Pray for Snow

This is a technical research essay that I wrote for a college assignment. It’s here to demonstrate my ability to gather and analyze qualitative data. This skill is important because my client may not always have a product that I am a target customer for. However, I have the skills to research and understand their target customers to create meaningful messages for them to receive.

Introduction

            I myself have been snowboarding for ten years. It started when I was a teenager and I convinced my dad to buy me a snowboard for my birthday. I was naïve then and didn’t realize how much work it would be for my dad to allow me to participate in the sport. For starters, he needed to get involved himself. As I grew up, I took upon myself the significant financial responsibility that snowboarding requires of its participants. A lot of money is spent each year by tens of thousands of people in my estimation. I remember wondering to myself, “Why do people put themselves through this? The only people who get any measurable benefit are the professionals. The measurement is how much they’re paid.” This is the topic of my research. Why do people snowboard? What do they gain? What motivates them to spend money and risk their well-being?

Introduction to Informants

            I’ve learned through experience that snowboarding is less fun by yourself than it is with friends. I realized at the start of this research that by bringing my friends with me to snowboard, I was bringing them into the same financial burden that I was shouldering. It seems prudent, then, that they would have valuable insights into the minds of so many who also choose to carry this fiscal weight. I interview three individuals with which I have had the pleasure of snowboarding on more than one occasion. Christian Silva has been my friend longer than I’ve been snowboarding. It’s been around 12 years that we’ve known each other. He is 24 years old and has been snowboarding since he was eight. That figures to be around 16 years. He is single, and has experience working for ski resorts as the assistant manager of the rental shop. My second informant is Mark Kunz. I have known Mark for five years. He is married without children, works full time, is 24 years old and has been snowboarding since he was 4 years old. So, he’s been snowboarding for 20 years. My third informant is Tony Martinez. Tony is 26 years old and has been snowboarding for 8 years. He is single and works full time. Each informant gave me valuable detail regarding their motivation for snowboarding.

Theory and Findings

            I see snowboarders of all skill ranges. I watch competitions such as the Olympics where the athletes are spotlighted, and you can learn a little about their background in the sport. I detected a pattern in the age at which these athletes began snowboarding. Based on my experience, it is much less expensive to get into snowboarding at such a young age. Therefore, loyalty to the sport and motivation to participate possibly comes from patterns and habits developed in childhood. In the following pages, I will provide evidence that supports my theory. This evidence comes from my interviews with my informants as well as a few scholarly articles.

            Sometimes, adventure sports like snowboarding are described as “lifestyle” sports. (Puchan, 2004) I believe that this is true because of the significant time and financial investment required to enter these sports. Snowboarding is a sport that requires specialized equipment. In my interview with Christian, he detailed several kinds of snowboards and their uses. (C. Silva, personal communication, September 18, 2018). This is interesting in regard to defining snowboarding as a lifestyle sport. Most people would prefer to rent the equipment if they aren’t going to put a significant amount of time into it. They would rent if they aren’t going to make the sport part of their life. Christian observed this as he worked at the rental shop.

“I worked there (Brighton Ski Resort) for three seasons. One of which I was the assistant manager in the rental department. That was my job before, was a rental tech. Basically I help people get associated with the skis. How to put them on, I adjusted them and fix them to the technical standards that were given to us based on height and weight. I set people up with skis and boots for them to go ride on or snowboards.”

As Christian described the people that were renting the skis, it is apparent that they don’t know very much about the equipment. Indicating that the activity is not part of these people’s lifestyles. Finn would indicate that among the chief motivations of these people are the social and family elements involved. (Finn, 2012) Finn also indicates that ski and snowboard tourists are concerned with saving money. This is demonstrated when they try to bundle their purchases together. When renting equipment, there are offerings for group or family discounts. (Finn, 2012) So, both the activity of participating in the sport and the potential for added value or greater savings is a strong motivation for those who do not snowboard as part of their lifestyle.

            Tony is the oldest of my informants. He talked about the number of people that he used to go snowboarding with that still snowboard even though their lifestyles have grown different.

“I think they all do (go snowboarding) when they get time. We rarely ever get to all go together anymore, but we manage to find an evening or an afternoon, we take a trip. Like, I’ll go up after work sometimes. The resort has some lights and (Expletive) that make for a chill evening. There’s usually way less people there at night.”

Tony’s statements seem to echo the sentiment of the social value gained from snowboarding in a group. Which brings us to reference Maslow. Maslow indicates that there is a level of human need that can be satisfied by social belonging. People desire to be loved and esteemed by their peers. (Maslow, 1970) The research thus far would lead us to believe that this is the core motivation persuading people to snowboard. As we discuss Mark’s experience with snowboarding, we will see this position strengthened.

            Mark recounts his early entry into snowboarding. Some background knowledge about Mark will further explain his deep love for the sport. Mark’s father died when he was a teenager. He carries many fond memories of his father. He often wears a chain around his neck with some memento reminding him of his dad. This makes his connection to snowboarding much more powerful.

“I think that because I first started snowboarding at such a young age that I don’t think I really remember. I think I was like four when I started. What I do remember is that mainly what attracted me was that my dad did it and my brothers. And it was just like being so wild that it was just like why wouldn’t I do this? I think that’s what first attracted me. So, I guess that’s what I’d say is probably it.”

Even though his dad is not here to snowboard with him anymore, Mark still goes often with his brothers. That isn’t the only reason that Mark goes snowboarding, however. In just a moment, we will observe some things that Mark said that indicate that he gets some self-actualization from the sport.

            Before we listen to what Mark has to say, however, I want to quickly visit a note that Tony made. Tony indicated that he felt pretty confident in his skill as a snowboarder. I followed up by asking him if he would define snowboarding success as reaching a professional status. The point where he was getting paid to snowboard.

Well, obviously there are professionals. The guys who are doing it for a living, getting paid for their skills. That’s where I’m at with skateboarding. So, that would be pretty success if I made it that far.

Tony is indicating that for some participants, being compensated for their skill is valuable and motivating. This relates to esteem according to Maslow. Receiving recognition for your skills is a strong motivator. (Maslow, 1970) Additionally, Puchan observed that athletes who compete in extreme or adventure sports such as snowboarding are often looking for a way to define their lives. (Puchan, 2004)

According to Hunt, snowboard competitions have been happening since 1982. Back then, snowboarding was referred to as “Snurfing” a combination of “Snow” and “Surfing”. Hunt observes that it was a common bias that “Snurfers” didn’t even like the sport, they just did it to upset their parents. (Hunt, 2013) Hunt’s notes about competitions are relevant to this research because of the previously mentioned recognition that participants feel. I thought Hunt’s observations about snowboarders just participating to upset their parents was interesting because making your parents upset is considered a form of getting attention or recognition. Even though that method of recognition is considered unhealthy.

When I asked Tony further about becoming a professional snowboarder, he had the following to say:

Well, I guess that even if there was no way I would ever be a professional, I would still enjoy it. Those same reasons about it being an escape. It’s like finding Nirvana. You separate yourself from the rest of your life and stuff. You know?

This was interesting to me because of something that Mark said. I had asked him if the cost of snowboarding was worth it to him. He said that it was and when I asked why he had the following to say:

“Because I think in life, in general, not just snowboarding but like in today’s society we get caught up in just working. Not doing things for ourselves. And I love snowboarding because it kind of allows me… it’s kind of like a form of meditation. Just maybe go out and not be thinking about worldly things and just have fun with myself.”

This is beginning to sound like self-actualization to me. (Maslow, 1970) It appears to be possible to reach a level of engagement with snowboarding that allows the participant to find peace and fulfillment in the activity. It becomes less about the recognition received for participating in the sport and more about the enjoyment that you get. Tony spoke about the relief he feels from the stress of his daily life when he snowboards. Tony also referenced his observations surrounding some professional snowboarders. I had asked him what he thought professional snowboarders got out of the sport.

They talk about how it’s more than just winning contests to them. It’s connecting with nature and being at the mercy of the mountain. Having to be smarter than nature to find a way to get down that no one else has done. In fact, there are a lot of boarders who hate on Shaun White because he just does competitions. They say that he’s missing where the roots of the sport are.

It would seem that the critics of Shaun White that Tony is referring to feel that they have reached self-actualization where Shaun is caught on a level of needing to receive recognition.

Conclusion

            Despite the stigma that snowboarders receive of being lazy, unintelligent, drug users (Hunt, 2013) there is a higher motivation at play. In my observations, when a snowboarder begins to feel that they enjoy snowboarding for the pure experience and peace that comes from the mountain, the attachment to the sport is unbreakable. There are many people who begin snowboarding and stop when their social groups stop. They lose that level of fulfillment. There are groups who stop when they run out of recognition that comes from winning competitions. The true fans of the sport stay with it because they love it regardless of what anyone else thinks or does. They are self-actualized. These are the participants who in turn teach their children to snowboard. Those children grow up and teach friends who, if they’re lucky, reach a level of self-actualization themselves. (Maslow, 1970)

References:

A. H. Maslow (1970). Motivation and Personality (2nd ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

Finn, B. M. J. (2012). Exploring ski tourist motivations for active sport travel (Order No. MR76221). Available from ABI/INFORM Collection. (925539027).

Hunt, K. A., & Secor, W. (2013). A business case analysis of the snowboarding industry. Journal of Business Case Studies (Online), 9(2), 111-n/a.

Informant 1 Christian Silva. (2018, September 18). Interview by T Whiting. Motivation for Snowboarding.

Informant 2 Mark Kunz. (2018, September 18). Interview by T Whiting. Motivation for Snowboarding.

Informant 3 Tony Martinez. (2018, September 18). Interview by T Whiting. Motivation for Snowboarding. Puchan, H. (2004). Living ‘extreme’: Adventure sports, media and commercialisation. Journal of Communication Management, 9(2), 171-178.

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