After early-season snow storms blanketed much of the nation, retailers have caught some serious air.
Retail sales of snow-sports items hit $1 billion in December, an all-time one-month record.
Not surprisingly, sales of lift tickets increased, as well. Last season saw 57 million skier visits to resorts nationwide; this season is on track to reach 60 million.
There are several reasons why snow sports have seen a resurgence this season, executives in the industry say.
First of all, the season began early, thanks to Mother Nature’s cooperation and a La Niña weather year, in which sea-surface temperatures are cooler than normal, ultimately bringing cooler land temperatures and more snowfall to the United States.
“The snow makes us all look very smart,” said David Ingemie, president of SnowSports Industries America, which is a member-owned trade association and also does research.
The timing was opportune as the heavy snowfall coincided with the return of consumer confidence following several years of recession and financial downturn.
In addition, the people most active in snow sports are in a “high” demographic, as it’s known in the industry. For instance, unemployment in this group is only 4.2 percent, compared with the national rate of 9 percent. They tend to have higher incomes than the average American, and many of their stock portfolios have recovered recently, Ingemie said, contributing to pent-up demand.
It’s all added up to what Rick Uhl, owner of The Ski Shop on South Tejon Street, called “the perfect storm” for the industry — cold weather and snow from coast-to-coast. Uhl said sales at his shop are up 25 to 30 percent this winter over last year. By way of comparison, sales were flat from 2008 through 2010. Annual revenue at the Ski Shop is $1.2 million.
Not every snow-sport business has seen a boost this year, especially those that don’t cater to alpine, or downhill, skiing. In the Pikes Peak region, this season’s weather has not been conducive to snow sports such as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
The reason? The weather has been either too hot or too cold, and there’s not been enough local snowfall, said Matt Chmielarczyk, sales manager of Mountain Chalet in downtown Colorado Springs.
“It’s been a tough winter in terms of that,” Chmielarczyk said. “Our sales are driven by weather.”
Although sales of snow-sport items are about the same as last year, the store’s profit margin is up slightly.
This winter, one of the big national trends is that “reverse camber” snowboards have jumped over traditional snowboards (box, right). Thus far, 61 percent of all snowboards sold this season have been reverse camber, according to SnowSports Industries America.
Locally, consumers are snapping up gear for the backcountry, including items such as avalanche beacons, helmets and technical gear for ski touring, Chmielarczyk said.
Sports enthusiasts in the Pikes Peak region have updated their equipment and bought more lift-ticket season passes than in recent years because passes are still affordable, Uhl said. Typically, season passes increase in price each year, but many resorts held prices level this season as an aftermath of the recession.
Monarch Mountain, in Monarch, for instance, kept prices level, while Copper Mountain, in Copper Mountain, actually reduced its lift-ticket prices.
The latest craze on Colorado’s slopes is wearing “rockered” skis, an extra-wide ski that “floats” in powder and makes moguls easier to maneuver.
“This technology really made the sport fun again,” Uhl said.
Resorts in Colorado
Lift-ticket sales are up 10 percent this season at the 22 ski and snowboard resorts in the state that are members of Colorado Ski Country USA, said Craig Bannister, the company’s communications manager.
Although it’s too soon to say whether the industry will return to pre-recession levels, many of the conditions — snow and otherwise — are ripe for a recovery.
“If not this year, then next year,” said Jeff Hanle, spokesman for Aspen Skiing Co. in Aspen, Colo.
Business at the resort is up 7 percent this season over last, and reservations for March are already better than they have been for the last couple of seasons, Hanle said.
So far, the resort with the most snowfall is Steamboat, in Steamboat Springs, Colo., about 230 miles from the Pikes Peak region. One of the largest ski mountains in North America, Steamboat has received 300 inches of snow this season.
Closer to Colorado Springs, several resorts within 135 miles all recorded snowfall between 17 and 30 inches over the weekend, including Monarch Mountain; Ski Cooper, in Leadville, and Arapahoe Basin, in Dillon.