At Colorado snow show, California’s plight weighs heavy on the ski industry |

At Colorado snow show, California’s plight weighs heavy on the ski industry

I was borderline overwhelmed Friday while wandering around the aircraft hangar-sized Colorado Convention Center during the Snowsports Industries America Snow Show. It’s the highest profile snow show in the country, where all the major ski and snowboard makers as well as many mom-and-pops unveil their equipment for next winter. Apparel makers such as Aspen’s own Sport Obermeyer are there, as well.

All told, more than 1,000 brands are flashing their wares, according to Snowsports Industries America.

I’m not much of a techie, so when media representatives wanted to talk about camber and din I would politely nod, act like I was scribbling some notes and frantically think of a way to steer the conversation.

I started asking people I had just met and some strangers about how their ski season was going. People seemed genuinely upbeat about the ski season. (Two decades ago they would have been “stoked,” but that’s now so passe.)

These weren’t the usual suspects — the people paid to say everything is great even if it isn’t. These were buyers for retail shops across the country and ski manufacturer reps who came in contact with a broad spectrum of buyers and media at the Snow Show.

The big caveat was California. Snowfall is below average for the fourth straight year, so ski areas in California are taking a beating. When people aren’t enthused to ski or snowboard, they tend to delay purchases of ski gear and clothing. That hurts retailers. It’s a vicious domino effect.

The California Department of Water Resources reported Jan. 29 that the statewide snowpack was just 25 percent of average after a very dry January.

Skier visits plummeted to 8.54 million in the Pacific West last season from 11.34 million the year before. It’s unlikely the numbers will bounce back this year.

Nationwide sales of snow-sports gear and clothing was down 1 percent from August through October 2014 compared with the same period the year before, according to Snowsports Industries America. The trend will be clearer once November and December sales are analyzed.

Despite the California drought, uncertainty about the rest of the winter weather in the Rocky Mountains and the lukewarm start to winter sales, the mood at the Snow Show was upbeat about prospects for sales and gear for 2015-16. The whole eastern half of the country is getting pummeled even as Colorado begs for snow. That’s got to be firing up some skiers and snowboarders this winter and moving products off the shelves. The less 2014-15 products that remain, the more retailers will stock up with new gear for 2015-16.

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