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X-C Gear is Hot in the Age of COVID

With an uncertain future for alpine ski resorts, winter sports enthusiasts are making a pivot to skinny skis.

Tips & Ideas Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Following Vail Resorts’ announcement of their operating plans for the winter, Colorado alpine resorts are following suit and releasing plans for diminished capacity, reservation-only skiing, fewer to no day-pass sales, and social distancing requirements.

This has many downhill skiers looking longingly at Nordic-style skinny skis and thinking hmmm. And this new potential customer base is changing the Nordic retail industry already.

The pandemic has created a huge shift in consumer behavior as we turn to outdoor activity to keep us fit, safer, and sane. “As a result of the public health crisis, consumers seem to be investing in any number of sports,” says sports industry analyst Dirk Sorenson. “For retailers and manufacturers, continuing this growth pattern will require thoughtful execution that strikes a balance between meeting the needs of new entrants to sports, and the enthusiast who has driven marketing and product choices in recent years.”

Manufacturers are anticipating a run on gear similar to the great bike grab this summer, which in June of 2020 saw sales up 63% over the previous year. This contributed to a shortage in the more family-friendly categories, pushing buyers toward higher-end gear.

What does that mean for most Nordic skiers? If you want to add entry-level touring gear to your stable, don’t wait until it snows.

We checked in with Nathan Schultz, founder of Boulder Nordic Sport, to get a retail insider’s look at the industry and what gear’s hot right now.

What's moving already in your inventory?

We have had a good roller ski season and we are seeing people interested in touring equipment in August and September. We usually don't see these customers until there is snow on the ground in December and January.

What do you see demand for coming up?

We had to shut down a store due to COVID restrictions, so it has been interesting juggling. We took a lot of those orders for that store and put them in as backups for our other stores. With the racing world still dealing with the likely cancellation of most of the events, we expect higher-end equipment to be flat or slightly up, but we are really bulking up in the mid-range and lower-end as we expect a lot of people to come to the sport looking for a fun winter activity away from crowds and the uncertainty and potential risk of alpine resorts.

What advice do you have for shoppers considering the season ahead?

The best advice is to get in early before equipment runs out. We've seen major shortages in the bike world and there will almost certainly be some this winter in cross-country ski. The ski industry has had time to prepare for the increased demand for outdoor recreation, so I imagine it will be a much better situation than what is happening in the bike industry right now. But there will still be some things that run out early.

How do you see the pandemic affecting the industry so far?

Most of the industry has been watching what has happened in other outdoor sports and significantly increased production. We are already seeing a huge influx of people who are new to the sport wanting to gear up before it's too late, so sales are already up over what we normally see at this time of year. Nordic resorts are rolling out plans to provide their services safely, and they are also expecting a boom this winter. So far, it looks like most Nordic resorts will be open and most of them with only minor changes to operations. I think this will be a big boost to the sport, and hopefully, many of the new converts will enjoy it so much that they become lifelong enthusiasts.

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