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Mild, snowless start to winter hasn't deterred customers, winter sports retailers say

The early winter snow drought in the eastern United States has made for a slow start to ski season, but the lack of snow has not resulted in a significant drop in sales for winter retail shops across the region.

Stores that sell equipment and apparel for winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing typically see their winter sales peak during the months of November, December and January as people gear up for the season.

However, much of this period has been mild and snowless across the eastern U.S., due to an El Niño-influenced weather pattern, providing fewer opportunities for people to partake in winter sports.

El Niño is marked by warmer-than-usual waters in the central and eastern Pacific, and it influences weather patterns around the globe. In the U.S., it can lead to warmth in the Eastern states and stormy weather in the Western states.

"This fall was so warm for so long that if affected businesses nationwide," Geoff Brugler, the owner of Appalachian Outdoors, said.

Appalachian Outdoors is just one of hundreds of stores across the U.S. that sells equipment and apparel for winter sports and depend heavily on the winter weather for business.

According to Brugler, stores in the southeastern U.S. had the biggest decline in winter merchandise sales because of the lack of cold weather. Meanwhile, stores in the West have flourished due to early snow across the mountains.

The weather during the start of the winter is not the only factor that influences winter sales. According to Brugler, an even bigger factor in sales is the extent of cold and snow the previous winter.

"Cold weather moved into the eastern U.S. early during past two winters, allowing for longer ski seasons and plenty of opportunities for ski resorts to make snow," AccuWeather Meteorologist Brian Edwards said.

As a result, winter sales at stores, such as Appalachian Outdoors, have not been hurt as much by the warm start to this winter as they would have been if last winter was warmer and not as snowy.

"We couldn't keep winter boots in stock around Christmas despite the warm weather," Brugler added.

Following the mild start to the season, weather conditions are looking up for winter sports enthusiasts during late January.

The forecast looks good for skiers and snowboarders in the East heading into the second half of the season as the chill of winter takes hold over the region and the chances of snow increase.

"Enough cold air will linger across the midwestern and eastern U.S. during the latter half of January to increase the chance of snow in areas that have received little so far this season," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.

This chance for snowstorms in the East could increase even further heading into February, potentially sending more customers to ski shops before hitting the slopes or fresh powder of the backcountry.