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Ski Notebook

A green Christmas, but cash still flowing in

Among the lift ticket deals Saturday in the Mount Washington Valley is a $3.30 bargain at Cranmore Mountain Resort. Among the lift ticket deals Saturday in the Mount Washington Valley is a $3.30 bargain at Cranmore Mountain Resort. (Brooks Dodge/Special To The Globe)
By T.D. Thornton and Marty Basch
Globe Correspondents / December 17, 2009

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Relatively light snow cover has kept skiers and snowboarders off the mountains, but money that would be spent on lift tickets is apparently filling cash registers at retail outlets.

According to SnowSports Industries America, sales of equipment and apparel from August to October were “healthy,’’ with $520 million in overall spending, a 12 percent increase in units and a 10 percent increase in dollars compared with the same period in 2008.

“We’ve seen business pick up over the past several weeks,’’ said Kristy McNiss, a buyer for Ski Market, which has 16 retail locations in the Northeast. “People aren’t gravitating toward the big-ticket items. People are gravitating toward updating their look without spending a lot of money.’’

Steven Pilla, the owner of Ski Haus in Salem, N.H., agreed. “We’re up a little more than that [10 percent national increase], and I don’t know why.’’ Pilla initially feared business would suffer when Ski Haus lost the lease on its Wilmington location last year, but now that operations have consolidated in one store, it seems to be a positive factor in an unsettled economy.

The big national sellers this season? Helmets and snowshoes. The surprise surge in the marketplace? Interest in Alpine touring equipment. Although only 1,900 pairs of randonee skis were sold, that represents a 55 percent increase from last year.

Oddly, it’s the core snow sports equipment that isn’t flying off the shelves. Alpine ski sales were described in the SIA retail audit as “flat,’’ while snowboard sales plunged 11 percent. It’s the second consecutive year both have dipped.

Pilla confirmed that snowboard sales were “a little softer’’ than skis at his store. He chalked that up to snowboarders being a younger demographic, and thus “a little more hurt by the economy’’ when unemployment rises.

Specialty ski shops still command the bulk of consumers’ business, with $276 million in sales (up 4 percent). Chain stores, whose sales are primarily driven by apparel rather than equipment, also showed a 4 percent gain. Internet sales accounted for $164 million in sales, growing a robust 26 percent.

McNiss said brick-and-mortar retailers must face the reality of online competition, noting that consumers will “pull out their iPhones and Blackberries to check prices elsewhere’’ while out shopping.

Still, in the final frenzied week of holiday shopping, ski shops can only hope for the one thing that consistently drives sales: a little help from Mother Nature.

“If it snows, it’s all hands on deck,’’ said Pilla.

Free and hardly easy
Dylan Crossman’s world is teeming with rock chutes, steep cliffs, flips, and fluid lines down incredibly challenging terrain.

Crossman’s a seasoned free- skiing telemarker from Bethel, Vt., with his sights set on the Subaru Freeskiing World Tour, which takes the intrepid down exacting off-piste runs on impressive mountains in Revelstoke, Telluride, Crested Butte, and Snowbird.

The World Tour has more than $100,000 in prize money and is unveiling the McConkey Cup - named after action skier Shane McConkey, who died skiing off a cliff in March - awarded to the overall male and female champs.

“Freeskiing used to be called extreme skiing,’’ said Crossman, 29. “Take the most extreme area at a mountain that is closed or only open under the right conditions. Set a start point, set boundary lines, and impress the judges with the smoothest line that can be skied with flips, 360s, air, and tight turns.’’

Crossman’s been skiing since age 8, first as a downhiller following his father Michael and two brothers around jumps in their backyard. As a teenager he would skip classes on a snowy day - even if school wasn’t canceled - to ski the woods and terrain parks at areas like Sugarbush and Stowe.

He switched to telemark and spent a few years patrolling at Killington and Mad River Glen, now spending winters in Alta, Utah.

Crossman has twice won Mad River Glen’s grueling Triple Crown Series, a three-event challenge tackling grueling terrain, accumulated vertical in a day, and knee-bashing moguls. His results include a 13th-place finish last season in the Subaru US Extreme Freeskiing Championships at Crested Butte, a seventh in the North American Championships at Kirkwood, and a third place in the Canadian Freeskiing Championships.

“We’re trying to take our sport to a new level and kind of do what snowboarders do: be more free with your style,’’ said Crossman.

Saving grace
The Mount Washington Valley is saturated with deals tomorrow: Cranmore will feature a one-day price rollback to $3.30, the same price skiers paid in the 1930s; Wildcat has a $9 Friday lift ticket special; and Black Mountain opens with $10 lift tickets . . . In Vermont, Bolton Valley has slashed prices today and tomorrow to $15 (Alpine) and $5 (Nordic) . . . Owners of hybrid vehicles get a free lift ticket at Jiminy Peak tomorrow. Visit www.jiminypeak.com for additional online coupon deals valid Saturday and Sunday only . . . Sunday River celebrates its 50th anniversary Saturday by handing out free lift tickets to anyone born in 1959 . . . First-time skiers and snowboarders can take advantage of free lessons and lift tickets at Okemo and Mount Sunapee through Sunday. The reservation-required freebies are similar at both mountains, including a lesson, rental equipment, and a lift ticket restricted to novice terrain . . . The Boston Bruins have partnered with Loon Mountain for a $199 hockey game/lift ticket combo. The team’s online Skate & Ski packages feature two tickets to one of this month’s home games against the Atlanta Thrashers (Dec. 23 and 30), plus a voucher good for two non-Saturday lift tickets at Loon . . . The University of Vermont will host the 2011 NCAA Ski Championships March 9-11. The competition venues will be the Stowe Mountain Resort for Alpine racing and the Trapp Family Lodge for the cross-country action. “This is another great opportunity for the university and the state of Vermont to demonstrate its commitment to the sport of ski race,’’ said UVM athletic director Robert Corran.

Globe correspondent Tony Chamberlain contributed to this report.