Interest in winter sports heats up

From casual Olympic observers to serious, tech-savvy players, snow sports now have a big audience that a broad range of media are looking to satisfy.

From casual Olympic observers to serious, tech-savvy players, snow sports now have a big audience that a broad range of media are looking to satisfy.

Only a decade ago, snowboard riders and traditional skiers were locked in a verbal and sometimes physical battle at winter resorts across the country. Now the two sports have not only learned to co-exist on the slopes, they also seem to be benefiting each other in driving media coverage of the snow sports lifestyle.

"Snowboarding has revitalized skiing," says Carson Stanwood, owner of Jackson Hole, WY-based Stanwood & Partners, whose clients include Atomic Skis. "Skiing has gotten youthful and cool. Snowboarding and skiing are more interchangeable in terms of image."

An Olympic boon

As the Winter Olympics take place next month in Turin, Italy, skiing and snowboarding will get a huge spike in media interest.

"We tend to promote the sport as a lifelong lifestyle activity," says Alicia Allen, associate PR director for the trade group SnowSports Industries America. "But when you get this close to the Olympics, you definitely focus on the competitive results, as well as the lifestyle."

Skiing stars such as Bode Miller, Hannah Teeter, and Shaun White will certainly benefit from the wall-to-wall coverage of the Winter Games, but they aren't the only ones.

"Turin will provide an opportunity to get back to gear stories," says Stanwood. "One angle that we're pushing hard with the consumer press is that while these athletes are using the latest technology, there is a trickle-down effect on the new equipment for the recreational skier."

What may be surprising is that little of the upcoming Olympic coverage will be done by ski or snowboard beat writers.

"There was a time back in the 1970s and early '80s when every paper had a ski writer," says Ted Fragulis, VP with Alan Taylor Communications, which represents the United States Ski and Snowboarding Association. "But outside of a few notable exceptions, like Tony Chamberlain at The Boston Globe and John Meyer of the Denver Post, that just isn't the case anymore."

But even without beat reporters, Troy Hawks, communications manager for the National Ski Areas Association, suggests that most resorts and manufacturers can still count on a steady amount of seasonal coverage.

"A lot of papers in the fall come with special ski previews," he reports. "We get a lot of calls at the front end of that. We also issue a lot of press releases that are geared toward editors to let them know the ski industry research they can use to complement any articles they work on."

Allen adds that the only variable that really impacts media coverage from year to year is the weather. "If we don't get dumped on until January or February, you may not see a lot of stories because people aren't thinking about it," she says.

While many skiing and snowboarding stories still tend to be done by outdoor beat writers, Fragulis notes that the emergence of snowboarding as a lifestyle has changed the media's attitude toward snow sports.

"Snowboarding has given us another element to pitch," he says. "It's opened us up to a new genre of writers who are a little younger and who wouldn't have covered snow sports before."

Broadening interest

Missy Farren, founder of New York-based Missy Farren & Associates, which represents snowboard hardware and apparel company Burton, suggests that snowboarding has managed to become very mainstream, even while preserving much of its cutting-edge image.

"Our agency has worked with everyone from Live with Regis & Kelly, Ladies' Home Journal, and InStyle to Metropop, XX Large, and Flaunt," she explains. "When it comes to the competitions, our media audience is the outdoor or sports writer. But we can also target the fashion media, gear reviewers, feature writers, and now, with Burton's iPod snowboard jacket and its audio line, we can reach out to tech writers."

Stanwood notes that there are still plenty of dedicated snow sports magazines such as Ski, Skiing, Powder, and Transworld Snowboarding. "Their demographic is narrow compared to the whole picture, and they tend to be very young and male," he says. "On the other hand, that audience tends to consist of repeat equipment buyers.

"If you're a manufacturer and want to be smart about it," he adds, "you should also be looking at parenting magazines and websites aimed at 'tweener' girls.

You also should not forget outlets catering to older boomer guys with disposable income, as they are more able to travel."

Pitching... winter sports

Snow sports no longer depend on the Olympics for widespread coverage, thanks to newer events such as the Winter X Games. Overall, there are more opportunities to pitch the media

Skiing and snowboarding are now as much about lifestyle as they are about competition, so don't limit your pitches to the sports pages

You can still leverage the media interest in Olympic skiing and snowboarding to lay the groundwork for next fall's and winter's stories, even though the Winter Games are coming near the end of this year's snow sports season

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