‘Unknown’ ranks as the hottest, non-expletive word to describe our current situation as we sit here waiting for winter in late October. As we bid farewell to summer 2020, on the whole boardsports retailers can be relatively buoyant, all things considered. There are plenty of wonder stories of triple digit percentage growth for skateboard manufacturers and surfboard shapers and wetsuit companies not able to keep up with demand. But as we go into autumn and winter, now comes crunch time for the snowboard retailers. We’re facing a really bizarre time, at what is usually a really bizarre time. With COVID-19 still looming large and people pandemic-proofing their businesses to ensure existing and new efforts are untouchable by any such virus again, it is truly mad to think just how dependent the winter sports business is on our fickle mistress, the snow. This is the time of year where old French people count the layers of their onions to predict snowfall and you’d best hope your Persimmon seed is showing a spoon shaped mark and not a fork! In a year of too many unknowns, here we go again, praying for snow. Praying that we are blessed with the best winter on record to allow us even the most modest of starting blocks to kick winter off with.
However, forget about your Magic 8-Ball! Throw away your onions and Persimmon seeds, because widespread weather reports suggest La Niña weather system is in place as we move into winter! La Niña (The Little Girl in Spanish) is the opposite of El Niño (The Little Boy, or Christ Child). Where El Niño typically brings drier-than-average winter conditions for our (Northern) North American counterparts, La Niña is definitely the beacon of goods news, usually presenting wetter, cooler climes. While there’s no direct correlation between La Niña and European snowfall, we sure could do with some positive news to get the ball rolling.
Tignes, Hintertux and Kaunertal glacier openings are all under the belt at the time of writing, and exhibitors reported strong engagement with customers there and despite COVID restrictions in place, many different sources reported on the palpable enthusiasm on display at each event.
Localism definitely rivals ‘unknown’ for 2020 buzzword honours, and as brands look to move supply chains closer to home to eliminate future bottlenecks, so too is the consumer looking more and more locally. We firmly believe that winter 20/21 will be the winter of ultimate localism; the French will ride France, the Swiss will ride Switzerland, Austrians, Austria etc. And catching up with some more remote regions, we hear in our Swedish Market Insight (Pro Content online) that many ski resorts are up >20% on holiday period bookings vs last year. Speaking with Aviemore (Scotland)-based Skinorwest, a holiday company specialising in tuition, rental and Scottish snowsport holidays, they’ve noticed a serious uptick in bookings from people across the UK, deciding to plan their Christmas holiday in the safe haven of the Cairngorms instead of dicing with a potential self-isolation period on return from the Alps. Skinorwest also noted a much earlier start in booking enquiries and reports a big increase in Christmas bookings, with many Brits fed up from a summer locked down at home and seeing an outdoor winter holiday as the perfect way to spend time with family. Interestingly, The Ski Club of Great Britain surveyed 19,000 people and 96% of those booked a snowsport holiday in 2020 plan to do so again in 2021. Clearly there’s a large appetite for snowsports this winter!
I’ll leave you with some more positive parting words to accompany the end of your toilet break. We touched base with a couple of Spanish snowboard shops from Sierra Nevada to the Pyrenees, where there’s a real buzz building in the anticipation for Spain’s wealthier snowboarders, who usually opt for trips to the Alps, to instead spend their hard-earned Euros domestically. And this sentiment is echoed across Europe, with the hope those saving on travel and accommodation costs will splash out on products instead.
Snow brands had to cut their cloth to meet the lack in retailer confidence when orders were placed back in March. It’ll be interesting to see just what happens if the stars align, if the Persimmon seeds are spoon shaped, if La Niña delivers the snowy goods. Will we see a snowboard boom similar to that of our skate and surf brethren during the summer? Only time will tell, but snow shops would be amiss not to take heed of the supply shortages seen in other boardsports during the summer. Could we be heading for a shortage of supply in snowboard gear this winter? Surf and skate retailers had to work with completely new brands to meet their demand. Which brands are in the best shape to capitalise, if so? I look forward to hearing of many new partnerships.
Harry Mitchell Thompson