Shop Eat Surf speaks to brands, retailers, and NPD about the surprising snow sales trends that have developed this season.
In partnership with Shop-Eat-Surf
By Tiffany Montgomery | Published April 5, 2021
There were many questions headed into the snow season this year. Would resorts be able to operate? Would people feel comfortable going to resorts? Would snow sports get the same boost that many outdoor, socially-distanced sports have seen during the pandemic?
While the season is not yet complete, data is emerging that shows some very positive trends, especially on the snowboard side of the business.
And while resorts may have capacity limits and other restrictions, they have been able to operate in the Americas, which has helped both snow brands and retailers.
In fact, we heard from snowboard executives that full price sales this season have been strong, and that orders for next season are up as retailers look to rebuild inventory.
We followed up with NPD to get data on snow sales so far this season, and checked in with brands, retailers and the National Ski Areas Association to get their read on how the season is turning out.
According to NPD, the numbers so far show that snow equipment brands, especially on the snowboard side of the business, are having a great year.
From Aug. ’20 through Jan ’21:
Snowboard Equipment (boards, boots and bindings) sales: up 12% in dollars.
Within snowboards, every category recorded double digit increases at a minimum:
- All Mountain Snowboards: +13%
- Freeride Snowboards: +24%
- Freestyle Snowboards: +12%
- Splitboard Snowboards: +134%
“There’s not a single subclass in all of snowboarding that we track that is doing worse than last year,” said NPD Sports Industry Analyst Dirk Sorenson.
Alpine has not fared as well, however. According to NPD, alpine equipment sales during the same period are down 7% in dollars.
Outerwear has also taken a hit, falling 10%.
Demand for Outdoors Boosts Brands and Retailers
Burton experienced a big boost in online demand as well as brisk wholesale re-order business from retail accounts.
“Online sales have been extraordinary,” said Elysa Walk, Burton SVP of Americas & International. “In these first few months of the year, our own DTC e-commerce numbers are more than double what they were last year. We’ve also seen our digital wholesale partners show comps in Q1 as high as 73% just from January through today.”
A lot of wholesale customers also tried to chase orders in-season because of unexpectedly strong demand, and also because some cut orders when the pandemic first hit.
“We saw a robust re-order business this year,” Elysa said. “In the end, demand for our product exceeded wholesale orders by 5%.”
When it comes to next season, Burton pre-orders in the Americas are up 8%.
“Our retail partners are definitely seeing that consumers want to be outdoors, upgrade their gear and in many cases, experience snowboarding for the first time,” Elysa said.
At Tactics in the Pacific Northwest, snowboard sales were strong in all channels this season. Tactics is a major online dealer and also has brick-and-mortar stores in Eugene, Portland, and Bend, Oregon.
“It was a strong year for snowboards and gear, both in-store and online,” said Tactics Senior Buyer Brandon Clark. “Even without a pandemic, forecasting snow is never easy. In the end, we held firm on our prebook orders, the lifts were running, and the demand was there. We actually could have used more inventory in some places.”
One of the biggest surprises at Tactics was just how strong the business was at its brick-and-mortar stores.
“Our in-store business was amazing despite the operational challenges with Covid,” Brandon said. “All three shops crushed it, so we’re very thankful for our local customers for showing such strong support during a difficult situation. We’re equally thankful to our shop staff who weathered the front lines while adapting to an array of new challenges.”
While overall outerwear sales may be down according to NPD, Tactics saw strong demand in several outerwear categories. Finding enough inventory was a challenge, however.
“Outerwear sales turned out better than expected after we saw a softgoods slump early in the pandemic,” Brandon said. “Gore-Tex in particular was on fire, and women’s and youth had very strong early traction. Unfortunately the lack of at-once supply made it tough to keep the holes filled so this left us a bit thin as the season progressed.”
One of the most exciting aspects this season is the increase in full price sales due to strong demand and limited inventory in some categories.
“Our warehouses are empty and it’s nice to have a full price business for both wholesalers and retailers,” said Bob Gundram, CEO of C3, which is home to the Capita Snowboards, Union Bindings and Coal Headwear brands.
Thankful for Resorts Operating
Several brands and retailers we talked to know that a lot of strong business in the Americas was due to resorts being able to operate this season.
“We as a company are so appreciative that the ski resorts kept their bullwheels turning for the participation and for the consumer,” said Bob of C3. “A big, giant shout out and thank you to the resorts – obviously it was a lot of work to manage.”
Kelly Pawlak, CEO of the National Ski Areas Association, credits the success in operating safely to the collective effort all the ski areas made over the summer to come up with guidelines on how to operate in the pandemic environment.
“Everyone agreed to certain things that would make outdoor recreation at ski areas as safe as possible and reduce the opportunity for virus spread,” she said.
For example, all the ski areas decided to implement a mask mandate whether or not their states had one or not. Same with other measures such as employee wellness checks and social distancing.
Some regions had it harder than others, including states that had strict quarantine rules or that rely on international tourists.
“I’m not saying it’s a rosy picture across the country as far as numbers, but I am saying we are really, really proud that we are still open,” Kelly said. “We know some of our brothers and sisters in Europe are not as fortunate.”
While she does not yet have hard data on the number of visitors to snow resorts this season, she has gathered some insights from talking to resorts around the country.
She expects the Midwest and Southeast will have good numbers mainly due to positive winter trends.
Local mountains with night skiing did very well, Kelly said, with some reporting that night skiing was as popular as day skiing this year.
The hardest hit parts of the business are food and beverage, retail and ski schools. Some ski areas are reporting food and beverage revenue numbers that are 50% to 75% lower, she said.
Kelly believes ski areas will be able to survive the lower revenues overall this year because they are used to ups and downs due to weather and know how to manage their expenses when business slows.
The big question is what next season looks like. Will there be pandemic restrictions and adjustments to operations?
Kelly said the NSAA membership is cautiously optimistic that vaccine rollouts will continue and ski areas can return to somewhat normal operations – at least outside. For example, more people can be seated on lifts to reduce lift lines.
The trade group will continue to evaluate whether changes need to be made inside, however. For example, will guests be leery of eating and gathering inside at restaurants? Does seating need to be reconfigured to allow for more spacing?
“That is something we will be closely monitoring,” she said.
But for now, the NSAA membership is celebrating that they have been able to keep the doors open.
“Overall, everybody is thrilled,” Kelly said. “They are thrilled that we hit the one year mark when most were closing down last year and we’re still open.”