NEW YORK--With women's snowboarding taking off, apparel manufacturers and retailers aim to move fast and keep their balance. Both parties expect the women's movement to the slopes to ring up double-digit percentage gains this winter. In the past three years, Deep, Kurvz, Cold As Ice and Bomb Shell are a few of the California-based companies that have built businesses around this growing market. Compared with alpine skiing, which has 4.1 million female participants, and cross-country skiing, which has 1.8 million female participants, snowboarding's 400,000 female participants is relatively small, but a 25 percent increase is planned for 1996, according to a spokeswoman for Ski Industries America. "Snowboarding for women has become extremely popular in the past two years. For some time, female-specific companies didn't exist," she said. This year's attendance at the SIA's Ski, Snowboard and Outdoor Sports Show in Las Vegas also indicates the wave is rising. There were 350 snowboard vendors displaying hard goods and soft goods, compared with 90 vendors in 1993, the spokeswoman said. Now snowboarders have a magazine to call their own. Fresh and Tasty, a new quarterly publication based in Cambridge, Mass., plans to reach 25,000 consumers with its premier issue, which is on newsstands now. "The demand is already there. Last year the companies were selling out so fast that it was hard to get the merchandise in the shop," said John Diaz, marketing and sales associate for Underground Snowboard, a six-store operation based in Waltham, Mass. "That's a good sign." Having seen 25 percent gains for women's apparel compared with last year, Underground Snowboard plans to keep its stores open year-round for the first time this year, he said. In the past, the retailer closed its stores from late March through Labor Day. As a division of Ski Market, Underground Snowboard plays on its ski heritage. Each store is located near units of Ski Market, St. Moritz, Sports Replay or National Ski Wholesalers, which are all stores owned and operated by Ski Market. The fact that snowboard manufacturers Burton and Air Walk now design women's snowboard boots should heighten interest in the sport, said Diaz, adding the sport should eventually eclipse alpine skiing. Underground Snowboard plans to sponsor Wednesday evenings at Quest, a local night club in Boston. Attendees will receive information about the sport via pamphlets and professional athletes as well as the chance to win raffles for snowboards and apparel. Women's snowboard apparel is a "tremendous growth opportunity," according to Richard Carp, general manager for Princeton Ski Shop, which operates snowboard shops in each of its three stores. The retailer is planning for at least a 300 percent increase since women's snowboard apparel was introduced last fall. Burton, Bomb Shell and Prom, another Calif.-based firm that receives a lot of exposure from professional snowboarders who endorse its products, are among the best-selling labels, he said. Carp pointed out that the average sale per square foot for snowboard apparel is 40 percent higher than the average sale for alpine skiwear. Women's snowboarding should be a major draw at Princeton Ski Shop's six-day sale at Giant Stadium in November, which generally attracts 60,000 people. For the first time, the Alpine Shop, a 13,000-square-foot store in Burlington, Vt., is giving women's snowboard apparel floor space because it is "an up-and-coming market," according to Peg Riley, co-owner. With retail prices ranging from $120 for a pair of polyester microfiber pants to $200 for a coordinating jacket, Burton and Inside Edge are a few lines that should do well at the store. "We would have gotten into it earlier for women, but no one has been doing it," she said. "Now there are lines tailored for women. Now women can get out there and look feminine --and not look like a sack of potatoes." "There's no question that this will be larger than cross-country skiing," said Larry Madden, owner of Alternative Edge, a 1,500-square-foot store in Aspen, Colo. For 1996, sales for women's snowboard apparel should account for 30 percent of the company's overall volume--a 20 percent increase compared with this year, he said. The average sale is $125, with most women purchasing items by Prom, Deep and Burton. Women's snowboard apparel will be featured for the first time in Alternative Edge's 28-page catalog, which is distributed to 15,000 consumers. The category should account for 10 percent of the firm'ssales. "We're trying to cater to the lady. There're more women working on our staff now," he said. Max Snowboard Rentals, a six-store operation based in Lakewood, Colo., expects the introduction of women's snowboard apparel by Prom and Ninety, a Tempe, Ariz.-based firm, to increase annual sales by 25 percent, according to Jennifer Klein, director of retail operations. Founded last year, Max Snowboard Rentals is a spinoff of its sister company, Breeze Ski Rentals, a 32-store chain. With snowboard rentals increasing and at least four women inquiring about women's snowboard apparel each day, Breeze Ski Rentals' executives decided to open Max Snowboard Rentals to meet the consumers' needs. At Cutting Edge in Berlin, Conn., women's snowboard apparel should be a huge market this year, according to Harley Carrara, sales associate. Most of the store's customers are between the ages of 14 and 24, and the average sale is $240 for a two-piece outfit, he said. Deep and Burton are the best-selling labels at the store, which started carrying women's apparel last year. So many women came into Cutting Edge looking for snowboard apparel that "there was no need" to display the women's merchandise in its windows, he said. However, this year the store plans to build on the trend with window displays. At the age of 21, Kristin Roach is chief executive officer of Kurvz in Davis, Calif., a business molded around a marketing and business plan that was initially a college assignment two years ago. This year, the company's volume should more than triple to $500,000, and sales should exceed $2 million in 1996, she said. "I was sick of being called a guy and looking like a guy," she said. The company sponsors all 50 members of the international female snowboard team. "Kurvz stands behind women. We tell them, 'Just keep riding--we'll make the clothes."'
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