Josh Wolfgang has a close view of current snow sales trends in both digital and brick-and-mortar channels.
His family has owned Pinnacle Ski & Sports in Stowe, Vermont for 35 years. Josh also operates Skiessentials.com, a high-volume online seller of ski hardgoods and accessories.
Skiessentials.com saw strong demand from core skiers starting in early summer and into fall.
Then in the fall, what Josh describes as the “bike mom” came on strong. That’s the mom who missed out on buying a bike when the pandemic hit and inventory got tight.
“She’s saying, we’re doing this this winter – whether it’s downhill, cross country, or snowshoe. She missed out on the bike, and now she’s purchasing early to make sure she gets it.”
The biggest surprise, however, has been the newer entrant’s willingness to buy hardgoods. Josh describes this customer as someone that has skied before but typically rents. Now, they are buying entry level packages of skis, boots and poles.
“They have shifted heavily into owning this year,” Josh said. “We have found that a lot of consumers have said, ‘We are going to invest this winter. This is going to be my outlet, and this is where I’m going to spend.’’
He thinks consumers also want to limit the amount of time they spend inside at mountain rental counters.
Skiessentials’ specialty is content, Josh said. “We do an ungodly amount – we do a ton of reviews, we do a ski test each year, how-to-videos, blogs. That has really helped that consumer that has shifted online find us.”
During the summer, Josh worked closely with manufacturers to try to manage risk when it came to inventory to split a lot of shipments to gauge what kind of demand developed. He also had up front conversations about invoice dating and various plans the company had put in place for different scenarios.
Luckily, the demand has been strong enough to pull a lot of shipments forward.
Nordic sales have gone through the roof, of course, as they have for many other retailers. “I think every downhill skier is also buying a Nordic package – there is definitely a whole new set of consumers that are trying that sport.”
While sales of hardgoods overall has been strong, sales of softgoods and accessories have been softer.
When it comes to the brick-and-mortar business, results have been more mixed.
Pinnacle had a great August and September, and sales stayed strong into October. But then COVID spikes emerged, and Vermont implemented travel restrictions.
“That made for a really tough November,” Josh said. “Then it started snowing, and people who were moving to Stowe for the season arrived, and December is turning out better than I thought so far.”
His overarching goal all this fall has been to sell as much as possible before the end of December because of the uncertainty surrounding COVID and the second half of the season. Also, shoppers clearly wanted to spend earlier in the season this year, and the company wanted to meet the demand.
“We are thinking about how we maximize each day because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” Josh said. “Things have been good so far, but it’s a very cautious good. There’s still so much risk in the second half of the year.”
Compared to some other industries, however, the ski business is pretty lucky, he said.
“Our consumer is doing okay this year, which is good for the core retail business. People have the money to spend, and they are spending it.”
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