Retailers around the country have planned for a year much like last year, with those in the East bracing for another late season, the Northwest running dry, while others worried as heavy pre-Thanksgiving powder failed to materialize. But the last week has changed the fortunes of many as resorts across the U.S. report record snowfall and strong early season bookings over the last week. As consumers attention shifts gears from climbing, hiking, and mountain biking to making turns on the back-bowls and searching the backcountry for stashes of chest-deep powder, retailers begin to see the results and gain some visibility into the seasons sales performance.
Early last week, Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty offered a “State of the Ski Industry” address in which he described last season as the “perfect storm,” with weak snowfalls driving traffic south into Utah, which had snowfall 289% above average, and California, which had similar results. The snow in Utah arrived slightly later this year, but already snow levels are ahead of average. Early numbers indicate bookings are up 10% to 30% over last year, depending on the resort, a year that saw a record 3.9 million skier days in Utah, which was a 12% increase over the previous year.
In Tahoe, Heavenly Mountain Resort has received four feet of snow in the past week, allowing the resort to open more than 60% of its terrain.
In Colorado, Vail Mountain surpassed its all-time historical cumulative snowfall record with year-to-date snowfall at nearly 12 feet. In November, nearly 84 inches of snow fell on Vail Mountain, fully 26 inches above the ski resort's historic average of 58 inches for the month. Season-to-date snowfall at Breckenridge is about 80% more than the historic average, with a base depth of more than five feet at the summit of Breckenridge Mountain. Additionally, Breckenridge opened North America's new highest chairlift, which takes skiers to over 12,800 feet, a month earlier than initially planned.
New England is seeing great snowfall during the early season as well. Jay Peak in Vermont set new all-time attendance records for the Thanksgiving weekend. To date, Jay Peak has received nearly 60″ of snow during October and November and long-range forecasts hold promising notes for the rest of the season. Okemo was Vermonts first ski area to open this season, with 7 lifts servicing 31 trails opened on Sunday, Nov. 27.
According to SportsScanINFO, all of this snow is adding up to more retail traffic and more sales. Total SnowSports sales for the last four weeks, across all channels were up 14.2% over last year. Full-Line Sporting Goods stores saw sales jump 17.2% for the month to $44.2 million. Online SnowSports sales for the month increased 31.5%.
For the most recent week reported by SportsScanINFO, sales of SnowSports merchandise were up 22.4% over last year. Full-Line Sporting Goods SnowSports sales increased 30.2% during the week.
Geographically, the East North Central region accounted for the majority of the sales increases with total dollar sales more than doubling compared to the same week last year. The West North Central region saw sales increase 35% during the same period, and New Englands SnowSports sales increased 28%. Internet sales of SnowSports hardgoods, according to SportsScanINFO, grew more than 70% last week.
Retailers have been able to sell their merchandise at full margin this year as well, with average selling prices increasing considerably. Total SnowSports ASPs increased 20.0% this year, while alpine ASPs increased 7.7%, according to SSI.
Mike Martin, owner of TelemarkSki.com, SkateSki.com, and The Alpineer in Crested Butte, Colo. said that the latest cold snap to hit the Front Range and Mountains of Colo., which drove temperatures as low as -20ºF, has driven sales considerably.
“We definitely sold a lot of down jackets over the past week,” Martin said, “but with all of the snow we are selling a lot of skis and backcountry gear as well. This time of year everyone is excited about the first snow and ready to get out and ski ”
Skinny Skis in Jackson Hole, Wyo. specializes in Nordic ski equipment. Like most winter-oriented specialty retailers, snowfall is critical to success. “We had a warmer and drier than usual October. Good snows in November jump-started our sales and moved us into December nicely,” reports owner Phil Leeds.
Sales results for the Skinny Skis annual post-Thanksgiving event were up markedly over last year when the weather was moderate. Since the tourist season in Jackson begins the weekend before Christmas, sales are coming primarily from local residents, and as a result, hardgoods and apparel are selling well.
“Both categories are up over last year. November and December are up nicely, but we are recovering from a slow October,” Leeds said. “Weather has more impact than national or local economies. Even if the economy is limping along, if they have made the investment to come here they are also going to make the investment in gear and clothing, especially if the weather is urging them along.”
With heavy snow falling throughout much of the country, the winter season seems to be off to a solid start. Many retailers and resorts have commented on the importance of creating a strong early season buzz surrounding SnowSports and the fact that this momentum usually carries through to the rest of the season. With Mother Natures cooperation, solid double-digit growth over the past month, and sales accelerating even more over the past week, there are certainly positive signs for strong sell-through all season long.