By: Annie Fast, Outside Magazine
February 10, 2014
Anyone notice the continuing trend in doomsday reporting about the imminent death of snowboarding? Yeah, hard to miss it: Last winter, it was the The New York Times (“Has Snowboarding Lost Its Edge?”); this past December, it was The Durango Herald (“Whither the Snowboarders?”); and, just last week, the latest nuke (“Can Snowboarding Be Saved?”) was published on this site. There were others, but these three articles, which take a particularly pessimistic approach to the data—while making some assertions that are outright false—all arrive at dismal conclusions regarding snowboarding’s health.
I’m here to tell you that snowboarding is not only very much alive, but doing pretty well, all things considered. The stories above were based on two primary sources—a 2012 National Ski Area Association (NSAA) report titled “The Rise and Stall of Snowboarding,” and the recent reports from SnowSports Industry America (SIA).
Nate Fristoe, who wrote the NSAA report, concedes that the numbers have been “horribly muddled,” noting that The Durango Herald got it completely wrong by incorrectly citing the NSAA data as showing a 4.5 percent fall in snowboarding and a 6.5 percent growth in skiing over the last five years. “I don’t know how they came to those numbers,” Fristoe told me, adding that the point of the report was “not to represent that snowboarding was in any way dying, but to highlight that snowboarding’s rate of growth had slowed in recent years.”
“The report was to serve as a wake-up call to industry leaders,” Fristoe continued, “who, in the past, might have taken for granted the vibrancy and energy snowboarding brought to the slopes over the last thirty years.”
Instead, Fristoe says, two camps ended up missing the point of the report—“those that had some kind of weird schadenfreude reaction, and those that denied snowboarding was maturing as a sport.”
Kelly Davis, head researcher for SIA, concluded that all we’re seeing is a more seasoned sport going through “a normal pattern of ebb and flow.” So let’s not blow the news out of proportion. (Oops: too late!)
As a lifelong snowboarder who worked for ten years at TransWorld Snowboarding magazine, three of them as editor in chief, my interpretation of the numbers (not to mention my overall take on the sport itself) is much more positive. First of all, macrotrends—such as consecutive low-snow years and a severely wounded economy—are affecting winter sports across the board. Second, assertions that snowboarding isn’t cool with the kids, is narrowly marketed, or is losing participants to skiing amount to highly subjective opinions.