The third installment of the Thin Air Innovation Festival (April 5-7) is just around the corner, signaling the end of the ski season. This unique event brings leaders from tech, snowsports, finance, healthcare, outdoor recreation, retail, and beyond together in Park City to share ideas and make connections. One of the key partners in this year's festival is Snowsport Industries America (SIA), a non-profit group based in Park City that focuses on research, education, and growing participation in the industry. In addition to providing marketplace data to industry players, SIA's recent efforts include partnering up with Outdoor Retailer for an On Snow Demo at Copper Mountain this past winter, hosting workshops and webinars for industry players, collaborating with resorts on Learn to Ski & Sowboard Month and Winter Trails Month, and actively urging lawmakers in Washington D.C. to implement stronger climate policies.
For the Thin Air Festival, SIA is sponsoring a breakout session about something very near and dear to our town: how to grow participation in skiing and snowboarding to ensure a bright future for the winter sports industry. Attacking the Participation Issue in Snowsports: A Design Thinking Workshop takes place on Friday, April 6 from 12:45 - 2:15 p.m. at the Jim Santy Auditorium at Park City Library and be lead by design powerhouse IDEO. The session will function primarily as workshop experience where snowsports industry players can team up to generate new ways to drive participation, using Utah (which has relatively low participation rates across the Wasatch Front) as an incubator to put the ideas into action before taking them nationwide.
We caught up with Nick Sargent, the President of SIA, to learn more about the factors affecting growth (and decline) in the snow sports industry and find out why his organization has joined forces with Thin Air.
What are the biggest challenges facing the snow sports industry right now?
The biggest challenge facing snow sports is the changing climate. The supply chain of water, snow, and weather are now threatened more than ever. Just look at how this winter has been for Park City and greater Utah. The snow sport industry will always have to deal with human-made issues of the buy/sell cycle, e-commerce, direct to consumer, over supplied sales channel, and so forth. We may be able to solve some of these issues over time, but if we don’t act now, and act as a force, it’s hard to say what the future will look like for the next generation and beyond without cold temperatures and snow.
Snow sports are definitely less accessible for a lot of people, especially for those who don’t live near the mountains. Even in Salt Lake City, where the mountains are close, there's a lack of participation. How do you try to reach these people?
This is a national concern and one which we’re actively working on by supporting existing programs that try to grow the user base. There’s a huge opportunity to get more people from SLC to visit and participate. Despite the proximity to the mountains, less than 3 percent of Utahns ski or snowboard. We’ve taken the winter to research and understand all the local and national winter sports programs which support learn to ski & snowboard initiatives, as well as, never-evers, new cultures, and diverse groups. We want to work with the programs which are moving the needle and adding value to the mountain and resort communities to ensure we can maximize our industry investment, but more importantly enable them to participate multiple times after their first experience.
Is there a particular sector/age of the population SIA is targeting?
SIA is focused on all age segments. Of course, we always need to further our efforts with youth participation to ensure the future is full of new winter sport enthusiasts. SIA is committed to the mission of participation, but we can’t do it alone. I’ve recently created the Winter Coalition, which consists of U.S. Ski & Snowboard, National Ski Area’s Association, National Ski & Snowboard Retailer Association, Professional Ski Instructors of America, Nationals Ski Patrol, and other key stake holders including the rep groups. The issue of participation is all our concern and we need to be working in tandem to ensure the future of winter sports
Where is the snow sports sector seeing the most growth?
SIA manages all aspects of the winter sport space. We've seen alpine skiing stabilize, snowboarding rebound in popularity, and a rise in cross-country skiing. However, the largest growth sector we're seeing right now actually comes from sledding and tubing.
Why does SIA want to be involved with the Thin Air Festival and what benefits do you think players in the snow sports industry get out of it?
SIA has been watching Thin Air for a few years. The winter sports industry really needs an educational end-of-season event to address key issues which our industry faces that also allows us to network and socialize with industries on different paths. The winter sport industry has tremendous potential, but needs to continue to learn and look for opportunities outside of our traditional circles. Thin Air is a great opportunity for SIA to create the learning environment which the industry has been asking for.
You can find more information on the Thin Air Innovation Festival or purchase tickets by visiting their website here.