Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Winter Retail Holds Steady despite Lack of Snow

Click here to learn how the UMass Running Club handles the Winter

On a sunny, clear President’s Day, not a flake of snow is visible outside of Competitive Edge Ski and Bike, yet store employee Sean Kennedy doesn’t seem concerned.

“We always have a steady flow of customers. Even if it snows about an inch around here, people start coming in, it gets them thinking about skiing,” Kennedy said.

While the lack of snow has affected the store’s business the most at the beginning of the ski season, Kennedy said that the overall affect of the relatively snow-less winter has been minimal. The biggest impact of the weather has been on his own skiing schedule, “I go on about 100 runs a year; I definitely haven’t gone out as much as usual, the beginning of the season was slow,” he said.

Sean’s father, Gary Kennedy, co-owner of Competitive Edge, said that, while the lack of snow has had a negative impact on cross-country ski sales, he credits modern snow-making at ski resorts with keeping the demand for skis and snowboards steady, even when actual snowfall is low.

Clothing sales are also a major component of Competitive Edge’s business, and the cold temperatures have kept customers coming through their doors.

“While no snow hurts our business, the cold is the next best thing,” he said.

However, having snow on the ground does have its benefits. Kennedy believes that Massachusetts residents are less likely to think of going skiing if the winter is not a snowy one, as opposed to Connecticut and New York skiers, who are forced to travel to resorts for snowy winters.

“If you don’t see snow in your yard, you don’t believe that there is snow in the next yard unless a friend tells you,” Kennedy said.

Doug Haddad, a senior at the University of Massachusetts who skis every weekend at either Mount Snow, Okimo or Stratton ski resorts, agreed that cold temperatures are often a better indicator than snow that skiing conditions are good.

“This year has actually been pretty good. The temperature around the mountains has been cold,” he said. “I’d rather have natural snow because man-made snow is icier, but as long as I can be on the mountain I’m ok.”

Travel to ski resorts has also helped Kennedy’s business. As domestic flights have gotten cheaper, Kennedy said more skiers in this area are making a few trips per year to the Midwest to ski. Haddad said he flies out to Colorado, Montana or Utah two or three times a year to go helicopter skiing, an extreme version of alpine skiing where skiers are dropped off by a helicopter on uncharted mountain trials.

“I’d rather just have straight up snow, it’s like a shot in the arm, you can’t get better advertising,” Kennedy said.

While many corporate sport stores have a set date when the stop selling winter gear, Kennedy said the store owners base their decision on when to stop selling skis on the weather. Kennedy said a major component of Competitive Edge Ski and Bike is following storms on Doppler radar to see when the next big snow storm is likely to hit.

“We’re not only skiers, we’re weathermen,” he said.

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