Snowsports Industries America (SIA), the winter outdoor industry’s non-profit, member-owned trade association, recently released The SIA NextGen Study, 2021, a detailed look at non-participants and participants of winter sports activities to learn more about the audiences and how to grow the market.
There are lots of interesting insights in the study, including a clear opportunity for the snowboarding industry to attract new participants.
The study focused on a population segment who could easily convert into snow sports participation – a young and diverse group, who otherwise are physically active and live within a four-hour drive of an area where they could take part in winter activities. SIA believes this group of people represents the untapped potential to grow winter sports participation.
The study also looked at current winter sports enthusiasts to understand how they started participating and why they continue to do so.
“With inclusion being top of mind for most industries and companies, it made a lot of sense for us to look outside of our normal pool of participants and look at new groups who we can focus on to bring more diversity into our participation base,” explained SIA President Nick Sargent in an interview with Shop Eat Surf. “We can also increase users, not just in skiing and snowboarding, but sledding, Nordic, hiking, and anything outdoor. What you’ll find in this report is a lot of what we take for granted isn’t even on the general population’s mind. There are a lot of opportunities for us to grow our reach, our participation numbers, and include more people into the sports that we love so much.”
The NextGen Study provided some key takeaways on non-participants ideas about winter sports. The most common barriers to entry were cost, injury concerns, and a lack of skills or knowledge.
Also, nearly one out of five non-participants said they had simply never thought about snow sports, indicating that overall awareness might be an initial barrier to converting non-participants into participants.
“There’s a huge opportunity to raise the awareness and to continue to push and drive our community to these groups and show them how much fun it is to go outside and play in the snow,” Sargent said.
Almost a third of respondents were interested in trying a snow sport. When asked to identify which one they might participate in during the coming winter, 32% of the non-participants said they’d like to try sledding and 28% expressed interest in trying snowboarding. There was a significant drop to the third most common selection of downhill skiing (14%) and fourth most common, snowshoeing/winter hiking (8%).
The most common introduction to snow sports was through family or friends. More than seven out of 10 current participants said they originally started in snow sports through their family/growing up doing so (40%) or through friends inviting them along (31%). White participants were more likely to say they grew up doing snow sports than people of color.
About half of non-participants said they know someone who is active in snow sports. Not having other winter sports participants in one’s social network is likely a key barrier to getting into snow sports. Relatedly, only about one out of four non-participants (26%) said they would participate in snow sports by themselves.
Non-participants revealed that the more inclusive snow sports are to them, the more interested they would be in trying snow sports, because they would feel it’s within their capabilities.
The far-reaching report also studied brand awareness and current shopping habits, offering some key insights. The North Face, Columbia, and Patagonia were the first outdoor brands that came to mind to respondents, both for participants and non-participants.
As for buying habits, 51% of all participants made their last purchase of snow sports equipment or clothing online, either via a mass merchant (28%) or specialty retailer (23%). However, more than three quarters of participants (77%) had shopped at an outdoor gear store in the last 12 months.
Sargent wasn’t surprised at the level of online shopping in the industry: “The pandemic has brought the sports industry into the online shopping world much faster than if the pandemic did not happen. That’s where tomorrow’s consumer is doing their shopping. This industry has to be prepared for that. COVID provided that as the best way to get gear.”
Just as the pandemic has changed consumer’s shopping behavior, the overall market continues to evolve and brands within the snow sports industry need to embrace these changes: “I think that the report really points out where the opportunities lie for the industry,” Sargent continues. “It really lays out a roadmap of how to get people outside, how to talk to them, how to communicate, and how to market to them. There’s a lot of key nuggets of information that are good for any business, not just the winter sport business.”
Sargent had some additional insights on the study:
Action the Snow Industry Should Take
“The industry needs to continue to educate the current base of participants, new participants, and non-participants on all aspects of our sports. All groups say they need tools and education to facilitate more participation in snow sports. The industry also needs to have more diversity in their advertising in their social media.”
The High Cost Perception
“There are plenty of ways to work around the cost. We have to get this info out to the participants and non-participants in other ways. There are used and resold products, from gear to apparel. That trend is super-hot right now. Many people are using this as a way to get into the sport.”
“New consumers who are getting involved in the sport who are cost-sensitive should think about going to a smaller resort. There are plenty of places to go that are affordable and less expensive. I use the analogy when you’re first golfing, you don’t go to Pebble Beach, you go to your local nine-hole golf course. The same goes if you’re going to start in snow sports: find a nice, comfortable, and quiet ski resort where there’s not going to be a lot of traffic, and it’s going to be affordable.”
“The other myth about this sport being expensive is if you compare it to going to Disney with a family of four, or a couple going to Coachella for a three-day weekend, you’re going to spend equal amounts of money. Certainly, there’s a sticker shock, but I can tell you having gone to Disney with my own kids, there’s sticker shock there, too. So, it’s all choices.”
Brands, Resorts and Retailers that Are Ahead of the Curve
“If you look at what Vail is doing, they captivate you from the moment you land to the moment you leave. They’ve got an amazing online platform to book your vacation, to rent gear, and to buy gear. They’re doing a great job of pulling all the omni channel points together.”
“I think Evo is doing a great job at retail, creating branded experience, both online and in person.”
“I’m really impressed with the companies like Capita, for example, which has a 100% sustainable manufacturing facility in Austria and zero waste.”
“COVID and this pandemic time has really given a lot of opportunity to brands, if they are ready and willing to take that step, and those three examples are definitely leaders in the space.”
Crowded Ski Resorts
“Some people might argue that there’s a lot of people at resorts, but I don’t think anyone would argue that there’s not enough space in the outdoor for everybody. As much as we love people going to the ski resorts, we just want people to get outside and enjoy nature, whether you’re going for a walk in the snow, whether you’re going to go for a run, going sledding, going Nordic skiing, or backcountry. Whatever your medium is, we just want people to get comfortable going outside and participating in snow.”
For more information on SIA and The SIA NextGen Study, 2021, click here.