Snowsports sector 2022 - economic, social, and cultural impact: research

This report presents the findings of research into the economic, cultural and social value of the Scottish snowsports sector.

6. Wider social and cultural impact

Key findings

Whilst the social and cultural value of sport and physical activity is well documented in the existing evidence base, little has been written specifically about the value and impact of snowsports.

Anecdotal evidence from programmes such as Snow Camp demonstrate that participation in snowsports can have beneficial impacts on mental wellbeing.

Ongoing programmes at Newmilns Snowsports Complex and other artificial slopes show how snowsports can provide a stimulating learning environment for young people and have a positive impact on attitudes towards learning, confidence levels and self-esteem.

The visitor survey found that 'improving physical and mental health and wellbeing' is an important reason for individuals' participation in snowsports, and that snowsports participation provides an important opportunity for people to socialise and spend time with friends and family.

Barriers to participation in snowsports are high and more needs to be done to encourage participation from those that are under-represented in sport and physical activity if snowsports are to have any measurable impact on health outcomes. Only 6% of visitors came from the most deprived areas in Scotland.

Culturally, snowsports has played a significant role in helping to shape communities around the mountain centres. This provision helps to provide a sense of identity and brings people together who have a shared interest in snowsports, outdoor activities and the natural environment.

This culture impact is an intangible asset which is part of the broader visitor offer and plays a role in attracting visitors to the communities in and around the mountain centres.

6.1 Introduction

This chapter presents analysis of research and literature into the wider social and cultural impacts of snowsports at a Scotland and UK level.

The evidence base for snowsports is relatively limited with a narrow focus. This required a broader look at studies into sports, physical activity, and outdoor activities to draw conclusions. International studies and learning have also been used to inform this review.

The extent of the existing evidence base for various outcomes (such as, health, social, educational, cultural) is also relatively uneven. This is not unique to snowsports and is applicable across sport, physical activity, and outdoor activities where the evidence base strongly focusses on physical and mental health outcomes. (Davies, Taylor, Ramchandani & Christy, 2021).

Despite this, the wider evidence base suggests that snowsports may offer benefits to individuals, families, and communities in a variety of ways. It should also be noted that these wider benefits do not operate in isolation but rather support each other. For example, greater connectedness with nature can improve mental wellbeing as well as contribute to educational development.

The importance of many of these benefits has been heightened in the context of: COVID-19; urbanisation; insufficient activity levels; sedentary behaviour; increased isolation and loneliness (particularly amongst children and younger people as identified by Sport England); and increased disengagement between people and natural environment. For Eigenschenk et al (2019), the context "raises the question if and how outdoor sports can be part of the solution".

6.2 Physical and mental health and wellbeing

Across all ages and abilities, there is extensive research that shows increased participation in sport and physical activity leads to positive health outcomes at individual and population levels.

Several studies highlight that snowsports have potential to make a contribution to health benefits and outcomes (Burtscher et al 2019). A report from the Winter Wildlands Alliance (2018) found that "particularly in winter, physical activity outdoors increases metabolism speeds, provides vitamin D [when other seasonal sports may not be available] and can help reduce seasonal affective disorder". Snowsports could also be an "important antidote to increasingly sedentary, indoor and urban lifestyles" (Winter Wildlands Alliance, 2018), if they are accessible.

Targeted at young people, Snow Camp is a participation programme which offers a range of courses "taking them from beginner to qualified snowsports instructors in one year with volunteering and apprenticeship progression routes available at the end. Alongside learning to ski or snowboard, young people also have access to life skills training and mental health support." Having a mental health component at the core of the programme has had significant impact – of the 943 participants in 2019/20 programme, 95% said they had learnt new tools to look after their mental wellbeing. The initiative operates in Scotland, London, Midlands, and Northwest England.

Figure 6-1 and Table 6-1 below highlight the reasons for participation in snowsports that respondents chose in both the visitor and club surveys. Almost all respondents to both surveys indicated that the main reason for participating in snowsports was for enjoyment. Additionally, over 60% of respondents reported that they also participate to enhance their physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Figure 6-1: Visitor survey reasons for snowsports participation
Horizontal bar chart showing almost all respondents to the visitor and club surveys stated that the main reason for participating in snowsports was for enjoyment.


Multiple response question where respondents could select more than one option and all that applied.

Table 6-1: Club survey reasons for snowsports participation
Reasons for participating Number
For enjoyment (e.g. something like to do, enjoy it) 10
To improve and maintain physical health and fitness (e.g. overall fitness and stamina, to lose weight, to be more physically active, to have more energy) 7
To maintain and improve mental health and wellbeing (e.g. to relax, to unwind, to ease any worry, stress, tension or anxiety) 7
To be closer to nature (e.g. to enjoy scenery and wildlife, to have access to nature) 6
To spend time with family or friends (e.g. to socialise, to connect with others, to have shared experiences) 5
To try or learn something new (e.g. a new recreational activity, improve skills and technique, learn new skills) 3
To discover new places (e.g. sightseeing and/or getting to know a new area, cultural interests) 3


Multiple response question where respondents could select more than one option and all that applied.

A high number of respondents also highlighted that one of the most important reasons for participation in snowsports was to spend time with family or friends, to socialise, connect with others, and have shared experiences.

6.3 Social

The existing evidence base on social impact of snowsports is less extensive compared to health and wellbeing.

Research has shown that sport, in general, can have positive impacts on "life skills… and social cohesion" particularly amongst young children (UNICEF, 2021), as well as "self-control and concentration, team working and time management" (COSLA, Public Health Scotland, sportscotland, 2021). Although the evidence base is relatively limited, active citizenship is another aspect of sports which can support community development. As an individual engages and becomes active in sport, they can also become more engaged and active in their local community and environment.

A joint report by COSLA, Public Health Scotland and sportscotland (2021) found that:

"…sport and physical activity can lead to strong, safe and sustainable communities through: Building stronger communities by bringing people from different backgrounds together via participating, volunteering and spectating; Improving community links, levels of cohesion and social capital; Improving residents' sense of belonging in an area; Feeling more connected to your neighbourhood or community; Increasing levels of social trust; Mobilising community assets that enable physical activity increases people's control over their health and promotes equity."

Actively engaging in sports provides an opportunity for individual and community development which can address inequalities. In the context of COVID-19, research from Sport England (2021) found that "existing inequalities have been widened, with some population groups hit much harder by the pandemic than others". This includes women, young people, disabled people and people with long-term health conditions, and those living in urban areas also found it harder to be active. Developing channels for inclusion in sport is critical to addressing these inequalities.

For example, adaptive snowsports is a key and growing focus within the sector to ensure inclusivity for those with a disability. Organisations such as Snowbility and Snowsports Foundation increase accessibility by adapting equipment and lessons to allow people with a disability to experience snowsports. This allows benefits to be shared by all stakeholders and Labbe (2020) identified that "participation in adaptive snowsports represent an excellent way for people with disabilities to stay active in winter."

Another barrier to participation in snowsports is deprivation. A key finding of an equality review of Snowsport Scotland's membership (2019) was that "there was an under-representation of SSS Members from deprived areas with SSS Membership increasing against increased affluence as described by the SIMD".

This is confirmed through visitor survey data, which showed that only 6% of visitors came from SIMD Quintile 1 (the 20% most deprived areas of Scotland) (see Figure 6-2).

Figure 6-2: Percentage of Visitors (by SIMD Quintile)
Bar chart showing that only 6% of visitors came from SIMD Quintile 1 (the 20% most deprived areas of Scotland), whereas almost 85% came from Quintiles 3 to 5.


Almost 85% came from Quintiles 3 to 5. This shows that there is significant under-representation in snowsports when compared to the population as a whole and suggests that there is more to be done to make mountain centres more accessible to those individuals, families, and organisations from more deprived communities. The limited socio-economic diversity of visitors will also limit the wider health and social contribution of the snowsports sector, not least considering the relationship between deprivation and health. Widening the participation base should therefore be a priority for the sector.

This has been recognised as an issue in the sector, and operators continue to seek to create opportunities for people from most deprived communities to access and participate in snowsports.

The aim of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Programme proposed by Snowsport Scotland is to specifically target 3,500 children living within the 20% most deprived communities in Glasgow and Aberdeen to provide them with equal opportunities to access snowsports. This would include three to five ski lessons at a snowsports centre for every child (including free kit hire, uplift, instruction, and transport) as well as incentives for continued participation (such as, subsidised junior membership to SSS, a card for an open free practice session at a selected artificial slope). There are already several EDI focused programmes running already in several of the artificial slopes. These include Newmilns, Bearsden and Glasgow Ski Centres.

6.4 Education

It is widely acknowledged that participation in sport and physical activity can have a positive impact on education and children's services by "developing physical and health literacy which lays the foundations for life long participation; improving educational attainment, either directly (e.g. improved grades, school engagement, behaviour and reduced absenteeism) or indirectly (e.g. by enhancing skills such as self-control and concentration, team working and time management)" (COSLA, Public Health Scotland and sportscotland, 2021).

The inclusive nature of sports can allow it to become an equaliser for education. For example, this UNICEF (2021) report notes that "sport is an effective tool for engaging most children, especially the most vulnerable, in activities that benefit their social and personal development". The report also stressed the power of sport as an inclusive means of helping children improve their health and develop their social, educational and leadership skills.

In addition to the need to engage with schools to protect and grow the domestic participation base for the future, snowsports can provide young people with a stimulating and challenging learning environment. Work currently ongoing at the Newmilns and other artificial slopes in partnership with local schools shows how impactful these activities can be for young people and how learning to ski can have beneficial impacts on attitudes towards learning and many other social skills, such as confidence and self-esteem.

6.5 Culture

The review found very limited existing literature exploring the cultural benefits of snowsports. However, sport more generally has a significant impact on culture.

"Sport enhances social and cultural life by bringing together individuals and communities. Sports can help to overcome difference and encourages dialogue, and thereby helps to break down prejudice, stereotypes, cultural differences, ignorance, intolerance and discrimination". Council of Europe Culture and Sport

Sport has been shown to bring people together and give people a sense of identity. It also provides a unique insight for other people into the values held by sports-playing communities. Sport can affect some of the most important aspects of community life, such as who lives there, education, social life, businesses, employment, the economy, and the natural environment.

Looking more specifically at snowsports in a Scottish context, events such the Winter Olympics, Paralympics and World Championships have shown the significant impact of snowsports on Scottish culture. This is illustrated in the Cairngorm Mountain Masterplan (2021) which describes the Scottish Centre for the Mountain Environment as: "A centre of sporting excellence at the heart of a local culture that has nurtured generations of global competitors and champions."

In Aviemore, for example, a strong snowsports culture has flourished from people moving into the area with a shared passion for snowsports, outdoor activities, and the natural environment. The area is now viewed as synonymous with snowsports. This culture remains strong, but is adapting into an outdoor adventure culture. For example, in Aviemore, snowsports have been adopted as part of the school PE programme to encourage and enable local children to take up snowsports and participate regularly when weather conditions allow.

Our consultations with stakeholders found that locally this shared culture at an individual, family, business and community level is part of the social fabric that knits communities together. It helps to break down local social and cultural barriers – and is based on a common interest in the environment, snowsports, outdoor activities and adventure sports.

At a regional, national, and international level, this local culture is likely to be an intangible asset that when combined with other more physical assets (such as landscapes, buildings, tourist attractions, and activities) forms an important part of the wider visitor offer that attracts visitors to the area who have a shared affinity with this culture.

A study by Roossien (2017) further explored the wider impact of snowsports, specifically skiing, and found that the key driver for participation was the cultural experience on offer:

"I asked a number of local and tourist skiers the question "why do you like to ski?" The answer that I most often received was, "because it is fun." Which I expected, but what I did not expect was that when I delved in to why it is fun, I received answers referencing personal freedom, self-actualization, engagement with the natural landscape, and most often, cultural or community involvement. Not one answer from a local or a tourist was about the physical experience of downhill snow skiing, but rather about the cultural experience that the sport offers."

The quote above highlights the potential of snowsports to foster a sense of belonging which further enhances the wider benefits to individuals, families, communities, and visitors.

The cultural make up and identity of the mountain centre areas is a factor that attracts individuals and families to live and work within these communities. It is also likely to be a factor in attracting visitors who have an affinity to or are part of a similar culture elsewhere. To lose this culture could have long-term consequences on the sustainability of these rural communities and economies and therefore needs to be recognised as an important asset to be maintained and invested in for the future.

6.6 Conclusions

The evidence base for the wider social and cultural impact of snowsports is very limited.

The social and cultural value of snowsports in Scotland is of some importance to communities in the areas surrounding the mountain centres and is part of the social fabric that knits these local communities together. The mountain centres are an asset that forms part of the "visitor offer" that attracts visitors to the areas and need to be recognised, valued, and nurtured for the future.

There are, however, acute barriers to participation which limit the impact that snowsports have on Scotland's health and society. Within the snowsports sector there are examples of where activities and programmes are being implemented to address these barriers. However, the extent to which the snowsports sector can contribute to health outcomes, in particular for those living in deprived areas, will remain limited. Skiing is an expensive sport and cost remains a barrier to increasing and widening participation, particularly in the context of the current cost of living crisis. Sports and activities which are free or cheap to access will be more appealing to individuals and families.



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