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Will COVID-19 Provide a Boom For Cross Country Skiing?

XC1 Great Glen Trails

The COVID pandemic has some in the cross country ski industry projecting a coming boom similar to the bicycle industry, which saw such a surge of sales and activity last spring.

When the country was shut down, the kids were not in school, people were looking to get out of the house, and there are many other factors resulting in packed bike trails, and sold-out bike racks at many retail outlets across the world.

Cross country skiing is similar to bicycling in some respects, but it is also different in some significant ways. Most people know how to use a bike and many already own one, but comparatively few own cross country skis or know anything about the sport. You can take a bike out of the garage and go out on the road while cross country skiing is more limited because it requires cold weather and snow cover.

In the US, cross country ski sales that once reached a high of 800,000 pairs annually in the 1980s have been on a plateau for decades to fewer than 200,000 pairs sold annually. The Olympic gold medal earned by Americans Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall at the 2018 Games infected us with enthusiasm but it has not resulted in substantial increases in the number of cross country skiers or cross country ski sales. And now as ridiculous as it sounds, the pandemic offers another anticipated bull market for cross country skiing.

In association with the pandemic, cross country skiing (and snowshoeing, too) is a recreation that has everything going for it, and it is just what the doctor ordered. The benefits of cross country skiing include wellness (physical and psychological)  associated with getting outdoors in nature and exercise. Social distancing is a key element of the sport and last spring, people showed an increased enthusiasm for learning something new.

Cross country ski dealers (retail shops) are anticipating the upcoming season. According to content on FasterSkier.com, Nathan Schultz founder of Boulder Nordic Sport said, “Everybody started riding bikes because that was all they could do last spring. It went from zero to 500 percent. It seems like more and more people are coming to us saying they want to get into cross country skiing this year. They are coming in at the end of August instead of October and November when they usually show up.”

The word from cross country ski product suppliers like Fischer, Rossignol, and Salomon, which sell both alpine and cross country ski products, is that their alpine ski shop dealers are now building their cross country ski equipment inventories. They are anticipating the cross country ski surge and they’re also concerned about restrictions at alpine ski areas and the projected decrease in travel. There are not many people who are planning to get on a plane to go on a ski trip this coming year. Ski areas that have traditionally relied on air travelers are expecting a much larger drive visitation from locals this year.

The FasterSkier.com article also covered the supply side of the cross country ski industry with references to sourcing for raw materials, manufacturing, lead time for orders, and plans to fill mid-season reorders from ski dealers. The ski industry has had time to anticipate this and dealers are expecting a big year and may run out of cross country ski products to sell. This of course, is a balancing act for retailers because they want to be able to maximize sales while ending the season with minimal inventory.

How much the cross country ski surge will help cross country ski area operators will depend on the allocation cross country ski outings. People who want to go cross country skiing can go to a cross country ski area to enjoy groomed ski or they can go out locally on nearby ungroomed public trails, parks or golf courses. The benefits of cross country ski areas are multifold, but factors for the equation of whether cross country skiers will visit a groomed ski trail include awareness of recreationalists about cross country skiing, the perception about travel safety, paying for cross country skiing versus the relative extensive volume of local free places to ski when covered with snow. One tip for newcomers to cross country skiing is to take a lesson to get the basics.

One thing about the forecast for cross country skiing this winter is that snowsports industry professionals and cross country skiers are on the same page hoping that the pandemic slows while cross country skiing surges!

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