Skiing is okay for old people.
That is the stereotype the International Ski Federation is fighting. And apparently it will take an all-out effort to make competitive events appeal to a younger demographic.
According to an article in Inside The Games, Markus Waldner, the chief race director of FIS, has admitted that some of the Alpine disciplines are “no longer attractive” to television viewers and said that work is underway to attract more younger fans.
The traditional Olympic formats of downhill, slalom, giant slalom and super-G have lost their appeal, he adds. TV audiences, with the exception of hardcore, longtime skiers, do not want to wait for each skier to come down the hill.
Instead, he notes, other more visually appealing disciplines, such as the parallel giant slalom where two skiers race each other down the mountain, could become far more popular.
Already, the ski industry has seen the age of its core athletes inching up. According to an article in the Ottowa Business Journal, ski resort patrons are getting older, with the average age of a customer at U.S. resorts rising from 33 in 1997-98 to the ripe old age of 39 in 2014, according to the National Ski Areas Association.
The share of those heading for the slopes who are over the age of 55 has jumped to 17 per cent from seven per cent over that span, the group’s data shows, prompting the industry to search for ways to lure the younger crowd to winter activities.
The fact that there’s more to tempt them to stay inside doesn’t help. Fitness activities like CrossFit take place inside gyms and do not require a long drive or an investment in clothing or equipment.
By contrast, snowboarding has long attracted a younger demographic, particularly since it emerged as a counter-culture sport and offers viewer-friendly events such as halfpipe and boardercross.
Skiing has been trying to inch down its demographic. At the Winter Olympic level, the addition of slopestyle events is one attempt to capture the youth market, particularly on the male side. (In fact, the recent addition of youth-friendly sports in the summer Games, including surfing, roller sports and sport climbing, is further evidence of the IOC’s commitment to attracting that younger, hipper viewers.
“[There have been] many discussions and reflections regarding the number of disciplines and attractiveness of the sport,” said Waldner in an interview on the FIS website. “To activate and involve a wider audience, we need to have an easy understandable product.
"The parallel races are a good example, as the head-to-head format is very exciting and easy to understand. It may be a good way to attract the younger generation - figures show that most viewers are 45 years old - so they can enjoy Alpine Skiing as well. In the long term we’ll need to change something in our calendar, and we’re already working on it. No revolution, but steady evolution towards a better World Cup.”
The venerable sport’s fight to remain relevant and recruit younger viewers might bring to mind the car commercial that stated “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Alas, it did not help and the last Olds rolled off the line in 2004. Skiing is taking steps to avoid a similar fate.