Specialty Snow Sports retailers struggled through a chaotic winter this year with weather impacting hardgoods sales in the East and Midwest and decent, stable weather in much of the Rockies and west-coast. While softgoods sales accelerated to offset part of the decline in hardgoods, overall sales at specialty were slightly below last year. At chain stores, SIA’s research partner, The Leisure Trends group, is estimating that sales increased roughly 2% to $550 million. That would put the overall Snow Sports industry at $2.35 billion for the year, a slight increase compared to last year’s $2.34 billion.

While the overall results for the season were flat, March was actually a solid month for many retailers. A late cold snap helped keep apparel margins and average selling prices high, while at the same time it cleared out some of the heavily over-stocked equipment inventories at retail. For the month, apparel increased 8% at specialty retail, while equipment increased 7%.

For the entire ’06-’07 season, the 8% increase in apparel sales bolstered the category to the dominant position at specialty retail, accounting for roughly 35% of all sales compared to 31% for equipment and 34% for accessories. In their year-end report, SIA points out that apparel “has become a safe, weatherproof inventory investment for specialty retailers,” and “apparel’s advantage is that it appeals to a much broader customer base.” However, retailers are also aware that attracting this broader audience is only the first step – finding a way to send them out to the slopes is the end goal.

Soft shells and fleece drove most of the sales in the apparel category this year with 22% and 29% increases, respectively. However, the popularity of soft shells is coming at the expense of hard shells, which showed a sales decline of 10% for the season. Insulated parkas also sold well this year, with a 21% increase for the season.

Snow Sports retailers and vendors are making considerable headway in the women’s apparel market as well. Since the ’01-’02 season, women’s apparel sales have doubled and now account for 47% of all apparel sold, compared to just 34% five years ago.

Sales patterns in apparel are showing a more fashion-driven consumer is shopping at Snow Sports specialty retail. Soft shell and hard shell bottoms for alpine ski and snowboard, items that are usually only purchased by participants, all showed a mid-single-digit sales decline for the season.

This slowing trend in core participant spending heavily impacted equipment sales this season. Overall hardgoods sales were down 9% for the ’06-’07 season with Nordic, Telemark and snowboard equipment all showing double-digit declines. Alpine equipment was down 5%. The only hardgoods category to show any gains was Randonee/AT equipment, which had an increase of 8%.

In spite of nearly all categories showing losses, there were some strong niches in certain specialized Snow Sports equipment sub-categories. In alpine equipment, integrated ski systems continue to increase in popularity with a 5% increase in sales this year in spite of slightly lower average selling prices. The increase was primarily driven by a 20% gain in mid-fat ski system sales and an 82% increase in fat ski systems. This gain was partially offset by double-digit declines in carve ski systems.

All categories of stand-alone non-system skis except twin-tips were down for the season and retailers barely sold through half of their inventory in these categories. Twin tip sales, however, were up 24% for the season due to higher unit sales and ASP’s. Alpine boot sales were down for the season, but ASP’s remained relatively flat, only slipping 1%. Nonetheless, boot inventories were 20% higher at the end of the season than they were last year.

While Nordic equipment sales had a very strong March, with sales up 36% for the one-month period, it was not enough to offset the declines experienced throughout the rest of the year. For the entire season, ski sales were down 27%, bindings were down 31% and boots declined 22%.

Telemark equipment sales dropped 31% for the season, likely due to the technological advancements in randonee and the promise of step-in, releasable telemark boot/binding interfaces in the near future.

Snowboard equipment showed similar declines. Board sales were down 10%, boots declined 17%, and bindings fell 12% for the season. All mountain boards were the only category of board to show any increase with a strong 31% increase on higher units sold and ASP’s. Retailers were discounting their inventory heavily during the season’s last month as carryover board sales soared 865% in March, bringing the season to-date increase to 75%.

While boot and binding sales were down in the double-digits, the discounting trend continued in these categories. Carryover boot sales increased 108% for the season, while carryover binding sales increased 64%.

>>>One retailer told SportsOneSource, “The start of the season used to be Thanksgiving, then we pushed it back to Christmas, but lately it looks like it’s President’s Day and we get our whole season in one month…”

SIA SnowSports Retail Audit
 06/07 Aug.– Mar. Specialty Results
(in $ millions) 06/07 05/06 Change
Total $1,782 $1,796 -1%
Equipment $564.3 $617.7 -9%
Alpine $355.7 $375.0 -5%
Nordic $22.3 $28.7 -22%
Telemark $3.8 $5.5 -31%
Randonee/AT $1.6 $1.5 +6%
Snowboard $181.0 $207.0 -13%
Apparel $623.2 $579.2 +8%
Alpine $529.2 $482.2 +10%
Snowboard $94.0 $97.0 -3%
Accessories $594.0 $599.4 -1%