What Does Snowboarding Need? Perhaps the Wrong Question?

I’ve almost shoveled my desk off after the always enjoyable SIA show in Denver. That shoveling process always includes reviewing the various catalogs and magazines I’ve picked up during trade show season and, as always, one of those was Transworld Business. I’d had it since Agenda, but hadn’t finished reading it.  I particularly liked Annie Fast’s article on personal progression in snowboarding.

It also had an article called “What Does Snowboarding Need?” which I stole for my title here.

Coming back from SIA, I find myself reflecting on how the industry has changed or, maybe more importantly, not changed. I’ve cautioned before on the dangers of being too incestuous as an industry and spending too much time talking to people we’ve known way too long and who are likely to validate what we already think.

I like doing that, don’t you? It’s always fun to talk to people you’ve known for a long time and enjoy and respect- especially when you are more likely than not to agree with each other. Gives you that warm fuzzy feeling- everything’s okay.

Except it’s not- unless you’re one of the brands, resorts, or retailers who are embracing the unprecedented rate of change. A few are.   Too many will only go kicking and screaming, if then. I discussed this resistance to change in the article I wrote on the show.

I thought Transworld Business asked the wrong question. But it’s a question indicative of the industry’s confirmation bias. For the record, I have the problem too. I was actually reminded rather forcefully of it during a conversation with an industry outsider at the show.

People, it doesn’t matter what snowboarding needs. It matters what your customers want. They don’t care even a little about what the industry or the activity needs. They don’t even think about it the way we do. Yet of the 33 industry influencers Transworld Biz asked to answer the question almost all just went ahead and answered the question, talking about the things that would be good for snowboarding from their industry perspective.

Bonfire Snowboarding founder Brad Steward was the more or less the only one who didn’t take that approach. He said, in part, “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.”

Maybe that’s not precisely, “What does your customer want?” but it’s as close as anybody came.

Look, I’m not suggesting that more snow, cheaper list tickets, core shops, etc., etc., etc. wouldn’t be good for snowboarding. But we who get our equipment, lift tickets and maybe lodging cheap or for free, who make our living from snow sliding, who’s friends we’ve known a long time are in the industry, are making a huge mistake if we believe that our point of view on snowboarding has much to do with what our typical customer thinks.

At our peril we believe that what we think about snowsliding is what those non participants and lapsed participants and occasional participants we want back think.

4 replies
  1. Bill Byrne
    Bill Byrne says:

    Has anyone ever asked ‘why don’t you go snowboarding more?’ or ‘what’s keeping you from going snowboarding?’

    After college, I’ve never lived closer than three hours from a mid-sized mountain. Much further for larger ones. Yet I scrimp and save to go. The ‘backyard effect’ doesn’t work on me as I know there’ll be snow when I get there.

    As someone who has worked in the industry on the PR side for decades, I always wonder why more people, especially in colder weather climates (i’m in San Diego now) , don’t ski or snowboard.

    Is it the overall cost? Hassle? The inability to find a place to sit for lunch or a beer at the resort on the weekend? Is it that these sports seem too hard to pick up and not worth the close to $100 lift ticket, let alone cost of renting gear, gas, food, etc.?

    I don’t have the answer, I’m just wondering. If this was asked in the SIA daily or TW Business, apologies, it was a hectic show and I missed it.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi Bill,
      The article was in TW Biz, not the SIA daily. I’m sure you can find it online. As to what people are asking, Kelly Davis, the head of research at SIA is in fact asking all kinds of question like this. The trouble so far seems to get people to really use the data.

      Thanks for the comment.


      • Kelly Davis
        Kelly Davis says:

        Thanks Jeff. Yes, in fact SIA has a whole lot of data about current snowboarders that was gathered by asking…well, snowboarders! We focused in on the 13 to 25 age groups, and we talked with non-snowboarders who expressed an interest but have not yet participated. We have info about their perceptions of snowboarding (and skiing), what they desire from the experience, why the don’t participate at all or don’t participate more, why they buy or don’t buy, what brands they associate with snowboarding, etc… I am happy to share that information with all who are interested and it is openly available on the SIA website.

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