Canada helped put snowboarding on the map when Ross Rebagliati won gold in the sport at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. It was the first Olympic medal awarded in snowboarding, and Rebagliati quickly became an international star.


Ross Rebagliati of Canada skis to victory in the first Men's Giant Slalom snowboarding competition on Feb. 8, 1998 in Yamanouchi, Japan. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

His medal would later be put in limbo after he tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Of course, that only added to his image as a cool, laid-back snowboarder.

In the end he kept the medal because marijuana wasn’t a banned substance at the time. And Rebagliati was instantly the face of snowboarding in Canada.

The sport grew quickly as ski hills across the country were loaded with snowboards. It peaked around 2005 with close to 30 per cent of people on the hills using snowboards.

But now interest in the sport is declining, said Patrick Arkeveld, president of the Canadian Ski Council, the umbrella organization that represents skiing and snowboarding. The percentage of snowboarders on the hills is closer to 25 per cent.

"Snowboarders have grown up," he explained. "The average age of snowboarders has increased over the last 20 years... I mean if you were to go to a park at a resort 10 years ago they'd be dominated by snowboarding. Now you see the fre e ski component at those parks... and so a lot of those traditional snowboarders or youth coming into the sport have gone to the park side."

OLY Medal Snowboarding 20140208

Mark McMorris won the bronze medal for snowboard slopestyle at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Arkeveld said skis are now much smaller and easier to do tricks on. "People are now doing a lot of these tricks you see in parks and freestyle we saw premiere in slopestyle at the Olympics last year in Sochi. T hat free skiing evolution has really bought into that same concept as snowboarding where you have the parks that are catering towards that demographic."

Arkeveld said  it stands to reason that if skiing is offering similar opportunities to perform tricks, snowboarding will take a hit.  However, snowboarding isn't dead.

"Despite the fact that a lot of snowboarders... that have now grown up and have kids of their own, it still has that outside of the mainstream appeal to it and that culture and lifestyle that comes along with snowboarding I believe is still healthy and very strong." 

Arkeveld said snowboarding courses are offered across Canada for children as young as two. That's significant because people used to think kids had to learn to ski before hopping on a snowboard.

He said getting kids on boards early will help the Canadian ski and snowboarding industry as a whole to thrive.

"I think snowboarding is incredibly important to the long-term health of the industry because it draws in that younger group that stays with it through the course of time. I think the snowboarding community has done a great job of trying to ensure they can continue to fight for their place and don't allow that decline to continue."

That decline hasn't seemed to hurt the overall skiing industry. According to the most recent Statistics Canada figures, revenues for the industry were close to $1 billion in 2012, up slightly from the previous year.