In this week’s Revelation, I posted my top ten (twelve, actually) reasons why skis sales have shrunk, along with the musings of two Dear Readers on the subject. Note that the topic’s focus was ski sales at retail, not skier or skier/rider participation rates, subjects that are certainly related but just as certainly not the same.
Below are verbatim reader responses culled in the last 48 hours. I’ve corrected the odd typo, but otherwise left these contributions intact.
My thanks to all who took the time to tell their tales. – JH
Hi! I have to disagree on this one from a Northwest perspective. The ski areas near Seattle, including Whistler in BC are so crowded on the weekends! The parking lots at Stevens and Crystal fill up 30-45 minutes before the areas even open. On Fridays, busloads of school kids come up. In the brown bag areas, I hear languages from all over the world. I can’t attest to what skis people have, but maybe they are using their skis/boards until they wear out; that is what we do in my family. I am 60 years old and I have only owned two pairs of alpine skis the last 20 years. I finally bought my 24-year-old daughter a new pair of skis a year ago (at the end of season sale) to replace the pair we got her in junior high. Before that we always bought the kids used gear or did season rentals while they were growing. As far as boarding goes, there are lots of people with grey hair here still boarding- it is super popular! And the kids I see jumping can actually turn too! Lots of families show up Friday evening for night skiing when it is cheaper and you always get a parking spot.
We are taking up back country and cross-country skiing on the weekends now because the lift areas are just too crowded. But with Covid and the reservations in place this year, skiing on the weekends might work.
If ski sales have shrunk, it is probably because the market is saturated. People don’t need the latest and greatest to have fun! But in Seattle, with all the new people skiing, I doubt sales have shrunk here, at least until Covid hit.
Wow, great seeing an old picture from my instructing days at Winter Park, circa 1975. I remember Bruce Benedict and am guessing that is him at the front of the line. I believe that’s Mike Giese at the end. I don’t recognize any of the rest. Fun to see.
All of your reasons for the decline of ski sales make sense, but I don’t think there has been much of a decline of skiers. At least that’s what I’ve experience anecdotally. I’m sure you’ve seen skier visits and could confirm or deny. In the last couple of years at WP, we’ve been seeing days in the 17k and 18k on weekends (I’m on volunteer ski patrol now). Crowded slopes but lifts that handle the uphill traffic well. I’m actually surprised to read that ski sales are not up, especially with the widening of on-ski-quiver skis.
Thanks for your articles,
Hope all is well with you during these crazy times! Personally, I vote for bringing back stretch pants.
Things are really expensive considering wage growth is stagnant!
I am a skier and a really pathetic snowboarder. The one edge on the snow always feels like a high wire act. (One edge on the water on a surfboard when Kiteboarding is so much better.)
I snowboard in the spring in the afternoon. During the regular season, I will sometimes go snowboarding in the afternoon if snow conditions are really good.
I have friends at work who stopped snowboarding just as you discussed. When I ask them the reason, they often state hard-pack or icy conditions are just not fun on a snowboard. Too much of the season is off-limits unless they want to get injured like their friends.
I try to get them to go to the Reno Junior [Sky Tavern] ski program with their kids and learn how to ski for a reasonable price. As you know, the only place like it in the United States.
One of my relatives got an instructor from Northstar who just happen to be up there volunteering. With one of the Spina family in charge now, perhaps the Ski instructor training will become even better.
I hope all is well with you.
I thought the biggest reason was that first-time skiers don’t come back for a second ski experience due to not having a great time the first time. I guess first time snowboarders can have a great experience the first time.
Jack W. Moorman
My view coming from NZ is that while it seems, especially this year, more were trying skiing and sales reflected that, overall there was little choice to travel anywhere else so individuals’ discretionary spend was more targeted.
But in general, my thoughts are:
- individuals specialize less on perfection in leisure sports now and more around participation, i.e. going once counts as being a skier, especially if shown on social media.
- cost of entry to a seasonal sport is still high, especially for families
- it is easier to stay at home and be warm, and eat and drink to socialize
- millennials now are somewhat lazy and self-gratifying. Without time and lessons or practice, skiing is a difficult activity to look as good as my friends or others at, regardless of any personal perfection in performance.
- to get to an advanced level at skiing, which I think usually creates a proportional increase in enjoyment and therefore a mutual investment in gear, takes time and commitment i.e. more than a weekend with your mates a season
- a lot being seasonal skiers at say 3 days a year, this does not encourage a value add spend on the total package of skis, boots, poles, outdoor gear, helmet, gloves and googles that are not used for anything else.
- limited retailers here and demo programs to make informed decisions on a 1-ski quiver. To buy a ski off internet advice, like yours, I believe you actually have to know how to ski, not lie to yourself about your own level and what you want to achieve. A good proportion of skiers I watch skiing are nowhere near that level of skill or perception.
- the old adage of take a lesson. Very limited people I know that have skied even consider lessons to get better so buying skis specifically as well is not the commitment, they elect to take
- second hand market. I am amazed, after moving to live at a ski town here, the number of skiers on equipment that is more than 10 and even 15 years old. Once again, whether cost or no idea how new skis have progressed, or ability to notice improvement once skied on regardless, there seems to be a lot of people skiing on dated possibly even never tuned equipment.
Hopefully some of those are useful. I’m helping keep up the average here as currently have 7 sets of skis acquired over the last 5 years, 75mm through to 100mm. We are actively skiing as much as we can enjoying the benefits of living in Queenstown. 38 days this year and 216,000m vert counting 2 weeks in Austria snuck in before Covid.
I enjoy your rhetoric immensely, keep it up.
We’re 80 and 76 and still ski. Our kids grew up mostly in Maine, with a second home in Aspen for more than 40 years. Only one of our kids and their family still skis and she lives in a major ski area and is the GM of a very successful high-end restaurant. Our other two children can no longer afford to take their families skiing, in spite of financially comfortable lives. The cost of skiing is outrageous.
Outfit the kids and themselves in ski clothes, boots, skis, bindings, poles, etc. Airfare, rental car, meals in restaurants and on the mountain, one or two weeks in a condo or hotel, lift tickets, numerous extras such as ski lessons. You’re looking at somewhere north of $20,000 for an average family of four just for one major trip. Middle class families just can’t afford it. Even fairly wealthy families have a difficult time justifying the cost and the time commitments too. In the 1940’s and 50’s, my family of four skied regularly for a few hundred dollars a year. That’s the equivalent of $7,000 to 8,000 today. Still a lot, but doable for many families. That included living in Northern New Jersey full time and commuting to Stowe, VT on weekends and for school vacations and two kids racing for the Mount Mansfield Ski Club.
This article is hilarious. Does it occur to you that the industry has lost sight of growing the popularity of skiing; bring in new skiers and spreading the love of skiing beyond a largely white, upper mid to upper class clientele? Consider the cost of lift tickets, lunch for the day $100 to 200 per person. The industry lacks vision, lacks inclusiveness, and is focused on profits. Eventually, (combined with more erratic weather) this will be its demise. Shortsighted, and out of touch with a changing country. See Hal Clifford’s book for an insightful view on the industries switch from growing the sport to making money via land development and amenities.
You asked why skiing seems to be a shrinking sport. [Not really, but close.- JH] Your latest Revelation calls out some very obvious and correct reasons for fewer skiers. I have heard this same scenario over and over, only to have it amplified when I was a mountain host. The neophyte skier got cold. Usually a woman who borrowed cotton long johns and wore a sweatshirt. To this they added a borrowed pair of lined ski pants and a parka made for the North Pole. They rented gear and proceeded to use virtually every muscle in their body to try and ski. They then began to sweat profusely and became wet and then got cold that nothing short of a hot bath that night relieved. The bath may have come hours later after a long drive. The second situation is having their friends take them “to the top” after 2 runs down the bunny hill. This situation usually resulted in the individual taking the skis off and setting on their backside while sliding down the hill, never to return again. Add these two issues to the long list you provided and it is rather easy to see why so many people never really get the “bug.”
Re: Why Ski sales are down? You missed the stat skier days have remained relatively constant for the last few years. So all that cosmic jive about High School sports, cost of lift tickets, lodging, clothing (Oh yeah that Bogner outfit is 5 G’s, I’m going to quit skiing! Yeah right…) misses the mark Oh Great Pontiff 😉 How about skis are just made better, last longer. Used to be I’d see a pair go soft after about 100-120 days. Now I’m close to 200 days on a pair of Blizzard Brahma’s and I’m just starting to feel the breakdown (loss of flex, vibration absorption, stiffness). I’m 6’4″ 250# a 50-60 day a year guy. Not a lightweight and when I get on an edge, you’ll see a gargantuan rooster. I did buy a new pair of Moment Commander 98’s over the summer, former demo pair, good price. Couple of reasons I bought Moment, local (I live in Reno), free tunes, free mounting, Support the little guy. Nice stiff ski, did demo them last season, and I foresee they’ll last for 200 or so days. So how’s about a pontification about ski manufacture where you can dazzle us with ski build and durability? And why today’s skis are going to last a lot longer than the days of old. Enjoy the newsletter and insights so know you enjoy a little sarcasm!
The Big Zude
First of all, thanks for all of the great content you supply. You are one of the few Industry Experts that I agree with far more often than not. I regularly require my staff to read your musings.
I agree with most of the reasons listed by JD and Rick in this post. Rick is an old friend and we talk on this subject on a regular basis.
I think the loss of glamour is a key ingredient in the loss of new skiers. Stretch pants and sweaters went a long way to create sex appeal and the urge to become part of the in-crowd. Also, when I was young we would all go to see the new Warren Miller movie which showed images of real people, families, kids and adults having a great time skiing the mountain and congregating for Après. It made you think that this was something cool that you wanted to be a part of. The magazines and films spend way too much time highlighting the extreme. I don’t know a single mature adult that watches this and says ” God, I want to try that.”
This might be a little odd but when I was a kid you couldn’t drive anywhere in the winter without seeing a car full of people with a ski rack on the roof heading towards the hill. It was a constant reminder that folks were heading to have fun and I should be doing the same. Today with everyone driving an SUV you never notice the fact that there are still skiers on the road to glory days.
Lastly, for almost 4 decades I have been organizing ski trips to Snowmass on a zero profit, zero loss basis to try to offer a very affordable trip option for families, couples, and singles. Rick Pasturzak has climbed on with us and we now take over 200 fun loving people to Snowmass every April.
Very best regards,
I must have missed your invitation. After reading your list a couple of times I can’t argue with any of your conclusions. The main reason has to be cost. I know I would not walk up to a ticket window and pay over $100 for a lift ticket and my grandchildren are not in a position to pay that either. I hope the grandchildren will reach the income level that will allow them to afford the sport, but starting out they have all the expense of starting a career and a family and the bucks just aren’t there. Another factor has to be access. I read the concerns of the ski industry about the lack of minorities in our sport. It apparently has not occurred to SIA and NSAA that the main factor in becoming a skier is growing up where it is readily available and that’s in rural areas not in cities where most of the minorities live. The odds of a kid growing up in VT, NH or ME (where I grew up and still live) taking up skiing are a lot greater than a kid growing up in Boston. Unless that kid in Massachusetts has parents who ski, he isn’t likely to be exposed to the sport. Here in Maine we still have programs where school buses bring kids to ski areas one or two afternoons a week. A program called WinterKids actually visits schools and introduces kids to winter sports to get them outdoors in winter. Every fifth grader gets a passport good for a day or two of skiing at each of the state’s ski areas when accompanied by an adult. Unfortunately, while we have programs for kids and some great rates for college kids, it’s difficult to keep those starting careers in the sport. If we’re lucky those who drop out in the twenties will return and bring their kids when the time comes. I know these are just rambling thoughts but they do reflect my observations. I remember the late Tommy Reynolds of Reliable Racing saying, “the trouble is we don’t have any nine-hole golf courses.” Of course, he was referring to the disappearance of the small, low price community ski areas. 15 minutes from our home is a municipal course where we can play all day for $15. They don’t have carts so it’s all walking but there are a lot of kids learning the game there. There is no such equivalent in skiing. For what it’s worth, golf is facing the same problems as skiing. The sport isn’t growing and courses are closing to make way for development. We live in a city adjacent to Portland and our last two courses (both 9 holes) are being converted to apartments and condos. Expensive sports are struggling and skiing can add, hassle and cold to its turn-offs. Compare the cost of a ski parka with the cost of a golf shirt. A tennis racket is cheaper than single golf club and all a swimmer needs is a speedo. Sorry to ramble, Jackson, but now the cocktail hour is approaching and we may need Scotch to handle the election returns.
Keep providing the good material on our sport.
Your list of top ten pretty much explains why skiing is retracting. My skiing doesn’t fit the multi-place pass which increased day ticket prices. The area where I skied dropped their former pass and are going with a big multi pass. This would be great if I skied out west and liked to drive all over New England. This raises the lodging expenses which like you stated can cost more than the skiing. Drive time for me is a minimum of 4 hours and cheap lodging near a ski area is hard to find these days. Skiing just costs a lot of money; my grown children can’t take their kids skiing like I took them. We raised four children and none of them continued to ski. Look forward to your mental wanderings, grins,
When the parents stopped skiing the kids didn’t pick it up on their own.
Lift tickets are now like $125+ at a resort. That gives many people pause. (Any idea what percent of a lift ticket price is insurance?)
I’ve learned to never buy a ski I haven’t demoed first. However not every ski is available for demo. So, some years I just kept skiing what I had since I couldn’t find that ski that really wowed me.
I wonder if kids’ soccer is an issue? I live in the Seattle region and it’s played year-round by an enormous number of kids.
Another cost question: every time I buy new skis it seems my old bindings are “old” and they can’t mount them. This seems to me just a reason to pad the bill with new bindings rather than a real need. My old ones are maybe three or four years old worked just fine. Every dollar counts when making a decision to buy expensive equipment.
All good points re the decline in skiers, however, I disagree that lesson cost is one of them. As a skier for 57 years and a PSIA level II instructor the last 12, I can tell you that the ease and speed of learning to ski has increased much faster than the cost of lessons. The failure is in the marketing of ski lessons by the PSIA and resorts. I ask people a simple analogy when this topic comes up: how many people dive into the deep end of a pool or jump into the ocean if they cannot swim? No one. In fact, many pools forbid people, especially children, to use their facility without some sort of proficiency instruction and test. Adult non-swimmers usually have enough sense not to jump into deep water or wade beyond waste depth in the ocean. I have never seen a friend try to teach another person to swim. So why is it that the industry allows children and adults to immediately go up the lift and down trails without instruction or with a “friend” instructing them? “Lift ticket + free lesson” packages are a good idea, but there are still too many people that try (and fail, and often get hurt) to ski on their own.
Robert Blinken Jr.
It took me 4 years of 7-days a week / 2-weeks a season lessons to become a parallel skier. I had a first-time student with rental equipment last season whose last run of his second two-hour lesson with me was down an expert trail at an east coast ski area. No falls, no losing control, inside half turn initiation, upper-lower body separation, and this was his first run using poles. If a private lesson cost equates to roughly the cost of a daily lift ticket, those two lessons had an ROI of about 20-40 days of skiing. That’s two to six years of airplane tickets, lodging, meals, lift tickets, etc. for many typical recreational vacation skiers.
The ski industry has only itself to blame.
Robert Blinken Jr.
I’d say you are spot on with your points Jackson. Not sure there is much new here but my observations from here in western NY:
- The local giants of the ‘60’s and 70’s who promoted the heck out of skiing are long gone and no one took their place.
- Our local county parks learn to ski program is long gone as is the small (very small) hill we learned to ski on.
- Loss of small affordable ski areas or for the small areas that have survived the inability to generate the profits to reinvest in infrastructure.
- The single sport focus of youth sports. Young athletes used to play 2-4 sports. Now it’s one sport all year long with travel teams. Some kids manage to fit in 2 months of skiing but get lots of pressure not to ski.
- Skiing is (or can be) a family sport. With two parents working and children in different youth sports and different age groups it takes a magician to get together and ski. Hard to justify the expense at that point.
- Youth ski racing generates life long skiers. The cost of racing skyrocketed with annual equipment regulation changes making race skis that could be passed down obsolete. Combined with additional travel (because of the loss of ski areas) families are giving up on the sport.
- The migration to major metropolitan areas. The cost of living in those areas doesn’t leave much for an annual ski trip that can cost a small fortune.
- Ski areas near major metro areas that managed to survive become overcrowded on weekends and holidays making for a poor user experience. Hard core skiers may suffer through it but the incremental skier gives up.
- With the expense and crowds at major resorts back country skiing seems to be quickly growing. I suspect the wear and tear on equipment of 60 days in the back country is less than 60 days at a resort.
- Cost, cost, cost. Skiing is a luxury sport. Unless you are lucky enough to live near a small local hill or mountain (or have high paying jobs) the cost will crush you.
Dunno whether you care, given the lighthearted, informal nature of the poll, but JD Driskell’s fourth reason is a generalization that is not true in all cases.
I learned to ski when I was about 40. Granted, it was slow progress, and not learning until after the knowledge of mortality had taken hold has imposed a limit on how fast I’m willing to go or how steep a pitch I’ll head down. And now, 20 years later, increasing stiffness makes it hard to accomplish what I know are the right movements: the hip joints just don’t pivot the way they used to. But I’m still at it, still having fun, still spending $$ for lift tix, equipment, lodging, etc.
Now golf, on the other hand: years ago, a friend said if I didn’t start golfing by age 30, I never would. I never did. Never regretted that, either.
I have been a patroller for 30 + years, a PSIA Instructor for 30+ years and owned a ski shop for 20 years.
I have given a lot of thought to the stagnation in the snowsports participant data.
I’ll throw out possibly from left field an observation.
College tuition has gone up at a rate far higher than inflation. How to finance a college education is on every parent’s mind and the burden of clog loans has become a political football. Parents of active, athletic young people are chasing athletic scholarships like crazy and the number offered to skiers is dwarfed by virtually every other sport. I watched a friend and his daughter (who was quite the power hitter) work their way through the scholarship chase. He was an avid skier and fellow patroller but the world of softball became an obsession. The threat of an injury incurred while skiing and its impact on the softball career was a deterrent even participating in the minuscule off season.
Sure, skiing is expensive but I was amazed at the cost of an aluminum bat, coaching and traveling team fees. With potentially $80,000 or more in scholarship dollars on the line however the economics were stacked in favor of softball. The same applies to baseball, basketball, ice hockey (a frighteningly expensive kids sport) and almost every other high-school sport. For those sports the cost, training, and time commitment pursuing scholarship opportunities are substantial, yet for most of us skiing remains just for fun.
As a retailer I also noticed that when personal computers first became popular at $2000-$3000, the hit to even affluent families’ disposable income was substantial. Seemed to crowd out other discretionary spending like new skis for the kids.
Keep up the good work and entertaining and informative writing.
Paul J Prutzman
Here’s my five cents on lower ski sales.
- Shops are few and FAR between
- Rental equipment satisfies many skiers
- Skis are so good, people are hanging on to them longer
- Good deals can be found the Internet only for those who dare
- People would rather rent than schlep equipment around
- Seasonal Rentals
- Good skis and boots are expensive
- Base area shops are more expensive than local shops
- The ski industry is slow growth, if at all
- The ski factory fire this year?
I believe the question is specifically; why are skis sales falling? That’s why I did not give any comments on the industry. Note that Jiminy Peak, MA has had record rental and ski lesson years the past two seasons. Many were first timers, of a wide age range. We were however, told the industry as a whole’s curve is flattening out.
You have hit on all the reasons and I’ll just give you an added perspective on a couple of them. The number one reason is cost. Unfortunately, there has been a longstanding drift over time that the rich get richer at the expense of the poorer people who can’t generate enough money for recreation anymore. It’s not only skiing, it’s many other now-too-expensive recreations that have been hit in our area which is western NY. Man-made snow is expensive and the lack of cold weather and natural snow drives up the ticket prices. We were broke farmers in the early 1960s and still my mother scraped together enough money to outfit 3 kids and there was a reasonable school program for us to participate in. The ski area still had some rope tows and a special ticket for them for minimal $s. Makes me sad that today there isn’t the same opportunities especially since winter has shrunk even in the traditional snow belts of New York state.
Again, my thanks to all who took the time to contribute their thoughts on the subject.