ASPEN - Klaus Obermeyer is fond of saying ample snow makes people in the skiwear-manufacturing business look like geniuses.
Over the past couple of years, however, skiwear makers look "dumb and poor," he said with a laugh. Obermeyer founded Sport Obermeyer in 1947 while teaching skiing on Aspen Mountain. He remains active running the company.
Drought plagued the ski industry last winter and is leaving the outcome of this campaign in doubt. Snow in many parts of the country during December boosted sales, Obermeyer said, but skiwear manufacturers are still facing tough times. Skiers and snowboarders don't buy as many jackets, pants and vests when it doesn't snow. That affects the retailers that Obermeyer sells to.
"Last winter was a disaster for most ski areas in the country," Obermeyer said. "So it made our customers poor and stuck with quite a bit of merchandise.
"Consequently, their buying for this season was quite stingy."
Sport Obermeyer's sales were down about 7 percent for this season - fallout from sparse snow last winter, Obermeyer said. He feels relieved it wasn't worse. The skiwear industry overall was down about 20 percent, he said.
The entire country was warmer than usual in November, so this season started slow, as well. Obermeyer said the December snow came just in time.
"That saved the day," he said. "Life is being re-inhaled in our industry."
December sales data for manufacturers of everything from skiwear to skis isn't available yet from SnowSports Industries America, a major trade group. The organization reported on Jan. 9 that its members' sales were down 8 percent in unit count and 7 percent in dollar volume from August through November. That was based on a survey of 1,200 snow-sports retailers.
Snow and thriving business at ski areas would aid Obermeyer and its competitors because retailers would clear more of their inventory. That would create more demand for the 2013-14 lines.
The skiwear industry is always one season ahead. Major orders for next winter had to be placed with Obermeyer by Dec. 15, in part to ensure the relatively small company can reserve time at overseas garment factories. Major customers get big discounts for meeting the deadline, Obermeyer said. Smaller orders had to be placed by Tuesday.
Nevertheless, Sport Obermeyer will have a grand presence with its booth at the Snow Show in Denver, Jan. 31 through Feb. 3. The mammoth trade show is the biggest event of its time for the year. The show is important from a public-relations standpoint, Obermeyer said.
"We represent who we are," he said.
The product lines for 2013-14 are "the best ever," Obermeyer said. When times are tough, it forces you to work harder, he explained. Two qualities that mark the 2013-14 lines are breathability and lots of colors.
Sport Obermeyer is looking at overseas markets for its greatest potential growth. Sales to retailers in Europe appear promising because they have lots of snow this winter. China is evolving into an emerging market because of the ski areas that are being developed.
"Skiing there is like it was here in the '60s," Obermeyer said.