Stretching Your Ski Equipment Dollar

Skiing has many charms, but being cheap isn’t one of them. Only the likes of princes and pashas can indulge in the sport with a blind eye to its costs. Everyone else is faced with making choices, such as whether to buy a piece of new gear or a season’s pass, or if both, resigning oneself to a winter of living on ramen.

The purpose of this piece is to help you make the right choices. First let’s suppose you have a family to both feed and take skiing. Let’s begin by outfitting the kids.

If your children are beginners, find a season’s lease program at a ski shop. The equipment may be sketchy, but skis can be tuned and boots can be fit and your kids will be skiing for much less than the cost of buying new gear. Get this done early in the season for best selection. You snooze; you lose.

Shop swaps for used kids’ gear. You may be on your own here, so have some idea what you’re doing, to wit:

    • Get skis chin-height to be on the safe side. No more than nose height, please.
    • Shell fit the boot (without the inner boot) to be sure there’s two fingers of space between junior’s heel and the back of the boot. Three fingers, max, or junior won’t be able to steer.
    • Once your children are good skiers, sorry, but you have to treat them as such. They don’t need deluxe skis, and they shouldn’t be in top-end boots (they’re too stiff), but they do need a supportive boot that fits them and skis that are tuned.
    • Allow me to re-emphasize the last point. Kids skis are often ignored, which makes life rough on the little tykes. If Billy can’t turn, maybe it’s because his skis are hopelessly railed…
    • Many specialty shops offer trade-in programs that make buying new gear more affordable.
    • If you have more than one child, you already know all about hand-me-downs. I was the fifth of five skiing children, so I empathize with anyone at the bottom of the chain…

Now that the kids are all right, let’s take care of the adults. There are all manner of ways to stretch your equipment dollar, along with a few major pitfalls to avoid.

    • The one inviolate rule of ski equipment purchasing is: spend all you have to on good boots and make do with whatever is left of the budget on the rest of your requirements.
    • Where adults are concerned, “good boots” rarely includes used boots, because boots get trashed. The most steeply discounted boots worth buying are those from a prior year. Just beware: there’s often a reason a boot went unsold…
    • If you need a stiff boot to get adequate support, you’re going to pay more for a boot. The entire price structure of the alpine boot market is built on the premise that stiffer boots cost more than softer boots, so this is a tough bullet to dodge.
    • If you don’t require a stiff boot, relax. You have lots of options in the $300 to $500 range. That’s still a lot for a pair of shoes, but it’s the price of admission if you want to enjoy the sport.
    • There are adult boots intended to retail, new, below $299. They are, by and large, a sorry lot. One reason beginners give up the sport is they settle for a beginner-class boot. In this case, a penny saved amounts to a lot of pennies pissed away.
    • Remember that the price of a day pass at a destination resort is now around $100, not for the season, but for a day. That’s big bucks for a bad experience, which is what you’ll have in an insubstantial boot.

I hope we convinced you to spend nearly every shekel on your new boots. If you only have $50 left in your budget, spend it on getting whatever ski you have now tuned to a tee. But if you still have a few Benjamins left to look at skis, consider these points:

    • Last year’s demo skis were picked through in the spring, but a few rep samples and some odd-lot leftovers are often still around on Labor Day.
    • The used ski market is like any rug bazaar: it’s best to know what you’re looking for and you won’t get hoodwinked into dubious deals.
    • When inspecting a used ski as a potential partner, take a good look at the binding. Don’t worry about scratches, which are more than likely, but do worry about vintage. If the binding is over 10 years old, move on.
    • Don’t sleep through the fall. The next two months (September and October), are the best time to shop for a low-mileage used ski at ski swaps and preseason sales.

If you’re in that happy place where your boots are dialed in, yet you feel an emptiness inside that only a new ski can fill, the rest of realskiers, including 200 reviews of new skis for the 2014 season, lies at your fingertips.

jackson hogen