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Snowsports forecast: Rocker rules and China’s shipping blues

Rocker technology in skis and snowboards is helping to drive early season sales. But shipping issues from China are creating havoc in accessory and apparel deliveries.

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With snow pummeling ski areas from Utah to Colorado, the ski season has officially begun. And while skis and snowboards built with rocker technology are the clear winner in early season sales, late deliveries are plaguing smaller manufacturers as Asian-sourced accessories and apparel appear to be en route to the United States on a very slow boat from China.

“There is a lot of concern about deliveries,” said Steve Rogers, president and CEO of Sports Specialists Limited (SSL), a buying group comprised of 54 independent specialty ski and snowboard retailers. “(The North Face) and Spyder are doing OK, but many of the smaller companies that ended up at the end of the production line are 45 to 60 days behind, even with them air freighting from China.”

SnowSports Industries America (SIA) identified that late shipping was going to be an issue for ski and snowboard retail in early September. In a special report, “The Rising Cost of Production in China,” SIA noted that factors such as increased production costs and even a shortage of shipping containers “may result in production and shipping delays as labor shortage and shipping capacity are stretched to the limit.”

“It’s not good,” said Kelly Davis, SIA’s director of research. “We’re hearing about retailers getting calls from suppliers saying that they won’t be able to deliver until November.”

With retailers already opting to carry less inventory in light of ongoing economic uncertainty and the wintersport industry’s history of over-supply issues, not receiving what they did opt to carry on the shelves could be critical.

“There’s already a scarcity in the market with retailers getting leaner and leaner in inventory,” said Davis. “So as far as the variety that is available right now, the person who might feel the effect of this the most is the consumer.”

In the SIA report, along with increased production costs and the shipping container shortage, a shortage of highly skilled Chinese labor, as well as the beginnings of organized labor, are cited as reasons that the present problems could last well into the future. In the short term, however, as the report stated, “This presents an opportunity to companies that have stock ready to ship to retailers that are running short of product in the early season.”

Hardgoods, and particularly skis, are one area of the market that hasn’t reported any major shipping issues. “Anything with rocker is selling in ski or boards,” said Rogers. “Boots remain solid, but really don’t gain sales traction until we get closer to the holidays.”

Ski brands that bet hard on rocker — ski and snowboard’s burgeoning reverse camber technology, with upturned tip and tail variations for ease of turn initiation in soft and hard snow conditions — are reporting strong early returns.

“Rocker is all the buzz at retail right now,” said Mike Gutt, K2’s global marketing manager. “Not so much on the wide skis, but on the resort-based, all mountain side. We saw this trend happening way faster in Europe, especially after listening to Hermann Maier tell the Intersport group that rocker is the next revolution in ski innovation.”

SIA’s Davis concurred, adding that even with preliminary data still coming in, “it looks like sales will be up overall for the September/October timeframe based on what we’re seeing in the outdoor and general retail markets. Based on the trends that should continue from last season, I’ll be looking for increases in alpine tops, alpine skis, high-performance alpine boots and helmets when the August to October data is released during the first week of December.”

With early sales being driven primarily by the most committed skiers and snowboarders — and also by pro form sales — it’s little surprise that the newer technology of rocker is ringing up the register. What will be interesting to note is if the trend continues deep into the year.

“The stage that it’s at now, it is the early adopters who are adopting it,” said Geoff Curtis, U.S. marketing director for Marker-Volkl. “But there are also still some shops that won’t buy a rockered ski from us yet. Suppliers are continuing to define the design, especially in regards to groomed snow, and we’re very much still in the beginning here. What will be key is to focus on the benefits rather than the design when talking about rocker.”

Of course, it’s also going to help if it continues to snow.

“The early sales and promotions have been very encouraging for the upcoming season,” said Rogers. “These early sales can be a bit deceiving, though, because from here on out it’s the weather that drives sales.”

–Peter Kray

On Oct. 6, 2010, veteran journalist Peter Kray joined the SNEWS team and is now editor of the new SNEWS WinterSports channel. We trust you are enjoying the full offering of WinterSports news. Be sure to email your friends and let them know the best WinterSports news has arrived — just in time for the start of the winter season. Got WinterSports news? Send your WinterSports news to Kray at Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!