DENVER (AP) — A lack of snow in December has hurt sales of ski, snowboard and other winter sports gear this season, but things could turn around if heavy storms that arrived in January keep coming, a snow sports retail industry researcher said Wednesday.

The snow sports market recorded $2.2 billion in sales for the season through December, which is down 2.2 percent from the same period a year ago, SnowSports Industries America research director Kelly Davis said.

Sales through November had been up from last season, which ended with a record $3.3 billion in sales, but then came low snowfall in December, or what Davis called “six weeks of hell.”

“It’s pretty hard to do business in snow when there is no snow,” she said at the annual SIA Snow Show convention in Denver.

Through December, snowboard sales were down 4.5 percent in units and 1 percent in dollars from a year ago. However sales of alpine skiing equipment in specialty stores were up in the West. Davis said it’s possible that better snow conditions in the Pacific Northwest lifted alpine ski sales in the West. Alpine skiing is still the most popular snow activity, with about 11.5 million participants out of 21.2 million snow participants overall in sports that include cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing.

Average retail prices in snow apparel have risen about 3 percent, but labor costs in Asia and production costs also are growing, so profit margins are shrinking, Davis said. Sales of accessories are down 18 percent through December. People tend to buy more hats, gloves, goggles and the like at resorts or on the way there, and the low snow has hurt accessories sales, Davis said.

The lower-than-average snow also has affected resort visits. In Colorado, the trade group Colorado Ski Country USA said skier visits at its 22 member resorts through Dec. 31 were down 10.65 percent from the same period last year. Vail Resorts Inc. has said early-season visits to its four Colorado resorts and two in the Lake Tahoe area are down 15.3 percent overall from last year.

The good news is, the economy doesn’t seem to be affecting snow sports consumers that much anymore. Snow sports participants tend to be more highly educated and wealthier than average consumers, with a majority living in households with incomes topping $100,000, Davis said.

Figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show spending in 2010 was up for toys and hobbies, which includes spending for snow gear. “It’s not spending just to spend anymore. It’s spending on things that bring value to your family,” Davis said.

Rocker or mixed and reverse camber shapes in skis and snowboards are continuing trends in new equipment sales.

And recently, the snow has been falling.

“Let’s hope winter was just late and not completely absent,” Davis said. “Snow is going to bring sales to the market.”

– By Catherine Tsai, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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