There is plenty of good news to report in the snowsports marketplace this season — even if growth in participation remains somewhat flat — and it is thanks in large part to women.
Not only is a women’s-specific ski the overall best-selling ski across the entire industry, but women’s snowboard equipment sales represent the fastest-growing segment of the market as well — outpacing men’s and juniors — with sales up 18 percent this season.
The numbers, and some of the insights behind them, come from The NPD Group, global market researchers who have partnered with Snowsports Industries America to provide its members with the most up-to-date analysis of trends in apparel, accessories and equipment across alpine, snowboard and nordic segments.
“One of the biggest stories that we’ve seen so far is the growth in women’s alpine skis,” said Bruce Dotterer, outdoor industry analyst for The NPD Group. Dotterer joined with his colleague, Julia Day, in presenting research to SIA members at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show held Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Denver. “We’re seeing a 21 percent dollar sales increase for women’s skis over the past few seasons.”
Whether the trend can be attributed to the incredible World Cup and Olympic success of icons in the sport such as Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, or simply due to higher snowfall rates in North America this season vs. last, there is no debating that equipment manufacturers and retailers are taking notice.
“This is significant,” said Day, executive director of business development at The NPD Group. “We looked years ago when women’s skis started to show up and now we’re still seeing this continued growth. The new consumer has changed, and this is really exciting to see.”
In a marketplace where, overall, 60 percent of the top-selling skis fall into the 91- to 100-millimeter underfoot category, sales of Blizzard’s all-mountain 88 mm women’s ski — the Black Pearl — outpaced them all. With a lightweight construction, early rise in the tip and tail and camber underfoot, this ski is designed to perform on groomers, in the trees, through bumps and in powder. It’s not simply by chance that the company developed such a winning product.
In 2015, Blizzard Tecnica created its Women to Women brand, focused on developing a comprehensive product collection designed specifically for female skiers. The company’s approach is to bring women together who share the same passion but come from different lifestyles to compare ideas about mountain life, colors, trends and product needs.
“Through intensive workshops, athlete summits, product testing and scientific on-snow research, we continuously challenge our product development teams to specifically design and build relevant women’s products addressing those wants and needs,” the company states. “Through innovative technology and engineering, issues such as warmth, comfort, customization and performance are solved in the boot collection while the need for lightness, performance and playfulness are addressed in the ski collection.”
Besides the Black Pearl, top-selling skis included the Nordica Enforcer 100, Nordica Enforcer 93, Salomon QST 99, Völkl Mantra M5, Blizzard Brahma, Rossignol Experience 80, Salomon QST 92, Rossignol Smash 7 and Völkl Yumi (women’s).
Total snowsports sales reached $6.1 billion last season (2017-18), which was up 2 percent during a year when skier visits were down overall. SIA reports that 24.3 million Americans ages 6 and older participated in winter sports during the 2017-18 winter season, a 1.5 percent decrease from the previous year. Poor weather was among the top three reasons for not participating, further illustrating how climate might affect the market. Of the $6.1 billion in sales, e-commerce was up 8 percent over the previous year ($1.1B), snow specialty stores, i.e. brick/mortar, was up 1 percent ($2.8B) and chain stores remained steady ($2.2B).
“When you think about what happened last year with skier visits, it’s a positive story given that it was the third worst season in almost two decades from a snowfall perspective,” Dotterer said. “So, that 2 percent growth actually had several bright spots. And for ’18-19, sales are already trending up 16 percent.”
Meanwhile, in terms of equipment sales, snowboarding was another standout performer in sales, providing the highest gains. Snowboard equipment sales reached $232.8 million from August through December 2018, up 13 percent over the same period last year, with double-digit sales gains for snowboards as well as boots and bindings.
Some major brands — including Burton with its “Stand Up, Stand Out” marketing initiatives — are placing greater focus on their women’s business.
“I often say that women’s is an underserved market across many facets of the sports industry, but it brings with it big opportunity for brands and retailers to grow their business,” said Matt Powell, senior industry advisor, Sports, The NPD Group. “Brands today are finding their sweet spot by getting behind particular social or environmental initiatives that are of growing concerns for today’s consumers.”
And while there are different schools of thought about what impact the Olympics might have on equipment sales, Dotterer noticed a correlation. “There are a couple of categories that really saw some growth that were associated with gold medals for the Olympics,” he said. “The U.S. took home all four gold medals in slopestyle and halfpipe. We know that it’s maybe not a direct correlation, but we’re seeing double-digit growth in both units and dollars. And it’s not only boards, it’s boots and bindings as well.”
Also, smaller snowboard brands are really starting to contribute to the growth of that segment. The top three snowboard brands account for 28 percent of sales, while brands 4-10 account for 50 percent of sales. And, again, women’s snowboard equipment sales growth is outpacing that of men.
When the snow finally settles and melts away for good, the big picture suggests that 2018-19 will be a winning season for snowsports retailers.
“The weather has been very favorable to snow-loving consumers and the snowsports industry this season,” Powell said. “As long as the conditions are right, consumers will be inclined to make purchases. With time still left to hit the slopes, I expect the industry will end the season with strong sales growth.”