Why Snowshoeing Should be an Olympic Sport

There are lots of reasons why snowshoeing has not been added to the Winter Olympics lineup, and there are also a lot of reasons why it should be included. Competitive snowshoeing has been in existence for about 200 years, according to Mark Elmore, head of the International Snowshoe Federation.

One of the main criterion for consideration as an Olympic sport is history and longevity, according to the International Olympic Committee, or IOC for short. Snowshoeing clearly fills that requirement, and then some. Other requirements for being considered as an Olympic event include that a sport must be presented in 20 countries on five continents. A total of 18 countries on five continents that participated in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi have at least one snowshoe organization representing their efforts.

Snowshoes_Oly_RingsThe growing popularity of the sport also bodes well for snowshoeing. In 2013, a nationwide survey of 40,000 people was conducted by Snowsports Industries America. It projected that there were 4,029,000 snowshoers in the 2012/2013 winter season. Though the numbers were down slightly from the previous study, the number of snowshoers surpassed the number of cross-country skiers for only the second time since the study’s inception. Other 2013 snow sport populations included alpine skiing (8,243,000), cross-country skiing (3,307,000), and snowboard (7,351,000).

Another important statistic is the age group of snowhoers which includes 20 percent under the age of 17, 39 percent are ages 18-34, and 29 percent were 35 to 54; 12 percent were 55 and above. Women comprised 46 percent of snowshoers while men tallied 54 percent in the gender summary.

Adding New Events

Looking at the IOC’s sudden inclusion of sports like ski slopestyle, snowboard slopestyle, and snowboard parallel special slalom make you scratch your head wondering how Olympic officials rationalized their decisions. Here are a few facts: The IOC charter clearly states that before a new sport can be added to the lineup, an existing sport must be dropped. However, in 2014, a dozen news competitions were added to the lineup making the Sochi Games the longest in the 90-year history of the Winter Games. Eight of these sports were not even invented until roughly a decade ago, and all have been phenomenally successful events in the Winter X Games, the annual extreme sporting event held each January and televised by ESPN. These are somewhat entertaining, but have absolutely no history or longevity as the IOC claims they must have in order to be considered.

So, how did the IOC circumvent its own rules? They added these new events and included them under the umbrella of currently successful disciplines like alpine and cross-country skiing, which both have long histories and meet all the IOC parameters. But the reality is that there is no way any of these imported X Games sporting events come close to achieving the 20 country, five continent rule as set by the IOC. Another important factor is the demographics and advertising potential. The IOC has desperately been courting the Generation X and Generation Y crowd, and the X Games are the perfect example of reaching those audiences. Thus, to meet their marketing and financial plans, the IOC basically hi-jacked a handful of sports from the X Games and deemed them official Olympic events.

To understand how important the money factor is to the IOC, look at softball and golf in the Summer Games. Softball had basically very little advertising potential. Given that glaring fact, the IOC removed it as an official sport after the 2008 Games. Golf on the other hand, has been missing in action as an Olympic sport since 1904. Given its over-the-top worldwide appeal and lucrative advertising reach, adding golf to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro was a no-brainer. Ever since Peter Ueberroth showed the IOC how to make a profit during the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, the IOC has been on that same quest.

To Be Or Not To Be…

When you take all the IOC rules, regulations, incentives, and motivations, it’s challenging to move the needle when it comes to adding a sport like snowshoeing to the Olympic lineup. Though it has the history, longevity, youthful appeal, and growing numbers, the advertising base – or lack thereof – is the one determining factor that has kept this sport from racing to the finish line in the Winter Olympics. What’s really ironic is that snowshoe racing has been a Special Olympics event since 1997 but has yet to gain the nod from the IOC.

Longtime supporters of adding snowshoe racing to the Winter Olympics feel like they are pushing a snowball up a hill. But as Mark Elmore and others claim, this race is far from over.

About the author

Rick Stedman

Rick Stedman

Rick Stedman is an avid snowshoer and golfer. He currently lives in Olympia, Washington.

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  • My father and I met with the Olympic Committee in either 1989 or 1990 to try and get snowshoeing in as a show sport in Albertville, France. The Snowshoe Club that Roland D. Tanguay (my father) was the President of, I believe, was the first in the USA formed in 1924. He was the first person to present this to the Old.

    • Wow!! That is so neat that your father was the President of the first Snowshoe Club and you both met with the Olympic Committee! Adding snowshoeing as an Olympic sport is one of the publication’s goals as well. Thank you for advocating for the sport and for sharing your story. 🙂

  • Hey Snowshoe Enthusiasts!
    Let’s promote Nordic Sprint snowshoe comps; 100m, 200m & 400m competed on a 300m snow/ice track. Unfortunately, this event has been long ignored in favor of the 5K & 10K races. Here, in the USA there’s only one comp per season and it’s in upper state NY. Let’s work together to promote all aspects of snowshoeing and revitalize the sport!

  • Hi Rick……we have had many a discussion here in Collingwood, Ontario regarding the inclusion of snowshoeing as an Olympic sport…..we have hosted The Switchback Challenge, a 5K-10K event at Craigleith Ski Club for the past nine years, and look forward to our tenth anniversary in 2015…….the process for creating a formal provincial snowshoe association is quite involved, not to mention what it would take to form a national body…..would appreciate your thoughts on this, but think your article is right on the money……all the best…..Hugh

  • Rick you’re literally & figuratively “right on the money” when you reason lack of potential advertising dollars inhibiting Olympic snowshoeing. While the snowboarding events of this past Olympics were great to watch, it was patently clear they were added to attract the targeted, bountifully-economic based younger audiences. My sense is that same audience would find snowshoeing events boring and tune out. That’s something advertisers fear. If the ever-growing number of snowshoe enthusiasts is persistently vocal, perhaps those same advertisers will realize “there’s Olympic gold in them that snowshoe dollars”.

  • Excellent article we will find you the 2 other missing coutries. This sport is excellent for cardio. Extreme snowshoeing up in the Laurentians in Morin Heights Québec, Canada is absolutely a killer. You can have a walking competition, a short run, a long run an obstacle race, up hill run in the forest…name it! Its an ideal sport. Not too expensive for the entire family. I rediscover this sport this winter because of my sister who giv eme a pair of snowshoes and I’m telling you, Im back in shape! You don’t go downhill skiing when its -30 but you can go snowshoeing and crosscountry skiing. No excuse not to go out and enjoy the winter season.

  • Hey Rick!
    You’re absolutely right on! Snowshoeing is a great competitive sport and has historical significance. I love snowshoeing and I spread the word as much as possible. It’s great for recreational purposes and a magnificent athletic endeavor. It allows folks to see part of nature otherwise would never have been explored. Keep up the great work in spreading the word and educating the need for the sport to be in the Olympics!
    Thank You,