Snow Industry Convenes To Discuss Backcountry Trends

SIA Backcountry meeting

Over 30 brands came together to discuss growing the backcountry ski and snowboard movement.

Backcountry snowboarding is taking hold from East Coast to West Coast and SnowSports Industries America (SIA) is acknowledging it.

The snowsports organization, along with nearly 30 industry representatives from ski and snowboard companies, apparel brands, avalanche centers, and backcountry gear brands met in Denver to discuss the future of backcountry skiing and riding, and how to capitalize on the growing trend.

"The more that we can have manufacturers, resorts, guide services, and education providers all working together with common language and standard practice; it's going to benefit the consumer," says Outdoor Research Marketing Director Charlie Lozner, who attended the Oct. 24 meeting.

While the original intent was to discuss how the industry can take advantage of the increasing numbers of backcountry travelers--whether skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, or any other adventurer--David Ingemie, SIA president, says much more came out of it.

Some of Ingemie's key takeaways: Put together an expanded backcountry database to help disseminate sales and usage information; Establish a backcountry-oriented glossary that can be used by everyone in the snowsports industry to ensure common language; Organize a smaller committee comprised of various backcountry-oriented brands, avalanche centers, retailers, resort representatives, lawyers, and insurance agents to discuss commonalities and how each can work together.

Jones Snowboards’s Chad Perrin, Smith and MTN Approach’s Cory Smith, Venture’s Lisa Branner, and SIA’s David Ingemie and Dave Wray share their ideas.

Many attendees could summarize the meeting’s crucial lesson with one word: education.

Vince Sanders, who does product development for Never Summer Industries, says educating retailers on how to take advantage of missed backcountry sales is key--and many snowboard shops don't fully understand the growing trend.

Sanders already plans to take a group of key dealers on a backcountry adventure to help teach them what to put in a pack for a day trip, how to use a beacon, probe and shovel, and what it's like to skin up a mountain.

"I already have a couple shops in mind," he says. "They're supporting the category with (split)boards, but that's about it."

But it's not just about educating the retailer. Brands want to see backcountry-oriented sales figures--especially snowboard-related numbers that aren't compiled--and consumers need to know how serious, albeit fun, the backcountry can be.

Nearly every attendee could tell a story of skiers or snowboarders going through backcountry gates unprepared--sans avalanche gear, with skins on incorrectly, and with splitboards not setup right, etc. Retailers and brands need to take responsibility for educating consumers before skiers and riders buy equipment and during the process.

Some of that starts with industry-accepted terms: Should sidecountry be used or is anything out-of-bounds considered backcountry? Where does the term slackcountry fall in? Is it backcountry safety gear or backcountry rescue gear?

"I think it's going to be difficult," Sanders says. Brands will likely have a hard time walking the line between hyping product and being responsible.

And Marcus Peterson, Ortovox product specialist, agrees that it'll be difficult but necessary.

"How we translate that into an ad or a theme or something going forward that brands the brand? That's another story," he says.

But the conversations have started, which is a long way from where SIA was years ago, many in the room said.

"I would call it a good start," Peterson says. "This is a big step for (SIA)."

Some of the discussions evolved around the SIA Snow Show and how the organization can better the Backcountry Experience area to help address the needs of the industry. Ingemie says some of the suggestions will be implemented for this season's show.

Despite the presence of competing brands in the room, each was willing to openly discuss the needs of the category while putting their brand hat away.

"With some of these niche categories, the more you can work to generate awareness, [and] educate benefits us all," Outdoor Research's Lozner says.