With winter weather soon approaching and the pandemic surging on, outdoor sports equipment has become a number one purchase for those who are tired of being cooped up at home. But small, locally owned ski and ride shops might have a hard time keeping up with the demand.
At Slopestyle Ski and Ride, located on River Street in Montpelier, co-owner Ian Downing said “snowshoes are already sold out, and we can’t get anymore for the rest of the year. A couple of our most popular back country style bindings have already sold out and we can no longer get anymore of those as well.”
Snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, and cross country skiing have all become popular sports during the pandemic because they are activities that can be done alone or socially distanced most anywhere. And with an uncertain downhill ski season, many are opting for a cheaper and less crowded way to be outside.
“Obviously, the unknown with us is whether ski areas will operate as normal this winter. So we’re certainly seeing a lot of the backcountry demand due to other folks thinking that same thing,” said Downing.
Increased demand would not normally be an issue. But the problem is that manufacturers cannot keep up with the demand. Production came to a halt when China and other manufacturing epicenters around the world went into shutdown earlier this year, and factories have not been able to catch up. Not only were orders postponed, but combined with factories functioning at less-than-full capacity and international shipping delays, it is not possible for equipment manufacturers to keep up with the unexpected spike in demand.
Onion River Outdoors in downtown Montpelier faces the same supply-and-demand imbalance. Like Slopestyle, Onion River Outdoors only received a limited run of snowshoes so far, and has been told by their suppliers that they will possibly get more in January.
Co-owner Jen Roberts has had customers ask her about skis as early as August. Roberts said she feels good about the amount of skis they have for sale, but that the store’s buyers had to rethink their ordering strategy in order to be prepared for the winter shopping season.
“Usually the way it would work is we would have a shipment of skis in November or late October, and another shipment in December, and maybe another in January, and we would adjust the amount we were getting shipped as we went along, based on how much we sold. Now because of the shortages, we’re saying ‘just send us everything, just send us all of our orders right now,’ so that we can make sure we have stuff just in case it runs out.”
Big-brand clothing items have also been difficult to secure. Slopestyle only received 60 percent of an order from The North Face after the company cut production on their ski-specific line. Onion River Outdoors is unable to order a specific type of pant from Patagonia, usually a big seller for the store, for the same reason.
The outdoor gear industry faced a similar shortage in the spring with bicycles and kayaks. Slopestyle sold out of bikes by May and could not order more for the rest of the summer. By July, it was a challenge just to order bike parts.
Fortunately, Downing said they have already made more sales in backcountry gear than they had in the entirety of last year. But he does expect his business will lose sales between now and Christmas from a lack of inventory.
As for Onion River Outdoors, Roberts thinks business is starting to pick back up. “We have a full store, and we are totally ready for the holidays. What we’re looking at is just filling in products once they sell. So maybe when we sell out in one item of a certain size, we might not be able to get more of the same.”