In 2012 Marmot Mountain Works closed their retail store in Berkeley. Since 1976 Marmot had been a mountaineering store that was the only retailer to sell “touring” ski equipment in the Bay Area. For several years some of the staff at California Ski Company had been participating in a type of ski touring referred to as “Randonee” skiing. Randonee was quickly becoming more popular than “telemark” skiing which was hard to learn. Randonee skiing appealed to us because you could free your heel to hike up like a telemark skier and then lock it down to ski back down the mountain like a resort skier. Many of our customers spent time in the back country too. They asked why we didn’t stock gear for this type of skiing. Our answer was that there was just enough business for one store to carry it in the Bay Area. The store was doing a great job. And they were only a few miles away from us.
When Marmot closed we made a big decision. We would begin selling ski touring equipment. To do that we needed to free up dollars and space, so we opted to eliminate outerwear from our our offerings. After 23 years of having a vibrant clothing department, we sold it all to buy ski touring gear. We dove in head first and have never looked back.
Since 2012 we have seen many changes in Ski Touring equipment. The biggest is that the major alpine ski brands have entered the market. There were only a few brands that made touring gear when we started. A resort skier probably would not have recognized the names of any of them. Now almost every mainstream boot and ski brand has offerings designed for ski touring. It has been the fastest growing part of the sport and everyone wants a piece of that market.
In the last few years things have REALLY taken off. Wider skis that handle non groomed terrain have helped a lot. Then new touring bindings that could use flat “alpine” ski boot soles, and now curved walkable soles and walk modes on the cuff part of many new resort style boots, the lines have become blurred. With what we call a crossover package a skier can have equipment that works equally well for the resorts or for day trips in the back country. And it is better at both than any gear available just a few years ago!
In particular the Salomon Shift binding has been revolutionary. A shift binding combined with one of many new light weight resort skis gives a skier versatility never before possible. Now everyone can have gear for the resort that allows them to try touring too. The Shift may very well be our best selling binding this year!
So the shift has happened. It looks like ski touring is becoming a big part of the skiing world, and that it is here to stay.
So in hindsight we seem to have done the right thing by following our hearts. We traded in clothing to sell rare and exotic gear for those inclined to get out into the non lift served parts of the mountains. It was only 3% of our sales the first year. Last year it was 17% of overall sales. This year will be much higher- at least 25% is what I would guess. Now, like the equipment makers, all the shops are scrambling to catch on to this hot new category. Fortunately we don’t have any catching up to do. It is fully part of our culture. We had no idea things would progress to this point. It looks like we were just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.