Today, snowboarders are such a ubiquitous sight on the slopes, it's hard to imagine there was ever a time when they were universally banned, not to mention ridiculed as renegade punks who wore too much fluoro.
Those of us who get our kicks from riding sideways through the snow have a lot to thank Stratton Mountain for. In 1983 the Vermont resort became the first to allow snowboarders on its slopes, and in doing so catapulted the sport towards its modern-day incarnation. Skiers have Wengen, surfers have Santa Cruz, and we have Stratton.
Having snowboarded for many years, I decided to make a pilgrimage to the place where it all began.
First off I gave Jake Burton, founder and chairman of Burton snowboards, a call to get the historical lowdown. He started his company – now the most iconic brand in the industry – in Stratton in 1977, building prototypes in his garage and hiking the snow to test them until the mountain manager at the time, Paul Johnston, let him and his crew ride the slopes. "Stratton has probably done more for snowboarding in a historical sense than any other mountain on the planet," said Burton.
I asked him how the local skiers reacted to sharing the mountain: "They were pretty cool, but we didn't get much respect. There weren't people that had been snowboarding for very long at that point."
But things changed from 1985 when they started holding the US Open Snowboarding Championships at Stratton, now one of the biggest events in the snowboarding calendar.
Burton developed the sport while working as a barman at the Birkenhaus hotel. It has since been demolished and replaced by the all-mod-con Founders Lodge where we stayed. There was no blue plaque, of course, but there is a wall of memorabilia, including a Burton Performer board circa 1982 and some amusing photographs from back in the day.
After taking the shuttle bus from New York City (weekend departures from Union Square – see nycski.com) and travelling for four hours on empty roads, we arrived at sunset. Stratton Mountain was obligingly wearing a crimson cloud halo. What it lacked in dramatic jagged peaks, it made up for with bright white ski runs latticed against a dark green tree backdrop.
The next day brought clear blue skies and fun spring slush. We enjoyed some good black diamond trails, such as the narrow Test Pilot and the steep Moon Dance, through the glades, and Shredwood Forest, which had great stashes of wind-blown snow. We could have happily ridden tree runs all day but Stratton is famed for its freestyle. It had the first half-pipe on the east coast and introduced park features, such as table-top jumps and rails, in 1992. There are now five terrain parks of varying difficulty.
We resisted the urge to head straight for the Kids Parkway, and went for the next park up the size and ability scale, the Tyrolienne. The boxes, jumps and rails weren't too intimidating, and the run-ups and landings were well looked after, so even though we might not have looked that pretty, we had a good time there. Buoyed by this, we headed for Smoothie, the medium park, where we made slight fools of ourselves. At Byrneside, the largest park, we just watched. Stratton was the site of the world's first snowboard school, so anyone looking to improve should take advantage of their expertise and book some proper freestyle lessons. There are also plenty of laid-back greens and blues – including the Meadows, which is lush at sunset, and Suntanner, where Burton used to test boards.
Our dance to the snow gods must have gotten lost in translation as wWe awoke the next day to an angry sky, strong winds and horizontal rain, but out of curiosity we decided to head up the mountain. At the top of the Amex chairlift the weather could only be described as abominable. The rain, in icicle form, was attacking any flesh we were foolish enough to have left uncovered, and it was the powerful wind, rather than us, that decided which runs we took.
Yet there were loads of people on the slopes, including some fairly wet and miserable kids, and the snow was surprisingly intact. The experience was as bizarre as it was exhilarating. When the thunder arrived at lunchtime and the lifts closed, we consoled ourselves with a pizza the size of the moon at Grizzly's bar and restaurant in Stratton Base Lodge, a game of tennis and a swim at the indoor Sports Center.
During our stay the weather got kinder then meaner, then kinder again but it's the unpredictability of this snowboard mecca that made the sport what it is today. Burton said: "Stratton was a great spot to develop snowboarding equipment because the conditions were so variable. One day it would be raining, warm and slushy, then the next it would freeze up and be solid ice. We were forced to develop products that would work in a variety of conditions."
Stratton's proximity to New York City is great for those wanting to combine a city break with a snow holiday. There was an aura of New York hipster to the place, with kids shopping at the Burton store for limited edition kit, and their fast-talking parents shopping at Stratton Mountain Provisions for organic cold meats and pre-prepared gourmet suppers. "You can feel that the city is right down the road," said Burton. "It's all New York newspapers and New York accents. The place is just an extension of New York. I say that in a positive way."
It also means there are decent places to eat, and we found good locally sourced Italian at Verdé (verderestaurant.info), the swankiest restaurant in town. Other nights we ate at the Irish-themed Red Fox Inn (redfoxinn.com), a short drive from Stratton, or carb-loaded at Mulligan's, which does solid burger and fries, chicken wings and fajita-type fare and then hit a renowned snowboarder haunt, the Green Door pub (greendoorpub.com). It had it all: leopardskin carpet, slight beer pong, early Burton boards on the walls, old US open posters signed by sponsored riders, a pool table, table football, arcade games, Jägermeister on tap and, best of all, locals with good stories of snowboarding's roots.
• The Founders Lodge, Stratton Village Commons (stratton.com), offers one-bedroom apartments from $180 per night and two-bedroom from $219, in season. For further information visit stratton.com. Flights to New York with Netflights (netflights.com) from £266 rtn
Sam Haddad is the editor of Cooler (coolermag.com), a snow and style magazine for young women
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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