No surprise: National snow sports retailers take heavy hit

One look around the inventory in Mammoth’s ski shops in these last few days of the ski season tells you all you need to know about this past year’s sales.

Wide powder skis are still around, primarily because there just wasn’t very much powder on the ski hill this year.

On the other hand, the hot new skis, falling under the general category of reverse camber rocker skis, are almost all gone—an indicator that one-quiver skiers this season wanted an all-purpose ski with lots—lots—of control to them.

“The trend is here to stay,” said Matt Finnigan, a buyer at Footloose Sports. “For me, the rocker gives the skier the ability to charge through all kinds of depths without worrying where we’re balanced on the ski, and it’s a game-changer.”

Tom Cage, at Kittredge Sports, echoed the same tune.

“Reverse camber has been popular,” he said. “Blizzard was the first company to do it, I think, and they sold well.”

Nationally, reverse/mixed camber skis sales increased 83 percent so far this season and now account for 25 percent of all alpine skis sold. Last season reverse/mixed camber skis accounted for just 15 percent of all skis sold, according to SnowSports Industries America (SIA) and the Leisure Trends Group.

A reverse camber ski can have upturned tips fore and aft, and from the side, they are in the shape of a rocker, as in a rocking horse (not a rock ‘n’ roller, which is another thing).

With an extreme reverse camber, you can put the ski on a hard, firm surface and spin it 360 degrees.

The reverse camber hit the snowboard market first, but the reverse camber ski became a trend last year, and a market landslide this year.

Skiers most often employ this shape on the deepest days—a full reverse camber ski owns powder, but because of the continuous rocker shape—it won’t track well on firm or icy snowpack. Instead, this shape allows you to slarve (slide + carve) and surf above the powder—based on the idea that it’s more enjoyable to float on top of the deeps rather than trudge down in them.

The benefits of the full reverse-camber/sidecut shape are in float, the ability to quickly ditch speed, fast turn-initiation in trees and tight spots, and low swing weight.

Whether this is a fad or a permanent trend remains to be seen, but the reverse cambers sure owned the market this past season.

There were other national trends as well.

Overall, snow sports retail sales were down 12 percent in units sold and down four percent in dollars sold, totaling $3.2 billion through the end of February, the SIA report declared last week.

 Equipment and accessories sales tumbled as snow conditions remained less than ideal throughout every region except for the Northwest. In fact, the lack of skiers and riders at resorts was apparent in a 30 percent decrease in rentals at retail shops.

The news wasn’t totally bad for retailers. 

Internet sales experienced a healthy jump in the non-resort towns and cities, as did sales of the aforesaid reverse camber skis and reverse camber snowboards.

The takeaways from the report looked like this:


Sales by category


Total sales through all snow sports retail channels August through February were    $3,180,513,167; down 12 percent in units, down four percent in dollars sold.

Equipment sales were down eight percent in units and three percent in dollars sold.

Apparel sales were down two percent in units and flat in dollars sold.

Accessories were down 15 percent in units and eight percent in dollars sold.

Services/repairs were up one percent in units, up three percent in dollars sold.

Rentals were down 16 percent in units rented, down five percent in dollars sold.


Regional sales trends



Regionally, snow sports specialty shop sales tracked with the weather. Specialty sales in the West held steady through February and the Northeast specialty shops suffered the most. 

Western region specialty sales were up one percent to $657 million while sales in the Northeast were down 11 percent to $496 million, more than $60 million less than sales through February last season.

Additionally, Midwest sales were down six percent in dollars to $290 million, and sales in the South, where so many destination skiers and riders reside, are down nine percent to $282 million.


Sales by Channel


The Internet is proving to be the channel to watch in a difficult snow year. Online retail sales were up 11 percent in units sold and up 12 percent in dollars sold through February.

Retailers like Backcountry,, EVO, REI online and other snow sports retailers with commerce enabled web services brought in $670 million through February this season—surpassing last season’s August through February sales by more than $70 million.

Specialty shop sales were down 14 percent in units sold and down five percent in dollars sold to $1.8 billion.

Chain store sales were down 18 percent in units sold and down 12 percent in dollars sold to $691 million.

Online/Internet stores were up 11 percent in units sold and up 12 percent in dollars sold to $669 million.


Trends to watch


Inventories were up more than 18 percent overall in specialty shops through February. In specialty inventories there was 39 percent more alpine equipment, 76 percent more cross country equipment, 17 percent more snowboard equipment, 37 percent more snowboard apparel, 36 percent more alpine bottoms, and 15 percent more accessories. Retailers will be pushing hard to move snow sports product out their doors before the season closes.

Skiers and riders spent $1 million more this season to service their equipment at retail shops as poor snow conditions may have discouraged new ski and board purchases. Consumers chose to work with what they had on poor snow.

Poor snow and lackluster participation showed up clearly in the rental category. Rental revenues at retail are down almost $3 million compared to last season and 29 percent fewer units had been rented through February this season.

Nordic equipment sales suffered acutely from lack of snowfall; sales are down 32 percent in units and 28 percent in dollars sold.

Alpine top sales are healthy this season, particularly women’s insulated parkas up 11 percent in units and 10 percent in dollars sold to $186 million, and men’s soft-shell tops are up 13 percent in units sold and 18 percent in dollars sold to $67 million.

Accessories sales are showing the weather pattern, particularly for items normally purchased when preparing for an imminent trip to the slopes, including goggles and wax. Goggles sales are down 21 percent in units sold and 14 percent in dollars sold and wax sales are down 24 percent in units sold and 16 percent in dollars sold.