When powder-coated lifts stopped spinning in the middle of last season, touring skins went like candy. As did touring bindings, beacons, probes, shovels, and all that is related to backcountry skiing/snowboarding, gear-wise. And industry professionals such as backcountry ski shop owners and avalanche forecasters expect it happen it all over again (the gear flying off store shelves, not the closing of the resorts — or at least so we all pray). They’ve also said that gear shortages are a real possibility, which should prompt all of those looking to purchase new backcountry gear this season to do so swiftly before it sells out.
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Director of the Utah Avalanche Center Mark Staples said via email that after resorts closed last season, “trailheads were busier than anyone had ever seen and that many stores reported selling much more backcountry gear and avalanche gear than they typically do.” Staples added,
“There is a lot of uncertainty; however, we definitely expect a lot more people in the backcountry this coming winter. By all accounts, trailheads have been busier than ever this summer. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t expect increased use this winter. Also, we’ve been seeing steady growth in backcountry use regardless. In the Wasatch Range that growth has been compounded by easy access and population growth.”
More backcountry users equates to more people purchasing backcountry gear and more people taking avalanche awareness courses such as their Level 1s and 2s. Just take for example what happened at the end of last season when ski shops in Salt Lake City, Utah sold out of certain backcountry products altogether.
Wasatch Touring, one of Salt Lake City’s most distinguished bike, kayak, and backcountry ski/snowboard gear vendors, saw a frantic run on backcountry gear right after resorts closed unexpectedly. Store owner Dylan Timmer said that climbing skins sold out like never before. He said over a phone call:
“We were hit pretty hard. We sold all of our rental gear from last season around that same time, which all went really quickly. We didn’t sell as many full ski packages, but there was a lot of interest in skins and touring bindings. People weren’t buying $1,000+ carbon ski setups but we ran out of skins first and then pin bindings were a close second.”
When asked if Timmer expected something similar happening this season, or that if the shop was getting ready for another run on backcountry gear, he replied:
“We’re definitely expecting it to be crazy. We’ve already had people coming in, chatting about [backcountry gear] and getting information about it. We’ve had lots of people coming in saying things like, ‘I normally ski at a resort but I’m not doing a pass this year’.”
Timmer also added that the shop has seen a lot of interest in split-boarding in the past few years and that he foresees more snowboarders getting into it this season, especially if they aren’t able to get up to a resort. Because of what Timmer has said, we can expect another rush on gear at local ski shops this season, at least in popular ski destinations like Salt Lake City. But what about big, corporate entities that manufacture and push ski gear on a large scale, all over the world?
Melanie Hood is the Marketing Manager for SCARPA, a performance-driven and purpose-built backcountry skiing, climbing, hiking, mountaineering, trail running, and telemark footwear company that sells its products all over the world. She manages SCARPA’s marketing team for the U.S and Canada.
Hood said via email that SCARPA anticipates an influx of backcountry use this season with subsequent gear sales. She also said that shortages on backcountry gear could be a real possibility this season. Hood wrote:
“At SCARPA we are anticipating an increase in backcountry activities this winter including backcountry, Uphill and Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and even sledding and other fun winter activities. We believe that the increase in outdoor sports participation we saw this summer will continue into winter and that people will want to continue to get outside and discover our wild places. We are cautiously optimistic about sales for products that support these winter activities and have planned accordingly. Many companies with backcountry products, including SCARPA, are making the best guesses they can and will try to have as much stock as possible, but foresee a possibility of high demand and small quantities of stock due to factory shutdowns this spring, much like we saw with paddleboards and bikes this summer. It’s probably not the best season to wait too long to get your kit sorted out and ready for winter!”
Hood also shared a message that SCARPA has for everyone planning on being in the backcountry this season. She wrote:
“We also want to encourage everyone heading into the backcountry for the first or 1,000th time to make sure they are up to date with the latest education and knowledge required to recreate responsibly, especially avalanche training.”
Because if anything is to be certain this season it’s that nothing will be certain this season. But we can learn from last season when the world flipped upside down and knocked backcountry gear right down off the shelves with it.
Will backcountry gear sell out this season, making it hard to get after a certain point? Possibly.
Will there be more people in the backcountry than ever before? Yes, almost certainly. And for that, we as skiers and snowboarders must prepare: by getting the proper knowledge, education, and experience FIRST, and then by getting all that sexy backcountry ski and split-board gear we oh-so desire before it’s too late.