A survey of cross country specialty retailers from around North America was conducted during the first two weeks of February by the Cross Country Ski Areas Association and Snow Sports Insights. Survey respondents were well distributed geographically with shops from Alaska, British Columbia, California, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New York, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. There was no correlation between geographic location and sales.
The most notable result coming out of this survey is that sales of cross-country skis, boots, and binding sales are up more than 30% in dollars on average compared to sales through mid February last season. Several retailers noted that sales have doubled or more.
Additionally, many retailers indicated that they sold out of various hard goods including beginner equipment and could not get additional product from suppliers. Many said they could have sold a lot more equipment if they could have refilled their inventories.
On the snowshoe side, sales were up more than 30% on average for all but a few retailers. Atlas and Tubbs were dominant brands.
Though NPD reports that apparel sales across all snow sports are down, cross country specific ski apparel is selling well, although not quite as well as hard goods. Positive apparel trends include sales of wicking fabrics with both technical and natural fiber (wool) and technical fabric, and cross-country apparel kits for beginners.
Nordic apparel, particularly pants and gloves, have been very popular this year. Many shops in the Rockies saw an increase in sales/demand, especially if they had an online sales portal. More people are turning to the sport during the pandemic and realize how important appropriate XC apparel is in order to be comfortable, warm and dry. Most Rockies retailers believe this trend will continue and have increased their orders for next year.
Cross country ski sales in dollars were up over last year’s sales by 96% with only 4% saying they were even. 59% of retailers were up 21% or more, with 33% indicating a 41+% increase.
There was no retailer reporting a decrease in ski sales.
Cross country boot sales also showed a significant increase in sales this year. 80% of respondents indicated sales were up 21% or more. In speaking with many retailers and suppliers, the key sizes of available boot inventory sold out quickly impacting the increase of sales.
Binding sales saw increases across the board with only 4% saying they were even with last year. 88% of respondents indicated sales were up 21% or more.
Snowshoe sales were up a bit less dramatically than the cross country ski side, but still quite impressive. 5% indicated sales were down with 18% saying they were even. 59% said they were up 21% or more with 32% indicating they were up 41+%.
Fat Bike Sales
Fat bikes did not see a significant jump in retail sales this year due in part to a lack of inventory left over from the summer biking craze. A majority of retailers saw even sales with last year and only 14% saw an increase of 21% to 30%.
Winter Apparel Sales
NPD says that Specialty Snow Sports Retailers are reporting a decrease in outerwear sales of about 25%. Survey results from the cross country specific retailers are telling a different story.
Just over 60% of retailers are seeing increases in Nordic apparel sales while almost 25% are seeing a decrease. There are challenges to selling apparel during a pandemic including trying on garments. Additionally, while retail sales of hard goods is setting records and a necessity to ski, apparel frequently is seen as an add on and not entirely necessary to ski.
Hard Goods Best Sellers
The survey included a question about best sellers in the categories of skis, boots bindings and snowshoes. Below are top sellers that were mentioned more than two times and are listed alphabetically. Please note models not listed here could have been impacted by inventory issues and by brands carried by reporting shops.
General Apparel Trends
Technical fabrics led the list for apparel trends as reported by retailers noting that many skiers are upgrading their clothing in addition to their hardgoods. Several said that new skiers were investing in complete outfits.
- Technical Fabrics
- Overall, selling much more cross-country specific apparel
- Natural Fiber (i.e. wool)
- Cocktail to Trail Apparel
- Full Kits for Newcomers to Cross Country
- “For us cross country skis sales are usually dictated by weather, this year we’ve only had one snow however we have sold 100% out of our normal amount of equipment. This is due completely to COVID – unfortunately not because our customers have discovered how great xc skiing is.”
- “Our sales were cut short by the out of stock inventories for cross country boots from Rossignol and Alpina. We could have sold a minimum of 25% more XC ski packages if we could have ordered more boots.”
- “A lot of first-timers coming to the sport. Coincides with the pandemic driven migration to our mountain community. Real estate prices are through the roof and all the trails/rivers/rec areas are very crowded. See the following article. (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/23/us/pandemic-montana-wilderness-rush.html)”
- “Sales would be higher if manufacturers could deliver. 2021-22 Fatbikes have not arrived yet. Skis distributors are out of skis and most other equipment.”
- “We’ve noticed a lot of people getting back into XC skiing after a significant break (ie recently retired and haven’t skied since college, or parents who haven’t skied since having children) and a lot of new skiers. Our ski techs have also seen a significant increase in work – mostly people finding long lost skis in attics and garages as they rediscover the sport. We’ve seen (and replaced) more old 3-pin bindings than ever this year. “
Retail sales of all Nordic product this year was like no other. Early indications from summer trends in hiking and biking were implying a favorable year for the cross country industry, the question being how favorable? By mid summer, industry insiders were bracing for shortages in many categories, and suppliers were searching for product anywhere they could. The issue was, how much risk were suppliers willing to take 6 months out from a weather dependent winter and in the middle of a raging pandemic? Additionally, how much risk were the retailers willing to take before they joined everyone else in the reorder queue?
As we are now in mid February and the last rush equipment shipments are hitting the retail shelves, what will next year look like? Most retailers and suppliers we spoke with are planning for another strong year. They comprised consumers that were shut out this year due to limited inventory, those looking to upgrade now that their skill level has increased and depleted rental fleets needing to be replaced.
Word on the street is get your order in early and plan to not rely heavily on robust reorders. With good snow around the world and a major ski factory running at limited capacity due to a fire, available inventory could be tight next year also.
As a retailer, you should be thinking about what your customer will be looking for next year and get it in stock early.