SnowSports Industries of America has released its audit of sales from August to November of last year, showing that overall sales were about the same as August-November 2008, but that equipment sales dropped significantly. The group says that buying trends were conservative in 2008, so in 2009 retailers’ sell-through came earlier in the season. No figures are yet available for the month of December or early January, but heavy snowfalls and improved overall consumer confidence probably contributed to a sales boost.

In the period through November, sales of snowboard equipment in the U.S. dropped by 7 percent in volume and 8 percent in value. For alpine ski equipment, unit sales declined by 5 percent, while value sale were up by 1 percent. Sales from specialty shops fell by 8 percent in volume and 6 percent in value, attributable to warmer weather and higher purchasing in the pre-season. As more people researched their purchases and bought online, e-sales grew by 19 percent in units and 21 percent in dollars. Sales online made up 20 percent of equipment sales through November.

Inventories at the end of November were lower than at the same time in 2008, by 5 percent in units and by 3 percent in value. Two categories’ inventory grew: randonee/AT equipment, by 15 percent in volume, and cross-country ski equipment, by 5 percent. The drops came in alpine ski (8 percent); snowboard (4 percent), alpine apparel (3 percent); snowboard apparel (8 percent) and apparel accessories (6 percent).

Anecdotal evidence suggests that sales picked up in December, but the lowered inventories could have hurt customers’ choice then. SIA says that equipment such as rocker snowboards, mega fat skis, helmets, and shell and insulated parkas could be scarce in January through the end of the season.

Usually, sales through November make up about 14 percent of the season’s total, but in 2009 this figure was 20 percent. Overall industry sales are expected to be higher than the season before, at $2.8 billion, helped by an increase of December, which usually accounts for more than 30 percent of the full season’s sales.