Low snow year affects ski sales

Ski sales go up and down, often based on the weather and snow conditions. AP Images

Fitful snowfall, below average snowpacks, and warm weather across much of the U.S. this year has left ski retailers dealing with lackluster sales and excess inventories of winter gear.

Recently released data from Snowsports Industries of America (SIA) reports that outdoor stores selling snow gear have taken a hit from uninspired consumers this season. According to Kelly Davis, director of research for SIA, this is a typical market downturn for a low snow year. "We have found that weather explains most of the variance on sales and participation," said Davis.

So far, the 2011/12 winter has the third lowest snow cover since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association started recording snowfall through satellite observations 46 years ago. "Sales are down 12 percent in units sold and 4.5 percent in dollars sold from $2.78 billion to $2.66 billion," said Davis. "That total includes sales of all equipment, apparel, and accessories in the U.S. snow sports market." For alpine ski gear, sales are down 3 percent in units sold based on data taken from August 2010 to January 2011 and August 2011 to January 2012.

Online sales, however, have proven positive for both brick and mortar shops as well as online retailers. Backcountry.com reported that sales were positive overall for ski gear. "We are up approximately 13 percent in ski sales," said Marit Fischer, brand marketing director for Backcountry.com, citing data tracking from July 1, 2011 to the present.

Online sales of alpine equipment have increased 24 percent in units sold, and 22 percent in dollar sales from last year. Some of this is due to specialty shops increasingly using e-commerce. "E-commerce sites allow browsing consumers to purchase online and get service from the brick and mortar shop," said Davis.

Despite the online growth, overall inventories in shops were 41 percent larger at the end of January 2012 than in January 2011. This is expected to result in more conservative pre-season orders for next season from retailers.

Backcountry gear sales were down along with ski sales. Beacons, shovels, probes, and climbing skin sales decreased by 11 percent in units sold this season. "It looks like fewer people are headed to the backcountry this season due to a dearth of snow and very hazardous conditions when it does snow," said Davis.