Specialty stores, buoyed by strong early and late season sales in the East and Midwest and consistently strong sales in the Rockies and West, finished the August through March selling season with $1.8 billion in sales, flat compared to last year's results. Overall unit sales and average retail-selling prices remained even.

“This season was a weather-driven roller coaster and equipment sales suffered from it, but apparel sales bolstered the market. At season’s end, total dollar sales in specialty stores were down by just one percent compared to last season,” said Kelly Davis, research manager for SnowSports Industries America (SIA), the not-for-profit industry trade group that represents manufacturers and distributors of snow sports products.

New for this season, the SIA Retail Audit now tracks the Internet channel of distribution that had impressive total dollar sales of $341M this season. The chain store data was suspended after the December reporting period. Through best efforts, Leisure Trends Group estimates chain store sales for the 2006/2007 snowsport season to be $550M, a 2% increase over the 2005/2006 season. The SIA Retail Audit, conducted by Leisure Trends Group, tracks and reports sales in all snow sports product categories. This is the final report of six that look at sales through March 31, 2007, the end of the winter season.

Softgoods brought in the hard returns this season. All specialty store snowsport apparel gained an impressive 8% in dollar sales, finishing the season with $623M. That increase helped offset a tough season for equipment which finished the year with just $564M in sales, a 9% drop over last season. In Internet sales, apparel accounted for 56% of all Internet dollar sales this season, compared to 35% in specialty stores. Conversely, equipment brought in just 19% of all the dollars sold online as compared to 32% of specialty dollars.

Overall, the season ended on a strong note for the specialty stores. March over March dollars increased 4% on even unit sales. Retailers lowered equipment prices 5%, which brought in another 7% in dollars on a 13% bump in units. Apparel units and dollars gained 10% and 8%, respectively.

Now that the 2006/2007 season is over, we can dissect the specialty store retail sales numbers to see what categories brought the profits. We did see some noteworthy equipment trends this season, for example, the integrated ski system has officially taken over. While still selling 25,000 fewer units than the flat, bindingless ski category, total system dollar sales in specialty stores exceeded $104M. Compare that to just $98M for all flat skis and binding sales combined. Total, flat alpine ski sales fell 15% in units and 10% in dollars. Surging carryover sales, up 15% in units and 57% in dollars, kept the declines from being even greater.

Reflecting the stronger sales in the powdery west this season, the midfat and fat categories did exceptionally well. Midfats, up 13% in units and 20% in dollars, dominated systems with 43% of the units and 52% of the dollars sold. Fat systems shot up 79% in units and 80% in dollars. Twintips were the only flat bindingless ski category to see increased sales this season. Twintip skis kicked up another 11% in units and 24% in dollars and finished the season with over 32,000 units sold-through at specialty retail. Snowboard sales declined by approximately 25,000 units in 2006/2007.

All-mountain boards were the only snowboard category to show growth. All-mountain sales increased 24% in units and 31% in dollars and finished the season accounting for 16% of all boards sold, up from 12% the previous season.

Apparel has become the safe, weatherproof inventory investment for specialty retailers. For the season, apparel returned a 44% margin to the specialty retailers as compared to equipment’s 38% margin. Apparel also turned at a rate twice as fast as equipment this season. The planet is warming, but apparently not fast enough for some people; insulated alpine top sales surged 19% in units and 21% in dollars over the previous season. Insulated tops, with $184M in sales, accounted for 46% of all alpine top dollars sold, up from just 33% of the dollars in 2001/2002.

Apparel’s advantage is that it appeals to a much broader customer base and is as likely to be seen in the checkout lines as it is the lift lines. Apparel is fashionable and people are constantly updating their wardrobes to keep up with the times and/or Jones. Further evidence of apparel’s almost broad appeal; a full 56% of online snowsport dollar sales came from apparel this season.

Up 33% in units and 22% in dollars, softshell parkas continue to increase their sales and contribution to the bottom line. Be aware; retail prices have fallen as new brands dominate and the category moves ever more into the chain distribution channel. Fleece tops rocketed up 34% in units and 29% in dollars. What happened to the ubiquitous layering system? Fleece outsold shells 3.4 to 1 this season, up from 1.7 to
1 in 2001/2002. This season, shell alpine tops slid 5% in units and 10% in dollars.

Snowsports apparel also successfully marketed itself to the other half of the population; women. Women’s specialty store sales increased from just 34% of all apparel sales in 2001/2002 to a near parity 47% this season. In that same period women’s dollar sales increased from $140M in sales to $285M, an 83% surge compared to men’s 5% up tick. Positively, parents have increasingly dressed their kids in snowsports apparel this season; specialty retailers sold nearly $80M in junior apparel, an astounding 111% increase over the 2001/2002 season.

The task now is to turn all those apparel buyers into lifelong downhillers and equipment buyers. Now the industry has to entice them onto or back onto the mountain through rental and lesson incentives, campaigns that appeal to fun that they will have with their families, and assurances that new equipment will have them skiing or riding better than ever before.