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Hot Sheet: Near-record skiers, record retail & safer racing summit

It was a record season for snowsports retailers, and a near-record season for U.S. ski areas. SNEWS breaks down the numbers, and also checks in with some new safety initiatives sweeping across North America.

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U.S. ski areas tallied 60.1 million skier visits during the 2010/11 season, according to the preliminary results of the Kottke End of Season Survey, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) announced May 6. It marks the second time that the ski industry has broken the 60-million-visit threshold, and represents a 0.5-percent increase from last season’s 59.8 million visits, and is just shy of the 60.5 million visit record set in 2007/08.

Nationally, snowfall at resorts was up 27 percent this season, and was the highest recorded in 20 years of Kottke research. As a result, the average season operating length increased, and some resorts opened early and/or remained open beyond normal closing dates. Most regions experienced increased snowfall, with particularly large increases in the Pacific Southwest (up 43 percent), Northeast (up 37 percent), Rocky Mountains (up 31 percent), and Midwest (up 26 percent), and to a lesser extent the Pacific Northwest (up 9 percent). The Southeast was the only region with a decline in snowfall (down 42 percent).

Gains in visits occurred in most regions, including the Northeast (up 4 percent from last season), Rockies (up 1.7 percent), Midwest (up 1 percent), and Pacific Northwest (up 0.3 percent). Decreased visits were experienced by both the Pacific Southwest ( down 5 percent) and Southeast (down 3.6 percent). In a further indication of widespread solid performance, the industry as a whole exceeded its 10-season average by 4.1 percent, a pattern echoed by all regions, including the Northeast (up 5.3 percent from its 10-season average), Southeast (up 4.8 percent), Midwest (up 2.2 percent), Rocky Mountains (up 4 percent), Pacific Southwest (up 2 percent), and Pacific Northwest

Highlights from a record season at retail

SIA announced the week of May 2, that the snowsports market brought in a record $3.3 billion over the full 2010/2011 season, easily breaking the 2007/2008 season’s $3 billion dollar mark. Overall, snowsports sales were up 8 percent in units sold, and up 12 percent in dollars sold. Leaner inventories kept prices strong throughout the season; equipment inventories finished the season 19 percent leaner and equipment prices were 10 percent higher than they were at the close of last season. In fact, retail margins finished the season up 10 percent for equipment, up 10 percent for accessories, and up 4 percent for apparel goods sold. Here are a few highlights from a record season at retail:

* Alpine skis (flat skis sold without bindings) in the 80mm-110mm waist width category were up 74 percent in dollars sold on more than 74,000 units compared to 47,000 units sold last season.

* Women’s ski sales increased 20 percent in units sold and 26 percent in dollars sold this season. 149,000 out of a total of 419,000 alpine skis sold were women’s models this season.

* AT/Randonee equipment sales finished the season up 90 percent overall in dollars sold, and up 87 percent in units sold. Most notably, AT/Randonee boots sales finished up 126 percent in units and up 124 percent in dollars sold.

* Reverse/Mixed camber ski sales finished the season up 134 percent in units and 129 percent in dollars. Approximately 54,000 pairs of reverse camber/mixed camber skis were sold this season.

* Insulated parka sales finished the season up 24 percent in units sold and up 24 percent in dollars sold to $394 million in total sales.

* Helmet sales were very strong with 1.2 million sold, up 3 percent in units sold and up 12 percent in dollars sold.

Canadian racers crack down on safety issues

Canadian news services report that a two-day summit in Calgary, hosted by the governing body for alpine ski racing, has resulted in changes designed to make the sport safer. Officials with Alpine Canada Alpin (ACA) decided May 4, to make downhill courses slower, change equipment standards, have skiers wear less aerodynamic outfits and raise the minimum age of ski racers from 15 to 18. ACA organized the event at Canada Olympic Park in the wake of a rash of serious injuries on the national team in the last two years.

In a corresponding story, Canadian skier Erik Guay is looking to partner with helmet manufacturers to create a safer helmet for ski racers. “I’ve been in contact with a couple of different companies that manufacture helmets on different levels,” Guay told British Columbia’s Victoria Times Colonist. “One of them is an NFL supplier. They make helmets for the NFL. The other one is a Formula One helmet designer.” Guay said he will help finance the production of a helmet that will help keep his head safer should he crash while ski racing at speeds of up to 100 mph.

Washington governor signs closed area law

A bill making it a misdemeanor to ski in clearly marked closed areas at ski areas was signed into law May 5, by Gov. Chris Gregoire, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Rope duckers now face a criminal trespassing charge and a potential $1,000 fine for skiing in-bounds closures at the state’s ski areas.

–Peter Kray

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