It’s contagious! Modern backcountry equipment spurs growth

Every few years or so there’s a trend that seems to give the ski/snowboard industry a shot in the arm: when “shaped” skis first hit the market, when the Rocker Revolution spread, and now innovations in backcountry equipment have sent a jolt through the snow world. AT gear now is more versatile and comfortable than ever, bindings are strong enough to push fatter skis, and rockered equipment has added a whole new dimension to surfing powder. I know having a splitboard has made a huge difference for me in the fun factor.

If you’re a backcountry rider, you’ve probably noticed the growth simply by the numbers of vehicles parked at the starting points of some of your favorite touring spots. “Ten years ago, there would only be two cars parked here …” is something I’ve heard again and again from longtime backcountry enthusiasts in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado.

In search of more tangible evidence of the growth, I enlisted the help of Kelly Davis, director of research for SIA (SnowSports Industries America). She found some numbers for the 2008/2009 season (data lags a season):
• 14% (1,517,741) of alpine skiers say they ski in resort-accessed backcountry (a.k.a. side-country/slack-country) and another 6.2% (676,978) say they are skiing in non-resort backcountry.
• 1.5 million Americans say that they are telemark skiers and participated at least once during the 2008/2009 season. Of the 1.5 million, 32% say they telemark ski in non-resort backcountry and 32% say they ski resort-accessed backcountry.
• About 677,000 of the non-resort backcountry participants are using alpine, AT/Randonee, or a mix in the backcountry, and 471,000 are using telemark equipment.
• Total on skis in non-resort backcountry, regardless of type is 1,148,254.
The numbers in the retail data are even more mind-boggling: backcountry equipment unit sales are up more than 90%. Boot sales are up 150% season-to-date.

“Boots are a truer test of growth in AT/Randonee, because alpine skis, tele bindings/skis, even beefy XC bindings and skis can be used for AT, but the boots are fairly unique to the up/down backcountry discipline,” Davis explains. “SIA will continue to measure various types of backcountry participation in the seasons to come, and we expect to find fairly significant growth in the 2009/10 season data.”

A brand known for its performance in high altitude and extreme conditions, Julbo saw 70% growth in goggle sales in 2010 over 2009, which makes sense. After all that slogging, who wants to worry about their goggles not functioning?

– Christine Rasmussen

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