Snow News

Skiing by the Numbers

Sales of backcountry gear are on the rise. Image courtesy of Magic Mountain.

As ski areas open across the country, the nonprofit trade association that tracks numbers on and off the slopes lets loose an avalanche of statistics showing specific trends while counting how many people are on the trails.

Let’s cut to the chase. According to SnowSports Industries America (SIA), a member-owned trade association, the 2012-13 season was not a stellar year for the industry given the lackluster early start, bouts of rain, and warm spells. But there was a nice end that produced a wave of momentum coming into this season.

“If it doesn’t snow and it’s not cold, the consumers in our market aren’t thinking about it,” said the organization’s research director Kelly Davis.

But energy is up.

“We are going into this season with a fairly stoked consumer base,” she said. “Consumers are ready to ski, ride, and buy.”

The snow continued to fall through the end of last season helping for a surge in last season sales and participation. The season ended with a total of $3.4 billion in sales across all channels, up three percent.

But overall, there’s been a drop in the total number of snowsports participants, with the 2012-13 season showing the lowest number of alpine skiers, snowboarders, and cross-country skiers in four seasons.

Last season there were 8,243,000 alpine participants, 7,351,000 riders, and 3,307,000 Nordic skiers. That’s down some from a high showing during the snowy 2010-11 season showing 11,504,000 skiers, 8,196,000 snowboarders, and 4,530,000 cross-country enthusiasts.

According to SIA, the drop in alpine participation is likely due to the increase in popularly of park and pipe skiing, which is up 30 percent to some 5.4 million snow lovers.

"Consumers are ready to ski, ride, and buy," said SnowSports Industries America's research director Kelly Davis. Image courtesy Monarch Mountain.

“Consumers are ready to ski, ride, and buy,” said SnowSports Industries America’s research director Kelly Davis. Image courtesy Monarch Mountain.

For Nordic skiers, some 42 percent are between the ages of 25 and 44, and made it to the trails about nine times last season. Cross-country is also the most popular snow sport for those over age 65 with some 5.3 percent of Nordic skiers being 65-plus.

The Rockies continue to attract the largest number of skier visits, with 19.5 million last season followed by the Northeast at 13.3 million and the Pacific Northwest at 11.6 million. The trade association registered a total of 56.6 million skier visits.

When it comes to buying habits, there’s a fairly even division among apparel, equipment, and accessories. Consumers spent $1,783,772,393 last season with some 34 percent of that being spent on apparel and accessories each, with the remaining 32 percent on equipment.

Though consumers go to brick and mortar stores, their online habits are growing, with purchases made from a screen increasing steadily since 2007-08 with some $750 million of goods bought that way.

What’s trending on snow?

Retailers are seeing notable surges in both action-camera sales and backcountry equipment, from splitboards to alpine boots used to allow skiers to schuss up a trail and then ski down.

According to figures supplied by Snowsports Industries America, action camera sales are soaring, up 49 percent to $43 million in sales.

“The new status symbol is experience,” said Davis.

With a rise in ski areas offering backcountry and sidecountry options, there’s also an uptick in the sales of alpine/AT boots, which allow skiers freeheel action as they huff it up the trails. Used with alpine touring bindings, the boots have rubber/Vibram souls. This season, more than 77,000 of them were sold compared to 29,000 last season.

“That way they are making a downhill ski into a cross-country ski,” said John Sullivan, owner of East Coast Alpine.

Sales of lighter, more technical AT/Randonee boots are up 60 percent to $6.8 million in sales.

Though still a small category, splitboards—snowboards that be taken apart to use as skis for the uphill trek and then put back together for the ride down—are up six percent.

The sales of climbing skins were up 10 percent in units sold to 26,000 and up 10 percent in dollars sold to $3.6 million.

According to Davis, the industry is working on an education program designed for skiers heading into backcountry terrain.

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