February was a tough month for equipment sales at specialty retailers, but apparel sales – especially soft shells, managed to pull sales up from the 2% drop reported last month. Sales managed to stay relatively flat for the season-to-date through February at specialty retail. The biggest surprises for the season so far are the drop-off in Telemark Equipment as well as Snowboard Equipment and Apparel sales for the season.

February did show several bright spots, even for the retailers who are heavily invested in equipment. Twin Tip Ski sales continue to perform exceptionally well, with a 26% increase in dollars sold, and a 34% increase in units sold. Likewise, Carve Skis saw a strong double digit sales increase, although this number is likely skewed by the change in the definition of a Carve Ski. This change is also likely the cause behind the drop-off in Mid-Fat Skis, which saw sales drop by over 50% in both units and dollars.

Integrated Ski System sales are setting up a second give-and-take scenario. Ski System sales increased 38% in units and 29% in dollars; non-system Alpine Ski sales dropped 18% in units and 15% in dollars.

The final bright spot was a solid up-tic in the average selling price for a pair of ski boots. This allowed unit sales to slip but dollar sales remained steady. This higher ASP was driven by increased sales in High Performance Boots, which were up 5% in units and 14% in dollars. Sport performance and recreation boots both showed significant declines for the season-to-date.

The recent proliferation of destination skiers renting equipment for their annual ski vacation instead of buying may be driving this trend. However, fewer new skiers could also be a culprit.

Alpine apparel sales were again driven by softshell jackets and insulated tops, which both showed solid double-digit increases. Total apparel sales increased 2% in units and 5% in dollars for the season.

Telemark equipment sales slowed down for the first time in over two years with an 8% drop in units-sold and flat performance in dollars. Consumers are not seeing much benefit in Telemark-specific skis, with binding sales outpacing ski sales 2.5 to 1. Since it is getting harder to find an alpine ski without an integrated mounting system, this trend will more than likely slow in coming years.

This down-turn in the free-heel market does not indicate a lack of interest in back-country skiing, simply a shift in equipment. The newest “hot” backcountry SUV of the ski world is Randonee, or alpine-touring equipment. Sales for the season jumped 68.4% to $1.5 million at retail; just two years ago the category only accounted for $246,000 in retail sales.

February snowboard equipment sales actually picked up, but not enough to make up for the mildest winter the Pacific Northwest has experienced in 70 years. For the month of February, retailers were showing not only better sales, but also better margins. Snowboard equipment was up 24% in dollars while Snowboard sales increased 15% in units and 25% in dollars.

For the season-to-date, Snowboard Equipment sales are still down, posting substantial declines in Snowboards, with all categories flat or down. Boot sales outpaced board sales, but still posted declines, mainly due to the drop-off in step-in sales. Snowboard bindings managed a 1% increase in dollar sales on flat units.

Snowboard apparel sales dropped 10% in units and dollars with double-digit declines in nearly every category except carryover, which jumped 34% in dollars-sold. With the late blast of snow in the Pacific Northwest – where there is a heavy concentration of snowboarders – we could see a recovery in this category before the final retail audits are published.

In chain stores, Alpine Equipment experienced a similar decline in units-sold, but the significantly higher ASPs, which have persisted throughout the season, kept dollar-sales flat. Integrated Ski Systems, Carve Skis, and Fat Skis led the way in their category while Recreation and Sport Performance boots captured the most growth in the Boot category. This is a clear sign that beginners are heading to chain stores for their equipment.

Snowboard equipment sales at chain stores fared slightly better, with unit sales down, but dollars up by 4%. Freestyle and All Mountain Boards showed improvements in sales while Freeride Boards dropped. Boots and Bindings also improved over last year.

Apparel prices are also rising at chain stores, with an 11% drop in unit sales and a 5% gain in dollars. Soft Shell parkas were the driving force, while insulated parkas did not fare as well as they did at specialty.