This skier qualifies as a Zealot: she’s as committed to powder skiing as she is to this turn. (Photo by Adam Clark, courtesy of Salomon.)

The unofficial opening bell of the 2023 season rings on Labor Day, the focal point of pre-season sales across America.  The strong sell-through of the past two seasons has whittled away at back stock, but there’s always an oversupply somewhere in the pipeline that allows specialty retailers to drop their prices on gear that no longer qualifies as “new.”

Realskiers.com members frequently inquire as to the best time to buy; the time is now, and the place is whatever specialty shops or charitable swaps you care to canvas. The savvy shopper knows to visit both, for each has something unique to offer. The specialty shop will have at the very least a selection of what’s new alongside whatever’s left over from the prior season.  The stand-alone swap (many retailers also sponsor them) will be loaded with used and nearly-new stuff that often includes some real gems at fire-sale prices.

The reason people shop at sales and swaps is the expectation they’ll save money, duh. But be careful: don’t let the allure of a what appears to be a great deal cloud your judgment. At the usual ski swap, you’ll find several generations of gear all tossed together. Due to changes in boot sole standards and a sudden surge in demand for backcountry gear, it’s possible to create an incompatible system that’s certain to fail. Now more than ever, it’s critical that the bargain hunter knows what he or she is looking for.

Know what you’re looking for. Sounds simple, but it’s not, given that 99% of all recreational skiers aren’t experts in this esoteric domain. The universe of ski options has never been larger or more diverse.  While the overall market is a sliver of its former size, the model options available to the skiing public are more multifarious than ever.

To help thin the herd of selections, it’s also quite helpful to know yourself. Not your mystical and all-but-unknowable inner self, but you as you relate to skiing. My veteran Dear Readers may remember the 3 Skier Orientations from Chapter XI of The Making of a Skier, the autobiographic series scattered among my Revelations. Please bear with me as I re-visit this psychographic terrain:

Tourists

Tourists ski primarily for social reasons. They want to recreate with family and friends, and if the preferred group activity is skiing, they want to participate. Safety, comfort, convenience and fun are their top-of-mind concerns. They prize simplicity and automatic functionality. Above all, they want to come back in one piece.

Players

Players engage in as many activities as they can fit on the calendar. They ski, but they also cycle, run, ice-climb, kite-sail, you name it, they’ll try it. They’ll devote more time to the sports that they do best, so making progress is important for Players. They believe in game improvement technology, and cherish versatility and multi-disciplinary compatibility. Players are more adventurous than Tourists. 

Zealots

Zealots are laser-focused on a specific slice of the sport, be it racing, pipe and park acrobatics, mogul competition, chasing powder or backcountry hiking.  They seek any edge they can gain in their favored milieu. They’re attracted to precision, detest frills and demand functionality and reliability. Zealots expect a measure of customization will be required to achieve their high expectations. 

So What?

I wouldn’t bother to repaint this tableau if it weren’t important. The utility of Skier Orientation overflows the narrow borders of skiing. The reason to reference it here is that Tourists have very different interests and attendant needs than Zealots, which effectively shrinks the target of desire to manageable dimensions.

Let’s focus first on Tourists, as their needs – and solutions – are simpler than the other two Orientations. If you’re a Tourist, and haven’t stayed close to the ski scene, you’re in danger of getting too much rather than too little for your buck. Stay focused on what you really need, which you may not find: something narrow, short and isn’t a race ski.  

The first question any casual skier should ask is, should I rent or buy?  Understand that the rental market was made for you as a way to limit your investment in an activity you don’t do frequently.  There are two pitfalls to the rental scenario that may drive the Tourist to buy instead of rent:

  • Most rental skis are made to survive the ski experience rather than enhance it. While there are exceptions, many rental skis are in sub-par condition.
  • Rental boots can be horrific, both in terms of fit accuracy and performance.

What’s a Tourist to do?  Rent the skis, but buy the boots. If biting the boot purchase bullet is prohibitive, oh well, rent your boots but at least try to rent something that fits snugly.  And if you do buy boots, don’t buy the lowest priced option. The bottom of the barrel is just that. Do your skiing self a favor and spend an extra 50 – 100 simoleans that will help realize the dream of returning home in one piece.

Players engage in many other activities/sports than Tourists typically do. They’ve spent enough time on hill to like skiing, but aren’t 100% invested in the sport.  Because their interests tend to be omnivorous, versatility is of prime importance, which points directly to an All-Mountain model, either narrow (All-Mountain East) or wide (All-Mountain West), depending on where they most frequently ski.  Players are perhaps the most vulnerable (and needy) Orientation when it comes to buying, because they’re just informed enough to be dangerous.   

Zealots know who they are and what they want.  Their narrow focus helps them quickly eliminate options that aren’t for them. While they might end up torn between two choices, generally speaking they’re unlikely to make a major mistake. 

Caveats that Apply to All 

No matter how long you’ve skied or how you would self-assess your Skier Orientation, there are some preseason buying boo-boos that can befall even the seasoned veteran.

First on the list of items to avoid at all costs are skis mounted with an older binding that is no longer indemnified by the manufacturer’s insurance coverage. There are several models that only recently fell off the list of indemnified bindings, so don’t assume just because a binding looks okay that a shop will work on it.

Be sure to examine the base and edges, as their condition will be a dead giveaway as to how a given pair was maintained by its previous owner.  If they look  beat-up, you’ll need to invest $75 – $100 more to make them worthy of your precious ski time.

A lot of the most popular models on the American market aren’t changing for 2023, but their sale price will most likely go up $50 compared to last year. This makes their 2022 iterations better deals even before they’re marked down for Labor Day.

It’s common practice for used kids’ boots to pass from one tyke to the next, but buying a used adult boot is an iffy enterprise.  I realize new boots will take a heftier bite out of your cash reserves, but used boots will never fit like new and are often closer to the end of their useful life than they appear to be. Remember, it won’t matter how good a ski you own if your boots are terrible. Life is too short to ski in suspect footwear.