Is This A Surge Season For Nordic?

Will more people head to skinny skis this season?

Will the upcoming cross country (XC) season fulfill the hoped-for surge projected by many in the industry? The COVID pandemic has some projecting a coming boom similar to the bicycle industry, which saw such a surge of sales and activity last spring. The kids were not in school, people were looking to get out of the house, and there are many other factors resulting in packed bike trails and sold out bike racks at many retail outlets across the world.

XC skiing is similar to bicycling but it is also different in some significant ways. Most people know how to use a bike and many already own one, but few own XC skis or know about using them. You can take a bike out of the garage and go out on the road, while XC skiing requires cold weather and snow cover.

In the US, XC ski sales that once reached a high of 800,000 pairs annually in the 1980s have been on a plateau for decades to fewer than 200,000 pairs sold annually. The Olympic gold medal earned by Americans Diggins and Randall infected us with enthusiasm but it has not resulted in substantial increases in the number of XC skiers or XC ski sales. And now as ridiculous as it sounds, the pandemic offers another anticipated bull market for XC skiing.

 

In association with the pandemic, XC skiing (and snowshoeing, too) is a recreation that has everything going for it, and it is just what the doctor ordered. The benefits of XC skiing include wellness associated with getting outdoors in nature and exercise. Social distancing is a key element of the sport and last spring during the shutdown, people showed an increased enthusiasm for learning something new.

XC ski dealers (retail shops) are anticipating the upcoming season. According to content in FasterSkier.com, Nathan Schultz founder of Boulder Nordic Sport said, “Everybody started riding bikes because that was all they could do. It went from zero to 500 percent. It seems like more and more people are coming to us saying they want to get into XC skiing this year. They are coming in at the end of August instead of October and November when they usually show up.”

XC resorts like Great Glen Trails in NH offer groomed trails, lodge, instruction.

The word from product suppliers like Fischer, Rossignol, and Salomon, which sell both alpine and XC ski products, is that their alpine ski shop dealers are building their XC ski equipment inventories. They are anticipating the XC ski surge and they’re also concerned about restrictions at alpine ski areas and the projected decrease in travel. How many people are planning to get on a plane to go on a ski trip this coming year? Ski areas that have traditionally relied on travelers are expecting a much larger visitation from locals this year.

The FasterSkier.com article also covered the supply side of the XC ski industry referencing sourcing for raw materials, manufacturing, lead time for orders, and plans to fill mid-season reorders from ski dealers. The ski industry has had time to anticipate this and they think that dealers are expecting a big year and may run out of products to sell. This of course, is a balancing act for retailers because they want to be able to maximize sales while ending the season with minimal inventory.

How much the projected XC ski surge will help XC ski area operators or be limited to retailers will depend on the allocation of XC ski outings. People who want to go XC skiing can go to a XC ski area to enjoy groomed ski trails or they can go out locally on nearby ungroomed public trails, parks or golf courses. The benefits of XC ski areas are multifold, but factors for the equation include awareness of recreationalists about XC skiing, the perception about travel safety, paying for XC skiing, and the relative extensive volume of local places to ski when covered with snow. People appear to be accustomed to the virus mitigation protocols (masks, distancing), so that should not be such a big deal with regard to visiting a XC ski area. One of the biggest tips for newcomers to XC skiing is to get a lesson from a pro.

In a typical year, XC skiers pray for snow but now snowsports industry professionals and XC skiers are on the same page hoping that the pandemic slows while XC skiing surges!

Skating is a racing technique on Nordic skis. Credit: John Lazenby

One Comment

  1. Avatar Connie Grodensky says:

    Depending on the conditions on the slopes, both weather and COVID, I am looking forward to possibly attempting Nordic skiing this winter. I am also planning on getting my snowshoes out more often and hitting the accessible trails in my area. This season will most definitely be different, and it is entirely our choice how to best accommodate our love of winter activities. Bring on the snow!

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