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