Rumors of Our Demise Were Exagerated

Post by blogger | July 23, 2010      

You might have noticed more folks out skiing last winter than you expected. I sure saw that in our local backcountry skiing zones — sometimes the increase in numbers was pretty stunning. This after much talk about how skiing in general is a flat sport, and that our economic woes could perhaps reduce the numbers of participants in all branches of skiing due to the cost of entry.

We’ll, the numbers bear up the impressions.

This past May, while I was preoccupied with things Alaskan, SIA released their annual snowsports participation study. Some tidbits to make you laugh or cry:

Of the most interest to me: Snow sports participation increased by more than than 1.5 million people during the2008/09 season. That includes 573,000 alpine skiers, 309,000 Nordic skiers, and 262,000 snowboarders. I wasn’t able to get a raw numbers idea of how many in the above were doing their thing in the backcountry, but the chart below gives an inkling:


The chart seems to indicate that about 20% of skiers are going backcountry one way or another. According to the SIA website, the study indicates that U.S. snow sports participation has reached 30,000,000, close to 10% of the total population. I’m assuming SIA is talking snowboarders and skiers in that number (don’t know about snowshoes), so let’s assume the percentage of backcountry going snowboarders is roughly equal to that of two-stickers. That means we backcountry snow sliders are about six million strong? Wow, even if that includes snowshoers it’s still huge number of riders.

Another interesting thing from this spring’s study releases: Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association says regarding their annual study that:

“The recreational transport category suffered a double-digit category decline in 2009. Wholesale sales were $27.33 billion in 2009, down from $31.48 billion in 2008 – a decline of 13.2%. As recently as 2007, the recreational transport category was at $37.47 billion. The line items in this category include motorcycles, jet skis, recreational vehicles, snowmobiles, bicycles, and pleasure boats & motors.”

It’s rather amusing they didn’t break bicycles out of that pile of petrotainment, but let’s just assume that bicycles did NOT decline since simple observation of the bicycle boom bears that out.

In any case, a decrease in petroleum based recreation is quite the interesting trend. Combine that with the _increase_ in skiing, and we’ve got something going on, don’t you think?


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13 Responses to “Rumors of Our Demise Were Exagerated”

  1. Dostie July 23rd, 2010 2:39 pm

    Economics was the straw the broke this kids wallet and forced me off the couch of complaining and onto the path of earning your turns. It only took one outing to set the hook.

    I seriously doubt the numbers that SIA is bantering about for totals, but DO believe the percentage numbers they provide are a legitimate indication of how popular backcountry skiing has become. Tracks far from the lifts are the best indicator of how true that is and those tracks are visible from some major highways these days. If a person looking at ski tracks didn’t know any better they might conclude there are ski lifts all over the place. There are, but they’re using human powered quads, not the high speed variety.

    Last time I seriously tabulated the numbers (only 5 years ago) there were about 10-million skiers/snowboarders in America. Even 10% of that is a pretty healthy number.

  2. Wenatchee Mountains Coalition July 23rd, 2010 2:50 pm

    “2009 United States Snowmobile RegistrationsTotal 1,652,642”

    Relative to the numbers, why are snowmobiles allowed to dominate the greater portion of USFS Lands in winter? We encourage skiers to speak up to USFS to ask for more significant areas for designated winter non-motorized recreation!

    Statistics from ISMA:


    2009 United States Snowmobile Registrations

    State # Registered Snowmobiles
    Alaska 55,249
    California 22,930
    Colorado 33,367
    Idaho 52,259
    Illinois 39,500
    Indiana 9,373
    Iowa 28,400
    Maine 98,472
    Massachusetts 16,136
    Michigan 346,315
    Minnesota 252,003
    Montana 39,531
    Nebraska 2,100
    New Hampshire 60,000
    New York 136,471
    North Dakota 15,822
    Ohio 17,300
    Oregon 17,392
    Pennsylvania 40,066
    South Dakota 12,231
    Utah 28,768
    Vermont 36,400
    Washington 35,150
    Wisconsin 219,907
    Wyoming 37,500
    Total 1,652,642

    (end quote)

  3. Ari July 23rd, 2010 6:39 pm


    Any insight as to what the “other” category is? I’m a bit curious about that 3.4%. Ski Dubai? Urban jibbing?

  4. SteveG July 23rd, 2010 7:49 pm


    Indoor skiing in Dubai-yes. Kite skiing in Wisconsin- you bet. I’ve even filmed a famous internet skier shredding the seasons first frost in his front yard. :cheerful:

  5. al July 24th, 2010 10:25 am

    ” In any case, a decrease in petroleum based recreation is quite the interesting trend.”

    while bike touring in AK at a campground on prince of wales island in AK I noticed at one RV park that instead of towing up from the lower 48 ,the fishermen found it cheaper to pay by the year and just leave their rigs in AK … there was 1 camping spot left in the park for people passing thru

    where I noticed people just leaving trailers at campgrounds was bike touring in france …where fuel is very expensive

  6. Lou July 24th, 2010 3:33 pm

    Ari, that’s for the ones that ski with you or Jordan (just kidding).

  7. Mal July 25th, 2010 10:50 am

    Wow, that’s really interesting; I have been noticing a lot more skiers at my usual haunts – now I know why!

  8. Njord July 25th, 2010 9:04 pm

    I SERIOUSLY doubt that there are 6,000,000 backcountry skiers/snowboarders…

    I bet there are less than 50,000 *active* backcountry ski/snowboard users out there.


    (Just imagine how many avalanche deaths there would be if there were really 6,000,000 backcountry skiers, let alone avalanches!)

  9. Lou July 26th, 2010 6:35 am

    Njord, I think you’re right if one defines “backcountry skier” as a skier who really gets out there, and more than a few days a year. SIA and others tend to do a poor job of defining sport sub-categories (it took them years to stop including AT sales in their telemark sales numbers), and I’d imagine that plays a roll in this.

    But, if you include the more casual backcountry “ski tourers” in the mix, such as the vast numbers of folks who for example use the 10th Mountain Huts, there are indeed a bunch of backcountry skiers out there and the numbers might not be that far off. Also, remember that backcountry skiers are supporting a number of viable ski businesses, such as Scarpa USA, Salewa/Dynafit USA, Black Diamond’s ski line, and much more. It takes a lot of potential customers to keep those businesses going.

  10. Josh Masur July 27th, 2010 8:51 am

    One little problem: The numbers add up to well over 100%. I suspect that means that you could choose more than one option, e.g., resort marked trails, resort backcountry, and non-resort backcountry. And without knowing what those categories mean, “resort backcountry” could just mean off-piste (vs. “marked trails”), as opposed to sidecountry/slackcountry.

    That said, even if just 6% of the 30M snow sport participants do backcountry or sidecountry, that’s almost two million.

  11. Lou July 27th, 2010 9:04 am

    Josh, my thoughts exactly.

  12. Francois Brunelle August 3rd, 2010 5:21 pm

    There’s a definite future in avalanche safety education…

  13. Lee August 17th, 2010 9:56 am

    I hope that this trend will keep up and the petroleum based entertainment will stay in decline while the green way of entertaining yourself will stay a trend.

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