Is the ski industry dying? A question business owners, investors, and ski areas would all like the answer to. The answer you get may not be the entirely truthful depending on what you read, or who you ask. Many industry veterans will tell you that the industry has been steadily declining since “the golden years.” According to them the industry has been going downhill since the 80’s. Just because ski areas have become less of a party destination than they were in the 80’s-90’s does not mean that snow sports are becoming less popular. In fact there is little indication that the ski industry is declining at all.
The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) compiles ski industry statistics every year for display on their website. These statistics suggest that the ski industry overall has remained the same or grown slightly over the last 39 seasons. The first season that data was available was from the ski season of 1978/79. That year, the NSAA estimates that just over 50 million people visited a ski area with the intent to ski. (National Ski Areas Association) Ten years later, in 1988/89 it was estimated that 53 million people visited a ski area, and a year later in 1989/1990 the estimate was back down to 50 million people. If we jump all the way ahead to last season (2014/15), the NSAA estimates that, again, 53 million people visited a ski resort. The lowest recorded estimate occurred in 1990/91, when the NSAA estimated that 46.72 million people visited a ski resort. Surprisingly, the highest estimate occurred in the 2010/11 season with slightly over 60 million people estimated to have traveled to a ski destination. The numbers are random from year to year, but a steady trend of increasing travel appears from the lowest year (1990/91) up until the 2014/15 season. In the data there are certainly dips and rises, but overall it appears that ski area visits have been slowly increasing.
On the other hand, statistics from SnowSports Industry America (SIA) indicate that in the last 6 seasons (2009/10-2014/15), alpine skiing has declined, on average, by about 1 million skiers (Physical Activity Council). This claim is true. Since 2009/10, active skier levels have declined. However if we look at years prior to the 2009/10 season we find that average skier activity is similar to the seasons following the 2009/10 season. Because SIA only used data collected from the last 6 years, it incorrectly identifies a decline in the ski industry. The two seasons of 2009/10-2010/11 had some of the highest skier visits on record (60 million). So of course the data will show a decline. The following 4 seasons did not have lower-than-normal skier visits, in fact they had about the same number of visits as the seasons prior to 2009/10. A peak in skiers activity does not correlate to a decline in the ski industry. To accurately identify trends in the snow sports industry it is important to look at more than just a few seasons. A decade of data will yield much better results than data collected for 5 or 6 seasons. This is because of how unpredictable the ski industry is. If we zoom in and hand pick 2 or 3 seasons, the argument can be made that the ski industry is in a decline, but if we look at all of the data available over the past 39 years it is clear that the opposite is true.
Data is sporadic; much like a snowflake, it is unlikely that two seasons will be similar to one another. So many factors determine skier turnout on a season by season basis. Snowfall, gas prices, the economy, and several unknown factors play into a ski area’s expected skier turnout. Tho impossible to predict, it is interesting to see what factors influence a person’s decision to head into the mountains for a day of pure bliss. Although the ski industry does not look anything like it did in the 80’s (thankfully), it is clear that skiing will be around for many seasons to come. Don’t worry about wether or not more or less people will be on the mountain to join you for a day of skiing, just go out, have fun, and ski.
Side note: This is my personal interpretation of the data. Please click the above links to view the data that I used for this post, and please share an ideas/arguments that you may have in the comments section below. Please comment like and share if you found this article interesting!
Author: Foster Martin