiing.

Smith admits that he ran into some resistance but is proud to say he never thought about ditching the wave that carried the sport of snowboarding into the mainstream. His support for the sport never wavered, and throughout the years, he has kept a few tokens to reminds him just how far the sport has come.

Those tokens include the Burton Woody 145 and the Burton Backhill, which anchor his collection of more than 40 boards. There also are boards from Nitro and Gnu.

Back then, the boards looked more like something you might see on the street with wheels. But for those who truly love the sport, Smith’s collection reminds us all that we should take the time to look back.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com

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