Snowboarding soared from a mere 7.7 percent of visits to U.S. ski resorts in 1991 to 32.6 percent in 2009-10. The rapid growth countered the downward trend seen in skier visits through the 1990s, and snowboarding is largely credited with saving the sport. But the share has fallen over the past two seasons to 30.2 percent. Surprisingly, a higher percentage of snowboarders are leaving snowsports than skiers.
As an example, last November at Southern California’s Mountain High ski area was identical to November 2002. The same amount of terrain was open for the same number of days — and under nearly identical weather. But in November 2002, Mountain High swarmed with almost 80,000 visits. Last November, the 290-acre ski area saw barely 42,000 visits.
The industry has seen two consecutive seasons of declining snowboarder visits and a host of other statistical warning signs. Last week an expert presented members of the National Ski Areas Association with research showing snowboarding not just leveling but falling.
While the 2011-12 season was the worst in 20 years, with declines in nearly every region and sector of snowsports, the sustained decrease in snowboarding stretches across several statistical points beyond visitation.
2012 snowboarders are older, from an average age of 23.5 in 1996-97 to 27.5 in 2010-11. They are spending fewer days on the hill: from a high of 7.6 days a season in 1996-97 to 6.1 days in 2010-11. For years, skiers averaged 5.7 days a season, and resort leaders expect snowboarding to continue its slide to a similar level of seasonal participation. And fewer snowboarders are buying boards, down from a record high of 556,055 in 2008 to 497,605 in 2011, according to data from Snowsports Industries America.
Perhaps mosttelling for the ski industry is the fact that the number of kids 14 and younger who first enter snowsports riding snowboards has steadily declined since 2003, from a peak of 42.3 percent of all 14-and-younger snowsports first-timers to a 12-year low of 35.7 percent in 2011.
The decline in snowboarding across every snowy region of the country has further fueled concerns in ski resort industry as the aging baby boomers who swamped skiing in the 1970s and ’80s, leave the sport.