Winter sports gear sales could hit a record $3.2B |

Winter sports gear sales could hit a record $3.2B

** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, DEC. 11-12 ** In this photo taken Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010, skis are lined up for sale at the Slope Style ski shop in Montpelier, Vt. Shorter skis and the use of protective helmets have reduced the rate of ski injuries over the last 15 years. But on average, about 40 people still die annually on America's slopes, and researchers say that given the nature of the crashes, it may be impossible to eliminate fatalities altogether. According to the National Ski Areas Association, 38 died skiing or riding in the 2009-2010 season, including 25 skiers and 13 snowboarders. Most _ 30 _ were male, a common factor in ski and snowboard deaths.(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

DENVER (AP) – Cold, snowy weather and an improving economy are pushing sales of skis, snowboards and other winter sports gear to what could be a record season, an industry researcher said Wednesday.

Expect a different story next winter, though, when rising production costs in Asia will likely hit consumers in the face with higher prices for a wide range of items, not just fleece jackets, SnowSports Industries America research director Kelly Davis warned at the annual SIA Snow Show.

Davis projects the overall snow sports industry, which includes snowshoeing, could reach $3.2 billion in sales this winter, which would top the record-breaking 2007-2008 season, which saw around $3 billion in sales.

Storms across the country have led to rising sales in hats, goggles and gloves, not to mention more skier visits at many resorts, proving that snow can trump a weak economy.

“It’s especially good when it falls on the heads of people in cities,” D avis said. “It doesn’t matter what it’s doing in the resorts. Snow makes people think of snow sports.”

Among brands, Salomon remains dominant for ski gear, Burton for snowboard gear and The North Face for apparel, but others are moving up.

Lib Tech’s revenues have jumped over the past four seasons through innovation, thanks to a new shape offered by its Skate Banana snowboard and its Magne-Traction technology that added serrated edges between a boarders’ feet for more grip and control, Davis said.

Rising prices for consumer goods are looming, though, she said.

Labor costs in China were up an estimated 14 percent in 2010 from 2009, and they were up 17 percent in India, Davis said. Some companies may reduce product features to keep prices steady, while others will raise prices, she said. That in turn will affect retailers.

For the future, long-term growth trends to follow include the reverse camber, or rocker, shapes in skis and snowboards; backcou ntry or “sidecountry” skiing in out-of-bounds territory at resorts; and sales of fat skis wider than 80 millimeters, Davis said.

“Backcountry is on fire right now,” Davis said.

Reverse camber (generally speaking, that refers to a “U” shape instead of an arc) is accounting for roughly half of early-season snowboard sales this year, Davis said.

Manufacturers say Davis’ figures hold true. “All our sales are up significantly,” said Kyre Malkemes, snowboard hard goods product manager for Roxy, which is heavy on boards with reverse camber.

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