Industry News

La Niña Winters – A Short History

August 22, 2016 | 0 Comments

At SIA, we keep a running history of winters including weather, sales, participants, skier/snowboarder visits, etc. We don’t do this just because they all seem to run together after a while, and they do.  We are historians because it help us project sales and participation for coming seasons.  This season, we are paying very close attention to predictions of a La Niña episode because weather plays the most important role in our efforts to predict what the coming season will bring.

We have had three La Niña winters over the past decade, two were epic and one was a complete dud. In fact, these winters make up the two best seasons and also, the worst season in the past forty years. The difference between these La Niña events was the strength of the episodes. The winters of 2007/2008 and 2010/2011 were examples of moderate to strong La Niña episodes while 2011/2012 was a weak La Niña episode. 

So, without further ado, here is the history. For more information about past seasons please contact SIA’s Research Director, Kelly Davis (that’s me!) at [email protected].


Winter 2007/2008 – JFM (January, February and March) are in moderate to strong La Niña conditions (-1.3 below average).  60.5M resort visits were recorded during this season, one that was referred to as “epic” ad nauseam.  Overall, average snowfall was up 44% across the U.S.  Several cities and ski resorts across the country set new season snowfall records in the 2007/2008 season including: Madison, Wisconsin set a new seasonal record snow total of 101.4 set inches (257.6 cm), Caribou, Maine received 197.8 inches (502 cm) of snowfall this winter, shattering the previous record of 181.1 inches (460 cm). Mt. Crested Butte, Colorado received 418 inches (1061 cm) breaking the previous record of 415 inches (1054 cm) from 1979–1980.  Spokane, Washington was the second snowiest on record with 89.5 inches (227 cm), four inches (10 cm) short of the previous record from 1949—1950.  Average days open declined from 118 days to 126 days this season.  The average price of a weekend lift ticket was $69.54.

 Additionally note that this season was marred by an economic recession caused by a crash in the housing market which was severely over leveraged. 

2007/2008 Retail sales were up 4% in specialty to 1.85B, Internet sales increased to $489M, and Chain stores had $616M in sales. This season, 468K skis, 557K alpine boots, and 361K snowboards were sold in specialty shops. 

Winter 2010/2011 – JFM (January, February and March) are in moderate La Niña conditions (1.1 below average).  60.5M skier/snowboarder visits were recorded this season.  La Niña conditions brought 27% above average snowfall across the U.S.  The snow sports market was also boosted by strong late-season visits made possible by record season-long snowfall and a relatively snowy spring in the northeastern and western U.S. U.S. resorts tallied a record 60.54 million visits this season, edging 0.1 percent ahead of the previous record of 60.50 million visits set in 2007/2008. This marked the second time in history that visits broke the 60 million threshold. Visitation also rose 1.3 percent from the 2009/2010 season. Average days open increased from 123 days to 124 days this season.  The average price of a weekend lift ticket was $77.36.

 The economy continues to recover from the 2008 “Great” recession but job growth is very slow (unemployment rate is 9.1%) and wage growth is at a ten year low.

 2010/2011 Retail sales up overall, and specialty shops sold $2B, up 14%. Internet sales were up 9% to $652.  Chain stores sold $624M up 11% in dollars sold. 236 buying managements went out of business in 2008 and 2009 and 96 new buying managements opened.  Net difference of 140 buying managements in 2008 and 2009. In December 2010, there were 3603 snow sports buying managements with 5222 storefronts. This season, 464K skis, 545K boots, and 293K snowboards were sold in specialty shops.

Winter 2011/2012 JFM (January, February and March) feature weak La Niña conditions (-0.6 below average).  Just 51M skier/snowboarder visits were recorded this season.  Historically, the 2011/2012 season may go down as one of the toughest on record for the snow sports industry. Sales finished the season down 13% in units and down 5% in dollars sold.  Participation was down 11% in alpine skiing and down 7.5% in snowboarding, and the number of visits to resorts dropped 16%.  On March 31st, specialty retailers had 1.7 million units of equipment worth $224M in inventory. Pre-season orders are expected to be conservative, if not downright anemic, for the 2012/2013 season (orders for hard goods were down about 24%). Average days open declined from 124 days to 116 days this season.  The average price of a weekend lift ticket was $82.38.

 2011/2012 Retail sales were down 5% in dollars sold to $1.9B. Specialty shops in every region suffered:

 Western Specialty Sales: $721M, down 5%
Northeastern Specialty Sales: $521M, down 10%
Midwestern Specialty Sales: $309M, down 6%
Southern Specialty Sales: $307M, down 8%

 This season, 482K skis, 553K boots, and 280K snowboards were sold in specialty shops.

 As of March 2012, there were 2443 retail managements in the US, representing 4668 storefronts/doors. Down more than 30% since 2010 (consolidation) in managements and down 11% in storefronts since 2010.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *