If you’re wondering why some of the major ski gear makers are getting into backcountry ski touring, wonder no more. It’s a gold rush created by exponential growth in ski touring and sidecountry. In the past few years, our sport exploded and created a market big enough for the *full attention of companies such as Atomic and Fischer.
(*Many larger companies have dabbled for years in backcountry ski gear, but when they create a fully “vertical” line including boots-skis-skins, or come out with unique versions of tech bindings such as the Marker Kingpin, that’s when we notice.)
Here in the USofA we’ve got our much reviled but still interesting Snowsport Industries America attempting to quantify all aspects of our ski industry. In this year’s “2015 SIA Snow Sports Fact Sheet,” they lay out interesting factoids that illustrate the rush to backcountry wealth.
For starters, you can tell by quickly skimming the SIA sheet that backcountry and sidecountry gear is hot hot hot. Much of this stuff is actually used for human powered backcountry skiing, but a significant portion of the sales boom is created by style and culture. From what I’ve observed, many skiers sport backcountry bindings and boots while lift skiing. Perhaps because they like the “one ski quiver” idea (“honey, can you PLEASE take some of those skis to the thrift shop, we need more room for the baby strollers!”).
But more, sporting backcountry bindings at the resort has become a matter of style. Many skiers simply like the idea of resort skiing with their backcountry gear. They like the way it feels, the way it looks. They like staying “used to their gear,” and the fact that they’re “ready” when the time comes.
When all the above happens, yes, gold rush.
A few quotes from the SIA fact sheet:
“…Alpine/AT boots, defined as alpine DIN boots that can be converted to an AT/Touring…may be one of hottest items in the alpine market. Sales of alpine/AT boots are up 27 percent in units sold to 93,000 units sold, and up 21 percent in dollars sold to $37 million… 12 percent of units sold in the alpine boot market so far this season.”
Are you reading that? Fully 12 percent of boots sold in the ALPINE boot market are potential touring boots. Sheesh, no wonder Atomic is making backcountry boots. They were losing 12 percent of their sales to Scarpa and Dynafit! Remember that’s in the U.S. alone. According to industry insiders something like 3 million pairs of alpine ski boots are sold each year over the globe. If 12% of those are Alpine/AT, that means around 360,000 pair of boots. And that’s not including dedicated touring boots!
“Backcountry accessories sales including beacons, probes and shovels increased 12 percent in units and dollars sold.”
Our rule of thumb is that ski touring has been growing at lower double-digit rates for some years now. Our website numbers bear this out, as does the 12 % increase in backcountry accessories sales. From a business standpoint I’m delighted about the growth. Yet I’m fully aware these increased numbers are creating demands on everything from rescue personnel to parking lots, not to mention the limited powder acreage we have in some ski touring areas (on both sides of the pond).
What’s the positive side of growth? Hard to say. Lower gear prices most certainly, if for no other reason than overabundance creating more sales dumping. Perhaps better amenities such as improved parking and more huts. Safety techniques and gear will also improve with better financial support. Prepared skin tracks from the hordes of dawn patrollers? But they use up all the powder…
Eventually the dust will settle and the growth will level out. When we come up for air, I believe here in the U.S. we’ll see significantly delayed development on the amenities side. That’s already happening. Examples: Teton Pass parking is a challenge, and the 10th Mountain Huts are often totally booked. Getting involved politically and in non-profits is the way to influence things, but the process grinds along like a glacier — not the rush of a gold panic. Gear, on the other hand, will rapidly improve. That’s happening already.
Commenters, do you have insight on where you think this growth spurt will take us?
Lastly, from SIA:
“Action cameras continue to be the single most popular accessory in the snow sports market right now. …121,000 cameras and up 20 percent in dollars sold to $41 million…”
I swear on my honorable grandfather’s grave, if I see one more guy filming himself on a green run at the resort, I’ll go bonkers. But $41 million?
“Hey Lisa, did we put in that link for Gopro sales? We need some grocery money.”
(Just to get it down on paper, last season at an industry press event, the company reported 66% growth in 5 years, which is something near the double digit growth rate I reported above.)
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.