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Domestic snowboard brands hit their stride

By WANG ZHUOQIONG | China Daily | Updated: 2022-02-24 10:03
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Canada's Max Parrot competes in the men's snowboard slopestyle qualification during the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Zhangjiakou competition zone, Hebei province, in February. [Photo by WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY]

Max Parrot won the first gold medal for Canada during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in men's snowboard slopestyle by riding his specially designed signature board from Nobaday, a snowboard brand designed and produced in China.

The company's sponsorship of Parrot started in 2016, after years of discussions and design work, collection of data and tryouts with the top Canadian athlete.

Nobaday, a snowboard brand created by Auxue Culture Co Ltd, started as a winter sports gear provider in Seattle, the United States, by Auxue founder Liu Fengxi, also known as Ricky among veteran skiers and snowboarders in China.

Auxue, which develops products for skiing, snowboarding, surfing and camping, has been one of the sponsors for the Chinese national team competing in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, providing professional gear. The company has also signed sponsorship deals with more than 1,000 top skiers from around the world.

Thanks to the Games, its snowboarding business is booming after having survived struggles for survival, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of last year, Nobaday directly ran eight stores in such locations as Chongqing, the Thaiwoo Ski and Genting resorts in Hebei province and the Fairfax area of Los Angeles. The firm said it plans to add 14 more stores this year.

Lingxia, another Auxue snowboard brand, is targeting domestic entry-level consumers and is available mainly on e-commerce platforms.

Last year, Auxue received financing for the first time-more than 10 million yuan ($1.58 million)-from Baozun E-commerce Co Ltd. The company is in talks with investors on the second round of financing.

Liu said it takes years of investment in research and development for manufacturers to develop top sports gear, adding that its technological know-how is what matters most for competition-level athletes.

"A snowboard for a skier/rider is the same as a car for an automobile racer," Liu said. "Its quality and condition play a significant role in their athletic results."

The performance of Parrot and other athletes during the Games has provided a strong stimulus for its sales, with products sold out on its overseas website and its search volume having risen 50 times higher than its previous level, the company said.

Liu, himself a veteran skier of more than two decades, said he never thought skiing, a seasonal niche sport in China, would have garnered such massive public attention from the nation's public prior to the Games.

"The depth and scale of the public's participation in and discussion of the Winter Olympics have been, in many respects, more enthusiastic than during the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics," Liu said.

"The Games will contribute greatly to the local winter sports industry, in terms of coaching, clothing, gear, management and winter tourism."

This year, the winter sports gear and equipment sector is forecast to generate revenue of more than 20 billion yuan, with an annual growth rate exceeding 20 percent on average, according to the Ice and Snow Gear and Equipment Industry Development Plan 2019-22. The plan was developed by the government, including nine ministries such as the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

For domestic winter sports equipment manufacturers, business is mostly just taking off, said Zhang Qing, founder of Key-Solution Sports Consulting, a sports marketing and consulting company based in Beijing.

"With snow and ice sports being rejuvenated during the Games, and becoming more trendy among young people, consumers are gaining more interest in winter sports, as they visit ski resorts more often, and in renting gear and purchasing sports apparel for the first time," Zhang said.

Therefore, the rise of entry-level consumers has created a massive potential for domestic winter sports brands that provide affordable gear, he added.

The large number of middle-income consumers will greatly benefit the steady development of the winter sportswear and equipment industry, he said.

Liu said the Games also have brought recognition from local governments and commercial real estate owners, with more leasing offers being made by commercial property developers. Nobaday's flagship store in a top commercial complex opened in December in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.

Liu acknowledged, however, that the winter sports gear business comes with a small window of opportunity. "Every winter season is fleeting," he said. "You have to respond quickly to the market."

In 2018, Liu's company was on the verge of bankruptcy despite his consistent investments over five years. In 2020, COVID-19 hit hard and ski resorts were closed, a situation worsened by interruptions in the global supply chain, given that 90 percent of snowboards' raw materials are imported.

Its business took a turn for the better after it rolled out an entry-level snowboard named the Little Blackboard, priced at 999 yuan. It offered a more affordable quality board for enthusiasts to get on the snow.

As a domestic ski gear producer, Auxue has better understanding of the geographic conditions of domestic ski resorts and more willingness to adapt to Asian skiers' physiques, Liu said. That helps it to stand out from its competition among established international brands.

European ski resorts often have natural snow while Chinese ski resorts rely mostly on snow-making machines. As a result, the trails covered with a mixture of snow and ice, requiring snowboards that can handle the harder skiing and snowboarding surface than those meant for natural snow, Liu said.

Chinese consumers also favor goggles, boots and clothing designed to provide a better fit for Asians, he added.

"Since I started snowboarding, I've always wanted to have more friends join me on the slopes. It was the same when I established Nobaday. My purpose is to encourage more people to enjoy skiing and have fun with the snow," Liu said.

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