Steamboat Springs Ski Haus owner Rod Schrage said the store’s bike shop has been busy this winter, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Schrage is one of several local ski shop owners and managers whose businesses are relying on alternatives to typical winter sales of skis, snowboards and related gear because of little snow, warm weather and sunny skies this season.
“It’s good to have the bike shop busy, but I think it’s at the cost of the ski shop,” Schrage said. “There’s a lot of people out there, until this latest snow, who decided they weren’t going to ski much this winter. I’m talking local people, and locals are a huge part of our business.”
As of Saturday morning, Steamboat Ski Area was reporting about 123 inches of snow and a 45-inch base at midmountain. The current snow total, however, pales in comparison to 2011 when the ski area surpassed 300 inches by this time and boasted a base more than twice as deep.
Because of the weather, customers’ spending habits have changed. And ski shops are adjusting.
Many are finding that different segments of their businesses are significantly higher than the same time last year. Others have been buoyed by strong early-season sales when optimism for a repeat of last year’s snow total in excess of 400 inches — the fourth in six years — still was high.
“Up through the end of December, things were really great,” Steamboat Ski & Bike Kare co-owner Harry Martin said. “From Jan. 1 to now, our ski sales have been down a lot. Boot sales, rentals, those are OK, but ski sales are down quite a bit. Luckily, we sold a fair amount of skis early.”
Unlike Ski Haus, Martin said, Ski & Bike Kare hadn’t seen a significant uptick in its bike business.
Martin added that Ski & Bike Kare customers have reported enjoying the mild temperatures and sunshine.
Chuck O’Connell, manager of Christy Sports’ Gondola Square location, said sunglasses sales are up year to date while goggle sales are down. He said weather-specific items that shops can’t promote, such as face masks, neck gaiters, hand warmers and gloves and mittens have been down significantly compared with last year, when temperatures hung around the single digits and fell below zero for weeks at a time.
Like Ski & Bike Kare, Christy Sports’ ski sales have suffered, O’Connell said. After customers were reluctant to get a tune in the season’s early months, he said they’ve started coming in.
“We’ve seen an uptick in our ski tuning at our Gondola Square location, probably at Central Park (Plaza) and Powder Tools, as well,” O’Connell said. “Does an increase in tuning make up for a decline in other areas? Absolutely not. ... But without a doubt, we’re not singing a doom and gloom story here by any means.”
Fleischer Sport General Manager Torre Saterstrom said the three-year-old store’s ski sales are down from last year but rental sales remain steady. He said customers continue to make rental reservations. Saterstrom, too, said he thinks it’s the locals who are staying away from the ski area.
Saterstrom said Fleischer Sport’s clothing sales have been good, especially for what he called “lifestyle” clothes.
“A lot of the jackets we’ve been selling are around-town winter jackets instead of ski wear,” he said. “We kind of fill that niche market, which has been good for us.”
Schrage said Ski Haus had a strong fall, which tapered off as snow failed to come. He said that lately the store has seen an increase in cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals.
But the owner of one of Steamboat’s longer-running ski shops hasn’t given up on the 2011-12 season. Schrage said he’s still optimistic for the rest of the season.
“With the snow we’re getting and the forecast, our business has been strong since the first of February,” he said. “We’ve seen a strong rebound in our business. I have high hopes for the rest of February and March. I think there’s a lot of pent-up desire to go skiing. I think the people who said, ‘I’m not going to go skiing this year,’ once we get some snow will be out there.”
To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com