The 2014 Winter Olympics have seen incredible performances from US athletes, particularly in the various downhill snowsports events: alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, and freestyle snowboarding.  Millions of Americans watch the games on TV, providing an incredibly valuable level of exposure for snowboarding and skiing. But how much does the coverage actually motivate people to get off their couches, and what effect does it have on the business of snowsports?

“The media coverage surrounding the games certainly has an impact on winter sports – and skiing and riding are some of the most accessible for consumers who don’t live near a ski jump or a sliding track,” says Kim Rielly, Director of Communications for the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Games.  Indeed, the coverage appears to have a direct impact on the interest in participation, especially among youth and beginners.  Many of the newer events, like snowboard cross, halfpipe, and slopestyle, definitely appeal to a younger audience, a demographic that ski areas crave like first tracks on a powder morning.

Photo-credit-snowboardmag.com
Photo Credit- snowboardmag.com

Getting first timers excited to try sliding on snow is important, and so is motivating existing or lapsed riders and skiers to get back out on the hill more often. “A winter Olympic year is always a boon for getting our skiing and riding faithful all the more excited about winter at Vermont resorts,” commented Parker Riehle, president of Vermont Ski Areas Association.  Vermont, along with Utah, is one of the states that have produced a particularly high number of successful athletes this year.  “Utah Tied with Switzerland in Medal Count” tweeted Ski Utah on February 18, sharing the success of the many Beehive State athletes including Sage Kostenburg, Kaitlyn Farrington, Joss Christensen, and Ted Ligety (who actually won the Men’s Super G a day after the tweet).

One challenge for ski areas trying to market snowboarding and skiing during the Games is the restriction on using the Olympics for commercial promotion.  Rule 40 prevents Olympic athletes from openly promoting their non-official Olympic sponsors, including the ski areas where they train.  Also, the International Olympic Committee forbids the use of the Olympic rings and other symbols, marks, and logos for commercial purposes.

photo credit Doug Pensinger Getty Images
Photo Credit- Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

But that doesn’t completely restrict ski areas from making connections with the athletes who train on their mountains. “[We’ve had] viewing parties, grassroots competitions that focus on kids and teens, and have planned a welcome-home celebration on February 27, the day Rule 40 expires. We also hosted a kids’ après party where they were invited to make their own medals,” noted Matt Gebo, Director of Marketing at Park City Mountain Resort, which was the host of the giant slalom and snowboard halfpipe in the 2002 winter games.

Once the games are over, do the numbers add up for ski area business volumes? The conventional wisdom is that hosting the Olympics has a short term negative impact on the host city tourism levels, but provides a long term bump in business. For example, the most recent winter Olympics held in the US were in 2002 in Salt Lake City. That winter, snowsports visits in the state of Utah dropped 15 percent, as many potential skiers and boarders stayed away because of anticipated crowding and hassles associated with the Olympics.  In each of the next three winters, however, Utah snowsports visits grew double digits, propelling the state to a new level of over 4 million visits annually.

In years when the Olympics are held outside North America, the positive impact on snowsports business tends to be less pronounced. Many individual areas try to capitalize on the games, but the reality is that the Olympics don’t tend to have much of a bump on the total national visit number. Bigger factors like the weather and the economy usually have a more significant impact on national snowsports visits, and any measurable bump from the Olympics is generally subsumed by those larger factors. That’s not to say that some ski areas don’t see increased numbers during an Olympic year, but that the overall national visit figure – which is typically around 57 to 58 million – doesn’t move much.

There’s no doubt, however, that the Olympics provide a spark and an excitement to get out sliding on snow.  As VSAA’s Riehle opined, “It’s the perfect opportunity to motivate potential newbies, especially youth, who see the events and want to be like their favorite competitor.”

For all you kids who want to be the next Joss Christensen or Jamie Anderson, head out to the slopes and you just might see the pros in the park training for the next games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Hero Image Photo Credit – Zach Hooper/Snowboardmag.com

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