This is a great insight into the Finnish cross-county skiing enthusiasm during an exceptionally great 2021 snow season, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When this article talks about skiing, it refers to cross-county skiing, which is very popular in Finland. There is also snowboarding and downhill skiing, but at lesser amount, since the ski resorts are mainly located further up in northern Finland, with its higher mountains, and more snow.
This article is loosely translated from an article in the Finnish Iltalehti website (the content in the link is in Finnish).
In Finland, the first three weeks of January are the most critical time of the year for cross-country ski sales, when about 70 percent of the yearly sales are made
This January, Finland got hit by an unusual cold-front, with heavy snowfall, including about 20 inches in the capital region, covering a population of a million people.
This snow resulted in rampant upswing in ski sales. There has been no such demand since the 1970s.
Fifty years ago, the so-called cheap skis were in high demand. Asko Lahdelma, who has been in the ski equipment industry for 60 years, and is perhaps the highest ski equipment authority in Finland, says that he sold 103 pairs at his shop in the town of Kuopio on one of the busiest sales days.
- At that time, almost the only purchase criteria were that the ski was of a suitable length. Now most retailers provide complimentary sales service, spending 15-30 minutes per customer. In January 2021, 60-70, up to 80 pairs of skis were sold in stores with 3-4 ski sellers. That's quite a feat.
Heikki Klemetti, a merchant from the Helsinki-based specialty store Kalle Sport, has been busy selling skis this January.
- More than 60 pairs sold on the busiest day. The difference is more than half, compared to last January. At that time, the ground was black in the Helsinki metropolitan area, Klemetti states.
Southwest Finland is one of the worst corners of the country for skiers, as many winters are snow-free and there are hardly any artificial snow trails. Now there is 8 inches of snow in Turku.
I lived in Turku a number of years back in the early 90’s. I remember the winter climate in southwest Finland being comparable to the one on the lower elevations here in the Pacific Northwest, although not being as warm as here. Raining most of the winter, with an occasional few inches of snow, lasting a few weeks.
- There are high expectations for Saturday's sale: that means 20-30 pairs. Last year went the same way throughout January. In 2010–11, when there were good snow winters here as well, skis were bought by people who had never skied before. Now we believe in a similar phenomenon, says Jussi Pajuniemi, a salesman at Turku Intersport Skanssi.
In the Helsinki metropolitan area and in Pirkanmaa (an inland province in the southwestern part of Finland) there have been cases in recent days where customers wanting to buy skis have been forming 50 yard long lines outside the stores, some people becoming bored and leaving.
Tomi Surakka, who runs the Suksiproffa store in Joensuu, has developed an appointment system for customers outside normal opening hours.
- I originally developed it for people who are at risk for the Corona virus. The sales are going quite well, so the time slots fill up easily, Surakka says.
More than three million Finns live in the provinces of Uusimaa, Pirkanmaa, Southwest Finland, Päijät-Häme and Kanta-Häme. In those areas they were able to ski on natural snow between zero to seven days in the 2019–20 season.
Last winter was also bad in North Karelia. According to Suraka, it was comparable to a typical winter in the Helsinki region.
- In the wake of the last season, it seems that the sales are like a different millennium. I too have been selling 20-30 pairs on the best days.
That’s really good for the entrepreneurs in the region.
A nationwide snow cover after a miserable last season is the biggest reason why people are now heading to the ski tracks.
- Last season's holdback was big: we couldn't ski, and then toward the end of the winter many places overreacted by closing the artificial and natural snow trails due to the corona virus, Lahdelma estimates.
In January 2021, the corona virus closed some indoor sports venues and paused some team sports.
- The pandemic situation does have a positive effect on cross-country skiing, when other recreational opportunities for people are limited. Also, the effects of telecommuting are evident: there is more time for skiing. Although it is a little harsh to say, but the same phenomenon occurred during the recession years of the 1990s and 2000s.
While the current boom in ski sales is unprecedented, the potential of this sports-genre is worth noting. According to a study conducted before the corona, more than two million Finns ski at least once a year [that is out of a population of about 5 million!].
- Statistics show that at least one-fifth of the million people in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area are involved in ski sports. It is quite clear that the great snow situation can now be seen in sports shops and on the trails.
Last season, the number of skis sold in Finland was historically low, only about 50,000 pairs. Finland's largest ski manufacturer, Peltonen, had to lay off about 15 people.
A total of thirty employees have now been hired for the Heinola plant. More would be taken, but there is a shortage of skilled workers.
Lahdelma estimates that 160,000–170,000 pairs of skis will be sold in Finland this season. That’s the same amount as in the 2018–19 season, which, reaching all the way to the south, was a good ski season.
- This season would sell 10,000-20,000 more pairs than estimated. There would probably be enough skis for all buyers, but there aren’t enough ski boots, Lahdelma says.
- There is probably enough race- and fitness shoes, but not enough recreational boots. If they would order from China today, they would be for sale in two months at the earliest, he continues.
There is probably enough gear in specialty ski shops for the needs of consumers until the end of the season, likewise, in those stores that knew to prepare for the snowy January, by ordering ahead, filling their inventory.
- Some large department stores have already sold out their ski equipment. Next, the stuff will sell out in larger sporting-goods stores.
On the other hand, this benefits all the retailers, them being able to clear their old inventory, Lahdelma knows.
- The skiing potential is really good, but the whole of Europe is running out of ski boots. Of course, the sale of ski equipment is just a nice extra for us, but we aren’t dependent of it, says Pajuniemi of Turku Intersport.
In the 2010–13 seasons, more than 200,000 pairs were sold in Finland each winter. They were good snow years, and market was boosted by the introduction of the completely wax-free nano- and optigrip skis.
The ski sales peak of this millennium is a whopping 230,000 pairs, sold during the 2005-06 season.
- In those times there were cheap Estonian department store skis, which were sold “by the foot”.
The entire Finnish ski trade sales is likely to be in the same figures as in 2005–06. Back then, they sold quantity, now they are selling quality, Lahdelma states.