Editor's Note: Jon D. Markman writes a weekly column for CNBC on MSN Money that is republished here on TheStreet.com.


Watching the Olympics in Turin has millions of Americans itching to dust off their skis, snowboards, skates and parkas and hit the slopes. This is certainly the winter for it in the U.S., as terrific blizzards have pounded mountains nationwide, creating perfect conditions in the Appalachians, Rockies, Sierra Nevada and Cascades.

Maybe we can't all fly and twist like Shaun White or Bode Miller. But we can all give it a shot. And you know, it just doesn't seem right to ski or ride on any old thing at any old local mountain in clothing that was last fashionable in the Picabo Street era. With the economy improving, job growth stabilizing and wages surging, you can bet that the fortunes of public skiwear and resort companies should warm up this year.

It's a happy coincidence that the U.S. snowboarding team has thrown down some sweet runs in Italy so far, as at least one clothing brand devoted to the youth-oriented segment of the business is one of the few market darlings of the moment. That would be Volcom , which has parlayed a surfing and skateboarding heritage into a "hella" snowboard apparel line.

The company has also been helped by the loopy attraction of Southern California lifestyle television shows such as Fox's The O.C., but there's strength in the financial numbers there as well. It reported earnings on Tuesday that were very good, but not quite as good as anticipated, so shares are trading down. This should provide a good entry for newcomers.

The 'Tomato's' Gear

Volcom -- the brand worn by red-headed Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who is known as the "Flying Tomato" -- was born in Orange County, long before the O.C. was cool. Volcom went public in July last year. The price popped a double fakey with a reverse ollie right away, zooming up 41% in its first day to $26.77 from $19. Now that's big air.

It really hasn't stopped much since, as it sports a $971 million market cap with the stock perched at $40. In addition to great snowboard gear -- which, in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that my 13-year-old son wears with pride -- Volcom makes T-shirts, pants, shorts and denim that combined for income of $28.4 million over the past 12 months on revenue of $149.1 million. That was up more than 30% from the previous year, a pace that is expected to continue for at least the next three years.

It's all pretty cool for a company started by two kids in 1991 who admit they didn't know anything about making clothes but wanted better apparel for their own rider/surfer/skater lifestyle. When you visit the company's Web site, you can see that its marketing message is all about the battle of youth against the establishment. But at the end of the day -- thank goodness for capitalism -- it's really all about selling expensive merchandise to urban teens achin' for the pow-pow and aloha spirit. That is about as establishment as you get.

Volcom is now on the verge of becoming a global action lifestyle brand, and that, given a little time and imagination, should push it past the likes of more mature brands such as Quiksilver ( ZQK), which is 50% larger, and Columbia Sportswear ( COLM - Get Report), which is twice as large. Without lower-priced gear for the mass market, we're not talking about another Nike ( NKE - Get Report) here. But if it can create a good retail concept, Volcom could advance much higher than the grassroots to which its marketing owes much.

Driving this kind of growth is the shift in the affections of many teens away from competitive ball sports such as soccer and football toward solo "action" sports, marketed via music TV shows and video games. Industry research shows that the growth of skateboarding has far outpaced that of baseball among boys aged 6-17.

Ask a kid today which athlete he idolizes, and he's more likely to answer surfer Kelly Slater, Shaun White or Tony Hawk than Barry Bonds or Tom Brady. The X Games on ESPN are one of the biggest television events of the year for the teen demographic. And some of the fastest-growing mall retailers are feeding this experience, notably Zumiez ( ZUMZ - Get Report), which went public last year and has more than doubled.

No doubt, Volcom is priced to perfection now at 30 times earnings. So if you are not a growth buyer and are looking for some value in the skiing-and-snowboarding space, check out K2 and Quiksilver, among the hard-goods makers, and Intrawest and Vail Resorts ( MTN - Get Report) among the landowners.

Old School

K2 was once the Volcom of the industry, a brash newcomer that quadrupled in value to a high of $32 from 1992 to 1997. But it has struggled ever since to find its path, making a series of desultory acquisitions to diversify, including baseball-gear maker Rawlings and a paintball line. Shares have been in free fall for the past two years and were in danger of reaching single digits until the big snows arrived. Now K2 has a couple of strong-selling, all-mountain skis called Apache and twin-tip skis called Public Enemy. It should get a boost both from the Olympics and the X Games, which start later in the month.

The good news for K2 is that quarterly earnings comparisons are easy this year. As long as the company can grow sales by around 5% and cut expenses enough to secure earnings growth of around 10%, it could achieve 2006 earnings of 90 cents a share. If investors put a modest 13-times multiple on that, the stock could hike back to the $13.50 level by the end of the year, which would be a 25% move.

If you're more into real-estate action, industry consolidator Vail -- owner of Vail, Breckenridge, Heavenly, Beaver Creek and the Rock Resorts -- might be the ticket. Shares are down 21% since the company's chief executive surprised investors in December with the announcement that he would step down in June.

From a technical standpoint, the stock has hit rising support in recent days, a natural place to stabilize. From a fundamental point of view, Vail should be able to take advantage of higher lift prices, improved volume due to the great weather and the advancing economy to earn $1 in fiscal 2006 and $1.40 in 2007.

Put a multiple of 25 on that, and add a premium for its undeveloped real estate in some of the best locations in the country, and there's no reason the stock couldn't rebound into the $40-plus range over the next year, a 35% gain. Private equity buyers, who have become so important recently, love high-cash-flow businesses like this, and could very well take this premium resort operator out of public hands at that level or better, especially if shares continue to sell off later this year.

In the past, the ski industry has been a lot like the airline industry -- fun to use, but not a great investment. But if you buy a premium brand near the start of its ascent, and a couple of former highfliers down on their luck, you could have quite a good run with the group.

Fine Print

Many Canadians were understandably miffed at my riff on Alberta's oil sands last week, though virtually all were at least happy that the area was earning the recognition it deserves. It should be clear that, over the next two decades, Alberta and Saskatchewan will become an incredibly rich and vibrant region, on a par with any in the world. (Shares of the stocks recommended in the story have come down a bunch in the past week and are looking even more attractive.) Anyone looking to start a career of almost any kind -- in petroleum or in the professions -- would probably be wise to consider the cities of Calgary or Edmonton, or points north where the oil sands are. And besides, there is great skiing.

t the time of publication, Jon Markman did not own or control shares of companies mentioned in this column.

Jon D. Markman is editor of the independent investment newsletter The Daily Advantage. While Markman cannot provide personalized investment advice or recommendations, he appreciates your feedback; click here to send him an email.