McLEAN, VA (January 9, 2001) ¿ While other retail sectors suffered during the early holiday period, sales of snow sports products surged 23 percent ahead of last year through the end of November, reports SnowSports Industries America, the non-profit industry trade group that represents manufacturers and distributors of snow sports products. All sales at specialty stores were up 26 percent over 1999; all sales at chain stores were up 14 percent over 1999.

“More snowboards and Nordic equipment were sold in November than in the entire August through October period,” said Julee Lynch, SIA’s Director of Research. “This surge in sales in encouraging and the trend seems to be continuing into December even though we don’t have firm numbers yet.”

“Let’s thank the weather first,” said Jim Spring of Leisure Trends Group, the research firm that prepares the annual Retail Audit for SIA. “It cooperated and brought early snow to the mountains and cold weather to the flatlands. Nothing beats cold and snow for creating sales of snow sports products. The weather deserves most of the credit for the bump in sales, especially in the South and the West where the new census data is very clear about where Americans are living these days.”

The vitality of the snow sports industry is in stark contrast to the chilling climate that overtook retail in general before the holidays. The snow and cold that helped sales of snow sports products, froze holiday same-store sales growth for retailers.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, reported an anemic 0.3 percent increase in December same-store sales. Target, the fourth largest U.S. retailer, said sales at its stores fell 0.1 percent, compared with its earlier expectations for sales growth of about 3 to 5 percent.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. said its same-store sales fell 1.1 percent in December and that it will close 89 under-performing stores in the first quarter. Gap reported sales fell 6 percent from a year earlier. Venerable Montgomery Ward announced it was going out of business, due partly to lagging sales.

But for snow sports product retailers, the early holiday period could not have been sunnier. “We’ve had a record-breaking year so far,” said David Fitzgerald of Laacke & Joys in Milwaukee. “The changeover to new technologies and upgrading of equipment has been a real push for us. We’re seeing about a third better increase in all sales compared to last year.”

The Retail Audit tracks and reports sales in all snow sports product categories for the period. This is the second of six reports that will look at sales through March 31, the end of the winter season. The Retail Audit reports covering apparel and accessories will be released later.

Specialty Stores Show Dramatic Increase

All sales at specialty stores were up 26 percent from 1999. In equipment only, specialty store sales were up 24 percent. In specific categories: snowboard equipment was up 26 percent; alpine equipment was up 24 percent; and Nordic equipment was down 2 percent.

Early-season snowboard sales were up 26 percent over the same period last year. Snowboard boot sales were up 23 percent and snowboard bindings were up 29 percent. “Our snowboard sales have been really good,” said Darryn Ruchty, manager of Back Country Outfitters, Mt. Vernon, Wa., about an hour and a half from Mount Baker. “All the boards we’re selling are all-mountain boards because the riders here are big-mountain riders. We’ve also been selling a lot of beginners’ boards.”

Alpine ski sales were up 18 percent. Mid-fat skis had a 65 percent increase compared to last year. Twintip skis were up 318 percent. Alpine boot sales rose 36 percent compared to last season. Adult sport performance boots led the way with a 111 percent increase. Sales of bindings were up 17 percent. Pole sales were up 37 percent.

“We ran out of Salomon alpine equipment in November,” said Fitzgerald. “We’ve also seen a 50 percent increase in junior equipment saless.”

Nordic skis fell 8 percent; Nordic boots were off 7 percent; bindings were up 6 percent; and Nordic poles were up 49 percent. But on a local level, Nordic sales were strong. “We only sell traditional touring gear for the active family,” said Fitzgerald. “The skis and boots have been flying out of here. We didn’t anticipate that we’d have a sell-through of Nordic gear.”

Chain Store Sales Hot

All sales at chain stores were up 14 percent over 1999. In the categories: snowboard gear was up 28 percent; alpine equipment was down slightly by 0.1 percent; and Nordic equipment was down 31 percent.

Early-season snowboard sales at chain stores were up 31 percent. Snowboard boot sales were up 20 percent and snowboard bindings were up 36 percent. In Nordic sales, skis fell 26 percent; boots were off 40 percent; bindings dropped 51 percent; and poles strode ahead 184 percent.

Alpine ski sales at the chains were down 9 percent. Alpine boot sales had an 11 percent increase compared to last season. Bindings were down 2 percent. Pole sales were up 50 percent.

“At this rate, there won’t be any end-of-season sales,” said Fitzgerald. “Nobody will have any stock left for the close out months.”