How Many People in the U.S. Skied Last Season?

If you’re reading this column, then you’re probably one of the top 1%! I’ll explain more about that later.

SIA - Snowsports Industries AmericaSnowsports Industries America (SIA) is a non-profit trade association representing suppliers of snowsports.  Snowsports in this case being alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. The organization started as “Ski Industries America”, but changed its name if not its initials to be more inclusive of the sports it represents.

One of the missions of SIA is research to help its members better understand the snowsports market. The data they collect used to be hard for the general public to access, but thanks to the web, now it’s easier to see. Some of their research remains for “members only” or can be obtained for a fee. However the free, publicly available data available in the “SIA Snow Sports Industry Insights Study” makes for some interesting reading.

Let’s start with how many people in the United States actually participate in Snowsports. In 2016 11.857 million people went downhill skiing, 7.557 million snowboarded, and 5.059 million went cross-country skiing. The downhill skiing numbers crept up a little from the previous season while snowboarding held about even. Cross-country numbers have seen the only significant increase (>20%) over the last three seasons.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the downhill skiing numbers. Skiers are an aging group. If I define RetroSkiers as those 55 or older, we went from being 7% of downhill participants up to 11%! As I mentioned, downhill saw only a small increase in total participation so that means there was actually a decrease in some of the younger age brackets.

Alpine Ski Particpants Age Trends

The increase in participation by those 55 and older is not a surprise. The changes over the last 20-30 years in ski equipment, snowmaking and grooming, and lifts have all favored senior skiers. Would as many of us still be skiing if we were on 210’s, dealing with ungroomed slopes and long lift lines?

So we have about 12 million skiers in the United States. How often do they go skiing? I was shocked to find out that according to the SIA data, 23% only skied one day last season! In other words, about one in four skiers logged just a single day – sure hope it was a good day!

No correct answers to that question last week, but I really didn’t expect a big response. I’m betting many of you are as surprised as I was at the actual percentage.

Going back to the numbers on how often people ski, the data indicate that 77% of skiers skied eight or less days last season. That figure obviously includes the single day wonders mentioned earlier. While I’m not as shocked by that figure, it still is amazing that the “typical” skier makes the big investment in equipment, tickets, lodging, and food for basically a week of enjoyment. I think it also may reveal some of the thought behind the pricing of Epic passes.

I know that many readers of this column fall into the as yet unmentioned category of those who ski nine or more days a season. In fact a lot of you probably accumulate way more than that! So that puts you in a very exclusive group.

The population of the United States is approximately 326 million. If I’m very generous and round up, about 4% of that population are skiers. Since less than a quarter of U.S. skiers ski 9 days or more, those who do make up the top 1%! OK, so it’s not the top 1% that you see in the news all the time, but it’s still a point of distinction.

Since I’m on a numbers kick, I did look up some other countries. Germany has the most skiers at 14.6 million. That’s almost 20% of their population! Japan is right behind the U.S. with some 10 million skiers. Japan’s number has actually decreased. At one time they may have exceeded the U.S., but an aging population has reduced their numbers.

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