Snowsports Industries America has officially released its annual participation report for the 2019-2020 season—a data-driven glimpse into the demographics of Americans who recreated outdoors last winter.
While it's notoriously difficult to use data like these to predict trends for the upcoming season, they're useful nonetheless to identify broad patterns in outdoor winter sports that are worthy of the industry's attention.
The new report offers a detailed view of participation numbers in skiing (both cross-country and downhill), snowboarding, snowshoeing, sledding, and touring across the nation. Broadly speaking, the numbers start in a positive place. Participation was slightly up across the board last year.
"25.1 million Americans ages 6 and older participated in winter sports in the 2019-2020 winter season," the study states in its introduction. "This is up 1.9 percent from 24.6 million recorded in the 2018-2019 winter season."
Breaking down the numbers further, we see some interesting patterns emerge.
Winter sports participation by region
The first section of the report shows that, contrary to popular notions of the Rockies fueling much of the nation's winter sports economy, involvement is evenly spread from coast to coast, with the Pacific and South Atlantic regions nearly tied for the highest share of participants.
It's important to note here that "winter sports" include conventional activities like skiing and snowboarding as well as secondary activities like snowshoeing and winter fat biking.
Unsurprisingly, we find the lowest share of participation in the East South Central region of the country, a swath that includes Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia.
Winter sports participation by education
Here we don't see significant change. Participation fell slightly among high school grads, college students, and college grads, but rose among children and those with advanced degrees.
Winter sports participation by gender
Again, essentially a flatline. Participation among those identifying as female didn't change, while participation among those identifying as male rose 1 percent.
Winter sports participation by age
Here we find some evidence that snow sports have gotten younger in the past few years, with participation share rising among those 13 to 44 years old and falling among those 45 and older.
Winter sports participation by ethnicity
Here's where things start to get interesting.
While the rest of the report communicates statistical variations that range from moderately thin to nonexistent, there's nothing subtle about what we see in the ethnicity section.
The winter sports industry has an inclusivity problem that is decades old and no secret to anyone. Initiatives have been launched over the years to bridge the gap between communities of color and the snow sports industry, but clearly they haven't been as successful as we need them to be.
Winter sports participation by income
Again, these numbers hint at an inclusion problem we've covered before. Winter sports, by and large, are expensive. It makes sense that more than 50 percent of participants fall into the highest income bracket outlined by the study. Bear in mind, too, that children are included in these figures; they likely account for a significant portion of the participants in the lowest income bracket.
Winter sports participation over time
The numbers here are positive, if only slightly. Over a 10-year period, we see participation inching upward. Some interesting spikes and dips in overall participation are visible over the years (what drew so many people to snowboarding in the 2018-2019 season?), but the bigger story here is one of gradual progression in the right direction.
Average number of days by activity
Finally, these numbers are just plain fun to pick apart. Who would have guessed that, among all the listed age groups, 6- to 12-year-olds notched the highest number of alpine touring days last season? Or that skiers in the 55+ category had almost twice as many days in them as snowboarders of the same age?
What's in the rest of the report
These numbers represent only the first part of the 50-page report. The rest of the study goes into granular detail about each of the categories listed above. A very small sampling of the findings:
- The largest segment of skiers are 45 to 54 years old (19 percent), while the largest segment of snowboarders are 25 to 34 years old (23 percent).
- More cross-country skiers visited private cross-country centers (62 percent) than public cross-country centers with trails groomed by government entities (45 percent) last year.
- Alpine touring saw 705K total participants last season, while snowboard touring saw 652K.