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While it may be difficult to gauge whether or not skiing is being more or less popular while you’re waiting around in a long lift line at a popular resort, statistics show a fuller picture concerning the overall popularity of the sport.
Key studies have shown that Skiing has been suffering from declining participation over the past decade. Not only is it an expensive sport to participate in recreationally, but many segments of the population also don’t have easy access to the slopes.
When Was Skiing At Its Peak Popularity?
In 2010, skiing saw its peak participation within the United States at a little over 16 million participants. It saw a sharp decline over the next few years, before rising again little by little.
However, the peak hasn’t been reached again and there are various answers to this conundrum — depending on who you ask. Is it simply due to the younger generations being less interested or does it have more to do with the economic climate and the high expense of a ski trip?
Searches for ‘Skiing’ Related Topics in USA, 2014-2022
The season of 2010-2011 had some of the greatest natural snowfall in recent history and this was a driving factor behind the increased turnout on the slopes. People were excited to hit the slopes and enjoy the ideal weather and conditions for their winter ski vacation.
Without these same conditions in effect today, it may be difficult to determine whether or not an influx of natural snow would draw increased skier turnout. After all, many resorts have advanced snowmaking capabilities in the modern era, making consistent natural snowfall less of a concern.
Why Has Skiing’s Popularity Been Trending Downward?
There are a variety of reasons why the popularity of the sport has been on a downward trend over the years. Whether you consider the price of participating in the winter sport or the increasingly spotty snowfall each year, these are both potential answers to why there has been a decline in participation.
The answer does not take a one size fits all approach, as it’s more so a combination of a variety of factors that have all come together to result in a decrease in overall turnout on the slopes.
The Divide Between Generations
As the older population reaches an age where they can no longer hit the slopes, the industry is losing consistent revenue. For those who have a yearly tradition of spending a week at their favorite ski resort, this income is sorely missed — especially when it’s not being replaced as easily.
Younger people, who may have more debt and less free time, are not flocking to the mountains in order to take a week of vacation to spend a large portion of their paycheck at an expensive resort. They simply can’t compete with an older generation who has more disposable income and a relaxed retirement schedule.
In order to regain their foothold with the younger generation, ski resorts have been quickly modernizing themselves and the amenities that they offer to skiers. Adding high-speed WiFi has been an additional feature that lodges are offering to guests these days.
Difficult Accessibility & High Cost
Among the millennial population, skiing just hasn’t been the recreational sport of choice. For those who grew up skiing and have a yearly tradition of shredding the slopes with friends and family, it can feel like an inaccessible sport to join as one gets older.
Unlike sports such as tennis or basketball which usually have local courts that are free for public use, skiing requires a lift pass and lodging for those who travel in from warmer climates. Adding in equipment rentals and outerwear, it can easily cost hundreds of dollars just to dip your toes into the sport.
Those who live in the southern states may be unable to take a flight up to Colorado or New York in order to try their feet at skiing. A road trip may be within the confines of their budget and it simply doesn’t need to include the cost of the ski lift, rental gear, and expensive on-site lodging.
But Why Are The Slopes So Crowded Still?
Despite the overall decline in popularity, it’s common to find crowded resorts and long lift lines at many resorts come ski season. It sure doesn’t seem like the sport is losing popularity when you have to wait in line to get up the mountain.
Over the years, more skiers have been flocking to the larger resorts as many of the smaller family-run ski hills have closed due to a lack of business. The patrons that would normally have skied their local runs are having to travel to other resorts in order to hit their yearly quota of skiing. This results in inordinately crowded resorts.
Many of the people you see crowding the lift lines may count as one skier for the season, but they may ski upwards of 30+ days a season if they live locally. It’s difficult to tell how many of these individuals ski multiple times during the season unless you begin asking those around you what their habits are.
Skiing Interest across the United States
Based on Googles searches, Vermont on the East Coast has the most ski-related searches from 2014-2022. This is despite Vermont being the second least-populated U.S. state after Wyoming and the sixth-smallest mainland state.
Skiing Interest By City
When viewing by region, Brenrickdge comes up as the top most searched city within the US.
Has the Climate Affected the Average Snowfall?
With climate change taking a stronger hold every year, snowfall can be a hit or miss at even some of the popular mountains. Many resorts with the money to do so have invested in advanced snowmaking technology, that allows them to stay open with a higher rate of dependability.
Many of the smaller hills that didn’t have the revenue to invest in such measures may be open for fewer days a season or may have been forced to close altogether. Casual skiers may have relied on their local ski hills for their affordability and easy accessibility, but they may be unable to travel hours or take a flight to the nearest large resort — therefore effectively cutting them out of the equation.
What Is The Ski Industry Doing to Combat This?
Along with their ski offerings such as diverse trails and terrain, ski resorts are having to put emphasis on the other activities they offer as well — such as nightlife. In a generation of instant gratification, younger patrons want to be entertained from morning until nightfall.
On a positive note, ski resorts and the industry at large have the potential to draw in greater numbers of skiers, including those in yet untapped markets across the world.
Celebrating a More Diverse Crowd
Opening a wider variety of restaurants that boast a more impressive offering over the regular fare of burgers and pizza is one such idea that has been put forth to resorts across the world. Including a more diverse menu, with options for all ethnic tastes, is a relatively simple way to welcome a larger subset of the population.
The ski industry’s main client base is Caucasian (nearly 90% of participants in the most recent season were white). The industry is missing out on millions of potential visitors by not reaching out to a more diverse customer base.
Considering Their Ticket Prices
A popular move by Vail Resorts was to decrease the cost of their season tickets — from which they saw a significant rise in the percentage of sales. However, this led to incredibly crowded mountains and long lift lines and was deemed an unpopular move by the regulars.
How are resorts supposed to reach out to a different subset of the population if, on one hand, the mountains become too crowded when it becomes cheaper to get in but on the other, a large portion of the population can’t afford the ever-increasing prices being charged?
A long-term solution would be to open more resorts and ski areas around the country. Smaller ski areas are well-geared for beginners and those looking to ski for the right price with their families.
It’s clear, after all, that the interest is there if it’s advertised correctly to those who have never skied before but who are interested in giving it a go.
Providing Opportunity for Learning
As an adult, if you’ve never skied before a day in your life — you may feel intimidated about everything you need to assemble before arriving at the mountain. While rentals have always been a popular option, resorts can also ensure that they’re offering beginner adult lessons instead of solely gearing such an offering to young children.
A non-judgmental group to learn how to ski in is something that could potentially draw in many adults who have an interest in learning to ski but may be nervous to try a new skill.
Are There Signs Pointing Towards A Resurgence?
Though there has been a relatively consistent decline in participation over the years, there have recently been positive signs for the ski industry as a whole.
A surprising turn of events around the pandemic was how it affected people’s desire to get out and be active. Though, if you think about it — it’s not necessarily a surprising outcome due to people having been stuck working and living from their homes for the past year or more.
People were itching for a reason to take a vacation and to safely participate in an activity that didn’t involve sitting on their couch and surfing Netflix and it’s possible that skiing provided that for them.
Searches for ‘Skiing’ Related Topics Across the World, 2014-2022
Countries highlighted in a darker blue are where the majority of ‘Ski’ related searches are made. Alpine European countries, Nordic countries, and North America (USA & Canada) are the most popular places to ski based on their Geography – so unsurprisingly these regions make up the bulk of searches.
New Zealand, Australia & South Africa – all countries with ski resorts – still account for a sizeable interest in the topic for the Southern Hemisphere.
How Did COVID Affect Skiing Participation?
While the numbers had been trending in a downward direction relatively consistent year over year, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a rise in skiing participation during the 2020-2021 season. Multiple ski areas even reported receiving record pass sales.
Will this hold up over the course of the next 2to 3 years, though? What about the next decade?
Some experts had weighed in on the possibility of the pandemic causing a dramatic decline in participation on the slopes but that simply wasn’t the case. Skiers came out in significant numbers.
It’s hard to say until more data comes in from the most recent season of 2021-2022 whether or not this shift will be permanent or if it was simply an outlier due to the unprecedented year of 2020. It’s possible that with social distancing and being cooped up in their homes for the majority of the year, skiers were anxious to get outdoors.
An interesting shift in pandemic skiing was that there was a large increase in the percentage of skiers coming out to resorts on weekdays. A reasonable answer for this shift could be chalked up to the remote workweek that many employers are now offering to their employees.
Is Skiing or Snowboarding More Popular?
By sheer numbers, skiing is still top when you compare both sports. Snowboarding’s peak interest coincides with the Winter Olympics which gives its winter seasonal interest a big increase every four years. Many more people are exposed to it on their TV screens which helps ramp up demand for those wanting to partake.
Despite this regular boost, it appears people’s general interest in Snowboarding is on a gradual decline over the two decades.
Searches for ‘Snowboarding’ Related Topics Across the World, 2014-2022
Skiing (Blue Line) vs Snowboarding
When you compare the two sports, searches for ‘Skiing’ (blue line) related topics are significantly higher than ‘Snowboarding’ (red line). Both sports have a loyal following, but the data shows that Skiing is much more popular.
Snowboarding vs Skiing Across The World
The popularity of skiing with the general public has been trending downwards over the years, after reaching a peak in the season of 2010-2011 — well over a decade ago now. However, the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the population have perhaps given way to an era of resurgence for the sport.
Only time will tell if this increased popularity will last or if it was simply a reaction to a tough year that many people spent bored in their homes for months on end. It’s no question that the ski industry should be taking measures to ensure its continued survival over the next decade or two and how to best reach the younger population of outdoor enthusiasts.