Snowsport Industries America (SIA), a trade organization, recently reported that “telemark” sales numbers have increased 14% over last year (in USD). While a yawner for some folks, I find such statistics interesting because I love backcountry skiing and like to share it — and also make part of my living from it.
It’s common knowledge that overall snow slider numbers are level or decreasing, so a growing segment of business is big news (even if it only means robbing customers from other categories). Problem is, the 14% number may be misleading, or even a crock. More, when SIA and other information providers use the word “telemark,” are they including randonnee ski touring gear in the mix, and thus misleading those of us who draw a sometimes important distinction between telemark and rando backcountry skiing gear?
Leading backcountry equipment and industry expert Clyde Soles, in the latest issue of Gear Trends magazine, wrote that the “…numbers offered by SIA often raise industry eyebrows…,” and that “…when contacted by Gear Trends, most longtime backcountry ski retailers and manufacturers dismissed the telemark sales numbers as completely out of touch with reality…”
Soles also covers another set of statistics, gathered by the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). He writes that “…based on limited datea…OIA shows a strong downward trend for telemark sales in specialty shops…,” but the “overall consensus from many sources is that telemark and alpine touring [AT randonnee] sales have been steadily increasing over the past decade at about 7 percent annually…but overall growth has been slow and steady for telemark, with AT outpacing it in the past few seasons.”
That’s my take. I’ve seen it all move along, with randonnee starting a surge perhaps 4 seasons ago.
So, the BIG question: are SIA and OIA lumping randonnee sales into a category they’re calling “telemark,” but should really be called backcountry or something like that?
Again, Clyde: “Neither SIA nor OIA separates out the AT category in research…”
After perusing Clyde’s writing, and looking at the industry in general, my conclusion is that SIA and OIA stats for “telemark” actually include randonnee ski touring sales, and thus applying their numbers to actual telemark skiing is at best misleading, and at worst may give shop owners and consumers the wrong idea of what the trends are.
Clyde ends his article with a take on releasable telemark bindings, discussing their importance for avalanche safety — along with the difficulty of creating ones that are truly effective, don’t weigh a ton, etcettera. Another reason for the surge in randonnee? Perhaps SIA and OIA will some day tell us what people are buying — and why. Until then, you’ll do just as well standing at a trailhead or a lift accessed backcountry gate and counting bindings. That’s what I did — and I saw A LOT of randonnee rigs in one former tele temple.
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.