Catching the Great White Wave: The Birth of Snowboarding at Grand Targhee – Part 2

The 2018-2019 winter season marks the 30th anniversary of snowboarding at Grand Targhee Resort. To celebrate this milestone we’re hosting a snowboard reunion weekend January 12-13th, 2019. We’ll have a quarter pipe challenge, best method instagram contest, quiver show at Habitat in Driggs and whole lot more.

To capture the spirit of the early Grand Targhee snowboard movement, we turned to the two pioneering snowboarders who brought the sport to our slopes, Mark Austin and Barry Slaughter Olsen, to look back on how it all happened. This is the second guest blog in a four-part series. 


Part ii: Riding with the pros and going legit

By Mark Austin and Barry Slaughter Olsen

As the jet stream continued to dump hundreds of inches of snow from heaven—not from hoses—on the west side of the Tetons during the 1987-88 winter season, snowboards were still verboten on the slopes of Grand Targhee. (Even so, Barry took his first snowboard run on Fred’s Mountain in December 1987, when, after a full day of skiing, he hiked up Fred’s Mountain with a Burton Elite 150 to shred Fred’s after the lifts had closed. It was worth the hike and may have been the first snowboard turns on the mountain.) Snowboarders (aka “knuckle draggers”) were still considered by many resorts across the United States as unruly rebels that caused far more trouble than they could possibly be worth. But figuring there wasn’t much we could do about it and armed with shiny new Sims Switchblades, we continued to hone our craft on just about any incline with snow on it. We were seniors in high school, and life was good. We were enjoying regular visits to the slopes and getting to make turns with some big names in the sport; it was Mark’s entrée into competitive snowboarding; and it was the year we joined an elite group of “certified” snowboard instructors.

It’s hard to believe that, as members of the Bonneville High School Ski Club, $24 would buy us a full-day lift ticket and round-trip bus ride to and from Teton Village! Throughout the year we ran into some of the big names in snowboarding: Tom Burt, Dave Weaver, Dana Nicholson, and others. Back in the 80s, the sport was so new that it wasn’t uncommon to see some of these guys on the hill, and to share a chair and a few runs was something to remember. We’d ride the tram together (after asking them to sign our boards) and then lead them to some of our “secret” powder stashes and big drops, all the while trying to throw some big airs of our own to prove we were worthy company. 

Later that Spring, Mark was also able to take a few runs at Mt. Bachelor with Todd Van Belkum and the legend, Craig Kelly. That was the year Craig was riding the black boards resulting from his contract dispute. The boards were cool, but cooler still was taking a few runs with him and trying to absorb the awesomeness of arguably the most fluid and complete riders of all time (rest in peace, King of Smooth).  During that same trip to Oregon, Mark competed in his first snowboarding event, The Timberline Snowboarding Classic. Unprepared for the event (he had just learned about it three days prior to the race), he jumped into the slalom event with his ‘80s-style powdersuit and an unwaxed and untuned Sims Switchblade and ended up taking 13th out of over 100 racers.  Future World Cup racer Shannon Melhuese took first place while future Olympian bronze medalist, Chris Klug, grabbed third! Those were exciting days riding and racing in the midst of the some of the “founding fathers” of snowboarding

Barry worked at a skate shop in Idaho Falls called Decks-n-Designs. It was there in the spring of 1988 he came across an announcement about the Timberline Snowboard Instructor Clinic. Snowboarding in summer AND getting certified as snowboard instructors…how cool is that?!  We both knew that the Mt. Hood resort was a mecca for summer skiing in the States (the US Ski Team often trained there during summer months and summer snowboarding camps were starting to be held there too) and were more than eager to do whatever it took to participate.  So, as a graduation gift for surviving four years of high school, Mark’s parents gave us the use of a “well-broken-in” Honda Accord hatchback and $100 for gas. That, together with the money we were able to save from our jobs would cover the clinic registration fee, food, and lodging.  Of course, we were young (barely 18 years old) and could live off ramen noodles, Cap’n Crunch, and sleep on cheap beds…so we had enough. 

When the time came, we loaded up the Honda with our boards (snowboards and skateboards) in the back and made the 12-hour drive to Timberline.  A long day and one speeding ticket behind us (Mark was a bit eager to get us there!), we eventually made it to Government Camp, a little bedroom community at the base of Mt. Hood and checked into our dorm-like room ready for 3 days of awesomeness.

The clinic was one of the first of its kind. Marty Wallace, the Snowboarding Staff Supervisor at Timberline, and his team of instructors spent several seasons developing the training methodology and progression used to introduce thousands of new riders to the sport. The clinic had garnered the attention of Burton Snowboards and the North American Snowboarding Association (NASBA), which joined in as the primary sponsors, while the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA, the governing body of alpine sport instruction) came along to observe and provide feedback on the clinics. 

We spent the first hours of the day learning about and teaching the various levels of skills progression and how to demonstrate those techniques to help learners move through the various levels of the learning curve. The last hour or two on the mountain was left for us to play with our fellow “classmates.” At the end of the three days, we successfully completed the clinic, were awarded our certificates, and began the long drive home to Idaho Falls. We were legit now: officially certified snowboard instructors, and we were on a mission! And “The Ghee” was squarely in our sights.

Mark Austin and Barry Slaughter Olsen are known as being two of the Nation’s first certified snowboard instructors. They also established Grand Targhee’s first snowboarding program in 1988.

Both men put their snowboarding careers on hold to pursue degrees at Brigham Young University. These days they are both successful in their professional and personal lives, and are thriving in the work place while enjoying quality time with the families they’ve each created. Their love for snowboarding has not waned, and Mark and Barry are excited to be celebrating 30 years of snowboarding at Grand Targhee.

Learn more about Mark and Barry by reading the story on how their snowboarding careers began.