Thinking of Buying Backcountry Gear? Pull the Trigger Soon
As concerns grow about the ski resorts’ COVID 19 policies, the interest in backcountry skiing has spiked, and backcountry ski and snowboard gear sales are expected to skyrocket. Are we heading for a similar gear shortage that the bike industry saw this past summer?
Yes…and no. Yes, most experts do think backcountry gear—especially boots—will likely sell out earlier this season than in seasons past. But ski and boot manufacturers have a better handle on pandemic-related supply chain issues than bike manufacturers did in the summer, mostly because ski manufacturers have had a longer lead time to prepare and adjust to COVID 19-related issues, so they are not expecting a shortage anywhere near as severe to that of the bike industry. (Also, demand for touring gear remains far smaller and more localized than that of bikes.)
According to Laura Holman, assistant ski buyer for the evo retail chain, which has a strong online sales component, sales in both the backcountry safety category (including beacons, shovels, probes, and avalanche airbag packs) and the skin category were up three-fold in September 2020 compared with September 2019. Alpine touring skis and bindings sales were double over the same time frame. “That’s just for the month of September, which is not our biggest month,” she said during a recent Zoom interview from her Seattle, Wash., home. “But we started seeing increases back in March and April of 2020.”
According to John Weir, marketing manager at the brick-and-mortar store Bentgate Mountaineering in Golden, Colo., backcountry gear sales are currently trending about average for this time of year, but he expects that they will rise significantly nearing the onset of winter. “So far, it hasn’t been a blow-out, but it’s still 85 degrees out. Once fall really sets in and that snow starts flying, people will be scrambling more. There’s a lot of uncertainty with the resorts, and people are trying to see how that shakes out. We have seen a lot of people beginning the research process and thinking more creatively about how they are going to be skiing this year.” And if the ski resorts close again this season, he expects to see a gear scarcity similar to what retailers experienced last March. “After resorts closed, we sold out of all of our skins within a week,” he said.
To accommodate the spike in interest, Weir increased Bentgate’s initial orders on touring gear and went a little thinner on alpine, he said. evo has done the same—“We’ve increased our orders pretty substantially,” Holman said—and the retailer will put in additional orders from manufacturers in categories that look like they may sell out.
However, whether or not the manufacturers themselves are sold out will be the determining factor as to whether or not retailers will be able to restock. “The hope is that the manufacturer would have more, and we would catch it time to not sell out,” Holman said. “Brands are trying their best to be nimble, and a lot of retailers have been needing to go back to the well. Everyone’s trying to adapt to the roller coaster.”
Have manufacturers adequately prepared by increasing production? That depends on the brand, Holman says. The gear companies’ responses to the pandemic have varied greatly, from some actually trimming production, and others increasing it. According to Frank Shine, the North American director of marketing for Blizzard Tecnica, increasing production is not as simple as just turning on the factory to spit out a few hundred additional skis and boots at the last minute. “It’s a complicated production schedule that reaches many months into the future—which is why strong forecasting is necessary,” Shine said.
To that end, Blizzard Tecnica has done its best to forecast accordingly, and despite some challenges with international shipping caused by the pandemic, “We have worked with our global brand to explore opportunities to bring in extra product, and potentially fill the market demand with early release product when possible.” However, Shine also said, “A spike in interest and demand for this particular type of product may move our complete sell through to an earlier date.”
So what does all of this mean for you? “Buy gear now,” Weir advised, especially if you need new touring boots. “The most finite resource is a variety of boot sizes. Even in a standard year, we sell out of the better-fitting and skiing boots by February. With bindings and skis, there’s a little more variety and more leeway.”
Note: Both evo and Bentgate will be adding educational programs to accommodate the increase in new backcountry skiers and splitboarders. Check their websites and Facebook pages for more.