Since the beginning of humankind, tribes have survived on instinct. Instinct gave way to learning. Those teachings would be passed on to the next generation—the compound interest of survival tactics paired with progress supported the strength and advancement of communities. Snowboarding tribes aren't excluded from this ancient ritual. Snowboarding is a community built on learning, and at times, it too has fought for survival. Snowboarders in the '80s and early '90s created the tools and culture we idolized. This was to be kept sacred before being passed on to the next generation. This is the way. People passionate about snowboarding are constantly referencing the way: the way it is, the way it was, the way it's done, the way it should be, etc. It varies between tribes, but they all agree that using the way as a north star to guide the future of snowboarding is essential.
At 40-plus years old, snowboarding's history is just beginning. But a significant inflection point on this timeline is being revealed. For the first time, snowboarders are raising snowboarders in substantial numbers. This shift will significantly affect the number of boarders on the hill, the power of our community, and the way snowboarding will be in the future.
By Jesse Fox
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
Chances are you embrace snowboarding because it is about you––it's your outlet on your terms. Freedom is a word often associated with it. And while snowboarding's beauty is that it is an individual act. Our culture and the health of our industry thrives on the number of snowboarders out there. Skiing is massive in comparison to snowboarding. Evidence of skiing dates back 7,000 years. Generations (plural) of skiers are responsible for the resorts, the infrastructure, the industry––everything. Snowboarding was built on the back of what the ski industry created. (And maybe that's why skiing didn't want us? Don't forget, snowboard parks were not initially built for us. Resorts made parks to keep us away from the skiers.) Begrudgingly, snowboarding owes the ski industry more than we care to admit.
Skiing benefits from mass-market participants and vast niche outlets working to keep the industry strong. The many forms of skiing available to different styles and accessibilities do wonders for the industry as a whole. Think about how many different ways there are to ski––
brumski, shotski there are 28 different Olympic ski events alone. The varied forms of snowboarding pale in comparison. (Get to the point...) The point! There's strength in numbers. The history, the accessibility, different styles––all of it draws in participants. But the most significant factor driving the massive ski population is generational. Ski families churn out more future skiers than any 80s Juicy Fruit commercial did. Skiing carries more weight, power, and wealth because of how many people ski. And the vast majority of people reading this grew up skiing because snowboarding wasn't even an option they were given.
The number of snowboarders hasn't been on a steady climb. In the '80s, the pioneers of our sport spent their time cultivating the culture and determining how it would look and feel to be a snowboarder. They didn't care if others participated. But they made it attractive. It was cool, people wanted to be a part of it, and they started riding boards. Then, in 1997, the world was introduced to the Winter X Games. The first Olympic appearance followed in 1998. Snowboarding had exploded, and its cast of colourful characters helped sell half a million boards that year in the U.S. alone. Mostly to skiers. That momentum carried snowboarding into the millennium. The National Sporting Goods Association declared snowboarding the fastest-growing sport in North America between 1996 and 2000. It had a steady and unprecedented rise into 2007. With that growth came power. To lure in boarders, resorts battled for the best terrain parks and paid pros to call their mountain home. Skiing adopted snowboard technology and style: twin-tips, sidecut, rocker, wider skis for powder, the outerwear they chose to wear; it all mimicked snowboarding. Snowboarding had a stronghold on the slopes. But 2008 came in with global economic devastation, and people were forced to cut back significantly on non-essentials. By 2013, the total number of snowboarders dropped 28% compared to 2003. Some 'snowboarders' went back to skiing, some went back to work. But the ones true to it kept riding. At this time there were still at least 5 million snowboarders in North America alone.
Here we are in winter 2022. On the snowboarding timeline, it's been 24 years since the X Games showcased Devun Walsh's style to a global audience. It's been 15 years since snowboarding’s peak participation spike. If you've been calling yourself a snowboarder through these milestones, Statistics Canada tells us: you're in your mid 30's to 40's, making a living wage, and are having
sex children. The stars are aligning; snowboarders are finally raising snowboarders.
But wait! "Isn't snowboarding bad for the development of a child's bones?" "I thought children lack the motor skills, strength and balance to learn snowboarding at a young age?" You've heard people repeat this bullshit. This was primarily due to a lack of education, equipment, and a proper pathway to get young kids on boards. And no one has been battling these barriers harder than Burton. As industry leaders, they took it upon themselves to raise the next generation to stand sideways. Over 10 years ago Burton invested deeply into developing teaching tools for kids, parents and resorts. Products like the Riglet and MDXOne Backpack empower kids to ride younger than ever before. These investments are paying off.
The best-selling piece of Burton outerwear is the Toddlers’ One Piece suit. Think about how many ‘ak’ jackets you see on the hill? Now let this sink in, THEIR BEST SELLING PIECE OF SNOWBOARD OUTERWEAR IS MADE FOR TODDLERS. And the sales of that piece are up 54% year after year. Sell-through on youth products is two times that of the adult category and the number three selling board in their catalogue is the After School Special. A board made for riders weighing 25 to 50 pounds and intuitively teaches balance and edge control. We use Burton as an example as they’re the biggest brand in the industry, knowing that all other brands offering youth products are seeing significant gains as well.
At the end of the day, the resorts aren't concerned with how you get down the mountain, just that you show up with your wallet when you do. Remember those snowboarders they built parks for to keep them away from the skiers? Those kids are parents now and they want to spend money at resorts with comprehensive programs for their children to snowboard. They want lessons for toddlers, entry-level terrain parks, family-friendly banked runs. They want to rip with their kids and show them the way. Progressive resorts are reacting accordingly. The daycare at Blue Mountain in Ontario boasts a Riglet park, so while you’re catching laps your child can be introduced to snowboarding at the age of two.
There's no argument that the radical allure of 90's snowboarding may never rake in participants the way it did 30 years ago. But snowboarding will always be the best way to descend a mountain (our opinion) and young people agree. The under 18 demographic is the largest demographic of snowboarders in North America. 33.4% of all snowboarders are under the age of 18. That percentage has been growing consistently over the last five years. If you're reading this, if you know how to read, then you're already older than the majority of those who will learn to ride this year. Snowboarding culture will still hold onto the past for guidance as it’s left in the hands of the next generation; destined to become more diverse, inclusive and powerful to go whichever way the youth shapes it. This renascence is good for snowboarding and our tribe. Take the time to show them the way and never forget why you started.