Thursday, December 8, 2011

What's Wrong With Snowboard Magazines?


Yesterday on the Facebook group - History of Snowboarding (which is a good group that you should all join), Snowboarding Legend Mike Ranquet (to use his full name) asked this question: 

“When, why and how did the majority of snowboard magazines turn into the equivalent of ‘Tiger-Beat Snowboarding’? When I look at Thrasher or most any skateboard and or surf magazines they don’t make me feel alienated and old; yet most of the major snowboard magazines do. The snowboard mags have the same MO as any pre-teen/teen gossip magazines; they don’t seem to care about where they came from or where they’re going, just living in the now. Wouldn’t in depth interviews or features including anyone over 30 (or 40 in my case) be of interest to most? 

When I open a new snowboard mag I have no stoke or excitement as too what’s going on because..... well I just don’t care, yet I know that when I open a Thrasher there will be photo’s and articles that I want to look at and read. Skate, surf and even rock/music magazines make me feel young and evoke a feeling that I’ve been harboring for years and it stokes me out, but snowboard magazines make me feel old. I know I’m old (41), but that’s not the point; the point is that these mags should make me feel young but haven’t for the better part of a decade. 

With the exception of the ‘token’ old guy 1/4 page shot here and there, the significant history of our sport has been swept under the rug. Not upset, just confused as to why other board related sports have been able to keep all demographics of its participants interested yet snowboard mags fall short.
Next thing you know it’s kicking off and there are 145 comments. We wanted to add our own 2 cents to the debate, but there wasn’t enough space in a Facebook comment to get across all the things we wanted to say on the topic so here you go…

We started this site because the snowboard magazines weren’t providing enough of the kind of content we were interested in. There was a whole world of snowboarding that we wanted to find out more about, so rather than waiting for someone else to do it we got on and did it ourselves. We spent about 2 years figuring out what we wanted to write about and another 4 years writing this stuff. Having to fit this blogging shenanigans in amongst everything else we do makes you think a lot about what you are doing, why you are doing it and the environment you are working in. Over that time this is what we have noticed.

Problems with the current US snowboard magazines (and often their websites)
1. They are all rushing to cover exactly the same middle-of-the-road ground. They have no personality or view point which means that once you’ve read a couple of editions there’s nothing new that makes you want to go back again.
2. There is a lack of variation in content and the content they do produce is to a large extent uninteresting. For example a good proportion of the content of the magazines is made up of interviews with snowboarders. That’s interviews with sports people who are paid to spin around not be elegant wordsmiths or great thinkers, and they’re young whipper-snappers to boot who have very few anecdotes so the interviews are dull and repetitive. Like this but not so high: 
and don't even get me started on the Snowboarder Mag intern interviews
3. Here’s the weird bit - Talking about snowboarding is fundamentally dull. It’s a feeling and conversations about feelings (the good ones because the bad feelings make for great conversations) are both frustrating for the person trying to convey their experience and intensely dull for the listener. It’s like talking about dreams. No one is running a successful magazine narrating people’s dreams. Try narrating the story of your day snowboarding to a friend that wasn’t with you and watch them try to end their life in front of you (if you think this doesn’t happen to you, you should either start writing for a magazine immediately or stop telling stories for ever).

What they could do:
  • Piss off some people: You can’t be all things to all men, those people who try are politicians and everyone hates them. For the magazines to be successful they need to grow a set and be willing to piss off some people. For every person you piss off there will be more who do like what you are doing and who will follow you far more intently than they do at present (as long as you are not nuts, but if you are, you won’t know it anyway, so carry on).
  • Become journalists: Instead of just repeating the stuff the snowboarders or snowboard brands PR teams tell you, journalists should be out trying to find and create stories.
  • Get political: There are a number of significant issues that no one is taking a lead on in the world of snowboarding. If a major magazine took a stance on something like the FIS/Olympics fiasco, supporting snowboarders who fall on hard times or the environment they could then try and change things for the better. A magazine with a stance, with their readership in tow, could be the one outlet that could genuinely make a difference in our sport.
  • Try a different topic: Write about other topics like the history, the politics, and the weird stuff, the stuff we should be angry about or should care more about.
  • Get a personality: Develop a unique writing style or visual style that makes them stand out from the competition.
  • Don’t let the lure of advertising corrupt: There’s a balance between being helpful to advertisers and allowing them to control your product. In the US snowboard magazine market there have been recent signs that this balance has not been kept. The only thing this kind of thing does is make things even more bland and pointless.
Like Photoshopping logos onto front page pictures
Offering preferential reviews in buyer's guides 
Incidentally the US snowboard magazine buyer guides are the most pointless things ever put on paper. Why do they show pages full of pictures of snowboard boots every year? What the hell are we supposed to do with that? I can only think it appeals to the 1% of people who buy boots because they think they look nice and the 1% of people that love to create freaky snowboard boot collages.

Two examples of similar situations/solutions:
  1.  The mobile industry before Apple got involved. The iPhone doesn’t suit everyone and they do some things that piss people off like enforcing a monopoly on the technology they use, but for every person that doesn’t like them they have an Apple fan who is nuts for them. The iPhone shook up a complacent industry that all did the same thing (like the current US snowboard magazine industry) and now they have the upper hand.
  2. TV car shows before Top Gear went mental (The UK one not the crappy US version). This show really pisses people off, they don’t review small cars and Jeremy Clarkson is an over-opinionated twat. However it is now the world’s most watched car show. Even if people don’t like their stance on things like global warning or shooting public sector workers in front of their children, they still watch it because it’s entertaining. Similarly to snowboarding the topic of cars is all a dull topic and they solved the problem by talking around cars and not actually talking about cars. Top Gear also have changed the way they work with the car companies (advertising but with BBC limitations). They used to struggle to get small cars on the show and as a result were careful about how they reviewed them. After they changed, even though they absolutely slate some cars, the car companies are still throwing cars at them. If you do things right the advertisers don’t dictate what you do, you get to dictate to them.
Hello Toyota, we'd like to have 10 cars fuck about in and crash.
One more idea – The ubermagblog
Imagine having a magazine that was made up of these features:
Now that would be a magazine we’d want to read every month.
Wherever there is a niche that a big site or magazine isn't covering a blogger will appear. There are even some areas they haven’t covered. There’s no good snowboarding history site yet for example and clearly there is a thirst for it because that Facebook group has 4,000 members. We’d do it ourselves except we already have our thing and we don’t have time to expand so feel free to run with that one and credit us later. The magazines should be watching what they do and learning from it, it's free prototyping and a source of proven talent.
Add to that content the photographs from Transworld Sport (which are well pretty)
And finally get Whitelines to edit it and make it look nice. This whole article was specifically about the US snowboard magazines (and from my experience you can throw the Canadian, Australian and New Zealandish ones in the same bucket). There are a few exceptions to this rule and the UK mag Whitelines is one (although we’re not claiming they’re perfect). It’s a magazine with an attitude (it’s no coincidence that the mag with the controversial name is the mag with the most personality) and the editor is currently churning out some great articles.
While we’re at it, the Japanese mags really go to town on trick tips and fashion (in fact there’s another niche someone could focus on), I have no idea what they are saying but they still work. Add that in too.

That's enough opinion, we'll get back to researching snowboard porn. 

Feel free to give your 2 cents or you you might also like...
The World's first snowboard magazine - reviewed
Some investigative journalism and opinion mashed together


  1. Epic. As a Kid I was stoked to get mags and go through them but as I grew up the mags tend to stay the same age which would be about 13 and a half if I got my math right. Sick Article, keep killin it.

  2. Thanks Are Dub. The mags have stayed the same, but over the years snowboarders have grown up. We wrote an article a couple of weeks back 'Snowboarding vs. Skiing – Who’s Winning?' and the the average age of snowboarders is 24 and rising. Snowboard mags haven't moved with the audience.

  3. i think even skate and surf magazines are this way too. Remember a Magazine back in the day called Big Brother, now that was a real magazine!!

  4. Just don't understand how Snowboard Canada/TW , this, years resort guide, can be exactly the same as last year. Mix in the nauseating photo captions. They've lost me.

  5. and gear guide... and rider profile...and...

  6. Totally agree and so glad you wrote this article, I've been thinking about this a lot since I started dabbling in writing about snowboarding. I'm in my "watch and learn" phase (during those first two years, were you guys blogging just on your own personal sites about riding or simply reading up and getting educated on what's going on?). Anyway one thing I've already noticed is that a lot of the mainstream publications lack meaningful editorial - pictures and videos are great, but a lot of us actually can READ, and enjoy it. You were spot on about other points as well including preferential gear reviews and how people are afraid to get political... I'm still trying to figure out what it is exactly about this industry that seems to dissuade most writers from saying anything potentially controversial. Thanks for proving you can indeed write outside the box in this industry.

  7. Just to give you heads up Shay, Myself, Buoloco's Bob Klein, and Pat Bridges were all in the same room tonight. Think of the possibilities!

    1. "Think of the possibilities!"? What, like Pat bridges teaching you and Shannon how to actually write?

  8. Agree, most ski and surf mags are also pretty shite. I normally read Rolling Stone as its got a good mix of articles, reviews etc... Maybe check out the surf mag Stab. They have pissed off pretty much every pro surfer and are a great read.

  9. Hi Gloria. Just thinking about setting up a site for two years. Takes some time to go from a idea down the pub to actually figuring out what you can do that would be fun and have a niche. Most important thing for this site was finding something enjoyable, because there was never any plans to do anything commercial.

    Good luck Avran, it will be interesting to see where things go with all these sites down the road.

    Hey there Tom. Stab sounds good. Only issue for me is that on principle I stay well clear of any sport where there is a good chance of getting eaten by giant toothy flesh missiles.

  10. Great blog. I think the lack of content is due to the recent decline in advertising budgets.

    If you look at Fall Line, all of the recent content is shit and it's because they've got no money to do anything interesting, so it's easier for them to reproduce free shit and content given to them by advertisers.

    I don't buy magazines anymore, just read blogs that are genuinely interesting.

  11. Dear Illicit Snowboarding,

    I am writing to accept your utterly awesome job offer. I am available to start about 10 minutes before you read this, and am happy to accept a sub tour-op salary plus unlimited supply of Haribo crocodiles. I propose to start with that place in Russia where I believe they offer attack by religious zealot as an apres ski activity.


  12. I really enjoyed this article. I actually write for one of these said offenders, and while I do agree with what you say on many aspects there is a difficult balance of keeping people interested and going headhunting. I am not old, but compared to the average reader I am older, and honestly, I would be stoked to write about topics such as the FIS/IOC/TTR debacle. And I may get that chance next season as the winter Olympics are on the minds of the readers.

    I think one thing that is difficult in a national magazine is that when your on the national stage, there is more pressure all around; not just from advertisers. I completely agree about the regular Q&A scenario getting old. It makes the writer and publication look bad if the snowboarder doesn't know how to form a sentence properly.

    Working for the magazine is my dream, and I am stoked every minute that I am involved. However, I am a journalism major and am hungry for hard-hitting stories that aren't the regular recycled shit. I am glad I came across this article, it makes me realize that I can help this situation. Well--hopefully help this situation.


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