As Resorts Close, Sales of Backcountry Touring Gear Spike

Toilet paper and canned goods aren’t the only commodities flying off the shelves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Vail Resorts’ stock fell along with the rest of the market, and as ski resorts across the nation closed for the season earlier this month, the demand for touring setups has spiked.

“Ski resorts closed a week ago Saturday afternoon, and people lost their minds,” says Brendan Madigan, owner of Tahoe City, California’s Alpenglow Sports. “We sold more splitboards in two days than we had in the whole season. People had their heroin taken away and were doing everything they could to get their fix.”

New gear by the bus-full. [Photo] Iz La Motte

Mike Aicher, an independent sales representative for Salomon and Swix in New England, has his fingers to the pulse of the retail ski world. “When faced with the option of not skiing the next day or purchasing gear to be able to skin, some people decided that it was time to buy, so there has been a bit of a run on touring gear,” Aicher explains, before warning, “New purchasers of AT gear should educate themselves and act responsibly.” (Read more about best practices for skinning at ski areas here.)

In addition to underlining the importance of avalanche safety education, Aicher encourages new backcountry users to shop local. “Customers that are interested in gear for spring touring should call their favorite specialty shop or visit their website to connect, and support local businesses as much as possible,” he says. “This situation could last a while, and it is more important than ever to support specialty shops.”

While the uptick in touring sales was good news for shops short-term, Aicher believes that resort closures will be bad for business long-term. “The closure of resorts will have a similar effect on all brands and retailers,” he says. “It is going to be painful to lose what would have been several more weeks of winter operations and tourist traffic in the resort towns.”

Alpenglow has felt that impact firsthand. Despite the boom in backcountry converts triggered by resort closures, quarantine restrictions have threatened to cripple the Tahoe store. Alpenglow initially ceased their rental program, not wanting to outfit ill-prepared backcountry travelers, and eventually shut its doors to the public. In a Facebook post from March 19, Madigan asked community members to step up and #SaveYourLocalGearShop by ordering over the phone.

The response was “staggering,” he says. Less than a week later, Alpenglow had sold over $75,000 in gift cards alone, which will help the shop stay afloat and support employees during this epoch of uncertainty.

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