Snow sports sales rose a surprising 9% in the August to October period, bolstered by very strong sales of carryover equipment and gear for juniors, the Snowsports Industries Association reported.

“Snow sports shoppers went out looking for bargains and they were willing to buy when they found them,” said Kelly Davis, director of research for SnowSports Industries America (SIA), the not-for-profit industry trade group represents manufacturers and distributors of snow sports products.

The market data presented in this report comes from the SIA Retail Audit, which gathers data between Aug. 1 and Mar. 31 from a representative panel of more than 1,200 snow sports retailers who provide sales data directly from their Point of Sale systems. The panel and the method for extrapolating the results out to the entire industry is based on a triennial census of snow sports retailers designed to accurately define the size and structure of the snow sports retail marketplace.

August to October 2008 retail sales (not including resort retail shops) in the snow sports industry were driven by pre-season clearance sales. Sales of carryover gear accounted for a significant portion of the observed increases in snow sports equipment sales. Sales like the “SkiBonkers” sale in Seattle, which are dominated by leftover inventory from the past season, help consumers find bargains on carryover items. Carryover is officially defined as any item that sells for less than the average retail cost for that item. Carryover accounted for 28% of skis, 23% of snowboards, 24% of ski boots, and 26% of snowboard boots sold August to October 2008. Compare that to last season’s August to October results when carryover sales accounted for just 16% of skis and 19% of snowboards sold and millions fewer dollars spent.

Parents did not slow their spending on equipment and apparel for the kids. Junior ski sales were up 34% in dollars, junior snowboard sales increased 17% in dollars, juniors parka sales were up 16% in dollars and sales of junior snow suits increased more than 40% in units and in dollars.

SIA has monitored the snow sports retail market for more than 30 years and historically, economic conditions have far less impact on the market than snowfall. When the snow is good, the snow sports market does well even if the economic outlook is bleak. The current recession has demonstrated clearly that the world is inextricably connected economically as the impact of the U.S. foreclosure crisis spread across the globe. Even in a global economic downturn the snow sports demographic continued to buy snow sports gear and history tells us that if it snows, then they will use what they purchased on the slopes.

During a recession, the snow sports market is among the more resilient retail markets.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, overall October retail sales increased 1.6% compared with October 2007, and the sporting goods retail market increased 2.2%. The snow sports market was up 9% compared to August to October 2007. These data are measures of sales from August through October and that the global economy was under significantly more pressure in November.  “We observed other retail market segments move downward significantly last month and we plan to keep a close watch on the market.  We anticipate reporting November sales during the first week of January 2009,” said David Ingemie, president of SIA.

Equipment sales were healthy August to October with a 2% increase in alpine ski and 11% increase in snowboard equipment. Apparel sales were up 14% in units and 9% in dollars indicating strong sales on discounted prices.  Accessories such as helmets and goggles were particularly strong while auto racks and snowshoe sales declined.

The Internet channel continued to grow at an astounding pace gaining 27% in dollars and 36% in units compared to August to October 2007. Overall, consumers spent $131 million on snow sports equipment, apparel and accessories online. Internet sales comprised 26% of all the dollars consumers spent on snow sports products in the U.S. between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31, 2008. 

Specialty shops brought in the lion’s share of snow sports dollars, consumers spent $297 million in snow sports specialty shops August to October compared with $286 million over the same time period in 2007.  Alpine ski sales were flat in specialty shops, snowboard sales increased about 7% in dollars and 2% in units sold, and apparel sales, which accounted for almost 40% of all dollars spent in specialty shops, increased by just 3%. 

Chain stores are selling far less snow sports equipment this season. Ski sales decreased 21% in dollars, snowboard sales slid 17% in dollars, and equipment accessories sales dropped 8%. One bright sport in chain store sales was Nordic ski equipment that increased 48% in units and 67% in dollars. At $78 million, chain store sales accounted for 15% of all dollars spent on snow sports goods in the U.S. market August to October. Apparel sales accounted for 56% of all chain store snow sports sales and enjoyed a 13% increase in units and 10% increase in dollars spent August to October 2008.