This is NSSRA Chairman Brad Nelson’s outlook on how to grow the snowsports industry. Is he right? You tell us…

An Open Letter from NSSRA Chairman Brad Nelson: Re: Increasing participation

Over the past decade, the snowsports industry has experienced a tremendous amount of change. Aside from the obvious challenges of this past season there are some global, 10,000-foot-view indicators that are concerning:
– According to SIA, the sale of sliding devices has decreased by 250,000 units during the last 10 years.
– Also according to SIA, the average age of skis that consumers own has gone from 3½ years old to 10+ years old in the past 10 years.
– According to the National Sporting Goods Association, over the last 5 years participation in youth team sports has decreased significantly; baseball down 24%; football down 14%; and soccer down 10%. Whatever the root issue, participation in many sports and activities is down from traditional levels.
– A National Sporting Goods Association survey of skiers (skied 2+ times per year) reports a decrease of 800,000 skiers during the last 10 years while the U.S. population over the age 25 years old has grown by 25 million!

Even the most passionate optimist would concede that the snowsports industry may have some issues. Many in the industry have invested their entire careers and have the vast majority of their personal wealth tied up in businesses that are in the midst of unrelenting change. NSSRA Board of Directors member Larry Merkel of Roundhouse Ski and Sports Center in Bozeman, MT shared a quote that I think would resonate with everyone in the snowsports industry: "What has happened to the business we thought we knew?"

As chairman of NSSRA, I have had the opportunity to talk about growth in the snowsports industry with many different stakeholders. From east coast to west coast I've spoken with areas, vendors, reps, retailers, instructors, patrol and others. From these many conversations I've taken away two important learnings:
1. Everyone is concerned about growing the sport.
2. Most of us think it is someone else's job to do it.

While many in the snowsports industry are waiting for a white knight to save us, we are collectively getting our butts kicked by the activities, devices, events and cultural trends that are stealing our customers' time and money.

It is time to fight back!

There are two ways to fight back; send money to some entity to support a national Grow Snowsports campaign or, own the fight, in your own space, in your own community with your own customers.

I've spoken with many in the industry who would support some sort of national Grow Snowsports campaign. The problem with that is that while all the stakeholders of the snowsports business are in the same industry, we all have different and sometimes conflicting business models. Destination areas are different from day areas. Specialty shops are different from box shops or Internet e-tailers. Hardgoods vendors have a different business model than softgoods vendors.

Because we are different, we view the snowsports world through a different set of lenses. What is important to a specialty shop isn't a concern for a destination area. Because of that, there is a realistic concern that a national promotion like the "Got Milk" or "Let's Go RVing" campaigns might be tough to get off the ground. Considering the diverse perspective of our constituencies, it would make sense to put this effort aside for the time being.

That leaves "own the fight" as the next best option.

Own the fight means taking personal responsibility for your store to introduce skiing or snowboarding to at least one new family of four. While one new family doesn't sound like a very big deal, there are almost 68,000 retail stores, vendors, reps, instructors, ski patrols, trade associations and media members in our industry. If each one of them introduced just one new family to the sport it could be more than 270,000 new participants! Two, five or ten new families would create an incredible number of new participants. Collectively our industry has a tremendous amount of horsepower. If we can get it harnessed and pointed in the right direction we could be an unstoppable force.

NSAA and SIA have created a partnership with two programs, Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month and a new program, Bring-A-Friend. Both programs are headed up by Mary Jo Tarallo. These two programs are themes around which retailers can create promotional programs in their own communities. For about the price of coffee and donuts for the staff, retailers can get access to a host of information and materials.

In subsequent articles we'll be discussing some of the promotional ideas that shops can use to create their own program to grow snowsports, as well as some of the tools that are available to help develop the promotion. In the meantime, now is the time to talk with your staff about the importance of this critical issue.

I don't know whose quote this is, but it applies to the matter of growing snowsports: "If not now, when? If not you, who?"

Make the commitment to do something this season to grow snowsports. Your future and the future of our industry depend on it.

Brad Nelson
National Ski and Snowboard Retailers Association chairman