Snowboarding May Have Reached Its Peak

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Snowboarding is no longer new, no longer extreme, and—now that your mom knows how to ride—no longer quite as cool. No wonder snowboard sales and snowboarder visits at mountain resorts are on the decline.

Once all the rage among the young and active, as well as pretty much everybody else who was a newcomer to winter mountain sports, snowboarding appears to be past its heyday. Using data from SnowSports Industries America, the Los Angeles Times noted that sales of snowboards and snowboard gear have slumped 21% over the last four years. Meanwhile, skiing, the sport that snowboarding was supposed to be surpassing—the MySpace to snowboarding’s Facebook—has been on the upswing, with sales rising 3% over that same time span.

As the Denver Post reported last spring, snowboarders represented roughly one-third of all U.S. ski resort visits in the 2009-2010 season, up from just 7.7% of visits in 1991. Lately, however, the proportion has shrunk slightly, down to around 30% of visits over the past couple of years.

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Mountain resorts that hit new business peaks due to an influx of snowboarders have been struggling more than their peers. Southern California‘s Mountain High, which tends to be dominated by boarders, had 80,000 rider visits in November 2002, compared to 42,000 in November 2011, despite very similar conditions for weather and snow. The resort’s leader explained to the Denver Post why snowboarder numbers have been falling:

“We just don’t see the fanaticism anymore, with people coming out every day, all day,” said Mountain High president Karl Kapuscinski. “It’s a maturing sport. It’s nothing we’ve done. The parks and terrain are better than they’ve ever been. But we just can’t expect to keep that level of fanaticism going forever.”

To some extent, the thrill is gone. As snowboarding’s popularity grew and became more mainstream, it necessarily lost some the original edge and attitude. Some of the passion disappeared as well. Today’s riders are older and a lot more likely to have kids than when the sport was emerging. By no small coincidence, they’re also less likely to hit the mountain all that often.

OK, I guess I should admit that I’m one of “them.” I started snowboarding in the mid-’80s, back in the day when you needed to pass a certification test before being allowed to go up the chairlift with a board, and when “knuckle draggers” were regularly bombarded by worried skiers with questions about how the bindings released (they don’t) and how easy it was to break your knees (not easy, though wrist injuries are very common). For several years now, however, I’ve been hitting the mountain on skis, at least partly because it’s easier to balance while I teach my kids how to ski. So I share some of the blame for the decline in snowboarder visits.

In a reversal of a trend nearly two decades in the making, the number of snowboarders in the U.S. has been dropping since 2004. Participating in the sport decreased 22% since then. Kids are less likely to be giving snowboarding a try as well: In 2011, 36% of 14-and-under first-timers at ski resorts were on snowboards, the lowest level in 12 years.

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Skiing, on the other hand, is faring well, even with subpar years for snow of late. Ski sales are up and skier participation in the U.S. has risen by 16% since 2004. Interestingly, young people are more likely to be drawn to skis in recent years because of advancements in ski shape and design that makes them more like snowboards. Today’s skis are used for a lot more than carving turns. They’re fatter and often curved in front and back for cruising down the hill backwards or forwards, just like snowboards. That’s why you’re nearly as likely to see skiers as snowboarders ripping through powder and pulling off tricks in terrain parks. That is, you’ll see skiers there at least until their moms show up.

10 comments
FourplayStevens
FourplayStevens

I think its important to note that skiing today is where its at because of snowboarding.  When snowboarding hit the scene skiers did not go backwards, ride half pipes, hit rails... They had no urban aspect from skateboarding what so ever. I believe this resurgance of skiers in part due to snowboarding shinning a light on urban riding for skiers. Now skiers ride halfpipes, they have skies so fat they "float" in the pow, they hit rails, they roll around the mountain wearing snowboard gear. When snowboarding was taking off it was seen as lame to be a skier and now skiers had to change. I think its good for the sport of skiing. Weather or not its too expensive I disagree. Buy a seasons pass live by a ski hill and if you love you will ditch your sick wife and kids on a powder day and almost get divorced. I LOVE snowboarding I grew up in the mountains its in my blood and my kids will learn it first and I still love skiing but quit 25years ago. Sking has one thing on snowboarding and thats moguls.

Cuddles
Cuddles

I'm a 43 year old single mum (English). I started learning to snowboard in September on our local 50 foot dendex slope. My sons can already snowboard and ski so I thought it was time I got over my fear. It's been brilliant. I've been to a snowdome twice and can carve turns on the snow with my board but must admit to struggling on the dendex. I've had more bruises in 4 months than in the rest of my entire life! I am now learning to ski and think I will probably end up ski-ing much more than snowboarding. This is partly because it is so much easier to balance and slow down (at this stage anyway) and because most of my age group seem to ski rather than board. It's been such a good experience for me though - I feel 10 years younger!

FourplayStevens
FourplayStevens

@Cuddles Good for you!!! You should try going to a mountain in the BC Canada ride some softer snow. Try big white its awesome ski in ski out and if you fall it doesnt hurt.

McBainBurger
McBainBurger

Doesn't help that lift tickets are more expensive. Season passes are more expensive.  Almost $1000 in some places AND it's been getting warmer. Last season had record heat in the winter! Thus, poor conditions unless you live in Utah or Japan. 

FourplayStevens
FourplayStevens

@McBainBurger You have no idea what your talking about its been record breaking years on the west coast of North America for the last two years you whinny bitch

sgold615
sgold615

article makes good points nontheless

sgold615
sgold615

Its not that it isn't 'cool', its just too dam expensive now!  Most snowboarders should know that their is a certain age group of snowboarders that consists of the majority of snowboarders, most of whom probably don't have families quite yet, but rather now need to be working for themselves and can't afford the sport anymore.  I stopped snowboarding because the life ticket at my local mountain (mountain creek in New Jersey) more than doubled over the last 4 years, from $200 to a now stagerring $500.  To put it frankly, F**K THAT

FourplayStevens
FourplayStevens

@sgold615 Move out west theres little ski hills with deep powder. Get a different job make it happen

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

So, what you're saying is that people have finally understood the folly of slapping on ONE piece of waxed wood and sliding down the side of a mountain?  Maybe they'll get to the point where they realize that two pieces of wood aren't necessarily better than one...