Employees at Idaho outdoor gear stores have never seen anything like it. Despite a Treasure Valley winter mostly devoid of snow, some of their winter recreation gear is flying off the shelves, with manufacturers struggling to keep up and stock selling out the day it arrives.
“They’re two sports that are very easy to access by people that don’t go into the outdoors all that often,” said Chuck Cremer, owner of McU Sports in Boise. “They’re safe, they’re easy to do and they’re inexpensive.”
Boise-area stores struggle to keep snowshoes stocked
Like many other sporting goods stores in the Boise area, McU has had trouble keeping snowshoes and skis on the shelves this year. Its snowshoe sales alone have increased about 400% over last year, Cremer said.
“It’s been a constant frustration this whole season,” he said. “A couple of our manufacturers haven’t shipped at all this season.”
Cremer also said when shipments do arrive, they sometimes contain only a fraction of the products that McU ordered.
Boise Gear Collective, a downtown consignment store that specializes in outdoor gear, has seen the same.
“We literally sold our last pair probably 20 minutes ago,” sales representative Sebastian Glenn told the Statesman in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “The next person that came in was looking for snowshoes. Everybody in the whole state of Idaho is looking for snowshoes.”
Retailers understand the appeal. Colby Selekof, retail sales manager over action sports at the Boise REI store on Emerald Street, said not only are snowshoeing and cross-country skiing easier to learn, they avoid lift lines and offer more isolation than traditional skiing or snowboarding at a ski resort.
“It’s social distancing, being able to get outside, experience the stress reduction that nature affords us and also being able to do it in a safe manner,” Selekof said in a phone interview.
Like McU, Selekof said REI has struggled with manufacturing shortfalls. While manufacturers seem to be picking up the pace, she said, REI is now seeing shipping delays affecting deliveries, too.
“(Products are sitting for) a month in containers just trying to get in a truck and get shipped here,” she said.
REI, Boise Gear Collective and McU are among several local stores that offer rental snowshoes and skis. (Idaho Mountain Touring and Greenwood’s Ski Haus also rent gear.) Selekof said REI hasn’t maxed out its rental capacity this winter, though there’s more demand for gear on holiday weekends.
“Even though we are sold out, we can still help people get outside,” she said.
Cremer said rentals are a great way to try different snowshoe types or brands before buying. And you’ll want to buy when you have the opportunity, Selekof said.
“The big takeaway (from the shortage) is if you find something that fits, buy it,” she said.
That extends to warm weather gear, too. Stores said they saw surges for bicycles and watercraft like kayaks and stand-up paddleboards last summer, and they expect this year to be similar.
Traffic increases on local snowshoe, ski trails
In addition to gear, Cremer said McU is seeing a surge in sales of its Idaho Parks and Recreation Park N’ Ski passes, which help fund grooming on ski and snowshoe trails across the state. Parks and Rec maintains more than 180 miles of groomed trails accessible from 17Park N’ Ski locations, including four in the Idaho City area.
Parks and Rec spokesman Craig Quintana said Park N’ Ski pass sales this season are already 133% of sales for last year’s season.
“And we still have a lot of winter left in 2021,” he added via email.
By the middle of last week, the agency had sold more than 3,300 passes (1,086 temporary 3-day passes and 2,279 annual passes). In 2019, it sold 2,500 passes total.
Quintana also told the Statesman that trails staff report a “significant” increase in use on snowshoe and ski trails.
Bogus Basin, another popular Boise-area snowshoeing spot, has seen a big increase in traffic. Gear rentals and day passes at its Nordic Center are up 30 to 35%, spokeswoman Susan Saad said in an email.
Saad said the Nordic trails are also seeing an influx of “overflow” customers who may have been unable to secure lift tickets, as the recreation area has limited its capacity because of
the coronavirus pandemic.
At Tamarack Resort in Donnelly, snowshoe rentals are up nearly 30% over last year, while at Brundage Mountain in McCall, interest has been “pretty steady” despite the fact that the resort doesn’t have any dedicated snowshoeing trails, spokeswoman April Whitney said.
If you go
Want to try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing? The good news is, there’s not much of a learning curve to either activity.
“The beauty about snowshoeing is if you know how to walk, snowshoeing is accessible to you,” Cremer said.
▪ Start by finding a place to go. Bogus Basin’s Nordic trails are popular and close to Boise. Plus, Cremer points out, they’re safe because there are other people nearby if you get lost or injured.
Other good options include Park N’ Ski locations or snow-covered mountain trails.
If you’re a true beginner, groomed trails are going to be easier to navigate than untouched snow. If you’re planning to snowshoe outside of a marked trail, be sure that you know where you’re going (and tell a friend or family member who can check in on you) and that you have permission to be there.
▪ Know your gear. Are you familiar with the ins and outs of how to put on and remove your snowshoes or skis? Is your gear equipped for the terrain you’ll be on? Some snowshoes are meant to be used mainly on groomed trails, while others work better in the backcountry and on steep terrain.
If you’re renting, employees at local shops are great resources for checking fit and answering questions. They might also have some good recommendations on where to go.
▪ Be prepared. Though both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are easier activities to learn, there’s a risk inherent in recreating in cold weather and remote places. Wear appropriate clothing (layers are ideal — you can get quite warm on the trail), keep supplies like food and water on your person and in your vehicle, and tell someone where you’re going and when to expect you home.
North of Idaho City, be particularly aware of avalanche dangers (the section of Idaho 21 between Grandjean and Banner Summit is known as Avalanche Alley). Check avalanche reports through the Sawtooth Avalanche Center (208-622-0095 or sawtoothavalanche.com) and look at weather forecasts.