Tamo Campos. Erin Hogue Photo

 

It might be time to consider bring the backcountry into your shop.

            Both anecdotal evidence and sales figures point to a migration from lift-accessed turns to the backcountry. According to a report wrapping up the 2014 SIA Snow Show, sales of backcountry gear including backcountry accessories and splitboards totalled $73 million from August 2013 to March 2014, a 16 per cent jump from the previous year.

            “I think that people are seeing splitboarding in the media a lot more and the gear is getting a lot better—which is a huge part of it,” says Simon Coward, owner of Calgary-based Splitboard HQ. “There’s more information online and therefore it’s in the front of people’s minds, especially after they’ve had a crappy day of snowboarding bumps at the ski hill.”

            Despite splitboarding increasing the mental real estate of consumers, Coward has found the correlation to sales fickle.

            “As a trend in general, we’re seeing growth in sales of splitboard hardware for sure,” he says. “But I’m finding that board sales are pretty flat for the most part. People are often looking for used, or what we’re seeing is people are very brand loyal.” This loyalty often means missed sales if certain brands aren’t carried by the retailer.

            Beacons, probes, and shovels have long been mandatory accessories for splitboarders venturing beyond resort boundaries, but avalanche airbag packs are slowly accruing mandatory status as more manufacturers enter the market driving prices down.

            To compliment the increasing ubiquity of these packs, more research on their effectiveness has come to light. A 2012 study by Pascal Haegeli of Avisualanche Consulting found that avalanche airbags would have saved about a third of victims who would have otherwise died. Haegeli’s dataset only included severe slides that resulted in multi-person burials, but the picture is still clear—a chance at being in the third saved by airbags is worth the extra expenditure for most folks.

            Backcountry Access, purchased in early 2013 by K2 Sports, has seen its pack sales level off in the ski and snowboard market but are seeing growth in the sled markets, says Marcus Rowan, Sales and Marketing Manager at K2 Ski Canada.

            Across the country, more retailers are stocking the packs, though adoption in the east has seen retailers carry minimal stock.

            “The more pedestrian this type of stuff becomes, you’ll see a bit more of it selling at retail,” says Rowan on brick-and-mortar sales versus online sales, noting that more hardcore backcountry enthusiasts are used to buying their gear online regardless.

 

            As the lust for backcountry turns grows, so to does retailers’ responsibility to promote safety in the backcountry. For organizations like Mountain Equipment Co-op, retailing backcountry gear is the perfect touch point to engage customers in a dialogue about safe practices beyond avalanche controlled areas. Running Backcountry Awareness Workshops is just one way MEC starts that conversation.

            “For us, it’s a really important service for our members,” says Sean Mahar, National Event and Activity Coordinator at MEC. “We sell a really large percentage of the backcountry gear that’s going out there in Canada. It’s just us doing our part to make sure people are educated.”


 

Teaching awareness at MEC.

          

The Backcountry Awareness Workshops usually draw an average of 30 to 40 people and are among MEC’s most popular in-store sessions. MEC targets these workshops to areas that lie at a crossroads between mountainous regions and regions where Avalanche Canada is able to send qualified staff, adds Andrew Stegemann, National Community Program Manager at MEC.

            “In addition to educating the rapidly expanding group of people going out into the winter backcountry, the workshops drive a lot of traffic to our snowsports departments and our avalanche safety product assortment,” says Mahar.

            The Backcountry Awareness Workshops are part of a larger relationship between MEC and Avalanche Canada, a partnership that has existed since Avalanche Canada’s 2004 incorporation.

            Splitboard HQ has plans to venture further into events based around backcountry safety according to Coward. This season he has a meet-and-greet planned for everyone who has done an AST course with them over the years. This event will be highlighted by a slideshow and talk on the touring areas in the vicinity of the shop.

            “We’re really trying to build community around splitboarding,” says Coward. “I think it’s a small enough niche at the moment that people really value that.”

 

 

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