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SAM Magazine--McLean, Va., Jan. 17, 2005--Overall sales for the winter sports market were flat at $651 million for August through November 2004 compared to the previous year, according to the SnowSports Industries America (SIA) Retail Audit. Higher dollar sales per item were offset by lower unit sales, with overall unit sales down 5.5 percent.

Sales in dollars at specialty ski and snowboard shops were down 2.7 percent compared to last season, while sales at chain stores, which instituted hefty price increases, rose 12 percent. Each experienced a 5 to 6 percent decline in units.

As the year's first SIA Audit showed, integrated ski systems and Twintips are growth markets. Integrated systems rose 22 percent, and now account for more than 25 percent of adult Alpine skis and bindings sold. Twintips were up 42 percent in dollar sales, and even more in units. Sell-through was at 34 percent, up from 28 percent a year earlier, suggesting that Twintips will soon be more difficult to find than iPods during the holidays.

Other continuing trends: growth in the carve ski category, at the expense of mid-fats; high performance boots sales are up, while recreation and soft boot sales are off; soft shells (especially strong in chain stores), vests and fleece (both tops and pants) lead apparel sales; snowboarding sales remain down--by 11 percent in specialty stores--in part because retailers have trimmed their inventories; step-in snowboard boots and bindings are disappearing, down 48 and 81 percent, respectively, in specialty stores; and winter boots remain the growth item in accessories.

One discouraging trend: Junior gear and apparel sales continue to decline this season. In specialty shops, skis are off by 21 percent in dollars. Junior apparel was off even more: 43 percent for junior tops, and 34 percent for pants. Another downside note: Nordic sales have turned negative for specialty stores compared to the fall of 2003, as sparse snow cover in the East and Midwest, where specialty stores rule, cut into sales.

But Telemark gear was still ahead by 15 to 20 percent over last year's strong numbers. Nordic gear was up 37 percent in chain stores, which have their strongest market position in the West and where early snows got the season off to a fast start. Similarly, sales of fat skis were ahead by 21 percent in dollars at chain stores. \