Snowboarders have long been known for flying down snow-covered hills wearing bulky, oversized jackets and pants that made most of them, male or female, look like so many Michelin tire men.
"They looked like they were wearing clown suits. It was a joke. They laughed at us," says Mike Snyder, designer-founder of Burning Snow, a Newport Beach-based snowboard apparel company. Snyder began snowboarding 10 years ago, when snowboarders often weren't allowed on the hills because they'd dangerously cross paths with skiers. Now there are separate slopes dedicated to both sports.
Snowboarding apparel and equipment sales now amount to $600 million a year, and industry insiders believe snowboarding will outrun skiing in popularity in 10 to 15 years.
As the sport has grown in popularity, snowboarding apparel has matured.
Snowboarders first embraced grunge because they needed room to move and because they didn't want to look like skiers. Now snowboard styles have become more fitted, although still not skintight like ski wear.
For men this season, there are retro looks such as two-tone, '60s-style jackets, some with contrasting stripes or piping. Women--who represent 25% of the market, says the Ski Industries America, a trade organization of ski and snowboard manufacturers--are starting to see more sophisticated, even glamorous, snowboard apparel. That's quite a change from a couple of years ago when there was nothing for them on the racks and they had little choice but to wear the same dark, baggy clothes as the men.
"They used to look like boys," Snyder says.
Proving that snowboarding apparel can be sexy, designer Holly Sharp created a Snow Bunny collection for GirlStar, a Costa Mesa-based division of Gotcha. There's little chance of mistaking a female snowboarder for a male with styles such as GirlStar's revealing board shorts ($38) and even halter tops ($38) that can be worn with or without a parka, depending on the weather.
"We're not saying it's hard-core. It's for fun in the snow," Sharp says. "When we shot our catalog at Big Bear, it was really fun to see the girls in board shorts coming down the slopes."
The sexy snow bunnies of James Bond movies from the '60s inspired Sharp to create items such as the Snow Bunny parka ($130), a fitted quilted satin microfiber jacket with a fully lined, faux-fur hood in icy blue, black or pewter.
Sharp often uses shiny fabrics with satin finishes and fuzzy trims to give her snowboarding apparel a feminine edge. She also designed "super vintage-y, really girlie" caps and beanies, including an entirely faux-fur "Dr. Zhivago" hat ($22).
"This is a new market for women. It's easy to look at what guys have been doing and altering that for women, but that's not what we do," Sharp says. "We're going tighter to the body and using high-stretch fabrics for a different point of view."
GirlStar is carried at Nordstrom, Laguna Surf & Sport in Laguna Beach, Jack's Surfboards in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach and Hobie Sports and Becker Surf & Sport, both in Corona del Mar.
O.C. entrepreneurs Kim Dvorak and Holly Hornung, avid snowboarders in their late 20s, were so frustrated by the lack of sophisticated snowboard apparel for women their age that they launched their line, Holly Smith.
"Some things we saw were great for your younger sister who's like, 18, but not for us. There was nothing," Dvorak says.
They began producing their line out of Dvorak's Laguna Beach home eight months ago. The two hope Holly Smith will appeal to women ages 25 to 40, the kind of customers who wear Calvin Klein or Ann Taylor, Dvorak says.
To that end, they will unveil their collection of swingy A-line jackets, shells, vests, five-pocket jeans and flat-front pants at a trade show sponsored by Ski Industries America in Las Vegas on March 3.
"There are a lot of people in their late 20s and early 30s who don't want drab clothing, where you don't know if it's a guy or a girl going down the slope," Dvorak says.
Their debut collection will feature a jewel-toned, Harlequin-print vest ($70), a bright green swing coat with a zip-out powder skirt and hood ($340), slimming snowboard shell pants ($140), a jeans pant ($175) and a classic shell with a lace-up front made of crimson, black, taupe or natural nylon with an embossed leopard print ($198).
Most pieces are made of a blend of nylon and Cordura (a high-tech fiber) that has a soft feel, unlike some stiffer snowboard apparel that "can stand up on its own," Hornung says.
The line also uses lots of clear, bright colors such as honeydew green.
"There's a little splash of Versace," says Hornung, who was assistant designer for Nils, a women's ski wear line in Fountain Valley. Dvorak used to work ski-wear trade shows for Nils, helping with sales and merchandising. Both began snowboarding about five years ago.
"We've seen snowboarding go from nothing. It was very rebellious and very grunge. It was off in a corner," Dvorak says.
Snyder, meanwhile, added a women's line to Burning Snow, recognizing that women wanted apparel that "stands alone from what their boyfriends are wearing."
This season his Burning Snow women's collection features jackets and pants made of soft microfiber that doesn't "crunch when you walk," in "fruit bowl colors" of lime, tangerine and strawberry red.
"Girls need something soft and drapey with little trims and doodads," Snyder says.
Burning Snow jackets, which come in a variety of styles including three-quarter-length parkas with cinched waists and shorter bomber styles, have feminine touches such as fur trim, flowery woven tapes and snaps adorned with flowers (about $100 to $200 for jackets or pants).
For guys, snowboard apparel has changed from full-on grunge that was "all drabby and dark with a super-baggy fit" to more tapered silhouettes, Snyder says. Pants are still loose but not falling-down huge.
While earth tones are still popular, the palette has brightened.
There are a lot of tone-on-tone combinations, such as dark navy with light blue and dark green with pea green. The jackets have a retro look, thanks to piping, stripes and bias trims (from $100 for a waterproof, breathable jacket or pants to $200 for a more high-tech jacket with more durable protective coatings). Burning Snow is carried at Newport Ski Co. and Surfside Sports in Newport Beach.
Snowboard jackets with retro piping might look cool, but they also have to perform. The clothes must move with the rider and withstand a fall in the snow--especially in the knees and seat area. The new fibers keep the wearer warmer.
"Once you're on the hill and it's cold, you don't care about all the cool, groovy piping," Snyder says.