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What is Snowboard Cross?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated May 23, 2024
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Snowboard cross is the official name for the competitive downhill event more commonly known by snowboarders and extreme sports fans as boardercross. The sport is also known as boarder X, BX or SBX, and it involves a group of snowboarders, usually four, racing simultaneously along a course designed to test the athletes' board control. The winner is the first to cross the finish line, and unlike in most snowboard events, style and technique are not rated. In addition to the sharp turns, moguls, drops, jumps, peaks and flats of the course itself, snowboard cross competitors must also contend with each other, and racers frequently bump as they speed down the narrow course, meaning that they often are fighting both for position and balance. The fast pace, crowd-pleasing jumps and regular wipeouts make snowboard cross a popular spectator sport.

Steven Rechshafner, along with Greg Stump, the man credited with inventing extreme sports, came up with the idea of making a hybrid of snowboarding and motocross, creating an event that tests speed and control as the racers bump and jostle for position. That motocross influence is perhaps most visible in the full-face helmets worn by the racers. Stump’s business manager, John Graham, was responsible for coining and marketing the name boarder cross. In the spring of 1991, Rechshafner and Stump staged the world’s first snowboard cross event at Blackcomb Mountain in British Columbia, Canada, as the final part of a television series that Stump was filming for the Fox Network. Dan Donnelly, a professional snowboarder from Ferndale, Washington, won the competition.

The sport has grown in popularity ever since. In 1997, the X-Games first included snowboard cross, and the event has been featured annually since then. Electronic Arts, along with Rechshafner, created the hugely popular video game series "SSX" (Snowboard Supercross). These video games, first marketed in 2000, introduced a new mainstream audience to snowboard cross, although they featured over-the-top, arcade-style action with impossible trick jumps and made no attempt to simulate the sport.

Only 15 years after the sport’s birth, 2006 saw the event’s inclusion in the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Seth Wescott of the United States and Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden won the first men’s and women’s gold medals, respectively. Rules were reinterpreted by the International Ski Federation (FIS), who oversees the Olympic event, to accent skill and finesse, notably limiting the jostling between racers to casual contact. Although most snowboarders still use the name boardercross to refer to this sport, the FIS has given it the official name of snowboard cross.

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Discussion Comments
By pollick — On Feb 17, 2014

That's just the nature of snowboarding, Ruggercat68. The competitors know they have to keep up their speed from the start, and they can also generate a little more speed when they bank the curves and land the jumps. Getting bumped out of the competition is just part of the game for them. I saw one of the female favorites lose it in a curve during a semi-final run, and she took out another competitor during her fall. Neither one of them challenged the results or cried "foul". It was just something that other racers have to anticipate.

By Ruggercat68 — On Feb 17, 2014

After watching some of the snowboard cross races in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, I'd have to say it was an interesting diversion from all those other "competitor versus timer" events. The better racers seemed to have real strategies in mind, like getting out ahead of the pack early or drafting behind another racer until they reach a big curve.

One thing I didn't enjoy about the snowboarder cross event is that whenever a competitor gets knocked out or falls out, there's no good way for him or her to get back in the race. What starts out as five racers could end up being one racer or no racers at all at the finish line. It seems like once forward momentum is lost, the race is over. That's not something I'm used to seeing in other competitive sports.

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