The snowsports industry has long hailed mega resorts like Colorado’s Vail Mountain as pinnacles of the on-mountain experience. But by the time the chairs start spinning at 8:30 am on any given powder day, thousands of people have already tackled I-70, paid $60 bucks for parking, negotiated rental and ticket lines, and maybe even had time to snag some coffee. Powder crazed parents herd confused toddlers through hoards of diehard locals, weekend warriors, and Texas vacationers—all hell bent on skiing the same snow. Opening bell’s initial rush looks like the start of an Ironman triathlon minus the wet suits and Gu Packets. Vail’s expertly laid out lift system distributes skiers so efficiently that the majority of untracked terrain on Vail’s 5,289 acres quickly becomes a distant memory.
By 2 pm when it’s time to wrestle the family back into the minivan and “beat traffic” back to the front range, Dad’s already been up for 10 hours and only gotten a total of six un-tracked turns all day. Others board shuttle vans to DIA, only to return a year later for their next skiing vacation. The resorts that fall under the Vail empire see a full 12.3 percent of US skier visits*, it’s a big number considering Vail controls only 10 of the 478 ski areas in the United States.
On January 27th, Outsideonline.com published an article titled “Can Snowboarding Be Saved?” citing the sport’s youth-driven marketing model as a limiting factor in the sport’s growth. The article pointed out snowboarding’s slow adoption of the backcountry market, and the lack of carving boards on the shelves today.
Deeper research shows that snowboarding’s numbers have only “stalled,” but as a whole, the snow sports industry has seen a decrease in participation over the last few years. According to numbers posted by the Snowsports Industries of America, the number of Alpine skiers dropped off by 2 million between the 11/12, and 12/13 seasons. Blame for poor numbers always rests on “bad” winters.
While these numbers show the most dramatic drop in Alpine skiers in the last four seasons, it’s fair to say that all markets have been holding relatively steady. So why then, does dire news about the snow sports industry keep popping up?