SIA Newsletter

How Many People Participate? The Answer Depends on Who, and When You Ask

How many people participate in snow sports?  It seems like a simple question with a straight forward answer, so why are there very different answers coming from several different studies.  Which one is right?  Why does the Physical Activity Council (PAC) data say there are 11 million downhill skiers when the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) data says there are only 6 million?  Different studies use different definitions and methods and consequently, have widely varying results.

In order to understand how that can happen and why each of these studies are useful in our quest to understand who makes up the snow sports participant base, we have to look carefully at the differences in definitions and methodology.  SIA uses a number of different studies including the PAC and the NSGA participation reports and National Ski Areas Association’s (NSAA) Kottke End of Season Report on resort visits to get the clearest view possible of the number of participants, participant demographics, and long term trends in participation.

Research_pic_1b_082515One of the principal differences in the studies is how a participant is defined. The PAC study defines a participant as a person age 6 or over who participated at least once in a season.  NSGA defines a participant as a person age 7 or over who participated at least two times in a calendar year.  One of the main reasons the PAC participant count is so much higher than the NSGA count is the difference between one time in a season and two times in a calendar year.  In the NSAA Kottke End of Season study, participants aren’t counted, but lift tickets and passes are so that one lift ticket=one visit and estimates are provided based on a set formula for season passes.  These differences mean that a person who snowboarded once in December and once in January this season would not be counted as a participant in the 2014 NSGA study, but would be counted a person who snowboarded twice in the 2014/2015 PAC study and would have accounted for two resort visits in the NSAA Kottke study.

SIA Research uses all of these studies to better understand the participant base.  For example, we use the NSGA data as a general guide to long term participation trends.  We use the PAC data to tell us how many persons participate both on and off resort property even once in a season.  We also use the PAC study to understand the lapsed participant and to learn more about what other activities snow sports participants enjoy.  The NSAA Kottke study tells us just how many times those participants visited a resort in a season.  Each of these studies provides a valuable view of snow sports participation.

Here is a quick reference guide of the different methodologies for each of these studies:

The Physical Activity Council Study (PAC)

During January and February of 2014, a total of 19,240 online interviews were carried out with a nationwide sample of individuals and households from the US Online Panel of over one million people operated by Synovate/IPSOS. A total of 7,528 individual and 11,712 household surveys were completed. During April and May, another 19,000 interviews were conducted on seasonal participation.

The total panel is maintained to be representative of the US population for people ages 6 and older. Over sampling of ethnic groups took place to boost response from typically under responding groups. The 2014 participation survey provides a high degree of statistical accuracy. All surveys are subject to some level of standard error—that is, the degree to which the results might differ from those obtained by a complete census of every person in the US. A sport with a participation rate of five percent has a confidence interval of plus or minus 0.31 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. This translates to plus or minus four percent of participants.  A weighting technique was used to balance the data to reflect the total US population ages six and above. The following variables were used: gender, age, income, household size, region, population density and panel join date. The total population figure used was 290,001,000 people ages six and older. Snow Sports participant numbers were subjected to triennial rolling average summation to ensure accurate results in smaller categories and demographic projections.

PAC Report on Snow Sports Participants 2008/2009 to 2014/2015

Source:  SIA Snow Sports Participant Report, data produced by The Physical Activity Council

National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA)

For the study, an online panel maintained by TNS Global was used. The panel is balanced on a number of characteristics determined to be key indicators of general purchase behavior, including household size and composition, household income, age of household head, region and market size. In January 2015, sample members of the TNS panel were invited to complete the sports participation survey online. Respondents were asked to indicate the age and gender of all household members age seven and older, and provide the number of days of participation for 58 different sports.

The study results are based on approximately 35,000 individuals who are ages 7 and older. In order to ensure returns were representative of the U.S., the data was weighted to represent the demographic composition of the U.S. based on the following characteristics: state of residence, household income, and population density. The returns were then projected to 288,012,000 – the U.S. population age 7 and older in 2014. `

It is important to note that in basing estimates of a population on a sample drawn from that population, a degree of sampling error is possible. While a number of biases can affect the extent of sampling error, it is to a great degree dependent on the size of the sample.

The larger the sample, the more closely the estimate represents the total population.

A confidence interval is simply a range. A 95% confidence interval for the proportion of archers in the population is a range in which the estimates for the proportion of archers would fall 95% of the time, were the study to be done repeatedly. For example, in a particular year, the proportion of respondents who stated they participated in archery may be 2.9% (after weighting and projection). Thus, if we were to estimate the proportion of archers in the United States using 100 similar studies, 95 of those studies would yield an estimate within 95% confidence interval of 2.7%-3.1% (+/-0.2%) from the stated proportion. The confidence interval for measurement of the proportion of participants in each sport does not exceed +/-1.0%.

NSGA Long Term Snow Sports Participant Trends

Source:  NSGA Sports Participation Report

The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) Kottke End of Season Report

The Kottke National End of Season Survey is designed to provide ongoing tracking of several key barometers of interest and importance to the ski industry. Response to this season’s questionnaire has been strong; the data presented reflect the participation of 168 of the nation’s 470 operating ski resorts. These 168 resorts account for 39.7 million downhill snow sports visits, which permits generally reliable estimates of national results to be made at this time.

NSAA Kottke Skier/Rider Visits

Source:  NSAA Kottke End of Season Survey

For more information about snow sports participation or copies of these studies, please contact Kelly Davis, SIA’s Research Director at KDavis@snowsports.org.