By the numbers
■ Percentage of male snowboarders, skiers in 2007: 73.5, 60.7
■ Percentage of female snowboarders, skiers in 2007: 26.5, 39.3
■ Total snowboarders, skiers in 2007: 5.1 million, 5.5 million
■ Percentage of U.S. population for snowboarders, skiers: 1.9, 2.1
Source: National Ski & Snowboard Retailers Association
Learn more about women-oriented marketing on the Web at http://she-conomy.com.
Steamboat Springs While men continue to solidly lead ski and snowboard participation numbers, ski industry leaders and retailers last week touted the increasing value of marketing ski gear, programs and vacations toward women and families.
Hillary Sherman, resort programs coordinator for Burton Snowboards, raised the issue during a seminar at the National Ski Areas Association’s Winter Conferences and Tradeshows last week at The Steamboat Grand. Although Sherman’s talk to members of the ski industry focused largely on promoting Burton snowboards and boots designed for women, and explaining why she thought resorts should add that gear to their rental offerings, the larger issue hits home.
Andy Wirth, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., said Ski Corp. frequently generates ad campaigns focused on bringing women — and by extension, families — to Steamboat. Retailers at the base of Steamboat Ski Area also noted the importance of providing appropriate gear for women.
“It’s really about who is making the decision about booking,” Wirth said. “In many situations, the female is really on point, if you will, with selecting the destination.”
Wirth pointed to a Ski Corp. ad campaign rolled out last year that uses the slogan “When they think about their childhood, what will they remember?” Wirth said those ads, which contain photos of mothers and children, are intended to draw an emotional response from women and bring their families to Steamboat. Ski Corp. also strongly considers women in ad placement, Wirth said.
“We’ll make media buying decisions based on the woman head of household,” Wirth said.
Sherman told her audience that women make 80 percent of buying decisions in America, a statistic used by longtime business journalist Fara Warner in her 2005 book “The Power of the Purse.” Numerous marketing companies use similar figures when talking about women’s buying power.
“In the snow sports industry, we target men first, but they aren’t necessarily the ones who are spending the money,” Sherman said.
Sherman said although a low percentage of total snowboarders are women — about 27 percent in 2007, according to the National Ski & Snowboard Retailers Association — nearly half of first-time snowboarders are female.
“That’s a big drop-out rate,” Sherman said. “We need to improve the experience for women.”
Doing so has boosted business at Powder Tools, which provides snowboard rentals and retail — including gear designed for women — in Gondola Square, manager Jake Jarvis said. Jarvis said he has worked at the store for 10 years and has seen a marked increase in female customers.
“More and more women every year, for sure,” Jarvis said. “I bet we used to do 80 to 20 (percent of male customers to female customers), but now it’s closer to 60 to 40. It’s been a gradual change over the past few years.”
The quality of gear offered for women is improving along with the customer base, Jarvis said. Whereas women’s snowboard gear initially meant just smaller sizes with different colors and graphics — a mentality of “shrink it and pink it,” assistant manager Bernie Tomassetti said — that is no longer the case.
“Now there’s a lot more research and development,” Jarvis said, citing better-fitting boots and women’s boards that are narrower and more flexible than men’s.
Sherman said Burton’s women’s snowboard boots have smaller “heel cups,” which keep a woman’s foot solidly on the board.
“If you put a woman in a men’s boot, she is going to have heel lift, which means she’s not going to link turns,” Sherman said.
Johanna Jeffery, a rental technician at Ridesports in Gondola Square, agreed that men’s boots don’t hold women’s feet in position and also noted the importance of narrower boards for most women.
“If you have a wider board, it’s more awkward going from your heel to toe,” Jeffery said.
Sherman said her opinions about the value of marketing gear and programs for women do not only apply to snowboarding.
“I mean, this on the ski side, as well,” she said.