XC Is Hot And Getting Hotter.

Crested Butte Nordic Center attracting alpine skiers who can’t get downhill reservations.

The Cross Country Ski Areas Association (CCSAA) has been conducting online sessions with its cross country (XC) ski area members since last spring, focused on sharing information about how XC operations should respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions resulted in widespread adoption of plans aimed at minimizing risk of virus transmission for staff and guests.

For example, many XC ski areas have adopted e-commerce and are requiring on-line purchase of trail passes, rental equipment, and lesson reservations. Plans to alter the flow of ski area traffic on the premises and in buildings for safe distancing, as well as limiting or eliminating indoor capacity, have also been put in place.

With plans ready, the onset of winter has come—and business is booming.

High Demand

As per usual for the XC ski business, there is snow in some places and a lack of snow in others. But one thing is consistent­ and fresh—at least since August, XC ski gear has been flying off the shelves.

There are shortages for popular sizes of skis and boots. Bindings and ski poles are also hard to find. Manufacturers have been unable to supply enough products to fill the dealers’ needs. Adding to the shortage, an October fire at a huge Ukrainian factory that reportedly produces a majority of the industry’s skis has hampered the ability to meet demand.

Great Start

XC ski area operators attending the meeting were upbeat about the demand and the level of business this winter, so far.

Christie Hicks of Crested Butte Nordic Center, referring to the two weeks before Thanksgiving when the center in Colorado first opened, “We were slammed from the beginning, and the holidays have been through the roof with five of the seven days during the period being the biggest ever.” Crested Butte Nordic’s season pass sales were up 40 percent, and rental revenue was up more than 100 percent.

First timers at Crested Butte Nordic over the holiday enjoyed good snow conditions and great weather. The center also welcomed alpine skiers who failed to reserve tickets in advance at the alpine ski resort and were turned away due to capacity restrictions.

Richard Hodges of White Pine Touring in Park City, UT, described “business being relentless, as everyday is as busy as a great Saturday. The on-line retail sales are up 300-400 percent, with all the beginner gear sold out and significant gaps in the inventory, but we are hopeful that we can get more products from suppliers by the late winter.”

“With regard to our retail equipment, we are now almost all sold out,” explained Dustin Hite of Osceola Ski & Sport Resort in northern New York. “Indoor capacity is limited to 50 percent per the state, but all the rentals are out on most days and season pass sales have been very strong,” said Hite.

Woodstock Nordic Center is tuning up old XC gear people are using to come back to the sport.

In Vermont, the Woodstock Nordic Center, which traditionally relies on guests at the Woodstock Inn & Resort, has doubled sales of season passes with locals compared to other years despite a 50 percent decline in occupancy at the Inn. Woodstock manager Nick Mahood said, “We had our biggest day ever for revenue leading up to the holidays, and then there was a rain out. Then we got enough snow to open and increased business has occurred despite Vermont’s restrictive travel policy.”  Mahood said that many local people who left the sport for years were coming back with their old gear that they want to get tuned-up.

In Truckee, CA, Tahoe Donner Cross Country is experiencing a low snow winter so far but has had strong season pass sales. According to area operator Sally Jones, “the state has set capacity limits, which is impacting the rentals and food operations. The health authority opposes eating at the premises—even outdoors—because it wants to minimize congregation on the area’s patio.”

On a recent visit I made to Green Woodlands in western New Hampshire (recently named a top place to XC ski in the US by an on-line outdoor website), there was enough snow to ski. And out of 50 XC skiers I saw in the parking lot and on the trails, there were only a couple not wearing masks. XC skiers appear to be respectful without being told to wear masks and there seems to be a minimal chance to get infected with the virus when passing other skiers along a trail if you’re wearing a mask. So join in, get outdoors, and hit the XC ski trails!

Green Woodlands in NH has groomed trails, parking, warming huts and no fee!

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