Pro snowboarder Tina Basich laughs when she recalls duct-taping her boots to her board and padding herself with pizza boxes for competition.
She was one of only four girls to show up for her first contest back in 1986. At some competitions, they weren’t even allowed on the jumps -- not that they heeded that rule.
Seventeen years later, the season is winding down with the best field of women snowboarders ever, from Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter in the halfpipe to Lindsey Jacobellis in boardercross and Janna Meyen in slopestyle.
Girls like Basich and Clark and Teter are barreling through the backcountry and devastating the halfpipe. They’re designing their own gear, hosting their own snowboard camps and setting their own style.
In a sport once identified with boys in baggy pants, women now make up more than 30 percent of snowboarders. In 1990, fewer than 500,000 American women went snowboarding. In 2002, more than 2.3 million of the estimated 7.7 million snowboarders were women, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.
Snowboard and ski manufacturers are scrambling to keep up. Even ski companies such as Rossignol to K2 are coming up with snowboards for women -- and not just pretty boards adorned with flowers. One of the most technical unisex boards that Burton Snowboards will unveil later this year is one Clark helped design.
And come summer, while the rest of the country has packed away their gear, Clark and Teter will be riding pipes in California and Chile, tweaking their arsenal of tricks in order to stay competitive for next season.
It’s not enough anymore, Clark says, to land a 720-degree spin, a trick that requires two tight rotations in air. These days, girls are riding aggressively, soaring above the lip of the pipe and linking their tricks one after another.
"One of the biggest things that’s changed is the technicality of all the tricks and the level they’re being done," she says. "You need style and amplitude."
It’s a far cry from the days when Basich, a self-described skater chick from Sacramento, Calif., took up a newfangled sport called snowboarding in the mid-1980s. There was no girls’ gear back then, so she wore moon boots and cavernous thrift-store sweaters.
She was one of only two girls in her high school snowboarding at the time, and often the only girl on the mountain.
"Snowboarding happened at just the perfect time (for me) because it wasn’t established yet, which meant for me, the pressure wasn’t there yet -- it was just wide open," says Basich, now 34. "We made a place for women in snowboarding from the very beginning."
And after winning a slew of competitions, Kemper Snowboards invited her to join its pro team -- as their only female rider. "It always made me want to ride harder because I wanted to keep up with the guys," she said.
In 1994, Basich and her best friend, fellow snowboarder Shannon Dunn, became the first women with pro models -- Basich with Kemper and Dunn with Sims. Their boards were narrower, shorter and softer than the men’s boards.
Along with the first women’s boards came women’s gear. A company called Prom came to them and asked what they wanted: "We want it pink, we want butterfly logos, and we want a slimmer cut."
"We definitely rocked our ponytails so people would know we’re girls -- you just wanted to make your mark: I’m a girl and I’m out there doing this," says Basich, who recounts her early years in her 2003 autobiography, "Pretty Good for a Girl."
But the chauvinism was still there. At a big air invitational in Austria in 1994, she and Dunn were turned away from the jump with a 60-foot gap set up for men-only competition.
After nervously scoping out the jump and crashing on their first runs, they landed their tricks -- with the announcer yelling "those crazy American girls" over the loudspeaker.
"We proved ourselves -- that we were safe and talented enough to take the jump," Basich says.
As the sport grew and won mainstream exposure, the women progressed from the 180-degree flips of their early years.
In 1998, Basich landed a milestone backside 720 at the X Games, winning gold in the Big Air contest. That same year, Dunn won the halfpipe bronze in Nagano, Japan, in snowboarding’s Olympic debut.
"What amazes me most is that here comes this hobby, this crossover from skateboarding and surfing, and just to watch it become an Olympic sport," says Basich, who now rides for Sims, while Dunn is on the Burton team.
And they’ve put their stamp on the sport in other ways. When a friend died at age 29 of breast cancer, they helped create Boarding for Breast Cancer, raising $50,000 at their first fund-raiser in 1996. Two years ago, they took the event to Japan.
"It’s the thing I’m most proud of," Basich says.
Clark, who grew up in West Dover, Vt., says she used to wait for those March days when pros like Basich, Dunn and Christy Barrett traveled to Vermont for the fabled U.S. Open.
"I’d go to be inspired," she says.
By age 15, Clark was on the U.S. snowboarding team. She made it onto the U.S. Olympic team two years later and then won the halfpipe at Salt Lake City -- the first gold of the games, and just one of the seven major titles she racked up that season.
If she wants to hold onto her Olympic title in 2006, she’ll have to fend off a crew of fearsome teens, including Teter, 17, who has fought with Clark all season for the title of halfpipe queen, and Jacobellis, 18.
Bring it on, Clark says.
"When I go to a contest and I see my friends riding so well and doing new tricks, it just inspires me to be a better snowboarder. I think that’s why I love snowboarding so much."
By Jean H. Lee / Associated Press