Snowboarding has always been a bit of a rebellious pursuit – “not your father’s sport” as they say.  Using an alternative way to slide down the hill, most snowboarders also dressed differently and relished their defiant attitude. But over the past several years, the popularity of snowboarding has hit a plateau. Maybe you have seen it at your home downhill area – snowboarding isn’t growing the way it once was.  All you have to do is look in the terrain park, once the snowboarder-only playground; you often see as many – if not more – skiers than snowboarders practicing tricks on their fat, twin-tip rocker boards.  Maybe snowboarding isn’t so steezy anymore?

 

Photo Credit: Killington

Photo Credit: Killington

During the 1990s, much of the growth in the downhill snowsports business was in snowboarding. The share of total visits to US ski areas attributable to snowboarding grew during that decade from less than 10 percent to the high-20 percent range.  It leveled off at about 30 percent starting in the 2006/07 season.

While snowboarding reached its plateau about 5 years ago, the issue really came to the forefront with a special article in the New York Times Travel Section highlighting the stalling out of snowboarding and a follow up story written by AP and picked up in many different news outlets.

In some ways, this plateau is to be expected; nothing can keep growing forever. But what does this mean for skiers and snowboarders, and more importantly, the places they recreate?  The risk of snowboarding declining is very concerning to ski resort managers and snowboard equipment manufacturers.  A healthy snowboard market is crucial to the overall sustainability of the winter resort business.

In this blog post, we review some of the key issues facing snowboarding and potential solutions to get snowboarding back growing again.  Here are the top four factors contributing to the stall of snowboarding.

  1. Leveling off of the number of snowboarders. The estimated number of snowboarders in the US has leveled off at about 2.5 million. This figure had been growing steadily during the 1990s and into the mid-2000s, but hit a plateau in the 2007/08 season. If the number of people snowboarding isn’t growing, then neither is their impact on resorts and equipment manufacturers.
  2. Fewer days per snowboader on average.  In 1997/98, the average snowboarder participated 7.1 days during the winter. By the 2008/09 season, that figure fell to 6.1 days, where it has stayed since then. While this is a decline of only one day, it makes a big difference in the total contribution from snowboarding to the US snowsports industry. By comparison, US skiers have averaged relatively stable 5.5 to 5.7 days per season over the same 15-year period.
  3. Maturation of snowboarders. It’s no secret that every year, everyone gets one year older. The same is true for snowboarders, whose average age is now at 27 years old, up steadily from 24 years old in the early 2000s.  Someone who started snowboarding in 1996/97 at age 15 is now 30 years old. The increase in age correlates with family-building and career-building years, leaving less time for recreation. The increase in the average age is also indicative of fewer younger people taking up snowboarding.
  4. Lack of female participants, particularly in upper ability groups. Snowboarding is more male-dominated than skiing, especially when you look at upper ability levels. First timers/beginner snowboarders show about a 50-50 gender split, but as ability levels increase, women progressively contribute a smaller share to the snowboarder population. At the advanced/ expert ability level, 80% of snowboarders are male – clearly showing that women drop out or just don’t reach the higher levels of proficiency that are an important marker of sustained participation in snowsports.

 

Photo Credit: Homewood Resort

Photo Credit: Homewood Resort

So what to do about it? Here are the top three solutions to get snowboarding back on the growth track.

  1. Address the gender imbalance. Women try snowboarding, they just don’t stick with it as long as men do. Enhance the learning experience for women by targeting female instructors, smaller lesson groups, and women-specific clinics and camps. Many similar efforts targeted to women skiers have been successful, and could be effectively translated to women snowboarders.
  2. Embrace families. Many snowboarders are having kids, and now face the challenges of getting back into snowsports after becoming a parent (a situation familiar to generations of skiers). This is the first real cohort of snowboarders to face these issues – time, cost, hassle, and effort. Snowboarding’s image has not particularly been associated with being family friendly, but the time to change that image is now. Note that being more embracing of female participation and more family friendly are oftentimes related strategies.
  3. Re-energize youth participation. The average number of days snowboarded per person is a key factor in bringing snowboarding back. The most likely group to participate at a high frequency is teens and young adults. Keeping these younger snowboarders engaged and coming to the mountains, and bringing their friends along with them, is a good way to keep snowboarding healthy. Listening to and addressing the concerns of this segment are important for resort managers will pay dividends in higher frequency and greater penetration into the youth markets.

 

Photo Credit: Tommy Penick & Alpine Meadows

Photo Credit: Tommy Penick & Alpine Meadows

The stall of snowboarding is a real issue facing the overall health of winter resorts.  Unless business leaders proactively address the situation, snowboarding could begin to lose popularity. While some might welcome fewer “knuckle draggers” on the slopes, it would be detrimental to the overall resort and equipment companies. Expect to see more efforts to court women, kids, and teens to snowboarding in the near future.

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  • Andy

    So the declining snowboarding population is a bad thing?
    Put skies on the young kids. Now we don’t have to put up with as many sitting and blocking trails, jumping over everthing they can, and flying out of some woods and whiping out people.

    • Mark

      Yay! Let’s stereotype people!

      • Yay! let’s observe people! When’s the last time I saw 5 skiiers sitting shoulder to shoulder blocking the run. Or blowing out one of my fellow skiiers knees in a collision. Uh, never.

        • johnyy boy

          Uhh first of all its only beginner snowoarders who sit like that in the way and i do admit its annoying but anyone who has been riding for a while can stap in standing up. Although its better then the 5 dumb ass skiiers who stand in horizontal line on the top of a roller completely clueless. Most tourist or “gapers” tend to be skiiers and they constantly get in the way more then snowboarders. Doing things such as taking exagerated turns that cut across the entire trail without looking. Its flat out dangerous. Also i have been run into 3 times on the mountain all by skiers so its not just snowboarders taking out your knees. don’ hate snowboarders the skiers are just as obnoxious

        • Danny Dietz

          umm really? ALL THE TIME! your a clown kid, there are just as many skiers that do stupid things on the hill as there are snowboarders, and like a skier never ran into a boarder and hurt them either? But nice try, your the type of person i facial with a nice deep spray as you tumble on the green cruiser. Keep it real Ronald Mcdonald

        • Data from the NSAA suggests that skiers are 3x more likely to be at fault in collisions with snowboarders, than the other way around.

    • DMC

      1990 called… they want their stereotype back…

  • The problem is price! It’s cheaper to hit rails in your snow covered town for FREE than it is to buy a $75 lift ticket.

  • Kibba

    Not so bad, less snow being pushed down the slopes by beginning boarders

    • DMC

      yeah cause that one shorter edge certainly pushes more snow than 2 longer edges…

  • Deez

    I’m 32 and I’ve been snowboarding for over 18 years after skiing for 11. I’ll always love shredding but the terrain I enjoy, namely glades, is far better on skis. Also as I get more interested in backcountry, skis are calling my name louder every season. I don’t think I’d quit boarding and I’ll always prefer it on powder days but destroying my board in East Coast glades with poor cover is getting harder to justify when their is a better alternative.

    Also girls I know that ride usually give up or don’t go very much once they learn. I think their generally conservative style suits skis much better vs. reckless young males or crazy metalheads in their 30s like me.

  • Deez

    Also you are really only citing pure demographics and not addressing any variables…

    I would additionally attribute the decline of snowboarding on:
    – the combination of skyrocketing lift ticket prices
    – decreased snowfall and more rain in the winter (East Coast at least)
    – Old gear that people can’t afford to upgrade
    – Increased gas and airline expenses.
    – Past injuries (like wrists) have kept some of my friends from getting back on their boards
    – Small children being put almost exclusively on skis for obvious reasons
    – Newer ski technology retaining more potential snowboard converts.

    You neglected to mention any of these!

    For some people, its a phase. For others its an addiction. It is really hard to justify spending $500 on a new board you only use twice a year and probably easier to throw your old deck in the garage and forget about how it reminds you how soft you’ve gotten. I’ve lost as many riding friends to reasons you stated as I did to ones I have. Usually its a combination of the two.

    • bobbutts

      2007-2013 have had much better skiing conditions vs. the 90’s in the Northeast.

    • Sugarfoot Collins

      Also, snowboarding used to be the ‘cool’ thing to do. It’s not anymore.

  • I wish some of you guys would come down off your pedestals. Skiing is awesome! Boarding Sucks! Grow up. The divide in winter sports is just as prevalent now as it has ever been. For every snowboarder that comes flying out of the woods “with reckless abandon”, there are just the same amount of skiers doing the same thing. I know because I see it all the time. For every snowboarder “laying across the hill”, there are just as many skiers doing lining up like ducks in a row too. You guys just choose to believe what you want to believe, but it’s the same story on both sides.

    For every “idiot snowboarder” sitting on the hill, I see and idiot dad taking his group of idiot kids through the park, cutting people off with no regard, and wrecking the lips on all the features.

    Yeah let’s get rid of snowboarding! It only saved the ski industry once before. Let’s see how much of a drop off there in ski sales when lift tickets have to go up to $120+/each to compensate for the lost snowboard ticket sales. Let’s not forget how much technology and innovation the ski industry, an industry that was nearly stagnant in innovation for decades, borrowed & adopted from snowboard shapes & designs. No coincidence that ski sales have gone up after years of flat growth. Rocker? Rocker/Camber Combo? TwinTip? Fatter Skies? Gee where did that all come from?

    Get you heads out of your ass.

  • Re: “The stall of snowboarding is a real issue facing the overall health of winter resorts. Unless business leaders proactively address the situation, snowboarding could begin to lose popularity”, it’s important to keep in mind that skiing has grown to at least slightly offset from a resort perspective. It probably won’t help with snowboard equipment sales; but lift tickets and on-and-off mountain revenue shouldn’t change too much.

    Beyond that most of the broader issues affecting mountains are global i.e. bad snow years (2011/12!) general economy (2005-present), the lazinessifying of America, etc.

  • Tim

    I’m not going to dive into the ski vs. snowboard nonsense…I’d rather discuss politics or religion or maybe bang my head against the wall. I think the bottom line is that skiing is much easier to learn and get pretty good at than snowboarding. I started skiing at 12 and by the end of the first day, could pretty much make it down any groomed run that was put in front of me. Fast forward 10 years or so and I started to snowboard. It took me probably 10 days of riding before I could carve confidently on both edges and make it down steep groomers safely. Now I’m a dad and getting my kids into it and I see the same thing. My daughter skis and my son snowboards and the difference in their progression is huge despite equal number of days riding. Combine that with the severe crashes from catching edges that a beginner snowboarder has to overcome that frequently lead to concussions from hitting the back of the head, wrist injuries from falls, etc, and it’s pretty easy to see why people aren’t as likely to pick up and stick with snowboarding. It’s not the cool new thing it used to be and if you want to get good at it, you really have to take your lumps to get to that point. That’s just not the case on skis. You can pick it up in one day and get good much faster. Personally I just prefer the riding experience on a board…find it to be more fun and fluid but again, that’s just opinion. I ride with both skiers and boarders, do a lot of back country and tree riding and we all love the same things, deep powder and the mountain experience. No reason to hate….just get out there and shred and have a good time.

  • AK

    A couple levels above the readership.

  • Margo McCann

    Snowboarding is amazing. I have only been a few times but watching snowboarding videos is a great
    way for me to learn some new things without being on the slopes!

  • Jenna

    Is is possible to get some citations for your data?

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  • Jamie Harris

    Great post. I think for snowboarding to go forward it needs to address a shift in demographics and lifestyles. At mt. st. Louie (http://www.mountstlouis.com/), I get a strong sense that they’re addressing these concerns – the feel is family friendly, the teachers are great and very kind, etc.