Sizing Up the Kids Market: Growth, Growth and More Growth

From leasing programs to the emerging 'tweener' market, ski and snowboard sales for kids are experiencing rapid growth. SNEWS takes a look at some of the highlights, and what this means for the snowsports market's future.

When it comes to snowsports, kids continue to rule at the register.

That’s the findings from the Snow Sports Industry Association (SIA), and the sentiment from retailers, manufacturers and resorts--all of whom are encouraged by what this bodes for the industry’s future.

“Kids are absolutely critical to the snow sports market,” said SIA Director of Research Kelly Davis. “Not only do they represent a significant portion of actual participants, but they’re the harbinger of participation for decades to come.”

According to the SIA report “Growing the Snow Sports Industry” (adjusted for 2011 by the Consumer Price Index), a person who begins participating in snow sports at age 10 will spend more than $69,000 on snowsports over his or her life, while those who begin at age 25 spend an average of $19,000 over the courses of their lives.

If this year is any indication, these sales will likely continue to pile up like Sierra snowfall. Dollar sales of kids’ gear increased 19 percent overall this year to $244 million, which represents 9 percent of the total snowsports market. In dollars, kids alpine sales are up 16 percent, kids snowboard equipment increased 9 percent, and kids cross-country sales climbed 19 percent. And all this comes on top of the previous season, which saw Junior ski systems increase 25 percent.

“The kids’ market is very healthy this season as parents who may have put off buying some extras for the family found room in their budgets,” Davis said. “The only category of junior specific equipment, apparel or accessories that decreased was in telemark.”

Indeed, alpine hardgoods manufacturers are riding a surge of business in the sector. “We’ve grown our junior business each of the last three years,” said Tait Wardlaw, vice-president of marketing for Rossignol, Dynastar and Lange. “Last year we even established our own ‘tweener’ business--which includes products aimed at 10- to 16-year-olds--which was all new business for us. The junior and tweener segments are critical for both the sport and establishing brand and product recognition among future skiers.”

The key to growing the segment further, he adds, is having the right products, with the right sizing at the right prices. It’s done this in its new tweener category by developing adult construction lay-ups with wider (80-90mm) waists with soft flexes and shorter lengths at what it calls “tweener pricing.” Said Wardlaw, “It’s a pretty simple concept, but you'd be surprised how hard that can be sometimes.”

Helping companies like Rossignol sell their wares by giving the niche a push is an active multi-group campaign designed to kid gets outside. From January’s National Learn to Ski Month to President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoor Initiative and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Outside campaign, the message to get kids outdoors is sinking in, with snow sports playing a vital role. “It looks like snow sports are doing their part to get kids outside in the winter months,” added Davis, who said that more than 5 million of snowsports’ 20.5 million participants are between the ages of 6 and 17.

Resorts are encouraging and embracing the uptick, happily enjoying increased kid’s lesson revenue and ticket sales. Steamboat Springs has invested in its Kids Vacation Center, as well as its Mountain Watch program by Flaik, a GPS tracking system that lets parents and instructors keep track of their kids on the slopes, and lets kids track their runs back home at the end of the day. “We’re always looking at ways to engage the next generation of skiers and snowboarders,” said the resort’s Loryn Kasten. “Kids have always been a strong focus for us, and we think our efforts are paying off.”

Steamboat’s not alone. Snowmass is riding strong feedback (and sales) for its new $17 million Treehouse Kids Adventure Center, and Keystone has invested heavily in its special Kidtopia weekends and is planning more kid programming next season. All which boils down to better bottom lines at retail.

“The greatest thing we see is business geared toward families,” said Tom Gately, president of Snowsports Merchandising Corp. (SMC), a buying group representing 154 specialty shops. “Wintersports are a great family activity, and junior product is doing especially well right now. Families are buying all the components, and the lease business is off the charts. Families are still going to recreate and they’re spending the money to do so.”

While Gately said his group doesn’t have hard numbers yet for this year, indications from January’s Snow Show in Denver show the category is up. For SMC, he said Junior skis were set to outpace all skis by 4 percent, and twin tips by 7 percent. “I don’t know if that’s held true since we’re still processing orders, but those were the early indicators,” he said. “It likely has a lot to do with how good the junior business--especially the lease programs--was in the fall. I heard all sorts of stories about people running out of retail and lease merchandise, and going into back closets to get whatever they could find. And it stayed that way throughout the entire year.”

Case in point: Joe’s Sporting Goods in Minneapolis. “The youth market is growing huge for us, in everything from systems to twin tips,” said owner Joe Rauscher. “We sold through our junior products faster than we ever have and our lease-for-kids program doubled.”

Gately added that this kind of success bodes well for the ensuing season as well, as retailers flush with cash can now replace or add to their lease and rental fleets. “Many people have capital this year to invest,” he said. “Typically, an operator might replace a third of its inventory. In a bad year they might hold off, in a good year like this it sways the other direction.”

Perhaps no better example can be found than from the trenches, where the registers are ringing. “I was traveling in New England this year and went into three shops jammed with kids and parents,” said SIA president Dave Ingemie. “I’ve never seen it like that. Kids were trying on boots and flexing skis and parents were fully supportive and opening their wallets.”

Added Steve Rogers, president of buying group Sports Specialists Ltd.: “We’ve seen a pleasant resurgence in the category, and its numbers are huge. I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon.”

And Gately likes what it foretells for the future. "This is great news for the big picture in snow sports,” he said. “It bodes well for the long-term health of the industry."

--Eugene Buchanan

Send your WinterSports news to Peter Kray at Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at to learn about posting your own news releases, getting your WinterSports headlines, or with any other questions or comments.


Fitness retailers jumping into Arizona's growth market

With economic, population and growth data showing Arizona as the hot spot in the country (and we don't just mean weather), fitness retailers are sensing the market there heating up and are either wading in or hovering expectantly, such as recent entrant Precision Fitness out of more


Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '09: Outerwear makers shell out jackets and pants -- and kids get in on the action too

No winter trade show would be complete without an extensive rollout of outerwear and Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '09 was no exception. In shells, companies are trying to heat things up using alternative means, like Mountain Hardwear jackets wired for Ardica's heat source more

Walk-to-school programs get kids walking, biking, more fit

"Walking to school can be really fun. Walk to school cause you're not dumb. Walk to school and you will feel great. Walk to school and you'll stay in shape!" -- 5th grade participant in Walk to School Day 2002 Walking or biking to school used to be a child's first step to more

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '07: Setting size and attendance records

For those who wondered last year if Outdoor Retailer Winter Market could manage to get bigger and still remain relevant, wonder no more. Winter Market 2007 was indeed much bigger in terms of exhibit hall space and overall attendance. As we heard from the floor of the SIA more


New K2 CEO De Rocco talks rocker, growth, global strategy

The breaking news out of K2 Sports in Seattle on Aug. 22, 2011, was that Anthony De Rocco would be taking over as president and chief executive officer of the brand on Sept. 1, while current president and CEO Robert Marcovitch would assume the same role with The Coleman Company. more

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '06 Trends: Kids' apparel & accessories

The SNEWS® team of editors powered by imported dark chocolate and numerous espresso shots (not necessarily in that order), zigged and zagged around the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market floor to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, more

Active kids more likely to be active, healthy adults

Backing up what we all know intuitively with quality research in a quality peer-reviewed journal is always nice: Participation in organized sports by school age children is indeed a predictor of physical activity in adulthood, according to a December 2003 study in Medicine & more

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '07 Trends: Kids' winter footwear and apparel

It is Winter Market trends wrap time again, and yes, your committed SNEWS® team of editors (some of whom should be committed, no doubt) fought through beer, sushi and dueling espresso parties to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, more

UK's fitness market to continue growth curve

With most U.S.-based fitness manufacturers eyeing the exponential growth expected in Europe in the next decade, the United Kingdom has become a primary target as companies make sure all their ducks are in a row with offices, staff and shipping. And rightly so, it seems. more