What Does Snowboarding Need?

Kailee Bradstreet & Kelsey Smith
Photo: Mike Yoshida, Snowboarder Mag

One thing the skeptics and pessimists have done well is remind us that snowboarding, as a sport, is not where it used to be. You’ve heard it before: Snowboarding peaked and then, in the midst of an economic crisis, the numbers—the metrics used to quantify “success”—started to dwindle. It’s no secret–the rise to the top happened quickly for our young sport, and just like we saw with the skate industry, it might have happened too quickly. Participation numbers have dropped since that 2011 season, or “free-fallen” as some have dramatically described. Hard goods and outerwear sales have also dipped causing some core retailers to close their doors. Several seasons over, variable snowfall throughout the nation—especially in drought-stricken California—undoubtedly have played a pivotal role in the decline.

The main cause of this steady decrease in numbers is variable and generally inexplicable in nature, but snowboarding is still snowboarding. The initial fun-factor that makes up the DNA of the sport remains raw, rebellious, and intact. Conversely, events like X Games, the Dew Tour, and the Olympics have helped put snowboarding on a global map of cultural phenomenons, embedded in the tale of the 21st century. 

So now, in 2016, the question must be asked: Where do we go from here? What do we as people, influencers, and snowboarders want the sport we love so dearly to look like in ten years? For the Winter issue of TransWorld Business, we asked athletes and agents, execs, legends, and newcomers, journalists, and retailers one, singular question: “What does snowboarding need?” 

Jake Burton, Founder & Chairman. Burton Snowboards

“Snowboarding needs to look forward rather than backwards. Burton is turning 40 in 2017, and it’s tempting to reflect on ‘back in the day.’ But let’s be honest. Back in the day, the equipment sucked and we couldn’t get on chairlifts. So let’s look forward and think more about the future of snowboarding, not the past. We have a whole new generation of product and more importantly riders to take over the reigns of the sport we hold so close to our hearts.”

Jeremy Jones, Founder, Jones Snowboards

“In many ways being a snowboarder today has never been better. The equipment is the best it’s ever been, season pass prices are at an all-time low, resorts are building million-dollar terrain parks, snake runs, and kid parks. Backcountry boundaries are mostly open and split boards ride like solids. But business has been in a growth-at-all-costs, bigger-is-better mentality and that has decimated the business side of things.

There is no magic solution.

The sport rode the fad to epic heights, then the bubble popped, and this is what we are left with. The fluff is gone. We are not going to be bigger than skateboarding or skiing, and that’s not a bad thing. We have returned to a much more intimate sport where everyone knows each other and being a snowboarder has meaning again.”

Annie Fast, Snowboarding Media Guru

“The thing snowboarding needs the most…is more snow. The California drought has been a major drag on sales and participation in one of the biggest snowboard markets: 27 percent of the 7.7 million U.S. snowboarders live in California and the entire industry is feeling the effects of it not snowing for the last four years. The drought has now extended up and down the entire West Coast. When the snow hopefully does come back, the next biggest obstacle for growth has got to be the outrageous cost of resort lift tickets.” 

Pete Saari
Co-Founder, Mervin Manufacturing

“From my perspective, snowboarding is in a really great place as far as the experience goes. Sliding on snow out in nature and the elements is fun, and all by itself brings joy to people’s lives. Modern equipment is amazing and easy to use. Riders have boundless creativity and drive to ride everything and progress. We have had a couple rough snow years in a row in the Pacific Northwest…still had a great time but, retail has been struggling and some resorts are challenged. There seems to be nothing like having snow to energize snowboarding. Some other things besides snow that would be great for snowboarding would be even better and easier-to-use equipment (we are always working on that), cheaper lift tickets, more parking at resorts (probably not going to happen), and a huge movie that reaches out to a new and broader audience and pulls people into the fun (Travis Rice is working on that). Bring the snow.”

Bryan Knox, VP of Marketing & Media, Sports Syndicate

“Snowboarding used to be about having a good time, partying, and not being so serious, because that’s all it was in the beginning. Those times were great and they put snowboarding on the map. But you always have to evolve in sports, and being brutally honest, snowboarding is now a mainstream sport – it’s in the Olympics, it’s on ESPN, it’s on NBC. This is a fact. You have to maintain a fine line from that party brand to a brand that backs top snowboarders and helps evolve the sport. To be a pro snowboarder these days is entirely different from what it was in the ‘90’s and early 2000’s. What these athletes are doing on snow is absolutely next level compared to where the sport was five years ago. 

If you don’t have athletes, the heroes of your sport who make your consumer aspire to be them or aspire to love the sport that much more, then what do you have? You don’t have anything. 

So has snowboarding changed? Yes, 100 percent. But I think it’s great that snowboarding is a little more serious and our guys and girls are called athletes.”

Circe Wallace,
Senior Vice President, Wasserman Media Group, LLC

“There is no way to avoid a couple major factors that are influencing the snowboarding market. 1. Global warming and 2. Global economy. Honestly, I think snowboarding’s heyday was probably 10-15 years ago and the only way to sustain it is to accept the market is smaller, the world is warmer, and there is less disposable income. There should be a focus on affordable lift tickets and access. We need to be pragmatic about growth and focus on innovation, celebrating the interesting characters, and the evolution of athleticism. We need to continue to build stars. Kids like to emulate or aspire, and brands need to build icons and associated products. We need to support rider-owned businesses and make purchasing decisions based on companies that grow from within. Get behind phenomenal athletes and personalities in snowboarding through content and digital media initiatives. As long as there is snow, people will shred. But we should do everything we can to ensure snowboarding doesn’t turn into skiing where mass production and margin is more important that quality, innovation, and athletes.” 

Peter Line
Outerwear Design Director, Dakine

“When snowboarding was at its most popular, it was still considered an outlaw sport. It had the attraction of the rebels that made itinteresting and fresh. As it grew, and as anything like this does, it became more conservative as a whole. With anything I’m working on in this industry, I still try to keep it fun and not so serious. It goes back to keeping snowboarding still what it was all about at the roots of the sport; it was a culture first, an attitude. I still see this attitude in a lot of aspects in the industry. I think if that goes away, that’s when snowboarding will no longer be a success. It will become just a competitive sport or outdoor activity you do for fun and exercise.”

Kevin Casillo, 
Sports Marketing Manager, Snow & LXVI, Vans

“The reality of snowboarding is that it grew too fast. The market became over saturated with discounts, companies were reducing their marketing budgets, and the result was a lack of efforts to inspire the next generation on the true essence of snowboarding. Now is our opportunity. We’re getting back to the foundation of snowboarding’s core and why the culture started in the first place. We need to look back to move forward. We need to educate this new consumer, the young consumer, on the sport’s history, its pioneers, and what it truly is all about.

You have to move backward to move forward when it comes to heritage and understanding where a lifestyle came from and why. Educating the younger generation on how snowboarding came to be is pretty crucial.

Ultimately, if we don’t hold hands as an industry of snowboarders to march forward, we’ll find ourselves getting nowhere.” 

Java FernandezCategory Director of Winter & Outdoor, Stance

“First and foremost, we need snow. Without it, we are all shit-up the creek. No paddle, hole in the boat, piranhas in the water.

Aside from that, who knows? It’s easy to look at the glory days of snowboarding and say, ‘we need that again,’ but let’s face it, that’s not going to happen. It’s a different time with millennials and Gen Y on deck and an entirely different set of values, desires, and unfortunately, taste in music. They’re ready to lead the charge of what the future of snowboarding looks and feels like. The future is happening right now and it’s time for everyone to embrace change—but it’s also important to pass along some of the magic that has brought snowboarding from its birth to where it is now.”  

Blue Montgomery, Founder CAPiTA Snowboards, Photo: Jussi Grznar

“The snowboarding industry needs to pound a couple tallboys of happy juice. We are all aware of the market challenges, but negativity in our space isn’t a marketable asset. We can’t control the snow, we won’t win a fight against technology, and when a mainstream pub writes a bogus article about how boarding is dead and snowlerblading is the new thing, we shouldn’t lose announce of sleep. Snowboarding is bad ass. It always has been and always will be. It’s full of art and style and originality; it imposes no rules and pays physical, emotional, and cultural dividends. Maybe all we need is just to be better communicators of what we already have.”

Raul Pinto,
Co-Owner, Satellite Boardshop, Boulder, CO

“I would say it’s more about what snowboarding doesn’t need. Snowboarding is just fine. I have no problems with it. It’s an amazing sport and industry, but there are a lot of pieces to it that aren’t necessary. It needs less—that’s what it needs.

It comes down to community vs. industry. Right now all the brands are competing with each other because they see themselves as industry. They are all trying to bullhorn their message. When really, if they were all working together the way that the industry started, they would probably be a lot stronger.”

Red Gerard,
16-Year-Old Professional Snowboarder

“I would say that snowboarding is pretty good with where it’s at now, as long as we keep the flip and spins down to a minimum, and make sure style is important so it does not turn into aerials.”

Kyle Martin
Sports Marketing Manager, The North Face

“We need to find a way to help nurture snowboarding through these growing pains and make it more attainable to the average consumer.

Snowboarding hasn’t lost its soul. By saying that, we’re alluding that as brands, we’ve lost our connection to the community. We need to invest in the next generation of snowboarders. We need to mature in how we communicate with consumer. We need reducing the barriers to entry that shy away new participants. We need to do this in a way where we all feel good about what we’re offering.

Our jobs are to carefully defend not only the integrity of our individual brands, but snowboarding’s culture as a whole. You want to bring back the glory days? Find the next crop of snowboarders who are authentically bleeding this passion.”

Danny Davis,
Olympian & X Games Gold Medalist

“We just need to get back to that mentality that it’s about surfing on snow. Sure, there’s contest riding, and there’s guys riding mountains that have never been ridden, but as a whole, if you look at that guy who’s Travis Rice, or that guy who’s riding in the X Games, or that guy who just bought his first snowboard, at the end of it, we’re all the same. We’re all just trying to surf the snow. We got to hang on to that. 

The Olympics has a big part in this conversation. It pushes the sport out to so many people, but it’s hard because it only happens every four years. And ultimately, it only supports snowboarding every four years. Every other sport–major league baseball, professional basketball, the NFL—has its own outlet to broadcast their sport and don’t need the Olympics to push them to another level. It can be cool. We just need to make sure it’s done right.” 

Brent Sandor
Director of Marketing, 686

“We need to look at other sports and lifestyles and make a deliberate choice of where we want to go.

Skateboarding has made themselves more accessible and charismatic than ever, creating free parks, keeping a low cost of entry, and embracing urbanization and a lower socioeconomic demographic. This has allowed allowed a bevy of personalities to gain status – even by creating Street League so that skateboarders control the way they are shown on national television.

We as manufacturers, media, resorts, and riders, need to take control over our future and provide access, a face, and a community. Snowboarding will never be skateboarding, but we need to continue to be an experience people want to be a part of.

We also need to take control of how our sport is portrayed. The Olympics and X Games don’t cut it. Thank goodness for Sage [Kotsenburg] and Halldor’s [Helgason] personality-filled riding in big events, but if we want to be on primetime TV, we need to create a series of events run by the snowboard community that allows the right personalities to shine while showing a community that people want to be involved in.” 

Josh Reid
Co-Founder, Rome Snowboards

“Snowboarding needs to stay focused on the fact that it is the most kick-ass time you can have from November to April (and longer if you want).  This is the fundamental reason people move to resort towns or drive long distances to shred.  Snowboarding needs people, events, products, and content that understand and support this fact.  When the focus is on the distinctive fun of snowboarding, then good things will follow.”

Oren Tanzer, 
Global Snowboarding Marketing Director, Volcom

“Less gimmick, more snow, MORE FRIENDS. Pretty simple.”

Donna Carpenter, CEO & Co-Founder, Burton Snowboards

“Snowboarding needs more women.  While women have always been a significant and meaningful part of the industry, sport, and lifestyle, there’s still room for improvement.  And given that women control the majority of consumer wealth in this country (and are the ones deciding whether a family vacations at the beach or on the slopes), this has implications for the broader health and success of the industry.  We need to invite more women in and keep them engaged through every stage of their lives.”

Tim Zimmerman, 
Professional Snowboarding Photographer

“Snowboarding needs to inspire more participants to be passionate enough to spread their love of sliding. As an industry, we’re spending all our time trying to steal market share from each other and not enough trying to grow the actual market. Giving up on that goal can’t be an option.”

Kelly Clark, 
Olympic & X Games Gold Medalist

“In my competitive career I have found that it is not so much what you do but the motives that you have that matter. You can have success and growth but to sustain those things you need to have the right motivators. It is easy to look at an industry and see what you want to get and receive from it, whether it is a sponsor, a contest result, a job, or just an epic day on the hill. But I think as the snowboard community, we should be asking ourselves what can we contribute rather than what we can get. Imagine what the snowboarding community would look like if we approached it like that. I know that I want the sport of snowboarding to be better because I was part of it. If each of us could ask ourselves what we could contribute, I think snowboarding would be much better off.”

Brad Steward,
Founder, Bonfire Snowboarding

“It’s a matter of asking, ‘who are the consumers that we want to talk to, and people that we want to invest in,’ so that they invest in us.That’s a lot more difficult in 2015 than it was in 1979. There are many, many more choices, there’s some cost factors, there’s certainly the environment—if you play into the fact that the season has shrunk a lot—potentially on a permanent and long-term basis. Those things all impact what we’re doing.

Mountain biking and many other sports, like skiing, have gone through periods where they breathe in instead of breathing out. And snowboarding breathed out for twenty something years. This may simply be a stage of breathing in, where it comes back to the purists, back to the people that are truly committed, back to the 10 times a year rider, instead of the two times a year rider. It may just be a natural and organic process of keeping the sport real, and legitimate, and authentic, and helping the culture to revitalize itself, and prepare for the next stage to breathe out.”

Bryce Phillips,
Founder, Evo, Seattle, WA

“We at evo are very bullish on snowboarding. The sport is timeless and while it’s taken a bit of a dip, it’s far from in danger, something we often hear and read. That doesn’t mean that the recent trend isn’t extremely tricky to navigate as an industry but we are optimistic when it comes to snowboarding’s future. I don’t think there are any silver bullets when it comes to our approach. The ebbs and flows of popularity between sports are inevitable. There are clearly some things that we can all do to help strike the balance when it comes to participation between the sports, but we are going through a cycle where the default for youth isn’t to snowboard like it was for a period of time. This will swing back in part because of efforts made by the industry and in part due to the natural shifts that take place in consumer preferences.”

George Johnston
Owner, Milosport, Auburn, CA

“The easy answer is specialty, but I know it is more complex than that. I guess that it wasn’t just numbers that put snowboarding on the map; it was fun and passion. I remember years ago, I was at a Salomon event and Brad Steward said ‘if you aren’t passionate about snowboarding then I don’t want to work with you.’ Some companies are bringing in so many numbers people that they lose focus of their original mission. When companies keep passionate people making important decisions, it really shows in their success. That’s why the best small guys have success, and the same with even more established brands like CAPiTA. They are all so focused and have their hearts on the pulse of the sport. We all need to love the passion that originally put snowboarding on the map, and the fun of it. I love getting people set up on the right gear so they can have the best possible experience they can.”

Chris Harris
Marketing Director & Co-Founder, NeverSummer Industries

“Snowboarding needs core shops. Core shops serve as snowboarding’s soul. Snowboarding needs brands willing to protect and support these shops—brands that don’t cut out the soul by selling direct to the consumer or selling in faceless big box stores. Take care of the soul and the soul will take care of the culture.”

Scott Oreschnick,
Owner, Cal Surf, Minneapolis, MN.

“We need better vendor programs that support the snowboard specialty retailer. The loss of snowboard shops are creating a huge braindrain and taking passionate people out of the industry. Passionate people grow our base.     

We need better product differentiation and technology advances with good stories and high visibility. Snowboards and equipment should not be commodity items. Build to order, keep clean, and sell through.    

We need better communication between rider, retailer, and manufacturer. Get us all working on the same page with realistic expectations. We are not adversaries; we are partners.    

We need images that show people riding down the hill. I love to see a bunch of bangers, but it may make snowboarding appear unattainable to many folks thinking about taking up riding.

Keep it rad, but push inclusiveness.”

Jeremy Salyer,
Creative Director & Co-Founder, NeverSummer Industries

“Snowboarding could use more differentiation in creative direction and individuality. There’s far too much copying, following and re-hashing of themes. I do think some do an amazing job, while other companies are so homogenized and boring. Know who you are, stand apart, and be fucking proud of it.”

Travis Rice, Professional Snowboarder, Photo: Oli Gagnon

“Lower the cost of lift tickets.”

Helen Schettini,
Professional Snowboarder

“The costs involved with shredding, specifically mountain costs (lift tickets, parking, accommodation, food on hill, and rentals) are getting ridiculous. These costs kill medium income families and need to come down substantially.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Japan. Many of the resorts have great options where you can buy a lift pass per run. Spending over $100 on a lift ticket in North America for a novice rider who is going to get tired after three runs isn’t realistic. Per-run passes would add a lot more initiative for beginners to head up on the weekends. Finding conservatively priced outerwear and hard goods is also easier these days, with a lot of companies making price-point goods. This is a great thing to keep pushing in the market.”

Won Suh,
Snowboard Buyer, Evo

“Participation definitely increases with snow, but we need more snowboard advocacy to get families and young people snowboarding. I see the high cost of participation being a huge barrier to entry. We need to come together as an industry to encourage more participation with lower lift ticket prices, equipment rentals, and services for the younger demographic.”

Nick Sargent
President, Snowsports Industries America (SIA)

“We are seeing snowboard participation stabilize, and total participants increased four percent year-over-year. I would say from a participation standpoint, snowboarding is in a good space. Youth snowboarding (17 and under) participants grew 16 percent. It’s great to see the younger generation getting into the sport, and riding more. But we still have some pain around snowboarding equipment sales. Sales have fallen four percent, year over year, but to put that into comparison, Alpine equipment sales fell nine percent last year.” 

Jimmy Huh,
Director of Advertising, Mammoth Mountain

“We’re technically the drug pushers of the snow industry. If we can give this demographic of 17-24 year olds a taste and introduction to the sport, they’re more likely to want more of it and try it again. This demographic of kids are our lost leaders. It’s hard to convert a family of four to chose a ski vacation if they’ve never skied before. But if we can capture them at this age, then they’ll chose to spend their money on snow experiences when they do have the money. For now, we need to give them affordable opportunities to experience this in hopes of keeping them loyal participants.”  

Issa Sawabini,
Partner, Fuse, LLC

“These days it’s common to find discounted season passes and equipment leases for experienced riders–but ironically new riders often have to pay full price for one-day lift tickets, lessons, and rentals.  While ‘learn-to-ride’ revenue is important to the industry’s short term bottom line, I believe it is time to consider more ‘loss–leader’ programs that will give hundreds of thousands of young people a chance to try snowboarding for free. This way, we remove the barriers to access and watch a new generation of riders pick up the sport for life.”

Joseph Notaro,
Senior Buyer, Evo, Seattle, WA.

“As far as things that we can somewhat control… more affordability for parents, and more accessibility for kids of parents who don’t ski or snowboard.

Snowboarding needs to find a way to draw more young kids to it, and essentially away from skiing. Obviously we would all like to grow the whole pie and not just take a bigger piece of the current pie, but specifically speaking to growing snowboarding, I think it needs to take back more of the younger demographic it used to have. Traditionally, a lot of kids who started skiing at a young age wanted to switch to snowboarding to be cool and different than their parents, then the twin tip / freestyle ski movement came and fulfilled that same desire to be cool and youthful without forcing the kids to start over on the learning curve of a new sport.”