Snow lovers drifting online for gear

VICTORIA'S ski resorts might have enjoyed a strong opening weekend but local ski equipment and clothing retailers are failing to reap the benefits. Instead, an increasing number of Australian snow lovers are bypassing local ski retailers and buying their gear on overseas websites for a fraction of the price.

Aimy Wilkes says she and her husband have saved thousands of dollars by buying snowboards and clothing on overseas sites in recent years, typically through forwarding companies, because many international ski brands no longer ship to Australia.

''We've bought everything from snowboards to clothing and if we've spent $3000 in the last few years I would estimate we've saved about $2000,'' says the keen snowboarder from Maribyrnong, who hits the slopes up to five times a year.

''Often the gear is half price but sometimes it's even less. I paid $280 for my snowboard and it retails for $900 here.''

Snowsports Industries of Australia chief executive, Eric Henry, says overseas competition has had a ''huge impact'' on the local industry. He says a new report shows that 11.1 per cent of visitors to Australia's Alpine resorts in 2011 purchased equipment from online overseas suppliers.

''Twenty-six per cent of all [ski] businesses surveyed stated that the internet was impacting their sales,'' states a draft report on The Economic Significance of the Australian Alpine Resorts, Winter Season 2011, prepared by the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research. On average, these businesses reported a 37.5 per cent loss of sales due to online competition, according to the report.

Mr Henry says the impact of online shopping ''kicked in about five to six years ago, but [was] having the most effect in the last couple of years''.

Forwarding companies that buy products in the US on behalf of consumers using a domestic postal address to collect orders, then send the goods on to Australia, say at this time of year they get up to 150 orders a week from Australians wanting ski items.

Ski equipment businesses have been among the most aggressive in trying to stop international online competition. Last year it was reported that some ski stores had started charging a ''fitting fee'' of up to $50 to stop customers trying on boots for size then going and buying them online.

Carolina Tillett from international purchasing service, Price USA, says an increasing number of overseas ski brands now not only refuse to ship to Australia, but also to ''known'' forwarding companies.