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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Sports >  Outdoors

War in Ukraine disrupts supply of skis to Spokane-area shops

Mt. Spokane Ski Patrol Ski Swap volunteer Kim Allen checks out downhill skis on Oct. 26, 2018, at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center.  (DAN PELLE)
Mt. Spokane Ski Patrol Ski Swap volunteer Kim Allen checks out downhill skis on Oct. 26, 2018, at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center. (DAN PELLE)

Skis, particularly cross-country skis, have been hard to come by since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted global supply chains, while simultaneously sending a surge of people into the outdoors.

The war in Ukraine only made it harder.

Top ski manufacturing brands produce products in Ukraine, with some industry experts estimating that half of all skis sold in Europe are made in Ukraine. The numbers are starker for cross-country skis. Ukraine produces half of the roughly 4 million cross-country skies produced globally each year, according to the Cross Country Ski Areas Association. Fischer Sports, for instance, produces more than half of its products in a factory in Mukachevo, a city in southwestern Ukraine near the Hungary and Slovakian border. That factory was closed for more than a month after the invasion, according to PlanetSki.

The issue is compounded by the fact that Fischer produces skis and snowboards for other brands, including Rossignol, Alpina, Scott and Dynafit. Experts estimate more than one-fourth of the world’s skis, of all types, are made at the Ukrainian Fischer factory.

For instance, customers in Spokane have waited for more than two years to get a pair of Fischer Twin Skin Superlite Skis, said Robin DeRuwe, owner and founder of Fitness Fanatics.

“We’ve had people on a waiting list for two years for those skis,” she said. “We finally just about two weeks ago got a shipment of that ski in.”

Getting product in and out of Ukraine hasn’t been a problem, nor has finding employees, according to sales representatives DeRuwe talked to. Instead, rolling blackouts disrupt production on a nearly daily basis.

This, of course, all came on the heels of the pandemic that disrupted production and distribution, said Reese Brown, the executive director of the Cross Country Ski Areas Association.

“It was really a confluence of so many issues that came up and now we’re in the situation of playing catch-up,” he said. “We’ve been playing catch-up for the past three years.”

During the pandemic, sales of all types of outdoor gear sales spiked, with the cross-country ski industry growing for the first time in decades. Before the pandemic, about 110,000 pairs of cross-country skis sold in the United States every year, Brown said. That number jumped 30% in 2020, although sales have since leveled off.

“I think we will level out at number higher than where we started in 2019,” he said.

Mark Schneider, owner of Rambleraven Gear Trader, said he’s also had trouble getting some ski gear, although the supply seems to be catching up with demand.

He worries about a rebound effect, known in economics as the bullwhip effect.

The premise is simple: Customers crack the whip, by ordering more of whatever item. That input travels up the supply chain, the reverberations of that initial ‘crack’ growing larger and larger. By the time manufactures and distributors have adjusted to increased demand, often the demand need has changed. That might be good for the customer, leading to discounted gear and quick delivery times, but it puts retail in a tough spot.

DeRuwe is also concerned about this, she said, but remains cautiously optimistic, noting that the pandemic forced manufactures to more accurately judge demand.

“Things have changed and I think they’ve changed forever,” she said.

As for cross-country skiing specifically, Brown isn’t worried about the bullwhip effect, noting that the industry is relatively small.

“I think our suppliers are smart enough to know this is a multiyear situation that we are in,” he said. “But at some point, it’s going to level out.”

Sales of cross-country gear in Spokane have leveled out, DeRuwe said, and customers, in general, aren’t waiting as long for gear.

“We’re still seeing a lot of new people coming into the sport,” she said. “We’ve had a good winter. It’s not the craziness where we’re out of product like we were in the pandemic, but we have a healthy amount of people coming in we have a healthy amount of supply for them.”

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