A heightened interest in getting out of the house is leading to a shortage of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing equipment in Maine.

Dale Rodgers, manager of his family’s Scarborough store, Rodgers Ski & Sport, said the stream of shoppers looking for cross-country gear has been continuous, driven by a pandemic that has taken family togetherness to a new level – and led some to look for ways to escape it.

“From the minute I get in here in the morning, it’s nonstop” with customers looking for gear, Rodgers said.

Customers head out after dropping off some skis at Rodger’s Ski & Sport on Tuesday in Scarborough. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Now he’s down to a few short skis and just some very small or very large cross-country boots. As far as snowshoes go, Rodgers said, he has a pair left, but it would have to be for a large person.

Rodgers said there’s also been a boom in back-country skiing, in which enthusiasts hike and climb to remote spots to ski down hillsides untouched by other skiers.

“Anything sports-related, as far as getting outside,” is in short supply, he said.

Bicycle retailers saw the same phenomenon in the spring and summer, when the pandemic led stir-crazy Mainers to hop on a two-wheeler to get out of the house. That got people through the summer and early fall, but the advent of winter, cold and snow is leading people to buy different equipment that will allow them to get out and about while still avoiding crowds of other people.

A skier glides through the sun-drenched man-made snow at Quarry Road Trails in Waterville on Dec. 15. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“With the pandemic, demand is sky high,” said Dave Palese, general manager of Gorham Bike & Ski, which has five stores in Maine and a winter seasonal store in Jackson, New Hampshire.

Palese said there also was an uptick in sales of cross-country equipment last winter, before the pandemic hit full force, and he anticipated that demand would rise this year and placed a large order for equipment, but it wasn’t enough.

“We had plenty on hand, more than we ever had, and we just sold through it,” he said.

Palese said he sells most cross-country skiing equipment in packages, with skis, bindings, boots and poles together. But people have picked through his supply enough that “it’s really tough to find a complete package for anybody at this point.”

Rodger’s Ski & Sport employee Bryce Schmidt shows Anna Wietelmann the few sizes of boots they have left in stock on Tuesday. Wietelmann said she is normally not here for the winter because she works on boats, so she wanted to take advantage of the winter activity. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Palese said he hasn’t seen a similarly large increase in demand for downhill skis and equipment, possibly because people are leery of shelling out hundreds of dollars for a season pass when there’s a possibility that the pandemic could force resorts to close midwinter. He also said the sport has changed, with many resorts closing off their lodges to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

That means that families can no longer head out to ski and then meet up in the lodge for lunch, he said, making the outing a different, and for many, less pleasurable experience.

But Jay Rock of Arlberg Ski & Surf shops said his two stores are still selling plenty of downhill skiing equipment, building on a busy summer selling standup paddleboards and surfboards – “both of which we couldn’t keep in stock or get any more of this past summer,” he said.

“We’re seeing the same for downhill skis and snowboards – tons of demand and limited supply,” Rock said.

L.L. Bean is reporting similar increases in interest and sales of outdoor equipment, according to company spokeswoman Amanda Hannah. The company’s winter sports category is up 165 percent, a spokeswoman said, and cross-country skiing is the second-fastest-growing product in the category, behind snowshoes. There’s been a higher demand for cross-country items for all age groups and skill levels, particularly in the past three weeks, Hannah said.

“(The company’s) vendors are working hard to keep up with the demand,” she said. “While we are hitting some inventory limitations on skis, we do have boots and poles and other ski gear in stock.”

Thorvald Arnell talks with a customer on the phone at Rodger’s Ski & Sport on Tuesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Don’t expect any quick restocking of the equipment after the holidays, the retailers said, although Palese said he’s expecting manufacturers to send him some in early January to complete orders he put in earlier this year.

Palese said he’s crossing his fingers for what’s to come when winter wanes and warmer weather returns. He’s not sure how many of the bicycles and how much of the biking equipment he ordered in September for next year’s season will come in, and whether it will be enough to meet the demand in 2021.

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