Skiing verses snowboarding: Does anyone snowboard anymore?

There has for the past few years been much talk about the "death of snowboarding". These naysayers of snowboarding claim the original core market growing up and leaving it behind, the rise of better ski technology poached from snowboard technology and the 2008 economic crash have meant the end of the outlier snowboard culture as we knew it.

Even The New York Times got in on the gloom and posted a feature this year about the high flying sport of snowboarding crashing back to earth with "equipment sales and sponsorship opportunities for athletes dipping below their peak numbers of five years ago".

The article sited Nike discontinuing their snowsports division, alongside the Snowsports Industries America trade group's report of declining sales of snowboard equipment over the past five years.

But it is important to remember the influence of the multi-year snow drought of California where almost a third of the USA's snowboarders choose to play. Combine that with the average age of snowboarders (about 27) who are hardly at the peak of their economic career and income and one would expect a decline in purchase.

Closer to home, Stuff.co.nz published an article claiming snowboarders have gone from 50 per cent to 30 per cent at Mount Hutt in New Zealand. But when we contacted Craig Douglas, NZ Ski Marketing Manager for Mount Hutt, Remarkables and Coronet Peak, he told us "guest surveys indicate that the ratio of ski to board hasn't shifted significantly in the past five years, however our observations on the mountains suggest there is a very gradual shift to ski. Not able to quantify – a lot depends on the conditions on the day, week, season."

We discovered snowboarding figures at Cardrona – between Wanaka and Queenstown – have remained static since 2013, with just over a third of their resort guests choosing one plank over two. Treble Cone figures are similar. In Australia, Perisher has seen a very small decrease in snowboarding but, as they said, "nothing significant".

In fact snowboard hardware sales have, according to SIA Australia, increased by 16 per cent between 2009 to 2014 with a slight dip in 2010. They surpassed ski hardware sales for the first time in five years ($10,530,572) in 2014 to make up $11,306,501 of the $23,709,591 spent by Australians annually on ski and snowboard hardware and helmets.

Burton Australia (the world's leading snowboard lifestyle brand with 55 per cent of the market) has also seen an overall increase in sales over the past five years.

"However we have also seen an increase in the amount of product that is delivered to stores during November/December to take advantage of the large number of snowboarders who are travelling during our summer," explains Paul Colby, marketing and brand manager for Burton Australia.

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"These days, anyone from three-year-old kids to 60-year-old retirees are riding their snowboards – which is a shift from the early days when the snowboard market was primarily young, cool, alternative teenagers," says Colby. "But despite this shift and broadening of snowboarding market, Burton's biggest demographic is still males aged, 16-35."

The average snowboarder has definitely changed since the heady days of the 1990s and early 2000s when snowboarding experienced one of the fastest sport growths at the time and was included in both the X Games and the Winter Olympics. The cool cult of snowboarding had reached mainstream status and went on to permeate the ski market and like all underground obsessions it lost some of it's cool along the way.

"We have noticed an interest in skiers wanting to learn to board and vice versa," says Craig Douglas of NZ Ski. "More people are wanting to be proficient in both."

The really cool kids are now into split-boarding, heading to the backcountry with a Jeremy Jones style snowboard on their back or split beneath their feet. Sales of splitboards are increasing each year. This is good news for snowboard brands specialising in powder boards, not such great news for ski resorts wanting ticket sales.

Snowboarding is far from dead; it's just morphing and evolving and, like most brands and people who reached an early and heady peak, re-finding its way.

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