twbsnowboardBy George Schissler

(November 2012)  A report by Nate Fristoe, Director RRC Associates begins “Today there is every indication the growth in snowboarding we took for granted has stalled and that visitation from snowboarding is headed toward a path of substantial decline” and he has the facts and statistics as to why a refocused effort to grow participants is key to the overall health of the snowsports industry.

Here are some of the factors he cites as being contributors to the decline:

  • Based on the National Ski Areas Association National Demographic Survey the percentage of children 14 and younger who are snowboarding has declined from a high 42 percent during the 2003/04 season to a new low of about 34 percent in 2011/12. As a result there has been a definite decline in the average number of days on the slopes.
  • During both the 2011/12 seasons snowboarders hit the slopes on average 1.5 days fewer than they did in 1996/97. This decline has cumulatively cost the industry at least 3 million domestic visits annually.
  • Another factor cited is the sport has failed to attract a large female following. In terms of snowboard participants there are 600,000 more male boarders than female. In contrast, the overall male-to-female snowboarding participant rate is 65 percent male to 35 percent female, a direct contrast to male-female skier participants which breaks down to a 51 to 49 percentage.
  • When dealing with snowboarding participants by ability level, the study shows intermediate level boarders almost outnumber the combined total of all other skill categories and that advanced and first timers are almost equal in number. It has been suggested that only among the higher ability levels does the gender gap open up for snowboarding with 67 percent of intermediates and 81 percent of advanced/expert snowboarders being male.
  • The reason for the lack of female participation at this point might be that female snowboarding beginners aren’t truly dropping out of snow sports but revert back to become skiers, although less than 4 percent of skiers interviewed last season indicated they had started any on snow activity by snowboarding.
  • Age has also has been a contributing factor to snowboarding’s stall. From the 1996/97 season to the 2011/12 season the average age of snowboarders has gone from about 24 to 27 and with age many of the boarders generated in the 1990’s are now entering family and career building years. The boarder who started the sport at age 15 in 1996/97 is now a 30 year old with a family, financial responsibilities, and a spouse who may not share the passion for the sport.

The report goes on to say there is no single solution to this issue, but data from NSAA’s extensive research shows that two strategies most often mentioned are recapturing drop-outs and generating more participation. Past efforts to recapture drop-outs have not proved to be a very cost effective solution and would likely take years of highly expensive marketing to show any impact. It appears the best solution for re-energizing snowboarding likely involves a focus on addressing the gender imbalances in the sport through a serious reconsideration of teaching techniques. Combining this approach with companion efforts to provide snowboarding parents with easier paths to come back to the sport themselves, while making it easier to introduce their kids to snowboarding, and real progress becomes evident in not only turning around snowboarding, but growing the entire industry.

All businesses and all sports mature, but if ski areas don’t steward the maturation of snowboarding more carefully a significant chunk of business could be lost because of basic complacence.

From the August/September issue of the National Ski Areas Association magazine Journal.  Nate Fristoe is a director of the Boulder-based ski industry research firm RRC Associates. Contact him atnate@rrcasso.com

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