121,000 GoPro Cameras Can’t Be Wrong — Growth in Backcountry Skiing

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 4, 2015      

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.)


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20 Responses to “121,000 GoPro Cameras Can’t Be Wrong — Growth in Backcountry Skiing”

  1. Mike March 4th, 2015 9:40 am

    Is that 121,000 snowsports specific? GoPros are used for many other uses as well.

    And I’ll agree that if I see one more person in the side country without a beacon, but with a selfie stick, I might cause a scene.

  2. Lou Dawson 2 March 4th, 2015 9:51 am

    Mike, I’m sure that’s the number of GoPro reported as sold by ski/snowboard retailers. In other words, yes, snowsports specific as much as they’d be. Definitely not the USA sales number total for GoPro which would be in the millions. How many of those snowsport GoPros are used for backcountry skiing was not reported. I used the number for shock value. Lou

  3. Mike March 4th, 2015 9:53 am

    Wondered why it was such an even # 😉

  4. hairymountainbeast March 4th, 2015 10:54 am

    As a member of mountain rescue, I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised that the number of backcountry skier / snowboarder rescues hasn’t seemed to follow the growing number of participants, at least in the Mt Baker area. I’d like to think this is due to a culture of safety education and awareness, and less a factor of dumb luck (and a relatively stable maritime snowpack).

  5. XXX_er March 4th, 2015 11:05 am

    A retailer told me he sells so much more touring gear that it wouldn’t matter if he lost the alpine component completely, a ski guide bud told me he doesn’t have to go heli skiing cuz lately his BC operation has been fully booked, I had an FB link from the marketing head of a very large ski corp buddy has a personnel goal of touring 50,000 meters of vert in his 50th year … the BC is hot with everybody

    They gave me the go pro to aim once, my buddy said ” we got great pictures of your nose hair”

  6. Lee Lau March 4th, 2015 12:10 pm

    Lou – more data for you from Switzerland


    “according to the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) ski tourers have quadrupled over the past 30 years to 240,000 – the number of avalanche accidents has been sliding steadily downwards.”.

    the link in the story is to the wrong page but I’ll dig some more

  7. mark March 4th, 2015 12:35 pm

    While I have noticed a surge in AT gear in the lift line, we haven’t noticed much increase in backcountry or side country here in northern Idaho. Not that it isn’t just around the corner as it does take a bit longer for trends to reach us.

  8. Scott March 4th, 2015 12:52 pm

    My wife and I have been using AT gear exclusively for lift serviced skiing over the last three years because it has become so good! I have taken 8 Lbs. off of my old Alpine gear! I can ski and hike longer and get less tired by the end of the day.
    Viva la Revolution!

  9. Sven March 4th, 2015 1:08 pm

    I’ve also skied my AT setup (Dynafits/BDs) for much of my lift served skiing over the last 3-4 years. Probably put over 50+ days on the dynafits at the resort per year and ski hard. The only problem I’ve had is a broken toe lever caused by a collision with a tree branch. AT setups these days can handle abuse and make for a lightweight, bouncy and fun setup for resorts that still get regular snow (i.e. not Tahoe).

  10. Jeremy C March 4th, 2015 2:01 pm

    Taking a slight cynical view. The growth in AT has been driven by the manufactures producing new products (lighter, better, stronger etc). It can be viewed in the same way as Mountain Biking where development had basically stopped a few years back (the 26″ wheel). The release of the 29″ wheel and supporting bikes, drove a market surge. When this was seen as a bit of a niche product, the 27.5″ wheel was released, giving another market surge.

    If Alpine was the 26″ MTB, then AT is the 29″/27.5″ new exciting market, where all development is taking place. Many will buy the latest products to follow the trend, and have new shiny stuff………………Not that there is anything wrong with shiny stuff.

    On the Go-Pro side of things. Hopefully we never get to the point on or off piste, that has been reached in many cities where drivers and cyclists are using cameras for liability reasons.

  11. Ben March 4th, 2015 4:43 pm

    Hey! Packing for Jackson Hole – does anyone know if shovel blades are accepted by TSA for carry-ons? Trying to go with just ski bag and carry-on.

  12. GeorgeT March 4th, 2015 6:48 pm

    Growth spurt goes to the first boot maker to provide a superlight Alpine/Tech boot. If Scarpa takes the Freedom interchangeable sole and puts it on the Maestrale or an even lighter boot…I am buying.
    Growth spurt goes to a binding maker (or after-market )with a superlight binding interface resulting in seconds to switch from alpine binding to TLT tech bindings.

  13. afox March 5th, 2015 12:06 am

    I think the impact of lower priced and better BC ski gear has been understated in this blog post. For example, a few years ago the only full carbon skis with modern dimensions were Goode’s, They retailed for $1,200 or more and it was impossible to find them for less (I tried for years). Last week I picked up a pair of G3 carbon synapse 101s for $430 including tax and shipping. The weight/surface area of the G3 carbon synapse rivals any of Goode’s offerings and cost more than 60% less than the Goode’s!!! This years BC gear is better and cheaper and I think it will continue to get better and cheaper. I will benefit if people want to show off their BC gear in bounds and that drives up production which in turn lowers prices, and increases quality, and selection. I have seen some increase in usage at popular BC areas I frequent but it sill seems like 95% of people rarely stray from the most popular areas with the shortest approaches. Ski touring is physically demanding and hard work, even with light gear, all but the most accessible areas dont appeal to most people, that doesn’t appear to be changing and is’nt captured in the SIA numbers.

  14. Peter March 5th, 2015 10:56 am

    I got into BC skiing the same year the Marker Duke came out and I remember not seeing a single pair in the BC for a couple of years. Lately, I’ve been seeing a huge increase in splitboarders as well! The trickle takes time.

    I used to get my conditions beta from forums/blogs (visible to all with an easy google search), but it seems those are dieing and now I have to look at instagram (easily visible to a smaller number of followers, requires more effort otherwise)! And I think it is easy for all of these new users to get confined to a common space, leaving fewer motivated people to explore beyond.

    It’s awesome that with increased users there hasn’t been an increase in avalanche incidents given the heuristic traps that are introduced with more users (scarcity, showing off, expert halo, gopros, etc…)

  15. UpSki Kevin March 5th, 2015 2:46 pm

    from the SIA report, the biggest number I noticed was 12% of boot sales are AT/Alpine interchange. 1 in 10 is a lot!!

  16. GeorgeT March 6th, 2015 4:00 pm

    Dynafit bindings sale $280 Speed Turn. Support Wildsnow.com by clicking thru links to backcountry.com.
    Lou, I hope you are OK with me reminding everyone that wildsnow.com is supported by your click thru advertisers.

  17. Lou Dawson 2 March 6th, 2015 4:49 pm

    George, appreciate the support! Most people know that why all those shopping links are scattered about, but some may not. We’re honored and privileged to be able to web publish for a living, thanks to all of you. Lou

    Nice deal on Speed Turn. Here is a direct affiliate link.

  18. Jim P March 7th, 2015 9:39 pm

    Here in the Boise/McCall area, I’m seeing a lot more bc skiers, but that means I, for the first time, might see bc skiers other than the friends I’m skiing with. A few more cars at More’s creek summit, for instance. We are blessed with lots of terrain and very few people. But spots closer to SV and Driggs are getting pretty crowded, I hear tell.

    Many more serious bc folks are using sleds to access terrain otherwise inaccessible in a day. The rest of us are left begging for a tow rope. High marking with a mixture of gasoline, alcohol and testosterone is not the goal. Most of these skier/sledders leave the machine where the skinning gets good.

  19. ffelix March 13th, 2015 11:59 am

    The only thing that surprises me about the boom in AT boots is that it took so long.

    Even if you never leave the ski resort, who wouldn’t want a Vibram sole, a real walk mode and lighter weight for the stroll through the icy parking lot? Race-style ski boots are so stiff, heavy and ridiculous that more often than not, they actually seem to retard people’s skiing ability.

    It is unfortunate that the big brands aren’t willing to actually change their product much, though. Their AT boots are styled like Alpine ski boots, and weigh almost as much.

    I do wonder if the avalanche fatality gap has something to do with increased skier compaction in the most accessible areas. Looking around, I don’t notice that people are acting more enlightened in the backcountry than they used to. Same stupid decisions…worse maybe, with the Freeride ethic making people fling themselves heavily onto the snowpack around tender rocky areas shortly after storms.

    And using the same set-up in and out of bounds pays pretty big dividends when things get difficult and you need to know and trust your gear. The only thing I need my 20-year-old alpine boots for these days is going to the Woodward foam pits–no tech bindings there!

  20. Lou Dawson 2 March 13th, 2015 1:51 pm

    Fflel, the avy fatality gap is quite interesting. My belief is it’s due to a number of factors, but skier compaction is definitely one. There are hundreds of ski touring areas in Europe, for example, where vast areas of the snowpack are stabilized by major numbers of skiers, and since major numbers ski there, the risk/percentage goes down. Here in Colorado I’m not sure where we’re headed. It seems like the overall number of groups in trouble has gone down, but a couple of bigger group accidents over the past few years have kept the fatality and injury numbers up. If Colorado skiers had all been obeying the one-at-a-time rule to the letter over past years, our numbers would be quite a bit lower…sadly. Same thing in Europe of course. Lou

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