Backcountry ski equipment expected to sell out quickly this uncertain season
FRISCO — When ski resorts suddenly shut down in mid-March, skiers and snowboarders flocked to the backcountry. With lingering uncertainty about resort operations this ski season, backcountry shops are expected to be in high demand.
Eric Henderson, spokesperson for SnowSports Industries America, said that as ski areas and retail shops shut down in March and April, the backcountry industry saw a record-breaking amount of internet sales for equipment, including items like boots, shovels, packs and skins. He said sales for Alpine touring gear were up 34% in March and 15% for the season, according to internet sales data from NPD Group.
“What that did do going into this winter, though, is it increased everyone’s forecasts,” Henderson said.
Henderson explained that growth forecasts are intended to help purchasers order products in the summer in anticipation of what could happen in the fall. He said he’s expecting suppliers to sell out of products, particularly apparel and skins — which attach to skis or a splitboard to assist in ascending a hill or mountain.
Specifically, Henderson said Swiss brand Pomoca, a pioneer of skins, is expected to sell out this season with certain products selling out as early as mid-November.
“With people buying this gear, we’re definitely going to see an increase of backcountry users, we’re definitely going to see people venturing into areas that they haven’t been before, which is great for the sport, no question,” Henderson said. “I think backcountry skiing deserves this chance. It does beckon the question of importance and need for education.”
While Henderson appreciates the growth of the sport, he said the industry wants to make sure people are educated and taking the right steps to avoid potentially deadly accidents.
“What we don’t want to have happen is — great, backcountry skiing is growing — and then what if something happens on a massive scale,” Henderson said. “Then everything that we’ve put into growing … backcountry skiing could then get painted in a negative light if there was to be a major incident.”
That could become a problem if necessary backcountry safety items — like shovels, beacons and probes — are sold out.
Jackson Renner, owner of Gore Range Sports, recently opened his ski and bike shop in Silverthorne. In winter, the shop is focused on Alpine touring and Nordic skiing.
Renner said he is preparing for a busy season, specifically on the Nordic front. He said some customers who have never cross-country skied are coming into his shop looking for a way to get into the backcountry. Because Nordic skiing has a lower learning curve and associated risk than Alpine touring, he said he expects it to be particularly popular this year.
“It’s kind of the activity the whole family can do out the back door,” Renner said. “Whether you live, say, in Wildernest or Breckenridge, you can ski all the local low-angle hillsides right out your back door, and it’s just safer. It’s kind of like taking the dog for a walk.”
Renner is expecting a shortage of backcountry gear this year and anticipates the product reordering process will be difficult. He said most of the vendors he’s currently working with are experiencing delays in production.
Wilderness Sports owner Lucy Hedrick said there have been a lot of delays in production and that the bulk of what the store has received so far is Nordic gear. Hedrick said the store got a shipment of gear less than two weeks ago, and half of it already has been sold. The shipment would last until Christmas in a more typical season.
While Nordic skiing is expected to be popular, Hedrick said a lot of people are ready to commit to Alpine touring.
“A lot of people who have already done a lot of resort skiing — and maybe have even demoed our backcountry stuff or gone out with friends before — those people are ready to make a commitment this year to learning it and getting the education,” Hedrick said.
Alpine touring equipment has a lot of interest, Hedrick said, but is experiencing shipping delays for some products. Hedrick said people are coming into the store panicked to get their equipment purchased for the season.
Hedrick is telling people not to stress. She said equipment will come; it’s just taking awhile to arrive. But once the equipment does arrive, it will go quickly, so the store is encouraging people to snatch up their gear — particularly safety gear — early. Hedrick said the store has increased its orders in anticipation of the high demand.
In a normal year, Hedrick said, the store would host educational events to help with backcountry safety. They won’t this year because of the pandemic, so Wilderness Sports staff members are trying to have conversations about safety with anyone who is new to the sport, including asking customers if they know where to go to receive proper avalanche education and ensuring they have the necessary safety equipment and know how to use it.
Wilderness Sports is pointing people to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Colorado Mountain College and other local programs for safety courses.
“We’re expecting it to be crazy, and I think that a lot of people that have already been in the backcountry world are nervous,” Hedrick said. “… The best thing that we can do is just try to hold each other accountable and educate people in a way that makes them feel welcome into the community.
“At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to make the best of this winter.”