Today, snowboarding is permitted at approximately 97 percent of all ski areas in the United States. While we are all hopeful that 100 percent of the areas will soon open to riders, the possibility exists that this number could take a turn in the opposite direction.
At the recent annual National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) meeting in Palm Springs, snowboarding was a prime discussion topic. While ski-area operators acknowledge the need to create rider-friendly resorts to attract more boarders, there were also discussions about the “irresponsibility” of this young industry. Ski-area operators pointed to advertisements run by the industry showing riders bonking off of snowcats, snowmaking hydrants, padded lift towers, sign posts, and getting big air. They also pointed to the type of language used in many advertisements and revisited the famous¿or as some would argue, infamous¿Madonna ad. It’s true that snowboarding is a marketing-driven industry, but ski-area operators believe that riders desire and attempt to imitate the behavior used in snowboard ads and videos.
Another concern of ski-area operators is increased liability, which they believe is caused by snowboarding. Many states have enacted the “assumption of risk” legislation, which provides ski area operators immunity from liability for injuries caused by risk inherent in the “sport of skiing.” But, with the snowboard industry taking the position that snowboarding is not the sport of skiing, this could create a potential kink in the ski resorts’ statutory immunity armor. Further, if snowboarding is not the sport of skiing, is there a compatibility problem?
So far, these issues have not been resolved. However, there will be a number of cases brought into the courts within the next five years involving these issues. A negative outcome would certainly hurt the snowboarding industry. The ski industry could attempt to solve these concerns by going back to the various state legislatures and expanding the scope of the ski statutes. Unfortunately, this would give the plaintiffs’ bar an opportunity to argue for repeal of those laws.
As an industry, we are dependent upon the ski operators. If it weren’t for their willingness to allow snowboarding on the slopes, we’d all be in the backcountry today. However, we don’t want to move backward. In order to make our forward momentum a little easier, we need to apply a bit of wax now.
There are several steps that everyone in the industry¿manufacturers, retailers, reps, and even publications¿can and must do in order to keep this sport growing at its current pace.
First, each member of this industry must act responsibly. This does not mean that the industry’s creative juices must be quashed. Rather, we must take the tremendous creativity of this industry and find ways to add more responsibility. The primary area we must focus on is education. Educating our riders to be responsible resort users is crucial to future growth. The talent present within this industry can educate consumers while maintaining the sport’s appeal.
Marketing efforts must be more responsible. There is no reason to show riders bonking off of ski equipment. Clearly, we want to promote fun and excitement, but that can be accomplished in a way which does not advocate destructive behavior. Riders emulating this behavior may end up creating serious problems for the industry as a whole. We need to realize that advertisements run today can turn up as evidence in a trial against your company in the future. With all the effort and money you’re pouring into your company, you should be concerned about responsible marketing. Second, the industry should acknowledge that riders must abide by the Skier Responsibility Code (now known as Your Responsibility Code). This code functions as the rules of the slopes. All manufacturers should include a statement within their product literature informing purchasers that they familiarize themselves and adheere to its tenets. It might not be a bad idea to even reprint the code right in your literature. Retailers and publications must support this effort and should work with the manufacturers in educating riders as to the applicability of Your Responsibility Code, as well as the need for the riders to conform their behavior accordingly.
Third, there needs to be more communication between manufacturers and the ski-area operators. How many of you had a real dialogue with your local riding spot? The area operators need to hear and talk to you. Each manufacturer must find the time for some ski-area public relations. A lot can be learned in these discussions that could actually help you in your marketing efforts, while at the same time affording the area operators an opportunity to discuss their concerns. By talking, ski-area management will appreciate your entrepreneurial spirit and work with you to accommodate snowboarding.
Communication and education are powerful tools. This industry must use these tools in a responsible manner to foster the industry’s continued growth. While failure to do so might not have an immediate detrimental effect, it will almost inevitably lead to an increase in lawsuits against both ski-area operators and members of the snowboarding community. Obviously, we’ll all suffer should this occur.