The snow-clad skis in this rack will one day adorn a similar rack inside a tent at a ski swap.  If you can’t stomach dropping a grand on a new pair of skis, the secondary market offers an abundance of options to buying new.  Fall is ski swap time, as well as being the best time to shop for boots, while inventory is at its seasonal high-water mark.

By most measures, the ski buyer today faces a mind-numbing number of choices. There are skis made for every conceivable snow-sliding endeavor, and product quality, for the most part, has never been better. But in one very important aspect, the ski market shows very little diversity: pricing. Within any given Alpine genre, almost all models will coalesce around a narrow price range.  Skiers undeniably enjoy more choices than ever, but price differences are so negligible they ought not to play a part in any serious buying decision.

Before I get into the specifics that will prove my point, allow me to lay down a handful of ground rules for this discussion:

  • The smallest pricing increment in the ski market is $50. This rule holds true both for price increases within a given product line and within an entire category, i.e., across product lines.
  • Most suggested retail prices end in 99¢ or 95¢. Enough with the pennies. For our purposes, I’ve rounded up, so $799.99 is referred to here as $800.
  • There are two relatively small brands that ignore most pricing conventions, planting their respective flags at price points well above the norm. The market conditions described below don’t apply to either Stöckli or Kästle.

Breaking It Down by Category

 If we delve into the details by genre, we find each model category is concentrated around a $50 range.  Here’s how it looks in each of the seven Alpine ski genres.

Powder: The widest skis have the narrowest price range, from $800 to $900, with the lowest price in the genre at $750.

Big Mountain: The price range for Big Mountain models is roughly the same, but the choice of models is greater, the lowest price rings in at $650 and the average price for the category is slightly lower than it is for Powder.

All-Mountain West: The average price range drops to $700 – $750, but $800 isn’t uncommon. The lowest price is $599, a rare cost/value gem.

All-Mountain East: The price range downshifts by $50 – $100 compared to the AMW clan. AME is a crossroads category, blending on-trail and off-trail genes in the same genre. $700 is the most common price for models with an off-trail pedigree; the few skis with higher price tags are system skis with bindings included.

Frontside: The relatively high average price of around $950 is due to bindings being part of the package.

Technical: The category is dominated by richly constructed carvers with $950 – $1000 MSRP’s. This once-dominant genre is now largely sidelined in the U.S. market.

Non-FIS Race: Racing is a world unto itself.  Expect to pay $1100 – $1200, bindings included. 

Not all models adhere to these guidelines, particularly in the Frontside category, which is where most skis at $600 or less are sold.  The handful that deviate from the norm within their respective genres do so because:

  • Their lower-than-average price model targets a different skier, usually a less skilled or younger participant.
  • Some product families use the same price for all models, but most model collections are hierarchal, with retail pricing going downhill by $50 – $100 increments. This difference in strategy can produce pricing anomalies.
  • Most Non-FIS Race, Technical and Frontside models come with their own binding, which bumps the price up by $200 – $300.
  • Stöckli and Kästle choose to price their models well above the standard level.

 The Point

 When you’ve winnowed your choices for a new ski down to two models, chances are the price difference – if any – will be $50 or $100.  That’s not much of a difference for a ski/binding package that will run over $1000, particularly when you factor in how long the modern ski lasts.  More often than not, spending the extra coin is worth the investment

If you can’t stomach dropping a grand on a pair of skis, the used market offers an ocean of options.  Fall is the ski swap season, so keep an eye out for when and where swaps are being held in your area. If you opt to buy used, allocate an extra $100 to get the bases and edges re-tuned and you’ll get the most benefit from your modest investment.

While we’re on the subject of shopping strategies, be aware that the boot market also follows a similar logic, with pricing at any given flex index fairly even from brand to brand.  Everybody’s flex index moves by 10-point increments; expect to pay $100 for every step up on the flex-index ladder. This is not the place to economize. Avoid the least expensive boots in anyone’s line. An extra $100 spent now is a small investment in your future happiness.