Big Questions: Thoughts On Increasing Participation

Mary Jo Tarallo Reflects On Thirty Years Of Work To Get People On Snow

Mary Jo Tarallo speaking at the TransWorld Snow Conference

Mary Jo Tarallo speaking at the TransWorld Snow Conference

Editor’s Note: At this year’s TransWorld Snow Conferencethe main focus was on increasing participation to create a healthy future for the sport. The discussions and brainstorming that took place, as well as the initiatives, transcend all of action sports and our businesses. Mary Jo Tarallo has played a key role in building creative grassroots initiatives to grow snow sports including her work as the executive director of  Learn To Ski and Snowboard Month and the Bring a Friend. Tarallo recently sent us this letter reflecting on the discussions at the Snow Conference and incorporates nearly 30 years of work in the industry in her ideas.

By Mary Jo Tarallo, executive director, Learn To Ski & Snowboard Month and Bring a Friend

I have been thinking about the conversations at the TransWorld Snow Conference for a couple of months now. It was a great conference with lots of positive dialogue.

One thing that I did not hear at the conference was the role that the family, and especially moms, plays in shaping behavior among youths. Everyone seems to agree that getting kids involved is a good thing, but where does a young person go everyday? They are at home or at school or at some recreational/social activity or event in their community. We need to tap into that day-to-day routine.

Industries such as tennis, golf, running, and fishing have all figured out a way to reach kids either at their schools or in their community. They have developed long-range programs to do so and all include an important role for the parent(s). It's an approach not just to get kids active but also to cultivate loyal customers. Golf's First Tee program and the U.S. Tennis Association's Youth Tennis are good examples.

One company – Reebok – is spending $30 million on a very extensive program called BOK (Build Our Kids) to involve young children in activities that expose them to the Reebok brand. They are building brand loyalty. Check out

Major League Baseball, the National Football League, Major League Hockey and the National Basketball Association are all developing community outreach youth programs not just to gain advocates and customers, but also to motivate youths to get active. These industries are making huge investments, with programs like the NFL's "Play 60," to build a following for now and the future. Of course, they have the resources to do so.

Snow sports is a small industry compared to the NFL, Major League Baseball, and even the USTA which has the U.S. Open supplying a revenue stream. That's okay--in snow sports, I am convinced that a grass roots approach is doable and key to gaining new participants (and customers).

Some of the brainstorming ideas presented at the TransWorld Snow Conference certainly were noteworthy. However, suggestions like placing a TV ad during the Super Bowl are not feasible or a good expenditure of money. Even if it were possible financially, the question should be asked – does that lead to gaining new participants and keeping them?

In our industry, Burton's Riglet Park and school-based programming approach will have much more impact in the long run and more lasting results than a one shot advertising campaign. Entry into snowboarding or skiing is a complicated process. Not everyone "gets it" right away. A certain amount of "hand-holding" and "connecting the dots" is necessary for shaping behavior that will lead to long-term participation.

There are many ways, without spending millions of dollars, for the snow sports industry to partner with groups and organizations inside and outside the industry whose mission is to get youths and adults active. Examples include SOS Outreach, CHILL, and Youth Enrichment Services internally, and organizations like the Scouts, YM and YWCAs outside our endemic cocoon. These have the ability to reach beyond the small percentage of people in the U.S. who now participate in snow sports - whether it is skiing or snowboarding, only three to four percent of the U.S. population does so. That means 96  to 97 percent do not.

That's pretty scary when you consider the changing nature of our country where the Caucasian population (the more typical snow sports participant) is shrinking and the Hispanic, Asian and African-American populations are growing - especially in urban centers. This is where most people live and where it is a little more difficult to get to a ski/snowboard area.

Industry research shows that most people are introduced to skiing or snowboarding through a friend or family member.  In fact, the number is somewhere in the neighborhood of 96 percent. We foster this message via Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month/Bring a Friend. Encouraging current skiers and snowboarders to help a friend or family member sign up for beginner lessons makes sense. Most of us are not trained to teach. However, each of us can help newcomers navigate the maze of steps leading to conversion - learning from a knowledgeable professional, getting the right information and having fun.

We all can benefit by better harnessing our own personal energy and the energy of our colleagues, as well as leveraging our mutual efforts to gain more participants in skiing and snowboarding. No one is in a better position to do so than those of us who are IN the industry.

I believe that we can be and ARE successful when various and different elements of the industry find ways to work together. This does not mean a top down extravagant (read expensive) campaign, but through a collaborative bottom up approach (read local) – within a common theme. I have seen proof of this via Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month/Bring a Friend.

Sometimes, industry businesses and organizations seem to conflict with each other for various reasons.  The industry is WAY too small for this to happen.

Truth be known, we launched LSSM/BAF partly out of frustration that we were spending a lot of time TALKING about how to grow participation and not really doing anything substantial to make it happen – even with limited resources. We have tried to nurture this initiative in a way that includes many aspects of the industry while also offering maximum flexibility for partners to meet a wide variety of goals. It is not an elaborate top down approach. It is bottom up and grass roots. Partners determine their own programs within a common theme. It's pretty simple.

Collaboration has made it work. Partners have found creative ways to generate newcomer business on their own terms. They make their own decisions based on a few common denominators. Through their collective efforts, the initiative was able to report that 153,000 beginner lessons were taught via LSSM programs in January 2013.

We are not saying that this is the only solution. But it's a start.

Let us know below what you’re doing to increase participation and how we can better collaborate as an industry…