As is always the case for somebody working for Decathlon, as a child I would try as many sports as I could and loved discovering something new. Unfortunately, living in Coventry as one of four children, skiing was not a sport I had easy access to, and I never had the opportunity to try skiing or snowboarding growing up. The only snowsport I tried as a child was sledging on the rare occasions we received a good covering of snow.
Mine is not an isolate case for somebody growing up in the U.K. The Sport England Active People Survey shows that just 106,000 people practice snowsports once per week.¹ Whilst this low figure is perhaps unsurprising given the once per week criteria, what is more surprising perhaps is that the figure has fallen by more than 21,000 compared to 2005/06. Therefore it is clear that accessibility is still a major issue for snowsports in the U.K., so what can be done to improve the situation?
This was a question we asked earlier this week on our Facebook page, and the responses highlighted some of the important barriers that have to be overcome. Carl Booth suggested, “Moving England to somewhere where it snows??? ;)” This comment strikes at the heart of one of the most fundamental issues – the availability of real ski slopes. For many people in the U.K., accessing these slopes will involve a lot of travelling. Even ski slopes within the U.K. will not be convenient options for the majority of the population. This travel turns the sport into a holiday – skiing on real slopes isn’t something that most Brits can do in the afternoon and then be home for tea.
Turning the sport into a holiday increases the associated costs dramatically and can become a major barrier. So what can be done to drive down these costs? Alan Evans said, “Stagger school half-term holidays to bring the price of winter holidays down. Or make allowances for parents taking their kids on Winter sports breaks.” Currently most families only have the option to go skiing during the peak periods of school holidays, which also means peak prices. Therefore if a solution could be found to allow families to access the ski slopes outside of peak times, the costs associated would be reduced and improve accessibility.
However, you don’t need a mountain to ski. Many towns and cities in the U.K. now offer dry ski slopes which, whilst not offering quite the same experience as being on holiday in an Alpine Ski resort, nevertheless offer the opportunity to ski or snowboard in far more accessible locations (you can find your nearest slope on the Ski Club Great Britain website). Millions of people live close enough to one of these slopes for skiing or snowboarding to become sports that they can do for a few hours rather than something that will take up the entire day, so why aren’t more of us utilising these facilities?
Again, costs can be an issue, as highlighted by Paul Forrester, who called for these dry slopes to bring their prices down. Whilst these slopes are much cheaper than a holiday abroad to ski would be, in terms of increasing participation, with so many sports competing for our time, some of which are free to enjoy, these costs are still a barrier. Many of these slopes are run on a commercial basis however, and their pricing will be dictated by profitability.
Could investments be used to drive down these costs? This point was raised by David Talbot, who said, “Get rid of the sport’s current governing body and replace it with one that understands the sports and that understands that it isn’t all about medals!” Choosing where to invest their money is a difficult decision to make for any National Governing Body, particularly in less established sports who receive relatively modest levels of funding from organisations such as Sport England and U.K. Sport. Nevertheless, making a sport more accessible is essential to boost participation in sports such as skiing, and increased participation levels will naturally increase the chances of developing future international champions.
Snowsports offer a huge amount of diversity. If you compare ski jumping to downhill skiing to slopestyle to cross-country skiing, the four disciplines could hardly be more different. Whatever you love about sport, there will a discipline which offers you everything you are looking for. However, there is a lot of work to be done to improve the accessibility of the sport in order to transform it from a holiday activity into a sport which is practiced regularly in the U.K., something which will take a fully co-ordinated effort to achieve.
To discover the Wed’ze snowsports range available exclusively at Decathlon, please visit our website.
¹ For further details, please click here.