Walking through the halls of the snow sports segment of the ispo sporting goods show, one could nearly hear a collective sigh of relief. After three economically weak years (and weather that caused some gray hairs, too), the attitude was upbeat and positive as the halls brimmed with energy, activities and attendees.
"We at Fritschi -- although I also guess the whole market segment -- are in a positive, if not very positive, mood," exclaimed Stefan Burki, company marketing manager. "Even the German retailers who love to whine more than others did not complain."
With two fully sold-out halls dedicated to snow sports and another "cross-over" hall shared with outdoor and snow sports, about 220 ski manufacturers and 280 brands from 47 countries exhibited this year from Feb. 1-4 at the 60th annual ispo sporting goods show in Munich, Germany.
One thing that helped, we heard throughout the halls, was that retailers needed to restock their storage rooms because they had experienced a good sell-through so far this season on the heels of conservative ordering. Empty backrooms and shelves meant new orders for the suppliers, but one needs to consider whether that really translates into a strong retail selling season.
"This winter, many retailers were very cautious with preseason orders, as they considered last season's sell through rather bad," said Christian Jaeggi, manager of Black Diamond Europe. "Now they see their shelves empty and think 'great winter' even though total sales might have been flat or only slightly increasing. Nevertheless, it's nice to see smiling faces!"
The summit of education and networking
ispo attendee energy this year spilled over into every corner of the snow sports show. From two "summit" areas ("European Ski Summit" and "Backcountry and Telemark Summit") that had ongoing discussion, roundtables and lectures, to continuous demos in the aisles, to fashion shows in booths, attendees had plenty to look at and keep them busy AND informed. If you were tired of looking at product, you could always wander into one of the summit or meeting areas, sit down for a spell, grab a brew and read a magazine, talk to colleagues, or listen to a discussion or slide show. This is a great way to make a trade show more appealing to retailers to attend, we think, since it adds an element of education.
The European Ski Summit highlighted a different topic each day. On the first day, for example, the area hosted the presentation of the European Ski Awards by the "King of Kitzbuehel," Kalle Pallander. On the second show day, the focus was on the women and their equipment and needs. On hand was the K2 Women's Ski Team including Michaela Gerg-Leitner. By Monday afternoon, the big guns came on down with appearances by Bode Miller, Daron Rahlves and David Jacobs. On the third day, the program focused on safety, which seemed to reflect a rising awareness -- even with the historic ski culture of Europe -- of the dangers of alpine winter sports.
At the Backcountry and Telemark Summit, retailers presented their brands, movies were shown (including the premiere there of "Touching the Void") and experts discussed technique as well as safety precautions in the backcountry. Interesting to note was the larger audience for many events -- more than ever before seem to be interested in this category.
Of course, the ispo show wasn't just about networking and learning. The show is all about product and trends for the European market. Our team of reporters culled their notes from the show to present a few highlights of trends and new snow sport product directions of note. Also, remember that SNEWSÂ® covered the outdoor segment in the Feb. 16 News Digest, and look for numerous other stories and shorts in the last three weeks from our on-the-scene reporters -- go to our Trade Show link on the right hand side of every page in SNEWS to view.
After years of suffering from bad winters in the Alps and an old-fashioned image, the status of Nordic skiing has been lifted in the last three years. Now comes the Fitness skiing wave that has also crashed on North American shores. Cross-country skiing world market leader Fischer created Nordic Cruising two years ago with skis that are shorter and wider than classic cross-country skis so they are easier to use. It's caught on in Europe, with the scope now widened not only to include younger people, but also those who don't care about technique but just a pleasant time and some fitness.
Thomas Drindl, marketing manager for the Nordic division at Fischer, said he was satisfied with the number of Nordic Cruising sets sold in Germany -- those sales in 2003 made up 40 percent of Fischer's total cross-country ski sales compared to only 16 percent in 2002.
Throughout the four-day show, we noted two women swathed in tight black Lycra skiing up and down artificial tracks along an aisle. (In between the short ski bursts, these same women were doing fashion and equipment shows on the Summit stage. We eventually got tired of seeing them and figured they had to have gotten tired of silently skiing 20 meters or so over and over -- sort of like a ski version of the movie Groundhog's Day. But we heard a couple of exhibitors say they kinda enjoyed watching the Lycra-clad glutes go by. And go by. And go by.)
Other items of note:
>> The telemark segment is growing, but company managers say it will never become more than a niche.
>> The focus on women has also taken over Europe, especially since surveys show that 43 percent of all skiers are women and that they have been somewhat neglected at best.
>> Off-piste skiing is growing. Why? Because of the "fun factor," says Christian Schneidermeier, Ortovox marketing manager. "Fat, modern skis also allow intermediate skiers to have a real powder experience, and people want to enjoy the outdoors without noise and bustle."
>> In the past, Alpine Touring was clearly separated from resort skiing on slopes. Today, backcountry activities are split up in three main groups that are not totally separated anymore: Classic Alpine Touring (a rather conservative target group), Free Riding (a newer and younger crowd), and AT Races. "We see an increase of this market by about 20 percent," said Peter Kuba, K2's product manager for ski and snowboard.
>> Ski mountaineering contests are growing strongly. Especially in France, Italy and the French-speaking part of Switzerland, the number of participants in these competitions has doubled or tripled.
>> A particular German and Austrian phenomenon is on-piste Alpine Touring. Yup, using the slopes in resorts and these are just the aficionados. Even the German Alpine Club (DAV) has released guidelines for participants to help avoid conflicts on the slopes. Some ski resorts allow the on-piste ascent only on certain days or afternoons, with some participants doing this strictly for fitness: Go for a quick on-piste ascent rather than a jog.
Of course, it was hard to focus on snow, skiing and cold -- plus the equipment and apparel to go with that -- when a warm wind blew in during show week, shoving temperatures into the abnormally high 50s and 60s and melting any trace of snow in Munich. But it was back to business by the following weekend as a much-welcomed snowstorm blew back in -- helping already upbeat snow sports retailers to smile again.