Backcountry Skiing by the Numbers

Post by blogger | October 7, 2010      

A copy of the Ski Industries of America Intelligence Report for 2009 arrived at my doorstep a while back. In the opening pages there is a headline suggesting reasons for optimism. After careful study of their numbers I would agree, but not necessarily for the same reasons.

There is no way I think the folks at SIA are deliberately deceitful, but due to how they categorize different snowsports as well as how they gather numbers, the veracity of their take has been suspect for many years. Paul Parker, author of “Free-Heel Skiing” and a major player in the promotion and development of backcountry skiing products reminded me that SIA’s “numbers reflect only what their members wish to give them, and their membership doesn’t fully represent” the outdoor sector. In other words, historically there is data missing from SIA’s numbers.

Even so, glimmers of reality are reflected in the SIA reporting. One of the key claims for optimism is a recent uptick in alpine skiing after a relentless 20-year decline (see graph near end of this article). The low point for alpine skiing was 07/08 with only 5.5 million skiers that season. Snowboarding hit a relative low that year too, and both rebounded in 08/09. One year of growth is encouraging, but not a strong basis for optimism. Even so, there is plenty of good news in this report, especially for backcountry skiers who like to see their sport grow. (Yeah, not everyone likes growth, but you have to admit it has possible and frequently concrete benefits such as better gear, more huts, more access opportunities, etc.)

The first place I looked in the report was to see how equipment sales were doing in the backcountry realm. As expected, the growth in alpine touring (randonnee, AT) was dramatic. Prior to 2006 AT equipment numbers were hidden, either misappropriated as telemark which was then considered synonymous with backcountry, or buried in alpine resort numbers. So prior to ’06 AT numbers are non-existent. Since then, however, the numbers have done nothing but grow. By SIA’s accounting AT boot sales exceeded teleboot sales for the first time ever in 2009. From my conversations with major specialty retailers that benchmark most probably occurred in 07 or 08, but at least SIA has the trend correct.

Backcountry skiing equipment sales trends.

This graph combines six reports for unit sales of telemark and alpine touring equipment. I did not include numbers for the sale of skis since many backcountry skiers used models marketed to the general resort crowd rather than backcountry specific boards. Only numbers for boot and binding sales were included. Six reports were provided, breaking out sales via specialty shops, chain stores, and the internet. Interestingly, specialty shops do not include outdoor shops so there is a lot of data missing here, but I believe the trend this data indicates does reflect reality. Also, prior to 2006 the term telemark included sales of AT gear, so the data for the 04/05 year does not include the breakout of AT equipment.

The most surprising data related to telemark equipment sales is for the past three to four years retailers have been mumbling “tele is dead.” Not according to SIA though. It is true that tele equipment sales probably peaked around 2005, give or take a year, but telemark is far from dead.

Looking at SIA numbers for combined boot and binding sales for AT and telemark indicates that tele is still the dominant discipline in the backcountry. I know from seeing what people use in the backcountry that CANNOT BE TRUE. A quick check with boot manufacturers confirmed that yes, AT is the dominant gear they’re selling — but telemark is still kicking just fine.

Black Diamond’s Tomas Laakso, product manager for their ski line says the percentage of AT skiers in the Wasatch is at least 75%, maybe higher.

Gordon Bailey, president of Garmont USA said that even though AT sales were Garmont’s strong suit, “tele is still super active. I had to re-order NTN bindings three times last year to keep up with sales.”

According to Chris Clark, sales manager for Scarpa USA, “Tele is doing just fine. It’s still accounts for the majority of our ski boot sales, but not by as much as it used to.”

Exactly what is the ratio of AT to tele skiers? I figured a call to Adam Howard, editorial director for Backcountry magazine could answer that. Except he couldn’t. His take was as anecdotal as everyone else’s, with tele being stronger back east, but no longer the dominant gear of choice.

That led to the bigger question. Just how big has the sport of backcountry skiing become?

Nevermind how many use training heels for turning, or use cable bindings that are really not that much different from ski bindings of half a century ago. In other words, forget the tele versus AT numbers debate. The more important question is how many of us are there out there earning our turns? Howie didn’t know, but together we reasoned it was in the neighborhood of half a million skiers.

Then I went back and started writing up this report for WildSnow and in the process of double checking those pesky numbers it hit me between the eyes, right there in the midst of SIA’s sometimes dubious statistics in their end of season summary for 2009/10. It was the last graph (see below) indicating US Participation in Snow Sports from 2006 to 2009.

The actual numbers SIA promulgates are unbelievable, with claims of over 10 million alpine skiers in 07, 08, and 09. The most ludicrous number of all was more than 1 million telemark skiers. I’ve tracked the growth of tele for almost twenty years and my conversation with Howie only confirmed my gut that we’re actually near the half million mark — definitely not twice that. But the graphs below, as erroneous as the actual numbers may be (or not), provided something I could believe, which is the relative proportion of backcountry skiers to snow sliders in general.

Backcountry skiing participation graph.

This graph is from SIA’s Season Ending Summary for 2009/10. According to Kelly Davis, Director of Research at SIA, this data is more accurate than previous years because the survey sample size is more than four times larger. The results are so different my first impression is to say it is less accurate. I can’t say for sure that there are or are not more than 10 million alpine skiers in the US, but I’m confident that results suggesting there are more than 1 million backcountry skiers in the US, let alone telemarkers, is a clear indication something is amiss in the counting department. Again, the trend, or relationship between the tele numbers and alpine numbers does reflect reality.

Ski resort skier participation trends.

The numbers shown on this graph combine two from SIA’s 2009 Intelligence report, US participation for alpine skiers and snowboarders. The steady decline in alpine skiing numbers is well known but tends to get projected onto the entire industry. When you combine the numbers it is more obvious that interest in glisse has actually experienced a modest increase over time, not a decrease. This explains the crowding at ski resort parking lots better but not the continual reports of gloomy economic performance.

Keep in mind that at SIA tele has historically been synonymous with backcountry. Using that as the filter to judge this report by, that meant backcountry skiers accounted for around 10% of the total ski population. If you just compare alpine skiers to backcountry skiers, it is around 13.5% (1.5/10.9= 0.1358). If you include snowboarders, it drops to around 8% (1.5/(10.9+7.4)=0.08). If you apply that percentage to the more believable numbers in SIA’s Intelligence Report for 2009, with 6.5 million skiers that meant there are around 650-thousand backcountry skiers; conservatively half a mil, maybe more (ymmv).

No matter how you slice the numbers, backcountry skiing has become more than just the soul of of skiing, it is now a measurable, undeniable force in the industry. Except for those who bemoan the loss of solitude at easy access trailheads, this is good news for everyone.

(Guest blogger Craig Dosite founded and published Couloir Magazine, the first English language publication devoted entirely to backcountry skiing. He’s been a die hard telemarker for years and coined the phrase “earn your turns.” Craig blogs at


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30 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing by the Numbers”

  1. Clyde October 7th, 2010 9:11 am

    I delved into this a few years ago (when SNEWS was more than an industry sock puppet). The bottomline is that SIA started tracking backcountry too late to give a useful trend and the reporting stores will never represent what’s really going on since they include few outdoors stores. Unfortunately OIA/Liesure Trends did such a lousy job tracking backcountry that their figures were equally meaningless even though they started earlier and supposedly cover outdoor shops.

    You can’t rely on tele boot sales either because BD screwed up the market with their over-production of mediocre tele boots. No way to use skis as a measure, of course. So the only real clue is tele bindings and that means getting guys like Oliver and Wally and Torbjorn (before he was forced out) to tell you actual sales figures…ain’t gonna happen. Probably the best indication are what’s happening at mainstream resorts, away from known tele hotbeds (such as Loveland), to see what the masses are using. Trailhead counts would be nice too but again are very regional.

    Read the fine print on the SIA and OIA reports and you’ll find they still don’t mean much for AT either. The way things are categorized, the reporting periods, and the questions asked have changed so much that you can’t really compare year to year or trust the trend lines.

    Best answer: ignore all the “official” numbers and just ski.

  2. Brad October 7th, 2010 11:14 am

    I’d like to see the industry trends and projections for splitboarding. Obviously its a small market now compared to tele and alpine but the numbers could soar in a hurry. The first generation snowboarders are in their mid-30s and 40s now and want to leave the park scene. The resort gates are opening up and we’ve got a little dough. The equipment is progressing every year so we’re no longer that much slower than skiers.

    There’s now two dedicated splitboard accessory companies, Spark R&D and Karakoram, and at least eight board makers.

    I bet in Tahoe there’s a 80/20 ratio of skiers vs. splitters already. I bet Utah is close to that as well.

    Snowboards were meant for POWDER and that’s exactly what’s on the menu in the backcountry. Its a natural fit. Jeremy Jones’ new TGR release, Deeper, is bringing splitting to the masses as well.

    I’m not saying I’m hoping for a huge increase, just saying it seems ripe.

  3. Dostie October 7th, 2010 2:56 pm


    re: ignore all the “official” numbers and just go ski.

    Well, guess that’s why we’re looking at numbers since we’re waiting to ski. Did get about 4-5 inches above 8000′ feet around Lake Tahoey the other day. ’tis a good sign, but not enough to trash my knees or boards over. 😉

  4. Nick October 7th, 2010 3:18 pm

    Interesting article, Craig. And yeah, I saw the coverage up by Mt. Rose – good to have that starting! But I am still in alpine climbing mode, so we will see….

  5. Lou October 8th, 2010 8:56 am

    I’ll leave this up as the leader post through the weekend, as it really is a good analysis of where we’re at as backcountry skiers. Thanks Dostie!

  6. Ptor October 9th, 2010 1:26 pm

    Interesting stuff for sure. Except it’s disheartening that “growth” is continually related to “success” and classic status quo industry. This in my opinion should not be the case and will only bring problems in the long run. True sustainability and therefore “success” comes from adherence to core values. I for one would love to see the elimination of beginner and intermediate products altogether. Either you’re in or you’re out. We don’t need part time “fashion” participants at resorts or in the backcountry. That’s the problem with the ski industry today is that they market the concept and create an inferior niche for people soley to drag them into the ski world, ie sell lift tickets, real estate and a whole whack of disposable gear that cycles through from rental shops to the dump. Sorry, but we don’t need more people in the mountains and I don’t believe for one minute that this is a necessary evil in order for the progression of equipment. I guess partly to blame is the corporate nature of the present industry where the bottom line to shareholders dictates the philosophy. Skiing physically sets us apart from society and I say it should as an industry. We’ll soon see mega resorts like Whistler and companies relying on numbers crashing hard. The increase in backcountry sales and participants is only a migration away from from the form of skiing that has hijacked the real thing since the onset of the industrial revolution. Yes that in itself is a mixed blessing but the buisness side must not be transposed as well or we’re all in big trouble.
    The backcountry industry should make it good, make it last and make it a lifestyle, not a scheme to increase profits. The whole planet needs a paradigm shift so lets show ’em how it’s done!!!
    Yes I’m still an idealistic and opinionated youth.

  7. Carl October 9th, 2010 5:27 pm

    “but you have to admit it has benefits such as better gear, more huts, more access opportunities, etc.”

    I can see how growth leads to “better gear” not sure that this translates to more fun for me, my gear fun has plateaued in the past couple years and the “industry” growth is generally in places I don’t care about.

    I’m not seeing more huts or more access opportunities in the works; growth may be supporting what we have, but it doesn’t seem to be expanding opportunities in the Lower 48 much at all. Perhaps expanded opportunities in Canada and far often regions are what you are thinking of… they are as relevant as heli-skiing ops.

  8. Lou October 9th, 2010 7:19 pm

    Carl, I’d agree with you and disagree with Dostie on the access issue, but we are seeing more and more huts. As for access, the numbers of backcountry skiers has grown in a huge way, but here in Colorado anyway I see virtually no effort to create more trailheads (other than tweaking ones for some of the huts), and nothing has happened with the problem of dry gated roads in springtime that access millions of acres of prime corn skiing.

    What I’d say is that my hope is that the growth _eventually_ result in better access. But as I’ve written about so so many times, there are many forces aligned against backcountry recreation access so it’ll be slow coming.

  9. Lou October 9th, 2010 7:21 pm

    Ptor, keep those idealistic opinions coming, please.

  10. Peter Rothermel October 9th, 2010 8:51 pm

    Isn’t there a bit of fusion between Tele and AT gear? Maybe in the future we’ll see them one in the same.

    I’m sure there are conditions that Tele skiers would love to lock their heels down and power through crud. As well, there are times in rolling terrain that I, as an AT skier, would like to freeheel short downhill sections with the confidence that my boots & bindings were designed for this.

    The future might become pretty interesting.


  11. Njord October 9th, 2010 9:23 pm

    Maybe a count of climbing skins sold would give a better number of “true” bc skiers, since there are quite a few tele folks that never leave the resorts. Same can even be said for some of the AT stuff buyers out there!

  12. dg October 9th, 2010 10:55 pm

    I agree that constant growth is not the model the world should be constrained to for the future, it is simply not sustainable. I think the exclusionary approach is not helpful. If you want to go skiing and you are willing to commit to the mountains and take it all in, go for it. The more people can recognize the value in the activity and the places we all are for it. People do not come to value the natural world and protect it by watching the Discovery channel, you have to experience it.

    “Sorry, but we don’t need more people in the mountains and I don’t believe for one minute that this is a necessary evil in order for the progression of equipment.”

    This is a great idea but in order to advance the equipment (which may or may not be necessary) large numbers of consumers are required to buy the stuff in quantities that allow for the RnD to take place and expensive overhead associated with modern manufacturing to be covered.
    At this point the gear can not be appreciably advanced by garage cobblers so we need a new model for this that allows us to have our “pebaxfreepivotcompositerockertipsupergear” and not ruin the environment in the process. Otherwise it is wear out the gear you have then switch to back to leather and ash.

    I am all for a reality based paradigm shift accompanied by a guiding dose of idealism 😀 . my 2c.

  13. Carl October 10th, 2010 12:38 am

    Lou –

    Amen about access! I am curious where you’ve found “more huts” though.

    I’m a west coast located skier – California, Oregon, Washington have been home, and the number of huts has likely decreased in the past 30 years (if you include some more XC oriented huts that didn’t make it). Over that time the BC skier population has increased exponentially, and the huts have at best remained stationary and the huts that have remained in California have seen fee increases (Ostrander) or threats to funding (Sierra Club). Environmental idiocy certainly impedes new huts, but shouldn’t more skiers be able to counter this? If they can’t all I get is more competition for the existing resource.

    My experience shows, and I’m not as familiar with Colorado/Intra-Mountain West options, which may have increased, and I excluded Canadian options because this survey covered the US – there certainly are a growing number of them but the 1-week BC ski vacation growth is likely more related to the booming economy/disposable income, not underlying users (as is shown in surfing and boat trips in Indonesia)

  14. Ptor October 10th, 2010 1:41 am

    Hey dg,

    I still beg to differ on the gear development scenario. This is apparent through all the “boutique” brands of skiis that are basically making them on their own in their garages. Some of the best skis on the planet now are handmade solid wood skis made in Paris. Also take for example the carbon fiber ski-mountaineering racing boots which were actually developed in someone’s garage before a manufacturer took them over. Then there is all the tech binding nockoffs which are basically made by small machine shops. There are other examples too. The large scale R&D develpoment process is only one model of how things can be done and is organized that way basically for profit. There’s nothing wrong withpaying more. As technology develops, the need for infrastructure should naturally decrease. Like I said, the way things are have come form the mixed blesing scenario but not that certain things have already been developed and precedented we can go from here with a different approach.

    As for people in the mountains… some people will never “get it” despite their direct exposure versus the discovery Channel method. That people have no connection to nature arises from more profound flaws in our society like poor understanding of the origins of humans, religion, status quo anthropocentric philosophies and yes even the bizzare and twisted “green” movement these days. Tourism can be just as destructive an industry as any. We have to be carefull who we invite or lure into our mountain environment.

  15. Lou October 10th, 2010 5:34 am

    Carl, there has been an explosion in the number of huts here in Colorado, and quite a few more in Montana and Idaho that I’ve heard about. I’m talking about over the last couple of decades. That seems like a long time, but sport cycles such as the growth of backcountry skiing are long term cycles. Pretty sure Canada has also had an increase in backcountry lodges and huts over that period.

    I’m not up to speed on hut growth or decrease in Washington state area, so I’ll take your word for it that they’ve actually decreased.

    Huts are not that important nor possible in some places. For example, the non-Wilderness areas of the Wasatch are mostly within reach of day tours and that’s the tradition, and you can’t build huts in legal Wilderness, so I’m not aware of any marked increase in huts in the Wasatch.

    So, in terms of “does growth in backcountry skiing = more huts?” My gut feeling is if you look at the US and Canada as a whole, it certainly has. BUT, it is disappointing we don’t have more, especially in some places where they’d be very appropriate.

  16. Lou October 10th, 2010 5:44 am

    All, my view of “growth.” While basic common sense dictates that constant “growth” in the macro sense isn’t sustainable , things like the growth of a sport are a zero sum game and don’t factor in to that. In other words, when something like backcountry skiing grows, it means the people participating are doing less of another sport or recreation and it’s thus a wash. Basic common sense, in my view.

    Of course, if folks are picking up the sport and not sitting at home watching TV as much, then yeah, the “growth” is using more resources. But in the case of muscle powered backcountry skiing it seems like the benefits of getting someone off the couch outweigh the disadvantages. Heck, if everyone was off the couch we probably wouldn’t need health care reform (grin).

    More, perhaps the people doing a muscle powered recreational activity have given up something more energy or resource intensive.

    I wrote a while back about how complex and skilled recreation such as backcountry skiing are also somewhat self limiting in terms of the slice of population who can actually do them (and afford them, for that matter). In other words, the growth has a finite limit and is not the same as other types of “growth.”

    So don’t panic.

  17. dg October 10th, 2010 6:16 am

    Fair enough. I suspect we are not that far apart in our thinking.
    More semi-random thoughts:

    Those cheap rental boots actually follow a model that has them at a higher usage rate than probably 90% of the high end boots that are out there. They get use nearly every day until they are shot, then they get sold at the end of the season for some more use by someone who doesn’t want to buy new boots.. Most of the high end boots sold do not get worn out but replaced with a newer better version in a few seasons. Total consumer demand without good reason.

    But generally I agree the ski area fur coat real estate lift ticket program is b.s. making things too easy via payment and timeshare only serves to devalue an activity.

    The large scale RnD program that made the carbon fiber material even available for those homemade boots you mentioned would never have happened in someones garage. Only economy of the post war/cold war military industrial complex could have produced that as a raw material.

    I don’t claim to be any expert on any of this but as technology develops the need for infrastructure does not necessarily decrease. Certainly there is more infrastructure required to make a plastic ski boot versus a leather one and I would argue that there is more infrastructure required to produce the carbon fiber boot in scale that is comparable than the plastic one. Each development builds on the last and the infrastructure is either constant for a given step or additive. This may not be a hard and fast rule but the examples that are counter to this are hard to come up with.

    Given that we are unlikely to modify the current capitalist market driven economy that has created the for profit model one of the biggest things that needs to happen is the true cost of materials to be more accurately accounted for. If the true cost of oil, plastic,energy, aluminum were actually in the cost of ski boots and all the associated parts the for profit model would efficiently sort out the actual size of the market and the sustainability of it by nature. A market economy has only one metric: cost. The problem with the global market economy is that it is not accounting for true cost of goods so it leverages the areas where there are imbalances: human, labor, sustainability, environment, etc…the true cost would account for these factors.

    No doubt there are some strong forces working against people “getting it” in terms of nature but I think just closing the door may not be the best way to head in to the future. Having a smaller percentage some people get it helps more that having no one get it. They should work for it no doubt, and those who don’t get it are unlikely continue to clog up the skin track after they give it up. Part time or full time really doesn’t matter: ethos and commitment do.

    Yellowstone, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, and many other tourist heavy park and protected places are not perfect for sure but they go a long way to informing the non-outdoors type that is the vast majority of the populace today. Tourism in this case is far less destructive than the oil and gas development that is occurring near Yellowstone now and may have moved right in to YP if it was not well protected.

    thanks and cheers!

  18. Dostie October 10th, 2010 10:00 am


    Exactly where do you and I disagree on access?

  19. Lou October 10th, 2010 2:28 pm

    (Edited by Lou) Craig, you and I have agreed over the years that bigger numbers of backcountry skiers can result in lots of benefits, including better access. So when editing the article I added that as one of the things we get for more crowds, and I figured you were ok with that after the final review of the draft article. But I had a chance to think about it about it during this comment thread conversation and realized that getting more access doesn’t seem to be happening at the pace I think we assumed it would. Perhaps “disagree” is too strong a word but for the sake of conservation it seemed appropriate, and I did change my mind about the amount of access and thus disagreed with my own edit. Sorry if that caused any confusion.

  20. Dostie October 10th, 2010 9:10 pm

    Access is a public entity, not something that can be easily driven by entrepreneurial spirit. Bureaucrats only respond when it enhances their power. Don’t expect any more trailheads until the state can turn a profit on it, or use it to control our activities, like requiring some sort of state issued note certifying you passed some stupid test verifying you won’t do stupid things in the backcountry like ski steep couloirs or fresh, deep powder.

  21. Mark October 10th, 2010 10:17 pm

    SIA is clearly missing the boat on equating telemark skiing with backcountry. While plenty of tele skiers go where there are no lifts, I know appreciably more who rarely or never tele except at the resort.

  22. Mark October 10th, 2010 10:24 pm

    Ptor, did not each of us have a first day on skis? Elimination of all but expert level gear might be a bit draconian. On the other hand, learning tends to take place (for the vast majority of participants in snow sliding) at resorts, while backcountry obviously doesn’t. If you intend that backcountry specific gear manufacturers only produce expert level gear, I can understand what you’re saying.

  23. Matt Kinney October 11th, 2010 12:02 am

    Mark….interesting comment.

    It may also be safe to say that plenty of resort skiers are buying AT bindings and boots assuming that someday, they mayt actually ski the BC. Some may only do BC once or twice a season, which is enough to justify having to buy the gear.

    I honestly do not spent much time at all near lifts, but I assume that there is lots of AT gear at lifts these days. because, like tele, it works well at lifts.

    Cheers 🙂

  24. Ptor October 11th, 2010 2:19 am

    dg, I totally hear what you’re saying and that’s what I meant by the mixed blessing of something like the military-industrial complex that has given us technologies. I’ve always tried to imagine what the world would be like if all those minds and creativity would be focused on having fun instead of blowing stuff up. My line of thinking was of course more directed to using already existing materials and not really factoring in material development costs.

    Regarding rental fleets…from what I’ve seen, especially around Whistler, the majority ends up in dumps because if ultra cheap last year’s gear saturates the markets, manufacturers and stores have a real tough time selling the new stuff. I seen it with my own eyes.

    Also, I’m not saying closing the doors to people in the mountains. I’m saying creating a product that will attract the right people for the right reasons is better. The mountain environment shouldn’t be adulterated, bastardized nor disnified just to get the masses up there.
    Battling destructive resource extraction with tourism isn’t the answer either. That’s just a bandaid solution. We need a global Avatar revolution now!!!

    Mark, yes we all had a first day on skis. But what does that question mean?
    Has it ever been proven that learning on crappy equipment is better for beginners. And of course we need kids sizes. Look at surfing. Little kids get right on the short board, figure it out and start ripping. Whose to say that bad habits aren’t learned from “beginner” equipment and must be compensated for untill one finally gets on equipment made to ski the way your supposed to ski as an advanced skier. Elimination of novice equipment I feel would raise everybody’s learning and skills. It’s also not just about everybody skiing on full length super stiff competition type gear, it’s eliminating the inferior quality cheaper range gear that’s marketed to the part time skier, cheaper to be more attractive. That’s what I mean about dedication and that you’re either in or out. Clean up and streamline the industry by making only top quality stuff. Of course different equipment is needed for different size/weight people. It’s not being draconian, it’s having some pride in our sport.

    Then, also in regards to surfing, nobody learns it at a surf resort and everybody does fine. My first day of skiing ever at 3 years old was not on a piste. It’s just a matter of perspective. Yes I skied on groomed resort runs but regardless I always thought skiing would be way cooler if it was like surfing, you started and stayed on wild snow under your own power.
    resorts are unsustainable period and lift skiing is not true skiing.

  25. Dostie October 11th, 2010 9:56 am


    Learning on crappy equipment is a matter of perspective. For instance, acceptance of backcountry skiing grew slowly but steadily throughout the 90s. It did not hit the accelerated growth curve of the new millenium until the Fritschi Freeride was created.

    This was a product that took awhile for Fritschi to even be willing to produce since, as experienced backcountry skiers they could not understand why anyone would want a heavier than necessary binding. That is, until they realized that the mindset of the potential American marketplace was psychologically dependent on beef to provide confidence and safety. So if we limited the options to only what those who know better from experience would chose, the range of ski boots resulting from the increased demand would remain as limited as it was in the 90s, not the large number of choices AT skiers now enjoy.

    So why lament the wannabes buying Dukes or FreeRides or Naxo’s instead of Dynafiddles or Diamirs? It increases the profit of manufacturers, which enables them to develop more products. However, the unfortunate side effect can be that, instead of developing better products for true aficionados, introductory products are developed that appeal to the mindset of those who don’t know any better. C’est la vie. In the long run it works out.

    Witness the trend in the development of AT boots. For most of the past 10 years AT boot development has largely been to provide the same sort of beef and reinforcement found in alpine racing boots. Only in the past two years have manufacturers returned to optimizing the lightweight models. That’s because there is a larger market, however misguided, for the heavier products that experts like yourself (and myself) probably disdain. Better to provide what the people think they want, than limit their options by decree from “experts”. If they really get involved in the sport, they will wake up and make the appropriate mods to their gear. And if they’re satisfied with sidecountry trips, that’s their choice. Good on ’em for at least doing that.

    A big part of the appeal of backcountry skiing is the freedom to make your own path. Far be it for me, or you, or anyone else to limit those options by decree. There’s too much of that already in the world and part of what is so satisfying about earning your turns is getting away from those limitations, even though they still exist by the choice of equipment we use, or places we’re allowed to travel in. At least there is some semblance of freedom when we’re out there, and that’s important to satisfy our aching souls.

  26. Lou October 11th, 2010 10:04 am

    I’d ad that according to insiders I’ve spoke with in EU, the entire North American market is roughly equivalent of one central EU country such as Switzerland or Germany. Freeride type gear has grown more popular in Europe, so combine that with the small but viable North American market, and you get things such as Marker Duke and beef boots. Nonetheless, as Dostie mentions, the lighter optimized gear has undergone a resurgence now that beef boots are common and not a way for one company to get ahead of another.

    Mainly, the increase in backcountry skier market in both NA and EU is why we have the amazing choice in boots, bindings and skis. Some of which are still engineered in garages, some by company engineering teams, either of which in my view are totally legit and full of spirit. Ergo, just because an industrial designer or engineer works in an office instead of garage, he can still be filled with passion and spirit, and doing good things.

  27. Aaron Rice July 1st, 2015 11:32 am

    I have been looking for an article just like this one but a bit more current and cannot find one that does as good a job as this. Do you think you could post an updated version of this article?


  28. Lou Dawson 2 July 1st, 2015 3:59 pm
  29. Lou Dawson 2 July 1st, 2015 4:02 pm

    This is pretty rough, but assuming there are about 9 million skiers in North America, and figuring 10% are “backcountry skiers,” that means we have about a 600,000 person North American customer base. If you define backcountry skiers as those who buy some ski touring gear but mostly ski in the resort, the number in my opinion is higher, some in the industry have told me they figure a North American backcountry skiing (ski touring) customer base of 800,000.

    If you define “backcountry skier” as a person who puts in a large amount of touring days, then the numbers would shrink.

    As I’m sure you know but bears repeating, the challenge with these numbers is how you define a “backcountry skier.” Beyond how many days they ski, in my opinion for those of us in the biz, a better definition would be “any person who purchases within one year any item of gear that’s designed or marketed for backcountry skiing or ski touring.” In that case, I’d definitely put the number at 800,000.

    (For what it’s worth, I’ve had a number of days at when European reader traffic has been higher than North American, indicating just how huge the European market is in comparison to North America.

    Don’t forget snowboarders. Backcountry snowboarding is not included in the above, and adds perhaps 5% to the numbers.

  30. Aaron Rice July 1st, 2015 8:02 pm

    Awesome! Thanks so much!

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