Golden age for snowsports?

Recent SIA studies show that more than one third of the 11.5 million skiers and 8.5 million snowboarders on the hill today are under 25 years old. SIA

From snowfall in Tahoe, California and across the U.S. to numbers of people hitting the slopes, this past winter was a season for breaking records. Despite the ongoing negative news about the state of the economy, the snow sports industry also broke records for the number of dollars in equipment sold.

The good news started flowing in January on the equipment side of things, when Snowsports Industries America (SIA) reported a "billion dollar December." This trend continued, and after the final tally came in at the end of the 2010/11 season, the snow sports industry reported a record $3.3 billion in sales. The previous highest sales record was $3 billion, set in 2007/08.

In May the National Ski Areas Association's preliminary report listed 60.1 million skier and snowboarder visits over the season, surpassing 60 million for the second time in recorded history. Certainly La Nina's heavy hand didn't hurt, delivering above average snowfall across most of the country, except the Southwest.

Nationally, snowfall at resorts was up 27 percent, with regional tallies coming in at plus-43 percent in the Pacific Southwest, up 37 percent in the Northeast, and 31 in the Rocky Mountains. The massive winter not only drew more visitors over the extended season, but continues to draw skiers and snowboarders to resorts that have recently reopened for business.

According a recent report from the U.S. Forest Service and University of Georgia, growth in numbers of skiers and snowboarders is a trend that will continue the next several decades. As more people move to the mountains, demand for lift-served, backcountry and even cross-country skiing is expected to grow at a rate that exceeds any other recreation activities.

For longtime Vail skier and managing partner of Carve Collective, Tom Winter, it's a shift that's already in motion. "We've already seen rapid growth in some types of winter recreation," says Winter. "Backcountry skiing and snowboarding in particular. So the boom is already here. Population plays a part in it, but so do technological advances like better equipment that is easier to use."

As for how this forecasted growth will be reflected at the resorts, Winter says, "Of course the slopes will become more crowded. Population growth in the mountains means more people will ski. We've seen that in the Vail Valley over the past 20 years. Old timers will talk about how empty the Back Bowls used to be, and they're right!"