This weeks assignment was to perform an ethnographic research on our individual sub-themes of winter. Mine is snowboarding, which I'm very excited about, because snowboarding is one of my favorite hobbies (though I definitely could be more active). There were three parts:
1. Conduct three interviews with potential users
2. Observe people in the setting to the related sub-theme
3. Engage in activities related to the sub-theme
(please enjoy the following image I found online to set the mood before reading further)
Part 1: Interview Preparation
I started out reading the Ethnography Primer and IDEO Bootleg, from which I adapted some of the suggested methods. Me being a seasoned snowboarder I realized that "Assuming a beginner's mindset" would have to be carefully executed and would affect how to ask and behave during the interview. When I got to "Interview preparation" I immediately thought: Why not use a tool for this which I'm already familiar and create a mind map to get me started on the questions. The map can be seen below.
From this I generated a set of guideline questions for the interview, which lead to 20-25 minute discussions about snowboarding:
- Tell me about the last time you went snowboarding
- How often do you go snowboarding?
- Tell me more about your snowboarding experience.
- Can you walk me through a day where you went snowboarding?
- Tell me about an experience you've had with snowboarding parks.
- Tell me about bruises and injuries you've had when snowboarding.
- Do you wear safety equipment when snowboarding?
- Tell me about your off-pist experience (if any).
- Tell me about snowboarding bindings and how you use them.
- Can you tell me about your experience with ski-lifts when snowboarding?
- What do you enjoy most about snowboarding?
- What do you find most frustrating when snowboarding?
Preparing for an interview is not very fruitful unless you actually interview someone. The first thought that crossed my mind when thinking of people to interview was from TV news back in Iceland (my home country) a few years ago about some guy who won gold in a snowboarding competition. When I looked into it I found out that his name is Halldór Helgason and more specifically he won the Big Air at the 2010 Winter X games. I was very excited about how awesome it would be to get an interview with him, and tried contacting him via facebook. Unfortunately, I never received a reply, but I did get an interesting insight from their videos and blog which I'll get to later.
Another resource for snowboarders I thought of was the Ski and Snowboarding Club at the University of Minnesota. They meet on Wednesdays which was highly inconvenient as I was not prepared for interviewing at that time, so I sent an e-mail which was forwarded to a few snowboarders in the club. Again, no reply, which was a bit disappointing.
Time to move from my failed attempts to the people I ended up interviewing, I thought of a former project mate, Rod (a soon to be PhD candidate in mechanical engineering), whom I remembered mentioning that he went skiing a few times during last semester, and that he used to snowboard but didn't anymore. This was definitely something worth looking into as a potential laggard.
Chosen points from interview with Rod:
It turned out that he was encouraged by a downhill ski team during high school to switch from snowboarding because then you could go skiing everyday.
When asked about comparison between the two sports, he said: "Skiing is less cumbersome. When you get on the chair lift you need to take your boot out, then when you're up you need to st down and fasten yourself while your friends are waiting for you".
When talking about a day snowboarding he mentioned that he enjoyed going through back country but is more difficult on a snowboard because you don't have good means to move across flat areas.
In terms of safety equipment, Rod has always worn a helmet "for the sake of not becoming brain-dead" but thinks butt pads and shoulder pads are silly because the snow is already kind of soft. He did, however, break both his wrists once when he went too fast off a jump.
Due to my failed attempts, I still needed a candidate that could be considered somewhat of an expert in the field. My second interview I had was with Tom, a bike mechanic at Eric's Bikes and Board.
Chosen points from interview with Tom:
Tom has experienced a broken elbow and 2 concussions from hitting a table top in a snowboarding park weird, and not being prepared for icy spots riding downhill.
In terms of safety equipment Tom has never used any. Last few years he has been meaning to buy a helmet, but hasn't mainly due to cost.
When asked about bindings he said: "Bindings... I feel that bindings have been unchanged for quite a while". Besides the typical two strap bindings he mentioned that towards the end of the 90's they made a snap in binding similar to ski boots. Main advantage was faster attachment and stiffer connection to the board. Main drawback was that it sometimes got clogged with snow.
During our ski lift discussion Tom said it was fine riding lifts on snowboards, but tricker than with skis. Biggest thing was getting off the lift, going down the small slope because you only have one foot attached. In an attempt to remedy this problem, many people have started riding with friction pads on their snowboards.
For my third interview I still wanted an experienced person and asked Rod if he knew anyone. He suggested I talk with Zach, who was in the same project team as me and Rod last semester (a graduate mechanical engineering student). He was going deer hunting on Friday over the weekend and suggested talking to a friend of his who had tons of experience. As it turns out, his friend had his qualifying exam for PhD candidacy this Monday, but said he'd be available Thursday this week, so I plan on interviewing him then. Instead, the third interview I had was with Zach when he got back from his hunting trip.
Chosen points from interview with Zach:
In relation to snowboard parks he mentioned: "If you're not experienced, it's hard to go to snowboard parks and practice because there are so many experienced people hogging all the rails and jumps"
When asked about safety equipment and why he didn't use a helmet he answered cost, and that he didn't put himself in risky situations. "A part of it is also that if I'm wearing a helmet it decreases my field of vision"
During the ski lift discussion he said: "When getting off it can be pretty interesting to watch, there's always people falling up there".
Opportunities and needs
The problem statements below are based on the quotes from the interviews.
Rod needs a way to move across flat areas because you have no good means of propelling yourself when locked in a snowboard.
Snowboarders need a better way of riding ski lifts because loading and unloading with one foot not attached is difficult, and re-attaching takes time.
Zach needs a way to improve his snowboarding park skills because experienced people hog all the rails and jumps.
Zach needs a better way to protect his head because helmets are expensive and reduce his field of vision.
Part 2: Observe
For this part I decided to observe snowboarders indirectly (due to obvious reasons) through videos. What I found out is that there are tons of videos out there, both "How to" videos and riders doing tricks and stunts. Of course it should be kept in mind that since these are videos, the content can be selected and does therefore not give a full picture. Many snowboarders putting videos online are amazingly skilled and their moves seem effortless. The following image is taken from one of those videos. If you're wondering, then yes, he went for the jump, pulled the snowboard from his feet, held it in that position, put it back and landed safely. It's not an illusion.
My biggest take from the video watching (besides how amazing they are) was that most of the performers were not wearing any visible safety equipment including helmets (except for goggles if one considers that a safety equipment). There were a few cases where a person had a helmet, but majority did not, even though the stunts involved insane jumps and/or metal rails. Also, referring to the previous picture, it seems that either there are bindings that allow for extremely quick and easy detachment from the snowboard, or he wasn't fastened.
I also read some of Halldór Helgason's blog. One of his most recent facebook entries was "I'm gonna start wearing the invisible helmet from now on..." including a youtube link to the subject. While I'm not sure whether he was being serious or not, this indicates that he's probably had many discussions about wearing helmets before, and this topic is on his mind, though he still chooses not to wear one. Hearing the explanation from a snowboarding professional like that would be of high interest to me, and I plan on making further attempts to receive that information.
Part 3: Engage
Again, because it's quite difficult to engage in snowboarding activities for the time being, I did some research instead. According to Snowsports Industries America (SIA), the proportion of snowboarders has been increasing compared to alpine skiing and cross country skiing from 33% in 2009-2010 to 39% in 2012-2013. Interestingly the total snow sports participants has decreased over the last two years in all categories. This trend can be seen in the following graph, generated from the data available at the SIA website.
Gender statistics for the 2012-2013 season indicate that 67% of snowboarders are male, compared to 60% for skiing. SIA also offers market size data, split into specialty store and online purchases, which can be seen in the following table. Obviously this includes more than just snowboarding goods sold, but is good for getting a ballpark value. Another reference from Statistic Brain claimed the total snowboard equipment sales in 2011-2012 was $454.1 million. It should be noted that their estimate of US snowboarders in 2010 was 6.1 million which is significantly less than SIA predicted. However, this shows that there is a considerable market for snowboarding products, and a large number of people enjoy the sport.
Another statistic I looked into was snowboarding injuries which was an interesting read. It turns out that there are roughly 100,000 wrist injuries worldwide which accounts for 40% of all snowboard injuries.Head injuries are more common for snowboarders than skiers and tend to be more severe as riders get more experienced. This is due to the fact that even though the frequency of incidents is reduced, there is more speed involved and potentially more dangerous activities.Due to the mechanical function of the bindings locking the feet to the snowboard, knee injuries are lower leg fractures are much less likely compared to skiing. Interestingly 4-8% of snowboarding injuries take place while the person is waiting in ski-lift lines. This goes back to one of the problem statements due to the inability to propel yourself with both feet attached in a snowboard. There are definitely many opportunities for snowboarding improvement, the question is how?