Ski industry flying high for its big show

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Fat skis won’t dominate the market in 2014-15 like they have in recent years, according to SnowSports Industries of America (SIA), a trade association for makers of equipment, clothing and accessories in the ski industry.

Ski makers also are hearing the message from retailers that they are confused by the mind-boggling number of skis that are saturating the market, according to SIA’s magazine for the Snow Show, the industry’s largest trade show which starts Thursday in Denver.

SIA Director of Research Kelly Davis said more skiers want a versatile ski that does it all. They don’t want a different ski for every occasion. That is leading to a slimmer waist on many new models. A mid-fat width underfoot is associated with a greater ability to deal with powder when the storms roll in and hard-packed slopes when it is dry.

“There’s 1,600 different models to choose from,” Davis said. “People are looking for a one-ski quiver.”

“People are looking for a one-ski quiver.”
Kelly Davis, SnowSports Industries of America

She stressed that the mushrooming popularity of freeskiing also is influencing ski makers this year. The number of skiers who self-identify themselves as freeskiers soared 47 percent last season in SIA’s annual snow sports participation survey. Those who identified themselves as alpine skiers fell 19 percent.

“It’s really a shift in culture,” Davis said.

Freeskiers feel “freedom” on the slopes, and they express it in a number of ways, she said. “Not everybody is in a park or pipe,” Davis said.

Many use natural and man-made features either at the ski area or in the backcountry. Others put climbing skins on their skis for the ascent, then rip down. Other adventurers are playing on backcountry slopes and avoiding ski areas altogether.

About 5 million people reported trying some kind of backcountry travel last season, Davis said. Many of those skiers demand lightweight, ascent-friendly skis and boots that don’t sacrifice downhill performance, according to SIA’s guide for the Snow Show. The line between alpine and alpine touring skis and boots continues to get blurred, the magazine said.

The alpine touring surge is influencing traditional alpine boots as well. More hybrid boots will be featured this year, with custom settings for skiing and walking. There is appeal even to skiers with no intention of hiking, Davis said. The hybrid boots are more comfortable while walking around base areas and hanging out in bars, earning them the reputation of having a ski-drink mode, Davis said.

The trend for freeskiers to influence the industry isn’t expected to fade anytime soon. There were 8.24 million alpine skiers last season, down 19 percent from the prior year, according to SIA’s research. Snowboarding trailed a close second with 7.35 million participants, a decline of 3 percent.

But rapidly gaining ground was freeskiing with 5.36 million people self-identifying themselves in the discipline. That was a one-year increase of 47 percent. (42 percent of the freeskiers said they are also alpine skiers, but they had to choose one primary discipline.)

The total number of snow-sport participants last year was 19.29 million, a slip of 2 percent. However, the survey was taken before snow conditions drastically improved and attracted more people to the slopes during the last third of the season, Davis said.