Backcountry Skiing News Roundup – Industry News is Gr$$n

Post by blogger | April 12, 2007      

Industry news is green, at least for etailers. In an interesting article at (defunct link removed 2015), Mitch Weber turns his ever vibrating industry antennae toward the Snowsports Industries America (SIA) and their seemingly endless spew of weird statistics.

Last season, SIA reported that sales of telemark gear have been flat or falling (though before that they reported an increase in ‘telemark’ ), while folks like Mitch were enjoying an easily tracked surge in telemark popularity, and randonnee websites such as WildSnow were experiencing bigger numbers as well. One had to wonder, were telemarkers just flocking to Mitch’s website and ramping up his numbers as some sort of zero sum game, or was the sport truly expanding, only with equipment provided by used gear trades and such? As it turns out, in their analysis SIA was ignoring a big part of the market, that of online sales. Yep, beyond weird. How could a purported industry trade association ignore a whole segment of the retail scene? If I’d been giving these guys money, I’d be livid.

In his article Weber writes based on the SIA numbers that “the combined category of telemark, randonee, and cross country equipment accounted for 15% of all online equipment dollars sold, compared to just 4% of all equipment sales in specialty stores.” Related to that, he writes “the equipment buying habits of telemark and backcountry skiers have shifted dramatically, and all while SIA was ignoring the internet sales category, freeheel skiers have been shopping for gear online at a relatively furious pace.”

I’d agree with Mitch about the obvious surge in the backcountry business, and add that along with the surge in telemark is an equal or even more pronounced surge in shopping for AT gear. That’s according to both etailers and retailers I’ve spoken with over the last year, as well as magazine sales numbers I’ve learned of from insider sources.

What’s this mean to you and I? As many have pointed out, growth of backcountry sports isn’t always something to crow about. Some places are crowded, and growth only increases those throngs. Conversely, growth might help lower costs of the sport, as well as providing other benefits like more partners and more skin tracks, and more gear innovation.

Whatever your point of view, interesting to track. And if you’ve ever wondered why your favorite brick-and-mortar gear shop has turned into a clothing boutique, now you know. More and more people are buying their skis,boots,bindings on the web. Comments on.



21 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup – Industry News is Gr$$n”

  1. steve April 12th, 2007 9:19 am

    The margins are WAY better on clothing and general ‘softgoods’…like at least 50%. Where as many hardgoods (boots/skis) only have about 30%. Business-wise, you would need extremely low overhead (not a reality in most mountain towns), or a huge customer base like Denver or SLC, to succeed only selling hardgoods.

    Plus…women like clothing…alot!!!!

  2. Andrew April 12th, 2007 9:29 am

    exorbatantly high local sales taxes are another reason to go online – 8% sales tax on a $1500 boots, bindings, and ski purchase adds $120

  3. Lou April 12th, 2007 9:43 am

    Don’t get me going on taxes! It just amazes me what we’ve voted in over the years, as if the government is so wise and can handle our money so well…

  4. telemyk April 12th, 2007 11:31 am

    While trying to start tele programs in PC, I researched the growth of telemark but always wondered about SIA’s stats. One year telemark growth is in the triple digits, the next year flat. What, did everyone buy their skis that one season? Pretty obvious telemark has been growing steadily. Guess they were just shifting to online purchases. Now we know.

    As far as popularity, this year we even started a kids team, with zero publicity, just word of mouth, and got a dozen kids to come out. Half go BC or aspire to. I guess just like the adults they want something different. Maybe to differentiate themselves from all the other kids. I think 3 out of every 5 kids at PCHS can probably do a cork 7 or something like it. At least now some are on tele! (check out

  5. jack April 12th, 2007 10:43 am

    This is a great blog! It is amazing how threatened the outdoor retailer industry feels towards online commerce. I am not sure what they are afraid of? Arent they supposed to sell things?

  6. Rando Swede April 12th, 2007 12:21 pm

    Online retail vs. your local mountain shop.
    It works like this. Small mountain town. Small mountain shop.
    SO= Shop owner, C= Customer

    C: “Hey man, can you take $30 off your Fritschi price to match the online price I found?”
    SO: “Wow… they are selling it for that?”
    C: “Yeah, Dude.”
    SO: “You look like a hardworking capenter… are you?
    C: “Sure thing. Then I can ski when it’s dumping outside.”
    SO: “Well see, it works like this… I charge full price, which is a fair price and I make a fair profit. With that fair profit I save up some money and I decide to put an addition on my small, mountain town house. And I will need to hire a carpenter. So I hire one. Maybe it is you. But if you buy the bindings online for a discounted price, I don’t make that fair profit so I wont be saving up for that small addition and I won’t need to hire a carpenter. Sooo, does saving that $30 bucks really benefit you?”
    C: Whoa. Never really thought of it like that.”
    SO: And by the way, how much is shipping on those bindings? I’ll bet it’s $15 or so. And what about mounting? That costs at least $25 around here. And we will use a jig and get them totally dialed for you.”
    C: “Normally I mount them myself but it sure is a pain in the rear without a jig.”
    SO: “You know, It’s supposed to dump tonight. Go get your skis I will have them done before first chair tomorrow… come back around 6:30, after we close tonight and I will be finishing them up. Maybe grab some chips and salsa… we will need something to go with those 2 stouts I have stashed down in the shop the fridge. What did you say your name was?”
    C: “Whoa… I guess there really is a benefit to shopping local.”

    The end.

    Hey… we all have our price thresholds. But take a minute to consider the real bottom line. Keeping your dollars local will benefit everyone in the long run.

  7. Lou April 12th, 2007 2:25 pm

    Swede, very few people have any grasp of econo 101, that’s why it’s so common to think that if we just take money from rich folks and pass it around it’ll automatically be better than that same money being invested and spent by said rich folks… Ditto for shopping only by price.

    BUT, the fact is many people shop the web not by price, but for convenience, knowing items are in stock and won’t have to be the “we can order that for you” shop slogan. And not having to leave their house and drive around (green!). The key is for shops to do a great job on all fronts, but I of course know that’s tough and have sympathy. After all, how does one run a business with “employees” who just want to be out skiing or climbing all the time (grin)?

  8. Ryan April 12th, 2007 2:26 pm

    I am always pro local buying and i wait until summer to buy my gear cheaply from local companys. If i didnt plan i would consider buying online because even with the “local discount” online it can be found cheaper, tax free with free shipping online. Buying online isnt a bad thing just dont forget to support local shops as much as you support online dealers.

  9. Ken April 12th, 2007 3:13 pm

    Small local shops generally have small inventories. Small local shops are often so diversified that they cannot offer focused customer service for all of the products they sell. Small local shops often employ low-wage workers with few customer service skills and little experience with the products they sell.

    As an online retailer, I match local shop prices as much as local shops match my prices. People often do research on my website that I spent time developing and maintaining and then buy from a local shop. Likewise, people will look at stuff at a local shop and buy from us.

    Local buying is nice but there are drawbacks. Online buying provides another alternative with different (and possibly better) choices for a given customer.

    As far as the growth of the bc skiing industry, our business has grown over the last few years….but we attribute much of that to developing a customer base that is pleased with the service we provide and the products we sell.


  10. Rando Swede April 12th, 2007 3:17 pm

    I can’t really speak about inventory levels for all the shops out there but that is a factor.

    Lou, I have to dispute your GREEN claim about driving around to shop locally though. Let’s say you are in Seattle and order from Spokane. That package most likely gets routed through a shipping hub in Memphis or some place like that- as is the case for FedEx. When you consider all of the resources used in that situation, driving a few miles locally can’t compare. As for convenience, well I really like to know “Dave” the shop guy that is re-setting my DIN!

    Waiting to buy it cheaply? It think you are missing the point Ryan. How does that local shop owner benefit from selling to you at reduced margins and profit? We are so obsessed with getting a deal or paying the lowest price that we fail to realize that folks need to make a living.

    Gotta run guys. I didn’t make any money on the bindings I sold Ryan so my profits are down. Since I didn’t take home as much, I can’t really afford a high-speed internet connection to view Lou’s great site and all of the ads. Hence my next BD order will be smaller. When BD’s salse go down they may have to cut the ad/promotion budget. Sorry Lou!

    Good food for thought… and I DO love the site!

  11. Lou April 12th, 2007 3:31 pm


  12. Terry April 12th, 2007 4:08 pm

    The reality of the Shop Owner & Carpenter/Customer scenario is that the shop owner will try to find the cheapest guy he can find (that is willing to work, even on powder days) with a tool belt and calling himself a carpenter. He’ll also order plans from an online ‘drawing service’ instead of hiring local talent.

    The carpenter/customer, burnt out, being low-balled all of the time by transient carpenters, struggling to make ends meet due to the inconsistencies of the local mountain economy and construction industry, decides to open an online store so he can fill in the valleys by tapping into a global economy…so he can afford to live in the mountain community where the cost of living has ski rocketed due to the influx of retirees. 🙂

  13. Lou April 12th, 2007 4:23 pm

    And another guy, who was a carpenter for a while and tried writing some local guidebooks, starts a weblog so he can be part of the global economy and never looks back…

  14. Craig April 12th, 2007 5:03 pm

    And two other guys (brothers-one a broke musician, one a broke video guy) start a legitimate HOME REPAIR
    company, fully licensed, insured, bonded, and learn quickly that their prices must be substantially higher than the under the table guy down the street. And their clients start buying products on line (and at Home Depot) at below contractor prices, instead of from them, and they begin to loose out on the mark up for those products. So they loose out on the extra profit that was helping cover their expenses. But they struggle along in a Employee friendly, tax heavy state of Cali so they can feed their kids. (and buy Chevy Silverados). They begin to succeed because they stick it out, the under the table guy gets busted for working without a license, and the smart clients understand that if they buy from the contractor they will get superior service and years of knowledge and professionalism as well as a hands on approach to business that you have a hard time finding on line (just as with buying from local gear and clothing shops). I believe the old saying goes “YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR”.

  15. Terry April 12th, 2007 6:23 pm

    Balance is clearly the key and the truth. We all go for the best deal when possible, but whether it is online or from a retailer, if you are using their ‘time’ in the form of resources online/email/phone or on forum posts, it’s not unlike talking to a guy in a ski shop. Fair is fair. Supporting the local economy is good and noble and I try to as well to a fault, but just because it’s an online ‘entity’ doesn’t mean it’s not individuals just like you busting their butt and have large investments, as with any business.

    A local place where I have bought and traded computers for 20 years basically says they cannot compete with online options and make their living on good services and support.

    FWLIW, Terry, owner, chief grunt, time consuming, and currently working for a shop owner on a unrelated project and buying gear and service from as well. Win-win for both of us….and contributing tons of info to tuners with little return…poor me….but it’s all good. 🙂

  16. Rando Swede April 12th, 2007 5:25 pm

    Way to go Terry. Having been a carpenter, a patroller, a gear slinger, worked for a “biggie” in the outdoor industry, guided, photographed and written… I can relate to filling in the valleys!

    But you know, it all comes down to quality. You want tight dove tails, flat walls, level headers, great service? You get what you pay for and I guess that’s the whole point. Maybe living/surviving in a mountain town all these years can jade a person. Or, maybe it has helped me come to appreciate quality products and services.

    To Ken at Randogear… maybe everyone should just charge the same price and let the other things settle out as they may! Really, I’m not baggin online retailers. I like your site because of the selection and you guys do have good service. But any MBA worth his salt will say that small guys competing on price is a bad deal any way you cut it.

    I still may need some carpentry… anybody want to trade a ski/boot/binding package for the job? Bartering! Now there is a concept. And the retirees? I am not gonna touch that one…

  17. frank April 12th, 2007 5:34 pm

    Some fairly humorous comments on this one.

    I know that I try to strike some sort of balance on this one. I buy locally when I can, even if it is a little more. Sometimes, however, it’s a lot. Take the freeride pluses I bought this fall- $475 locally, $250 on the web. The local ski and bike shop that I frequent understands the reality of the web, and doesn’t give me a hard time when I come in there with a product I bought online, because I’m still in there all the time for the small stuff, and I send them a fair amount of business.

    I will add, however, that it is extraordinarily bad form to go into a local shop, tie up an employee for an hour trying on different boots or backpacks or whatever, and then leave only to buy the correct size and product on-line.

  18. jack April 13th, 2007 10:20 am

    Why cant the local mtn shop sell local and global?

    that is what I advocate. Some do and when shopping online I try to support those shops.

    The local mtn shop in resort areas dont make money off the locals they make it off the visitors buying clothes.

    I have had good luck talking with local shop people and getting good info on gear and then buying it over the phone from them.

    And Rando Swede I am afraid the C: in that conversation sounds like a trustafarian wearing his carharts ’cause they are cool

    But hey Craigslist has also been a good source of gear as well.

  19. Lou April 13th, 2007 12:35 pm

    Jack, yeah, go local and global. I guess that’s basically what we do here…

  20. Tim Carroll April 13th, 2007 1:27 pm

    While “econ 101” may seem like gospel truth to some people, the reality is that economics is an excuse for materialistic capitalism and the trickle-down theory offered by Rando Swede exists only in fantasy land.

    It’s a little like an Ayn Rand novel, where everything is black-and-white and there are no subtleties. For example, “if you don’t pay full price, I can’t hire a carpenter, and that means that you go hungry.”

    What a pile of theoretical crap. Totally unprovable. Completely fictitious. And yet, it sounds quite logical, and GASP! it explains the inhumane grab for profit profit profit and luxury luxury luxury.

    But I’m not too surprised, given that there have been posts lately in this blog which trumpet the utility of a gas-guzzling hyper-customized truck, even though many smaller and more useful and less expensive vehicles could do the job.

  21. Rando Swede April 14th, 2007 6:37 am

    I don’t believe that profit, luxury and greed always go hand in hand. But it’s all relative. A fair profit on gear may lead to a fair amount of luxury but that does not mean that someone has to gouge, gouge, gouge. I have more faith than that. We are talking ski gear here… not oil or Haliburton.

    In any case, one persons level of poverty may well be another persons level of luxury. And all of that interconnected economics stuff could be a load of crap. And so could the interconnectedness of all things in the environment. You know, driving big cars produces greenhouse gasses which cause global warming. Nah… things are not interconnected. Our president even says so!

    It’s all inter-related. Everything. No exceptions. Yeah, it bums me out when Lou rags on enviros and their idealism but we have to believe that if everyone just does a a few small things for the common good then we will all be better off in the long run. That applies for economics and the environment in my book.

    While I may not agree with huge TAV’s I have come to realize that the only purists are the ones skiing all the way to the mountains from their solar powered, sustainable straw bale co-housing units built by well educated indigenous peoples who eat locally grown organic vegetables watered with pure mountain streams that in turn power mini-hydros that run our computers so we can read this site.

    Who knew that Wild Snow would become such a forum of ideas and intellectual exchanges… it’s time to go look for some corn.

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