Perhaps the most shocking lesson from this past winter is that snowboarding is sick. Not cool sick—unhealthy sick.
The clearest sign is shrinking Kottke numbers, as the percentage of riders, as reported by resorts, dipped below 30 percent. Surveys of participants on the hill put the figure closer to 26 percent. Both sources show a decline over the past five seasons.
Some of this is cyclical. Skate/surf/board culture waxes and wanes over the decades, and skateboarding has been on a longer decline than snowboarding. But could some of snowboarding’s ills stem from the way resorts have treated it? Have they left it alone too much, aside from building freestyle terrain?
Nate Fristoe of RRC Associates laid it out at the NSAA Convention in early May. The sources of the stall, he said, are many:
- Riders have become less passionate, and spend fewer days on snow. Fifteen years ago, the average days riding was 7.6; last year, and for the past several, it was 6.1. For skiing, the average has varied little, 5.4 to 5.7, over the same period.
- Snowboarding remains a male thing. Among snowboarders, 65 percent are male, and they rack up 68 percent of snowboard visits. Among skiers, males comprise 56 percent of visits, and 51 percent of participants.
- There are fewer kids and tweens on boards. Eight years ago, 42 percent of downhillers 14 and younger got their starts on boards. That figure has shrunk to 36 percent.
- Snowboard instruction has lagged ski instruction. Plus, many start snowboarding lessons at age 6 to 8, versus 3 or 4 for skiing.
- Riders are getting older, and are in career- and family-building years. As with skiers, this cuts into their frequency.
- And that leads to the question: what to do about this? Fristoe and others highlighted several steps:
- Create pathways for families to return to winter sports. That means better instruction and programs for women and children. During the question-and-answer portion of Fristoe’s session, one manager asked, “Is there a snowboarding counterpart to PSIA?” That lack of awareness of AASI illustrates how little attention has been paid to snowboarding instruction.
- Teach your children well. Burton’s Jeff Boliba pointed out that areas that have focused on developing learn-to programs for kids 3 to 6 are killing it. And it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Smaller class sizes and programs like Riglet and terrain-based learning speed the process.
- Improve instruction for females. Can young male dudes be trained to teach women and girls? Employing more women instructors, and certified instructors, would help.