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Economy holding back sales of snow sports gear

Catherine Tsai
Associated Press
newsroom@vaildaily.com

DENVER – Rising unemployment and foreclosures that have dampened business at ski resorts seem to be affecting sales of snow sports gear too.

Revenue from items like skis, snowboards and helmets from August through December were up about 1.4 percent from the same period in 2008, but the number of units sold was down about 4 percent, SnowSports Industries America research director Kelly Davis said Wednesday.

Bright spots include sales of helmets, which some resorts now mandate for staff or ski school students, and fat skis.

“It’s the trend we’ve been waiting for after twin-tip skis,” Davis said of fat skis, which can help skiers float through fluffy powder snow.

In fact, a dip of roughly 7 percent in snowboard sales so far this season compared with last season may be due to young skiers switching to fat skis and twin-tips that let them land forward or backward on tricks, she said.

SIA, a trade group for snow sports gear manufacturers and retailers, is holding its annual trade show this week in Denver.

A key to boosting sales this season will be emphasizing the value of winter sports versus, say, several trips to the spa, Davis said. In the long-term, suppliers should focus on children and women, who have spending power and often influence what sports their kids try.

People who get into snow sports before they turn 18 spend an estimated $60,000 in a lifetime on lift tickets, gear and apparel to participate, Davis said. If they start after age 25, they spend about $16,000, she said.

New ski and snowboard shapes can help too. Witness the “rocker” or “reverse camber” trend, where equipment tends to arch in a ‘U’ shape rather than arching up in the center. Manufacturers are offering new models that tweak those shapes.

This season, four of the five top-selling adult snowboard models are rocker.

“Innovation can sell, even in a down market,” Davis said.

The industry is on track to sell more than 1 million helmets this season, a 29 percent increase, Davis said. The trend in rising helmet sales could last a couple more years, she said.

Though snow sports customers tend to have college degrees and incomes above $100,000, many have still been affected by layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts, Davis said.

That can affect equipment sales, but sales of snowshoes appear to be rising.

“Snowshoes are the cheap way to enjoy the weather. It’s cheap, healthy and fun,” Davis said. Once people try snowshoeing, they’re more likely to try other sports, she said.

“That’s the challenge of America: How do you move people from sedentary to active? Snowshoes are a gateway drug,” Davis said.

She predicted snow sports gear sales of $2.9 billion this season, up slightly from $2.8 billion last season.


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