Breath of Clarity

Impacts of Recreational Use- Substitutability

Robert E. Manning (2010) defines substitutability as the extent to which one recreation activity might be a satisfactory substitute for another. There are a multitude of benefits to studying substitutability. Early research revealed the similarities of selected leisure and recreation activities and identified groups of activities that seemed to be related (Manning 2010). There are also implications that arise from insight about substitutability. For example, if lower-cost recreation activities could be substituted for higher-cost activities, then management agencies might be able to provide recreation opportunities more efficiently (Manning 2010). Additionally, alternative types of recreation could potentially substitute for those that are in short supply and high demand (Manning 2010). Substitutability can also tend to problems of crowding and/or conflicting use (Manning 2010). It is realistic to suggest someone do another activity as long as the person’s needs are still met.

For instance, one study asked a sample of college students to report their frequency of participation in 25 leisure and recreation activities (Manning 2010). Factor analysis was used to identify eight clusters of activities that were related, based upon numerical definitions through statistical calculations. Two of these clusters of activities were then examined through results of a standardized personal-needs test administrated to respondents. Findings suggest that the leisure and recreation activities within each cluster tend to fulfill the same personal needs (Manning 2010).

However, natural resource managers must also acknowledge research such as this is highly variable with regard to the leisure and recreation activities addressed and the identified activity types (Manning 2010). It is difficult to generalize relatively standard activity types that might be used to classify or categorize broad patterns of leisure and recreation activity (Manning 2010). Also, research may treat general types of recreation activities, such as hunting, as though they are homogenous even though subsets of hunting have dissimilar qualities (Manning 2010). Most importantly, two activities may be more appropriately considered to be complements, not substitutes (Manning 2010). The assumption that substitutability of recreation activities necessarily follows from the fact that two recreation activities are related in terms of dimensions such as frequency of participation is unfounded (Manning 2010). A later generation of research has adopted more direct measures of substitutability (Manning 2010). The first and most common measure is called the direct-question method and asks respondents to report alternative recreation activities they consider to be substitutes for an activity under study (Manning 2010). However, the validity of such reports is unknown (Manning 2010). The second basic research approach is behavioral and documents the activities that are actually substituted by respondents who are unable to participate in their original chosen recreation activity (Manning 2010). More behavioral research seems warranted on what people actually do when confronted with the need to substitute an activity, location, or time (Manning 2010). Definitions of substitutability have since evolved to include an element of experiential quality and to recognize that substitutability includes consideration not only of recreation activities, but of location, time, and strategic means of access (Manning 2010). The more comprehensive definition of substitutability suggests that it is the interchangeability of recreation experiences such that acceptably equivalent outcomes can be achieved by varying one or more of the following: timing of experience, the means of gaining access, the setting, and the activity (Manning 2010). If suggesting someone do another activity, it is crucial to consider successful substitution is less likely to the extent the following factors are the case: freedom of choice is perceived to be limited, substitution is forced externally, the reasons for substitution are perceived to be unjustified, qualities of substitute activities are not judged to be similar, the activity to be replaced is specialized, there are few substitute activities available, the activity to be replaced is driven by relatively specialized motivation, and substitute activities are perceived to be relatively high in cost with respect to time/money/effort (Manning 2010). Therefore, studies revealed the degree to which recreation experiences can be substituted for one another can be mediated by a number of intervening variables (Manning 2010).


Manning, Robert. Studies in Outdoor Recreation, 3rd ed.: Search and Research for Satisfaction 3rd Edition. Oregon State University Press, 2010.

Comment by Fenton Kay:

Great analysis, Mary. How about the issue of substituting a different activity in order to do outdoor recreation? I think about someone who desires to ski, but for whatever reason is unable to, but wants to get outside. What might they do?

My Comment:

Awesome question. I enjoy skiing. As the Cape Hatteras National Seashore OHV Safety Video (2019) illustrated, beaches are appreciated for multiple reasons: sand, surf and sun. So, someone who is accustomed to surfing may establish a serene connection with the particular place they go to for that. If surfing was ever limited due to over capacity, they may want to still go to that same place they resonate with and understand it in an even deeper way by building sand castles there or playing spike ball. Resource managers could benefit from focusing on designing restrictions that do not completely abolish people from going to the places they love, but rather instead just facilitating how people use the places.

When I lived in Colorado, I had so much fun skiing in the winter and could not ski in the summer because of limitations due to weather. I ended up just changing my routine to hiking in the same mountains. It would not have been possible without having both marked ski trails and marked hiking trails. I was not an expert in either activity. So, having to back country ski or backpack camp when I was first starting out would have been a challenge. Putting the infrastructure for alternatives in place is the first step to diversifying the array of activity for those who want to get outside.


2019. Cape Hatteras National Seashore OHV Safety Video. Accessed June 21.

Comment by John Maroldo:

I find the season changes to be crucial in requiring substitutability as well. I am from New Jersey and, as a skier, I have always considered Colorado in terms of a winter state. However, the state experiences all four seasons just like we do. If there were not substitutability options in the summer for the winter activities which many travel to Colorado for, Colorado would lose all of it’s tourist commerce half of the year. The one time I went to Colorado in the summer, I hiked, white-water rafted, and went horse-back riding. While there is still no recreational activities that beat skiing for me, I still had a great time in Colorado during the summer.

My Comment:

Good point about the importance of substitutability options for local economies. Even in places without the ski season, there is potential to incorporate snow shoe tours, tubing parks, and holiday events to balance the use between seasons. For example, Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not have any ski areas in it and also brings massive amount of money to the local economy during the on-season. Insofar as the resource managers at this park shift their focus in budget towards providing winter activities, people can benefit from it year round and the benefits do not have to be so seasonal. Winter activity does not necessarily need to involve snow. For example, there can be events honoring indigenous people where ceremonies are held under tents during the rainy season. Or, there can be educational sessions about collecting rain water or learning about how rainfall impacts different types of vegetation and animals there. Perhaps, offering more off-season activity would alleviate the over-crowding in the busy months by spreading the visitors out across time.

Comment by Austin Igleheart:

Great discussion everyone! Wanted to add to the conversation about substituting skiing for other activities. I think the substitutability of an activity like skiing both within winter and with the seasonal limitations of warmer months is an interesting challenge.

In cases where someone wants to ski but cannot, it may not be enough for them to wait until summer to find another activity in the same spot. In these cases, maybe suggesting another winter sport that allows one to get outside, see the mountains, and generally fulfill the same needs skiing could be a good idea.

However, for myself at least, I generally know where I can go skiing, even depending on the type of terrain I want to ski; I don’t know where to find the best areas to snowshoe, snowmobile, or engage in many other winter sports/activities, especially not in the mountains. And considering that two major reasons I like to ski are the views and the chance to exercise in that environment, it is not always easy to switch activities even though I would certainly be willing to. Providing information about these alternatives should be an option for managers to promote substitutions where applicable.

I have found the most convenient option (in-season) when I can’t ski, most recently for injury and cost reasons, is to switch both location and activity. I’ll hike in more developed areas where snowshoes/other gear aren’t needed, but where I can still catch some nice views along the way. Luckily the Denver area has that, but it may not be the case everywhere. The other benefit is that I can do other things at these sites – namely, bring my dog to play in the snow – that compensate for the values I’m missing out on by not skiing.