Photo Courtesy of Vail Resorts/Kevin Cooper.
Is snowboarding on the decline? Often accompanied by an image of a snowboarder heinously crashing, or sitting awkwardly in the midst of a lift of skiers, it’s a recurring question that every outdoor magazine, ski town newspaper, and ski and snowboarding website seems to be pondering.
An article posted on the New York Times’ website three days ago explored this idea of snowboarding as a dying sport, but they’re not the first. Outside Online touched on this concept two seasons ago, and around the same time, the Vail Daily published an article from the Durango Herald claiming that not only was snowboarding declining in terms of participants, but its coolness was also at stake. Yikes. And they’re not the only ones. The idea of snowboarding as a diminishing presence within snow sports has been perpetuated over the years by countless other publications, but how much of this is true?
Identifying the Factors
The New York Times article points to some pretty specific pieces of evidence in terms of dwindling sponsorship opportunities for professional snowboarders, particularly via the departure of Quiksilver and Nike from the action sports scene. While perhaps a diminishing public interest in snowboarding can be attributed to that, I don’t think the finger can be pointed solely at snowboarding. Nike, in particular, had made a pretty aggressive push over the last decade to market its snowboarding products, but the Nike SB action sports brand included both Nike Snowboarding as well as Nike Ski, both of which are no longer around, and both of which had teams stocked with talented, notable faces from each discipline. While Nike definitely had more of a presence among circles of snowboarders (their boots are actually awesome, and they remain one of the few companies left still making lace up boots), Nike snowboarding boots were the only product made by Nike SB solely for snowboarding.
Similarly, an article from Business Insider on Quiksilver’s bankruptcy didn’t really blame a drop in the public’s interest in snowboarding as one of the downfalls of the brand, but that it had lost relevance with 20 somethings as being cool, among other things. Much of this lost perception, according to analysts, was because of a dip in the surf market, which was the epitome of cool during the company’s dominant presence in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Variable product and inconsistencies in product quality have also been blamed for Quiksilver’s downfall.
Some of the other facts thrown around by the newest assault on snowboarding are pretty broad to be applied to just the declining numbers of snowboarders. Unreliable snow, particularly on the East and West coasts, was a cited reason for the dip, which, sure, has led to less snowboarders, but I would be surprised if those resorts weren’t reporting lower numbers across the board. The global recession has also had a drag on those heading to the mountains for ski and snowboarding vacations, which can most likely be reflected in all disciplines of snow sports as well. Add to that the increased price of living, working, or vacationing in these resort areas, and I’d be pretty surprised if it was just families of snowboarders opting out of their annual snowy vacation (Vail’s going price for a day pass during Christmas and New Year’s was $170). Similarly, it’s not such a secret that ski towns aren’t the easiest places to earn a livable wage anymore, especially with the skyrocketing price of housing, which has led to worker shortages across the country in resort towns, and an ongoing housing crisis. All of these factors can probably be cited as broader deterrents for potential snow sports enthusiasts in general, without singling out a particular niche in a pool of declining participants.
By The Numbers
Left out of the mix is the fact the the number of people participating in snow sports generally has declined, according to SIA’s Snow Sports Participants Study from 2012-13, which has contributed to some of the facts flying around these articles decrying snowboarding’s numbers and associated coolness. While the study cited a 2% drop in snow sports participants during the time it had gathered its data, snowboarders in particular witnessed a 3% drop in sport participation, while alpine skiers during the same time posted a 19.2% drop in sport participation. Yikes. (Telemarkers on the other hand, saw a spike of 32% during this same time, it’s all about freeing the heel, man.) Adversely, freeskiers witnessed a 47% surge in sport participation. But what does this all really mean? I would argue that with the rise of splitboarding, since this inventory of data, backcountry snowboarders would rival the spike of those identifying as “freeskiers.” During the time this data was being gathered, Jeremy Jones’ “Deeper,” “Further,” and “Higher” series was still coming out, and has had an enormous impact on the perception of what can be done in the backcountry with snowboards.
While, yes, even this snowboarder is okay saying that snowboarding probably isn’t seen as quite as cool as it was 10 years ago (thanks a lot, Candide Thovex), there’s a young, new generation of snowboarders that seem pretty inclined to make it cool again. Chloe Kim has been doing things in the halfpipe that girls simply haven’t been doing, and she’s 15. Judd Henkes rounded out the top 5 in the men’s halfpipe competition at last week’s Burton US Open in Vail, and he’s only 14. While such talented young stars might not make or break what some journalists are describing as a crash in the numbers and coolness of snowboarding, I think it’s pretty safe to say we’re not going anywhere.
Photo Courtesy of Vail Resorts/Kevin Cooper.
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