On the surface, it seems as if the snowboard industry is dying. Fewer riders are taking lessons, sales are some of the lowest they’ve ever been. Sales in the U.S. have dropped to $105 million in 2014 from $124 million in 2010, and visits to resorts dropped from 60 million to 56 million, according to the statistics aggregator Statista.com. It appears a lot of young snow sports enthusiasts have either started with skiing or are making the switch to skiing now.
The most inauspicious sign came when Nike announced last year they would be dropping out of the industry to focus on skateboarding
While this news has some scared, I remember when everyone freaked out that snowboarding was becoming way too commercial and mainstream when Nike said they were entering the market. Yet now that they are leaving, those same people see this as another nail in the coffin. I for one welcome a return to the niche, core culture that doesn’t need big companies like Nike.
I don’t care if Joe the accountant and his family aren’t buying new gear this season for their annual trip to Whistler, only to put it all in the basement when they get home. The people who ride their dented deck with huge core shots and duct taped toe-straps are still going to strap in the second there’s more than 10 cm of snow on the ground.
Snowboarding isn’t dead, it’s returning to its roots, and to those that have stayed loyal to the culture.
I’ve been riding since the mid-90s, when snowboarding blew up on the scene and would eventually breathe new life into its rival/sister sport, skiing. What’s happening to the snowboarding industry now happened to skiing two decades ago; numbers were down, the sport was stagnant, and innovation plateaued. Then, guys like Jeremy Jones and JP Walker brought skateboard-style urban riding to snowboarding and changed the game.
Several years later, skiers thought, “why not us too?” Technical innovations like twin-tips were directly inspired by snowboarders and revolutionized skiing, inspiring skiers to ride backwards and perform tricks like all the rebellious snowboarders.
The skiing industry would still be dying if it weren’t for the innovations snowboarding brought to the sport, and the stigma of skiers hating snowboarders and vice-versa hasn’t really existed for years. Hell, some of my best friends are skiers. After all, who is going to pull you through those flat sections or double back to grab your wallet when it falls out? At least, that’s how it is with my generation. But hearing old guard ski snobs laugh derisively at us while they high five each-other and say, “I told you it was just a trend, I knew it wouldn’t last,” really grinds my gears.
The snow sports industry as a whole has been in decline since peaking in the early 2000s. Snowboarding numbers might be down, but so are skiing numbers. Blame global warming, or the economy, or whatever, the fact is less people are heading to the hills every year, regardless of which equipment is attached to their feet.
Perhaps we’re at a point between generations. A lot of snowboarders from my era are working full-time jobs and dealing with those annoying responsibilities that come with adulthood. There’s not as much time to get out there and ride when you’re commuting to the city every day or picking the kids up at daycare. It’s difficult to budget hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars for passes and new gear when you have a mortgage to pay.
I feel safe in saying, after working in the industry for nearly 15 years, that a major reason there are still plenty of people skiing is because that sport was designed around exclusivity for the wealthy. The majority of families I see out skiing together are all decked out in the newest gear and can be seen pulling into the parking lot in expensive vehicles. Those rich parents who grew up staying at fancy lodges taking private lessons are going to make damn sure their kids do the same. Snowboarders, on the other hand, are stereotyped as dirtbags and rebels for a reason. When the sport began, the riders weren’t out there for the prestige, or the image, or the expensive cocktails at the après party; they just wanted to get out and have fun. If that fun had the added advantage of annoying some snobby, condescending rich lady, then all the better.
Fear not though fellow shred-heads, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Those kids being picked up at daycare by their former shred-bum parents are getting snowboards for Christmas. They’re getting to that age where mom and dad can take them out on the hill and teach them how to ride. It would be anathema to someone who spent a good chunk of their life on a snowboard to put their child in ski lessons with kids whose parents might prefer a return to the days when snowboarders were relegated to different hills. Give it another 10 years, and someone will be writing an article just like this about “Why the ski industry is dying.” Everything happens in cycles, our day will come again.