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Thursday, February 7, 2013 - Page updated at 06:30 p.m.
Snowboarding craze fades, skiing becomes cool again
By Hugo Martin
Los Angeles Times
At the height of the nation’s snowboard craze, Rod Rice was a so-called blazin’ raisin — an older dude who loved to bomb the slopes at breakneck speeds.
That is, until he wiped out and dislocated his shoulder on a trip to Canada. The 65-year-old engineer still loves to carve fresh powder, but now he does it on a pair of extra-wide skis.
“I’m not planning on going back to snowboarding,” said the Lakewood, Calif., grandfather.
Once the king of the mountain, snowboarding is on the down slope.
The rage that transformed the nation’s ski resorts and planted such terms as “jib,” “face plant” and “biff” into America’s lexicon is cooling off partly because many older riders are shifting to new, easier-to-ride skis to preserve their aging bodies.
Sales of snowboards and snowboard equipment have slipped 21 percent over the last four years, while sales of skis have climbed 3 percent in the same period, according to SnowSports Industries America, a trade group that tracks the $3.5 billion snow sports and apparel industry.
Baby boomers aren’t the only ones bailing. Last season, alpine skiing replaced snowboarding as the most popular snow sport among kids ages 6 to 17, according to the trade group. That’s the first time in nearly a decade and a troubling sign for snowboard makers battling for a key demographic.
The once-hip, ultra-extreme sport for rebels may have lost its lure when Mom and Dad began snowboarding a few years ago.
“Kids don’t snowboard because it’s not cool to do exactly what Mom and Dad do,’’ said Tracy Gibbons, co-owner of Sturtevant’s ski shop in Bellevue. “Snowboarding has definitely peaked.”
At Stevens Pass, the number of snowboarders dropped from 43 percent of visitors in 2010 to 41 percent last winter, according to survey by the Leisure Trends Group that polls Stevens Pass visitors.
Those taking snowboarding lessons is also declining. Jim Smith, director of operations at Snowsports Northwest, said five years ago the organization consisted of about 80 percent snowboarding lessons and 20 percent skiing lessons, but now the ratio has flipped to 20 percent snowboarders and 80 percent skiers.
“It’s been very apparent the past two seasons,” Smith said.
Chris Rickard, president of the Husky Winter Sports Club, wrote in an email that its lessons program has noticed a decline in snowboarding students as well.
“It’s created quite a paradox, as many winter-sports enthusiasts our age grew up snowboarding and now are trying to become instructors. But we have to turn many away because the demand just isn’t there anymore,” Rickard wrote.
A snow-loving member of the millennial generation, 17-year-old Arten Yegikyan from La Crescenta, Calif., tried snowboarding on Bear Mountain a few months ago. He said he gave it up because he felt beat up and frustrated when he was done.
“It felt like you had no control over the direction you are going,” said Yegikyan, who now prefers skiing.
The limitations snowboarders face in powder and flat terrain are a reason Kristy Chocholaty, 35, of Truckee, Calif., has given up on the sport. She jumped on the snowboard bandwagon in the late 1990s. “I wanted to check it out because so many people were snowboarding at the time,” she said.
But she said she gets frustrated when she tries to keep up with her skier husband and gets stuck in places that he can simply push through with his poles.
Ski and snowboard manufacturers acknowledge the factors weighing on snowboards. But they predict sales will rise again as manufacturers push new board designs that will make them easier and safer to ride.
“Like anything else, you will see the snowboarding trend wax and wane,” said Nick Castagnoli, a spokesman for Rossignol Skis USA, a longtime manufacturer of skis, snowboards and other snow gear.
Brian McQueen, owner of Seattle Ski and Snowboard, said sales of snowboards and snowboard equipment are down about 25 percent this year compared to last year, and he attributes the decline to the rising popularity of fat skis.
“More people are converting back to skiing, and they’re using fat skis for the backcountry and terrain parks,” McQueen said.
Ski companies are also making equipment for venturing into the backcountry, which is becoming increasingly popular, more affordable. Gibbons said one of the best-selling products at Sturtevant’s this year is ski boots with a hike feature that allows skiers to go into the backcountry more easily.
Accessing the backcountry is easier on skis, which glide across flat terrain with the help of poles, than on a snowboard that has to be unstrapped at the first sign of level ground. Snowboard companies have recognized this disadvantage and created split boards. i The board splits into skis and has bindings that can be shifted to a different angle when the board is in ski mode.
Modern snowboarding was invented in the 1960s, but most ski resorts refused to let riders on their slopes until the 1990s, when the sport’s popularity began to boom. Snowboarders made their debut in the Winter Olympics in 1998, and by 2004 they outnumbered skiers on U.S. slopes.
From 1990 to 2004, the number of Americans snowboarders jumped about 340 percent, from 1.5 million to 6.6 million, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. In the same period, the number of skiers dropped 48 percent, from 11.4 million to 5.9 million, the trade group said.
Since 2004, however, snowboard participation has dropped 22 percent while skiing has climbed 16 percent, the group said.
A 2012 study by the University of Vermont College of Medicine concluded that snowboarders have a higher injury rate than skiers. Snowboarders tend to suffer more injuries to their wrists, shoulders and ankles as well as concussions, while skiers had more knee and lower leg injuries, according to the study.
Despite the clear shift back to skis, snowboard makers say the sport that once took the ski industry by storm is not dead.
“It isn’t going away, but it’s not on the wicked high that it was on for all those years,” said Gibbons.
Seattle Times staff writer Sarah Elson contributed
to this report.
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