We fun hogs here in the US of A spent $646 billion on outdoor recreation last year. That’s the mongo conclusion of the recently released Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) annual “Outdoor Recreation Economy” study. (PDF here)
Problem for interpretation: That 646 billion number includes everything from tourists buying jackets for sight seeing, all the way to a catch-all category of motorized recreation that OIA calls “off roading.” Indeed, while the numbers appear delightfully large to those of us who think getting people outdoors will save civilization (and is a nice way to make a living), the somewhat ill defined inclusion of petrotainment is disconcerting.
Not that I’m against motorized recreation as valid outdoor fun (as many of you know, and yes, Virginia, the problem is sustainability). But petrotainment is just so, well, different than human powered sports. With that in mind, I wish OIA would have grained their report a smidgen finer.
Why is that important? Idle curiosity, sure. But more, political issues such as public lands management are being based on recreation industry economics, and those decisions need to be founded on facts rather than fantasy. For example, many of us would like to see a public lands designation based on conservation AND varied recreation: something more accommodating than legal Wilderness. On the other hand, well respected people in the outdoor industry regularly advocate for more legal Wilderness, based on it ostensibly being important to economic gain from outdoor recreation. OIA’s report supports the notion that mixed use lands managed for conservation are more important economically than legal Wilderness, but it would be nice to have a firmer idea of how all that shakes out.
As they choose to break it down, OIA shows the most ($143,383,731,298) being spent on “Camping,” which we assume to be what you’d usually call “car camping,” supported by engines and tires, not backpacking. Also combine their “Off Road” and “Motorcycling” categories and you get $109,021,547,334 — that’s not including motorized fishing, boating and other water sports that require gasoline and machinery. Even their “Snowsports” category lumps snowmobiling in there with skiing! In other words, the gigantic dollar numbers numbers reported by OIA are pretty much those of recreation done petro style.
Okay, perhaps I’m asking something of this report that it’s not intended to provide. I’ll give it that. But still, in my mind the difference between human powered recreation and that powered by hydrocarbon fuel is so distinctive, you’d think they’d have arranged their categories a bit more along those lines. After all, once peak oil happens and petro fuel costs more than than fine wine, how will the outdoor recreation industry sustain? Probably not with ATV riding?
For an idea of how many skiers might go with human power, see this blog post. General numbers bandied about indicate that if you define backcountry skiing as including resort sidecountry, the number of backcountry skiers is in North America is in the millions. But if you define the category more strictly (perhaps that most of your vert is gained with muscle power), people say the number of backcountry skiers is somewhere around 500 to 800 thousand (with Europe of course being mobbed by millions of climbing skin operators.)
In view of all this, one has to conclude that OIA’s job is to booster the outdoor recreation industry in general, and they’ve thus “kitchen sinked” their reporting to inflate the numbers to gonzo levels. After all, according to OIA “More American jobs depend on trail sports (768,000) than there are lawyers (728,200) in the United States.” That, my friends, is hard to believe!
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.