Winter Sports

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By the Numbers: Winter Sports Growing in Unexpected Places

10 Jan, 2018

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Who says the mountain resorts out west have all the fun? According to a new study, nearly half of all snow-seekers will be heading to the South Atlantic to get their fix this winter. Want another shock? The Middle Atlantic region (NJ, NY, PA, WV) has the largest share of all alpine skiers that hit the slopes nine or more times per year.

These facts and more are contained in a participation report published by the trade association, Snowsports Industries America. The 2017 Participation Study, available from SIA, reads like a road map for planners of winter sports events. And now that the season of ice and snow – and the Winter Olympics – has descended, it’ll be more valuable than ever. So what are some of the salient facts?

Winter sports are growing: Winter sports participation increased five percent in 2016/2017, with a total of 24.7 million Americans ages six and older enjoying some aspect of ice or snow sport.

Takeaway: Expect that number to show another spike next year with the Olympics coming up in PyeongChang. Event organizers should be ready to offer ‘how-to’ clinics and chances for spectators to brush up their skills in the hopes of participating in the future

But not where you’d expect: The South Atlantic leads the country in winter sport participation (yes, you read that) with 4.7 million participants. It just edged out the Pacific (yes, you read that too) with 4.5 million. So…the mountains are next, right? Nope. The Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast each packed in 3.4 million participants. The Southwest had 2.5 million and then came the mountains with 2.1 million. The Southeast brought up the rear with 1.1 million.

Takeaway: Event owners who can book events nationwide should think outside the mountains and look at seaboard destinations.

Three states see a lot of activity: Vermont, Colorado and Idaho have the highest percentage of alpine skiers by state.

And others had the lion’s share of the ski population: California was first, followed by New York, and then Texas. It was followed by Florida and Colorado.

Takeaway: These two items have some expected points (like Colorado being a Mecca for skiers), but some that are surprising (Really? Florida?). So where are you recruiting your athletes (and your spectators)?

Snowboarding is still popular among the young: Snowboard participation by youth (ages under 17) saw six percent growth over last season. Female participants of this age group grew over 50,000. As a percentage of snowboarders, the youth make up a 34.3 percent share of all snowboarders. Female snowboarders of this age group grew from 792,000 to 846,000.

But young adults like it too: More than ¼ of all snowboarders that go nine or more times per year are ages 25-34.

Takeaway: While snowboarding has as sport remained stable in participation numbers, it’s not going down. Still, after a boom time during which everyone was discovering the sport and embracing its outlaw vibe, a calmer period can be expected – particularly as participants age.

Freeskiing (of which slopestyle is a subset) is still out there, and slopestyle has experienced a rise in awareness since its debut in Sochi.

It’s more popular out west: The Pacific region (CA, OR, WA) has the largest share of freeskiers at 23.1 percent.

And the discipline skews young: More than 1/3 of all freeskiers that go 9 or more times are youth (17 & under)

Bonus demographic trivia: A total of 17 percent of all freeskiers are Hispanic.

Takeaway: You saw it the first time in Sochi four years ago and you’re about to see it again. This could propel freeskiing into more of a mainstream sport. Are you offering anything for this crowd?

And good old X-C is still popular: More cross-country skiers went to a private Nordic center than a public Nordic center with trails groomed by a government entity.

Takeaway: It’s fun, it’s aerobic and it’s an intense workout. It’s also inexpensive once athletes have invested in their equipment, since there aren’t lift fees or expensive accommodations. And with an Olympics on the horizon, where people will be exposed to this activity, both in racing and in biathlon, it’s time to see what kind of activities local parks and other areas can host. Because once the closing ceremonies are done, people will want to get outside.

Snowshoes, too: Snowshoeing is still popular, and it tends to draw outdoors-savvy athletes. About half of all snowshoe athletes participated in the backcountry on non-groomed trails in the 2016/2017 winter season. More than 40 percent of snowshoers also participate in fishing.

Takeaway: Many of the same principles apply here, specifically a great workout at a minimal cost. And since snowshoeing allows many individuals to go at their own pace, there’s a great opportunity for family interaction, as well as getting out with friends. Play it up and you’ll have a new revenue stream.

The big numbers: 24.7 million Americans ages six and older participated in winter sports (defined here as alpine skiing, freeskiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, telemarking, snowshoeing and sledding) in the 2016/2017 winter season.

Their demographics: Overall, winter sport participants are skewed slightly male, with higher household incomes, and have higher levels of education.

Why not participate? Among those who cited less or no participation in winter sports, the top reasons (other than time or money not being available) were increasing work commitments, increased family commitments, not having anyone to go with, age, the travel required and poor weather conditions.

Takeaway: Make it easy. Make it fun. Keep time commitments to a minimum and book events into local resorts that can benefit from a clientele that is waiting to see some high-level action – all while getting out on the snow on their own.

The report has shown some surprising information on destinations that participants are coming from – which could lead to new revenue streams, if events can be booked into those areas. It has also shown that snow sports are in no way flattening out; if anything, they’re growing and can expect a bounce following PyeongChang. Get ready with advertising campaigns, social media, contact with local ski, snowboard and other clubs – and wait for the return. And for those who want more detailed information on who’s participating in winter sports, including socioeconomic groups, participant education levels, ethnicity and more, the 2017 Participation Study can be obtained from SIA

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