Record, albeit late, snow throughout much of the United States spurred a 10.4% increase in U.S. snow sports products this winter, according to the latest retail audit from Snowsports Industries America.  Sales grew by $280 million to reach $2.97 billion for the 2007-08 season ending March 31, up from $2.69 billion in all channels last season, according to the survey. Equipment sales were relatively flat in specialty shops and chain stores, but increased by more than $40 million online.  Apparel sales increased by more than $100 million with snowboard tops and parkas selling very well in all channels. 

“Snowfall is a great equalizer in our market, and early snowfall in the 07/08 ski season helped jump start sales in our segment,” said Kurt Widen, COO at KJUS USA, where pre-season orders are up 27% for next season.

Specialty shops remained the largest sales channel with $1.86 billion, or 60%, of the industry total.  Apparel sales in specialty shops increased by more than 6% this season with snowboard apparel leading the way. Accessories sales increased by more than 7% as heavy snow drove helmet and snowshoe sales up significantly.  Equipment sales in specialty shops were relatively flat with the exception of twin tip and cross country ski equipment.

Online sales, including some by specialty retailers that track their online sales separately, grew 75% in dollar terms.  SIA said the dramatic growth reflected “more accurate measurement of these sales as well as the changing behavior of consumers and of retailers.”

The takeaway this season was the big jump in online equipment purchases. While apparel and accessories sales grew by more than 40% each, equipment sales increased by more than 75% in dollars.  Sales of alpine skis were exceptionally strong with 121% growth in units sold, that's more than 111,000 pairs of skis sold online.  Flat skis, particularly twin tips, sold well online with 138% growth in dollars sold.  Adult bindings sales increased by 155% in dollars, and sales of boots did equally well with more than 75,000 units sold.  Apparel sales increased by 37% in units led by parkas and snowboard apparel.  Accessories sales also increased dramatically in this channel to $120 million.

A break down by category of product shows helmets, goggles and snowshoes led increases in accessories sales, which grew by $64 million this season in the specialty and online channels. The survey did not have 2006 chain data and therefore did not offer year-over-year growth estimates at the category level. Helmets sales reached a record 934,000.  Specialty shops sold about three-quarters of those at an average price of $81.68.  Online customers paid an average of $70.47 for their new helmet. Although chain stores sold helmets for a lower average price ($67.64), they only garnered 20% of unit sales.

“It's hard to imagine a better season in the accessories business,” said Blair Clark, SMITH Optics, SVP, marketing and sales. “We sold out of helmets and our goggle supply was similarly tight thanks to a season where every region had record snowfall and every resort was open.”

Twin tip skis sold well across all channels with sales reaching an estimated 75,000 pairs. Specialty shops still dominate this category, where the average price was $355.63.  Almost 30,000 clicked online to buy their twin tips between August and March. Online prices, which do not including shipping fees, averaged slightly lower at $304.51, the survey said. 

Cross country skis and snowshoes were big winners of the heavy snowfall. On a unit basis, cross country ski sales rose 26%. Nordic skiers purchased more than 114,000 new pairs of skis, 135,000 pairs of boots, and 107,000 cross country bindings according to SIA. Snowshoeing sales rose 20% to 200,000 pairs.

In apparel, snowboard tops sales climbed 12% to more than $173 million in the specialty channel. While Internet sales rose 142%, the online channel handled just 14.5% of all snowboard tops sold, according to the SIA survey.