Retailers are seeing a spike in backcountry gear sales. That has avalanche educators, search teams worried.

As ski resorts announce plans to manage crowds, avalanche equipment sales are soaring, leaving search and rescue teams and land managers bracing for record crowds exploring snowy mountains.

Jason Blevins
The Colorado Sun

AVON Doug Stenclik is stacking skis and lining up a new point-of-sale system at Cripple Creek Backcountry. He wasn’t planning on opening his Avon and Aspen Highlands ski shops in September, but skiers have been buying early and often.

“It’s not slowing down, only picking up. So it’s real,” says Stenclik, whose online sales of touring and backcountry skis, boots and equipment are up fivefold in August and September at his site, which has spurred him to open three of his four brick-and-mortar stores earlier than ever before. 

“It’s exciting, but it’s also challenging. There are a lot of people coming in who have never been in the backcountry. I think it’s going to be pretty frightening at the trailhead with how many people are showing up this winter,” he says, “but in the same breath, I have to say this is good. There are more people getting out and enjoying human-powered sports on their public lands and recognizing all the things we love about the backcountry.”

As ski resorts tinker with crowd management plans that will limit access to the lifts in the coming season, all signs point to another spike in backcountry travel — just as they did in March, when ski areas closed early in response to the pandemic. 

Sales of uphill equipment and avalanche safety gear are soaring. Avalanche educators are ramping up campaigns to reach new backcountry explorers. Search and rescue teams are preparing for additional calls for help, and resorts are closely studying their uphill policies to accommodate what everyone expects to be a banner year for skiers venturing beyond the resort boundaries. 

“This is the moment when BC skiing becomes mainstream. That’s good and bad but regardless, it is real,” says Kim Miller, the CEO of Boulder-based Scarpa North America, who has seen a record-setting surge in orders of touring ski boots this summer from skiers and retailers. 

Sales of uphill ski equipment, which is a small portion of the overall ski and snowboard retail scene, have been climbing at a rapid rate in recent years. Sales of alpine touring equipment — boots, skis and bindings made for touring — climbed 15% in the 2019-20 season, marking the largest increase among sales of alpine skis, winter accessories and snowboards. That’s according to the retail-tracking NPD Group’s Julia Clark Day, who earlier this month updated outdoor retailers and manufacturers on trends that include growth in camping gear and backcountry ski equipment.  

Read the rest of the article here.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported news organization dedicated to covering the people, places and policies that matter in Colorado. Read more, sign up for free newsletters and subscribe at

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.