For a while it looked like snowboarding would take over the skiing world.
Since 1986, snowboarding has boomed, helping ski areas attract millions of new customers. Snowboards – and the millions of young riders who swarmed ski areas – spurred the creation of half-pipes, jumps, rails and all the other gizmos that now make up terrain parks at ski areas.
But it’s starting to look like skiing is on the comeback, thanks to innovations lifted from – you guessed it – snowboards.
“Snowboarding is not growing as fast as it used to, and skiing is becoming more popular,” said Guy Lawrence, marketing manager for The Summit at Snoqualmie, a ski area that is famous for attracting large numbers of snowboarders.
According to figures from the National Ski Areas Association, snowboarding peaked in 2004, when 6.3 million riders hit the slopes. That number dropped to 5.1 million during the winter of 2007-2008, the most recent data.
And the average age of snowboarders has climbed slightly in recent years. According to the NSAA, the average age of a regular snowboarder in 2001 was 20.1 years. In 2007, the average age was 21.6 years.
The number of snowboarders is flattening out slightly and snowboarders are discovering the fun of modern skis, said Troy Hawks, National Ski Areas Association spokesman.
Snowboarding may be hitting a maturity curve right now, and the new innovations in skis – curved tips on both ends, wider skis and shaped sides that make turning easier – have boosted skiing popularity.
Twin tips, shaped skis and wider skis were all inspired from snowboard designs, Lawrence said.
About 30 percent to 35 percent of visitors to White Pass Ski Area strap on a snowboard, said Kevin McCarthy, general manager of the resort.
“The number of snowboarders is fairly steady right now, but we’re seeing a lot of new skiers, more than we used to,” McCarthy said.
The new, twin-tip skis allow skiers to rip it up in the parks, and especially in the half-pipe, which was the domain of snowboarders for years.
For a few years, snowboarders could do things that skiers could only dream of – such as sliding backward off a jump.
Twin-tip skis allow skiers to slide backward down the steep edges of a half-pipe or land backward off a jump.
Being able to make these cool moves on skis has boosted skiing popularity, Lawrence said.
Lawrence’s wife is a middle school teacher, and she always asks her students whether they prefer snowboarding or skiing.
Snowboarding was much more popular in past years, but skiing has been making a comeback.
“It’s now about 50-50 for skis and snowboards,” Lawrence said of his wife’s informal surveys. “Both are good with the kids.”
But snowboarders aren’t going to vanish from the slopes anytime soon.
Snowboarders are still about 55 percent of the customers at The Summit at Snoqualmie. Snowboarding brings in about 35 percent of the business at Crystal Mountain and it’s still growing, said spokeswoman Tiana Enger.
“The majority of our first-time visitors are snowboarders,” Enger said. “And that number is increasing.”
Chester Allen: 360-754-4226