Friday, September 28, 2012

Reports of the death of snowboarding are greatly exaggerated. + How to get more women into snowboarding

Earlier this year Nate Fristoe from the consulting firm RRC Associates presented some worrying statics on the current situation in snowboarding titled ‘The Rise and Stall of Snowboarding’. His speech resulted in what Transworld Business described as a “media blitz” or as we’d describe “a couple of obscure articles” foretelling a decline in snowboarding. Earlier this month Transworld Business printed Fristoe’s presentation in full. The data was interesting, there were oodles of charts and everyone loves a good chart, but some of the interpretations were very questionable. Do we need to worry?...

Here’s a look at a few of the more interesting charts in the report starting with this one showing that the number of snowboarders has levelled out in the last few years and fell last season considerably... 

This is where Fristo and the media focused on a downward trend they saw when they looked at the past two years. I’m not comfortable in any way with that reading. The drop in 2010/11 was so minimal it’s probably not even statistically significant, and probably no different to the general variation the sport has seen since things flattened out in 2000/01 (it was actually the second largest season ever which is a positive thing). Then you have the problem of reading a trend into a single bad season and that’s a dangerous thing to do. One bad season is not a trend, and until we see a continued drop the balance of probabilities is that it had more to do with the shitty winter last season than anything else. 

What they've done is the equivalent of looking at the awesomeness of your week with Monday as the last day. Monday is clearly a crappy day that follows the highs of the weekend, but it’s not the sign that the next few days are about to drop you into an unlimited pit of despair.  

For all you people reading this on a Monday, it will get better we promise, just hold in in there.

This chart is Fristoe’s estimate of what that stall/drop has cost the resort industry in the US in terms of lost visits per year... 

It’s bollocks. Snowboarding was never on a path to continue to grow endlessly. Take a look at the snowboarding figures against the skiing figures from the same source of data... 

Just over 12 million people either skied or snowboarded in the late 80s and thirty years later the numbers have stayed pretty much the same. All that happened in the middle is that roughly half of the people that would have skied in the 80s now snowboard. Snowboarders weren’t new people coming to the mountain, they were people that were going anyway and just decided to slide down the hills in a slightly different way. There is no sign at all that an extra 3 million people have suddenly gone astray in the last three years.

On to the next one and here snowboarders are hitting the slopes less and less... 

The folks behind this report also found this downward trend a reason to worry about the health of snowboarding and oddly they highlighted the consistency of skiing visits as a good thing even though that was consistently lower. Snowboarding looks like it will eventually match skiing (just like it is doing in participation and demographics) so it’s actually more of a balancing. That’s bad news for people that don’t like downward trends in charts, but good news for people who like consistency. Skiing is healthy on 5.5 days a year and snowboarding will probably be alright too. 

Next Fristoe moved on to gender inequality and here’s where things got really misleading. Here’s a chart looking at male and female snowboard participation and this is what Fristoe has to say about it: “In terms of snowboarding participants, there are over 600,000 more male snowboarders than female snowboarders.  This translates into a 65:35 male to female ratio for snowboarding.  In contrast, the overall male to female participant ratio for skiing is a much more balanced 51 to 49 percent.  Putting all these numbers together, one realizes almost all the gender imbalance in snow sports is driven by snowboarding.”

Now here’s the same data, also from the same NSAA source but from different batch of research. It’s a bit more erratic year on year, but it does show a similar trend and more interestingly the skiing breakdown is now included rather than just simply summarised.


And they’re not so different after all. Both sports have an imbalance towards male participants and just like all the other trends the snowboarding demographic is gradually starting to mirror the skiing demographic. Snowboarding is not at fault for “almost all the gender imbalance in snow sports” and going to get less imbalanced over time anyway. Happy days.

Fristoe goes on to show that a smaller percentage of the snowboarding participants are under the age of 14...

This trend can be explained in part because snowboarders aged in general and as snowboarding got more popular it also brought in new people who were over that age of 14. But even if you adjust the numbers of those issues, then it could be a worrying downward trend, but before I get my knickers in a twist I’d really want to know how these figures compares to skiing. I’m going to save my worrying until someone shows me some data where skiing has a higher proportion of under 14s and it’s experiencing a growth trend. Until then I’m going to guess that snowboarding has a higher proportion of under 14s and it’s reducing to a similar level as skiing, because every other trend snows the same thing; speaking of which…

Next, a chart showing that snowboarders are getting older... 

Snowboarders are now 27 years old on average and for reference skiers are 30 and have been for many years. You know the score.

Now we reach the end of the report and we hit the summary. Fristoe wants the industry to try a few things:

1. Improve the take up of the sport by making is easier for children to get involved. This is sensible but he doesn't expect it to have a huge effect on growth.

2. Snowboarders could be encouraged to snowboard more if ticket prices were cheaper, but he’s not expecting much to change there because the resorts would lose some yield.

3. What Fristoe bets the farm on is solving the gender inequality issue. Here’s what he thinks will happen if the industry concentrates on that...


“With this focus, the decline in visitation is not only halted, but within roughly eight seasons snowboarding visits are back on a growth trajectory.”
Or in other words - A single bad season results in a sudden and consistent downward trend, which will be halted and turned around by some fortuitous growth in an industry that hasn't grown in thirty years, all caused by a rise in female participation to 40%, which is going to happen anyway without anyone even trying.

So there you go, if you believe Nate Fristoe then snowboarding is in the clag, but if you read the results the way we do then it's just bumbling along, not doing brilliantly, but not about to implode either. We might not share the same conclusion as Fristoe, but we do share the ambition that the sport should continue to grow and we like the idea of encouraging more women to join in. This sport is a sausagefest, it needs to change and not many people will argue with that (well at least 67.20% of you won’t). Here’s our solution to encourage more women to try the sport, feel free to use these posters to convince more women you know to give it a try…



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    They include: Snowboarders, Snowboarding Fans, Experts, Teams, etc.
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  2. is scaring the women....

    Also, I think like any news bad news is new people read and talk about. Having Transworld talk about the horrible state that snowboarding is in than people will be like "@transworld snowboarding is projected to have -35 people participating in 2020 based on this years downward trend #nolo!"

    But luckily we have Illicit to cut the crap...

  3. Novel tactics for trying to get more girls involved in snowboarding!
    I've been skiing for years and always wanted to try boarding but having both feet trapped to the same board is an idea I've always found a bit scary.

  4. Nice post, and way to bring the maff. In the end I couldn't give two shits about participation growth, demographics, etc. It's fun to me and that's all that matters in the end. If it's not fun to you go do something else.


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