The Supply-Side of Skis During the Upcoming Season

Pasha KahnAugust 16, 2021
Biathete Tiril Eckhoff (NOR) hands over the skis to Gerhard Urain, Nordic Race Director for Fischer. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Will there be enough skis this season? That’s the question every ski shop and many consumers are asking. With demand predicted to remain high this winter, and some unique challenges faced by ski producers, ski scarcity may remain a reality.

“I imagine if demand stays high we will see some significant shortages this season,” said Nathan Shultz, owner of Boulder Nordic Sport.

The problem, from a supply-side, started with the pandemic. People thought that the demand would be low and the most popular would be home-based activities like online games from Casinosters. “In the beginning, everyone freaked out and thought that no one was going to buy anything,” said Schulz. “Factories had to adapt to that expectation and then everything started going gangbusters, and demand escalated at a pace we haven’t seen. So on top of supply disruptions, there was a huge demand, everything sold out, and then the fire happened.”

In October 2020, a massive fire tore through the ski production line of Fischer’s factory in Mukachevo, Ukraine, requiring much of the production floor to be rebuilt. Most of the skis for the 20-21 season, however, had already been produced and were awaiting shipment in a separate facility.

Fischer—the world’s largest ski manufacturer—produced around sixty percent of its skis across all disciplines at the Ukrainian site, which handled ski production for several other brands as well. In all, it has been reported that a quarter of the world’s skis came out of the Mukachevo factory.

“Globally the loss of that factory is a big hit, and not only for Fischer but the brands that they manufacture for,” said Zach Caldwell of Caldwell Sport. Like many large ski factories, the Ukrainian factory produced cross country and alpine skis for a number of brands including Rossignol, Alpina, Scott, and Dynafit. 

Jeff Courter, the Nordic Manager for Rossignol said the Fischer factory fire was, “shorting the worldwide ski supply because the factory made skis for a lot of different brands. When you think about finding a home for all those skis, not only for our brand, but for Fischer and anyone else they made skis for, that’s a lot of skis you have to find factories for. So that’s putting a lot of pressure on all the other ski factories as well.” (Rossignol’s high-end race skis are manufactured at their production facilities in Spain and France.)

“Without Covid, we might have been able to absorb [the Fischer factory loss]…but with Covid—impossible. So this is why all the big brands need to shut down for business early.” Said Robert Lazzaroni, the Regional Commercial Manager of Salomon, referring to the earlier than the normal deadline for retailers to order skis.

In a normal year, ski shops order equipment for the following season in the late spring and reorder products as demand requires. “Normally if we need something specific we call and get something,” said Schulz. “We do a lot of small juniors orders, because it’s so hard to know what juniors are going to need…we call Fischer if we need something.”

This year, the flexibility to order small batches on the fly has dissolved. “We’ve been told, ‘don’t expect any reorder capability,’” Schulz said. According to some ski reps, many retailers are left with little ski stock heading into the 2022 season and will have to rely on their preseason order made in March to get them through the winter.

“I believe the shops did learn the lesson last year with the crazy demand for our product,” said Lazzaroni. “And I think the shops did go a little bit heavier on the preseason versus the reorder.”

In recent years, with the retirement of Canada’s Alex Harvey, U.S. skier Jessie Diggins has become the face of the France based ski brand. (Photo: NordicFocus)

What was already a perfect storm of increased demand and faltering supply chains as the pandemic ensued, was only compounded by the Ukraine fire. Factories able to upscale their ski production worked at full capacity to meet the preseason order requirements.

Courter said that the Rossignol factories had been, “really maxing out on what it can make, and not only make, but ship in a timely manner. These production ceilings we have rarely, if ever, been bumped into until now—so it’s been a learning experience.”

Ski production has seasonal constraints as retailers need to receive products during their selling window, most of which happens between October and January. “We could keep making skis and boots all year,” said Courter, “but it’s not going to do the retailers any good if we send them a bunch of stuff in March.”

Fischer compensated for the production loss in part by transferring some of its Ukrainian ski makers to its factory in Ried, Austria allowing production there to ramp up, with the factory running additional shifts.

Steve Reeder, Fischer’s Nordic Sales Manager in the U.S., said that under the circumstances, Fischer was handling the demand well. ”Can we absolutely get as many as we want? No,” Reeder said, “but we’ll have more product out there this season than we did last season.”

Fischer’s high-end products are mainly produced in Austria and were unaffected by the fire. “The two factories have been separated on the nordic side by their core technologies,” said Reeder. “Ried [Austria] has specialized in Air Core, and the Ukraine is kind of a complete tree to ski facility. Everything other than our entry-level price point is Air Core, so it’s coming out of Ried.” Reeder continued, “For the FasterSkier audience there’s actually minimal impact from the fire. We’re still making the majority of our race ski product in Ried, Austria. So the supply concerns are focused more on the touring category which has been compounded by the impact that Covid has had on outdoor recreation sales, and the fact that the increase in business we’ve seen in the States is happening globally.”

A fleet of Fischer race bred Speedmax. According to Fischer, production of the high-end race ski will not be affected by the Ukraine factory fire. (Photo: NordicFocus)

The supply-side strain is most acute on the recreational and backcountry ski category that sold so well last winter, according to ski reps and shops that spoke to FasterSkier. “Touring and backcountry is where, not only us, but a lot of the other brands will not have the availability, unfortunately,” Courter said.

“Already last year the supply [for touring] was very short, and this year we are facing known shortages,” Caldwell said. “I know we’ve been promised that our preseason orders would be filled, but on reorders we’re anticipating having zero availability.”

For high-end race skis, the situation is calmer, though demand for racing equipment has rebounded. “Even in the performance and race categories the demand is really high, which is great considering that last year was troubling to get races off the ground,” said Courter. With factories working at full tilt to produce orders, manufacturers are unable to produce an excess of high-end models. “With top-end race skis, we’re anticipating getting what we ordered,” Caldwell said, “but also anticipating some short supply as we get closer to winter.”

Apart from skis, there are ramifications for other nordic products due to the topsy turvy global supply chain.

“The wax folks I’ve talked to have acknowledged that material costs have gone up and their margins have gotten really lean. I wouldn’t be surprised to see costs go up at some point,” said Caldwell. “I bet some companies might introduce them already this year, but a lot of companies are stuck with what they’ve promised, so it might be something to recoup from in the future—but that’s a price thing. The absolute chemical that goes into it is pretty small, it’s not a big industry.”

Another question Caldwell has considered is whether ski poles will be affected by global pressures. “Who knows, maybe poles will be difficult with a ton of Asian carbon manufacturing,” said Caldwell who clarified that he was, “totally speculating.” He added that, “Pretty much every pole out there is made in Asia, and that Asian supply chain…I just don’t know at what point that becomes an issue. Because of the cross over into other industries, the ski pole factories aren’t always ski pole factories, so that introduces a level of vulnerability and knock-on effect from other supply chain issues and excess orders.”

While burgeoning demand, reduced stockpiles, and the loss of the largest ski factory have strained the industry, it is in a relatively better position than that of other outdoor sport manufacturers, notably the bike industry.

“I think everyone recognizes that the bike supply chain is really screwed up,” said Caldwell. “With skis, it’s a limited range of raw materials and according to the companies I’ve spoken with, they’re not seeing shortages in raw materials. So in terms of assembling the products, it’s not so much a problem, the problem is on the demand side and on the capacity of factories to produce the skis. The nice thing about skis is they make a finished product in one factory.”

The ski brands that spoke to FasterSkier were confident in their ability to deliver on their preseason orders, and to varying degrees, believe they may be able to offer reorders on high-end race skis. Shop owners, however, expressed some concern that orders would be delivered in full.

French World Cup athletes hover over the Rossignol goods. (Photo: NordicFocus)

In any case, possible ski shortages this upcoming winter will likely be decided by the size of retailers’ preseason orders and, most of all, snowfall. “Our sport is dependent on snow on the ground, so assuming that some of our markets like New England and the Midwest—if they get early snow, then there’ll be a point somewhere in the year that shops could get a little lean on in-stock product,” said Courter.

Lazzaroni put it succinctly, “If, and it’s always an if, we have a decent early winter, the industry will lack product. I do believe what we saw last winter will continue into this winter and there will be a crazy high demand for nordic product,” said Lazzaroni. “The question is, has our retailer network been optimistic enough, and crazy enough with their preseason order to cover future needs from the consumer? I don’t think so, to be honest.”

For skiers looking for new boards this winter, the message was clear: buy early. “People would be advised to get their names on orders early,” said Caldwell, “because I would be unsurprised to see some brands fall short

A U.S. ski technician holds different skis in the warm up area on the IBU World Cup. in Kontiolahti, Finland. (Photo: NordicFocus)

Pasha Kahn

Pasha Kahn writes and coaches in Duluth, Minnesota.

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