SAM Magazine-McLean, Va., May 7, 2010-Snowsport retail sales finished up 4 percent over last season as volume hit $2.94 billion compared to $2.82 billion a year ago, although fewer units were sold this season, according to the latest figures from Snowsports Industries America.

Retailers maintained higher prices in part because inventories started out this season 9 percent leaner than they were at the beginning of the 2008-09 season, making snowsports products scarcer than normal. As a result, retailers had less need to offer deep discounts.

Total sales through all channels were the second highest in history, trailing 2007-08. Apparel sales totalled $1.1 billion, a rise of 2.5 percent. Accessories sales were close behind at $1 billion, up 7.4 percent. Equipment sales rose 2.1 percent to $800 million, led by alpine, Nordic, and AT/Randonee equipment. Snowboard and telemark equipment sales slipped. Regionally, sales were strongest in the South (up 17 percent in dollars) and weakest in the Midwest (down 3 percent).

Skis with fat waists moved faster, increasing more than 30 percent in units and dollars, than narrower skis. AT/Randonee ski sales rose 57 percent in both units and dollars, and helmet sales hit a record 1.1 million through February. Rocker snowboards had a good run, but total snowboard sales fell 4 percent in dollars nonetheless. Many snowboard buyers are still looking for bargains.

Snowsports specialty sales came to $1.8 billion, up 4 percent. Average prices were up 7 percent while unit sales slid 3 percent. Overall, high-end goods lifted Alpine ski equipment sales by 5 percent.

Internet sales reached $597 million, up 9.5 percent, on a 1 percent increase in units sold. The hot category? Snowboard equipment sales increased 20 percent in dollars, 17 percent in units. In a key change, average prices online for all types of gear were close to those at brick and mortar specialty stores, and far higher than chain store average prices. For example, the average specialty price for this season's adult snowboarding gear was $198.67, while the average online price was $197.07. Many of the reported online sales came from brick and mortar establishments that are now reaching customers online as well.

Sales at chain stores came in at $563 million, flat with last year and down 4 percent in units. Chains are selling less and less equipment (down about 15 percent) and even apparel, and more accessories-which now account for about 40 percent of all snowsports-related sales in chain stores. Helmets led the way with increases of 26 percent in units and dollars.