Decades of Style on the Slopes


By Albert Mitchell

Three decades ago, all you could find careening down the slopes in Utah were sleds and skis. In the Eighties, the great battle between Burton and Sims snowboards began heating up, but the masses were oblivious to the snowboarding movement.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, the number of resorts that allowed snowboarding increased from 40 to 476 from 1984 to 1990. Now, when you visit your local ski resort you often see just as many snowboards as skis. And, if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of snowblades, snow-cycles or an adaptive mono-ski.

The proliferation of snowboards on the hill is just one example of the many changes to the ever-evolving style on the slopes.

From Pom Pom Beanies to Helmets

Sleek plastic helmets have replaced the traditional beanies and their accompanying pom pom and classic neon headbands have been replaced by safety gear. Though helmets lack some of the style of their predecessors, they add a measure of safety for park players and tree jibbers while they weave through trees with low-hanging branches.

In the early ’90s, spotting a helmet on the slopes was extremely rare. Then on New Years Eve of 1997, Michael Kennedy died in a skiing accident when he ran into a tree. A week later, Sonny Bono shared his fate. According to the National Ski Patrol, in the 2010/2011 ski season 61% of skiers and snowboarders wore helmets, an increase of 57% from the previous year. Helmets have become a slope staple, but if you miss your pom pom beanie, you can still rock it après ski on the tram deck.

From The Walkman to The Shuffle

The advent of the walkman in the Eighties meant people could finally take their music with them anywhere they went. With a few extra batteries, and a mixed tape blasting Eye of The Tiger, you had all the music you needed for a day on the slopes. A tape in was no longer than forty-five minutes each side, and if one tape wasn’t enough you could always stuff an extra in your pockets.

Creating smaller devices that hold more songs has been the goal of music hardware developers since Edison invented his first phonograph in 1877. According to Apple, a 1GB iPod Shuffle can hold 240 songs. So listeners no longer have to choose between eighties rock and the R&B music of today. They can have both.

From Time Piece to GPS

The high-tech Casio calculator watch of the ’80s was kind of a big deal. The concept of having a watch that could tell you your exact longitudinal and latitudinal location on earth, your rate of travel, elevation change, and heart rate was something that only existed on The Jetsons. GPS watches like those from Garmin did not gain real traction until the early 2000s.

Now GPS units and watches with special capabilities are nearly as commonplace in the resorts as they are in the backcountry. Skiers and snowboarders can also use smartphone apps, like Ski Tracks, to measure everything including total distance traveled, vertical feet, number of runs, duration, altitude, and slope angle.

From Wool Sweaters to Fleece to Wool Sweaters

There are a few pieces of ski apparel that are always in style. Ski sweater styles haven’t changed much over the past 30 years. The cable-knit from the 60s is thriving just as much as the bold snowflake style a la 1984. These wool standbys can still be spotted on a spring day in lodges as people peel off layers. Even though wool is still very common, other materials like fleece are widely used for base or mid-layers. By the mid ’80s, most companies were primarily selling synthetic fabrics. In 1985, Patagonia made the switch from polypropylene to their proprietary Capilene Polyester and introduced Synchilla Fleece. These synthetic products made up 70% of their overall sales that year. Although these synthetic mid-layers are here to stay, they certainly have not replaced natural fibers, which have made a substantial comeback during the past few years.

As we move into the future of style on the slopes, new products and technologies will continue to flood the market and in another 30 years, as Outdoor Sports Guide reaches its 60th year, it will be fun to reflect about the innovations and progress we’ve made since then.

Albert G Mitchell You can find Albert Mitchell biking the trails, rowing the streams, or sliding down the slopes around Salt Lake City. He loves all things outdoors and fitness related. In his spare time he is an online marketing expert. Connect with on Google +.


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The mission of Outdoor Sports Guide Magazine is to inspire and educate endurance athletes and outdoor enthusiasts in the Mountain West through well-written content on adventure, travel, gear, health, fitness, nutrition, industry news, profiles, and ski resort information.

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