Realistically you have three options. If you’re reading this in mid-December you can probably skip #1. If you’re reading this because you honestly, definitely don’t know anything about skis, you can skip straight to #3. If you opt for #4, you’re playing with live ammunition.
This brief outline does not get into pro deals, demo sales, club deals, ski team opportunities, etc. because if you know about such things, you don’t need to read any further. The information below is for the newbie, the first-time buyer, or the buyer returning to the sport after a prolonged absence. You’re also on a tight budget.
If that’s you, read on…
1. Ski Swaps
Your best opportunity to find good skis at a good price is at a “Ski Swap”. This is where the public brings their used merchandise that their kids have outgrown, or expert skiers are moving on to something else, what have you.
Ski swaps tend to be held in October or November, often as fundraisers. Swap rules vary, but they generally go something like this: Sellers consign goods on a Thursday or Friday, and the sale opens to the public Saturday or Sunday. The Swap organizer usually takes a 20% commission on the sale, which is how they raise funds. Best of all, a sharp shopper can outfit the family at a fraction of buying new.
2. Ski Shops
If you can afford the price tag, your local retail specialty ski shop is still your best bet for a headache-free, pain-free ski equipment experience. Unfortunately the average family guy can’t afford to go this route, but when you can, this is definitely the way to go. Especially if you have any issues with foot pain, knees, back pain, yadda yadda; a fully trained bootfitter is your best bet for a successful ski season.
In ski country you may find a used outfitter. Check out their reputation on Yap or Yelp or whatever it is and if you get good vibes, they can be a terrific alternative.
Have a ski trip planned? Two? Going to rent a slopeside condo with friends over Christmas break?
Here’s Skibum 3:16, consider it gospel: If you aren’t a regular skier, don’t assume that you’re magically going to change your lifestyle to justify a $1500 purchase. Rent skis when you need them. RENT. Find an off-mountain ski shop along the way, and just let them do their thing. And if you aren’t a regular skier, you don’t need a performance rental, you just need safe skis that are easy to use and designed for your height, weight, and skill level. If it catches on, and you discover the joy of skiing, then and only then do you need to break open the piggy bank.
4. New Stuff Online
This option is only for the experienced skier who knows a lot about gear, or for the noob who has an experienced skier who is willing to evaluate the situation and green light the purchase. If you’re a noob with no such friend available, fuhgeddaboutit. The knowledgeable skier can find excellent deals this way — but beware of lesser-known online retailers wherein the deal seems to good to be true. Stick to the known vendors such as Al’s Ski Barn or Artechski, for example.
5. Used Stuff on Craigslist/Ebay/Freakcycle
That’s a typo, sorry. Caveat emptor here. If you don’t know what you’re buying, don’t buy it. Craigslist has a few deals, but not many. Most of the ski gear listed there belongs in the local trash-to-energy incinerator. If it’s on any sort of freecycle, chances are the skis are suitable for decorations. As for Ebay, again, you need to know what you’re doing.
A solid understanding of ski gear can’t be taught, it has to be learned…read everything, watch videos. Pick up used skis at the curb and take them home and take them apart. Make mistakes, try things. In the meantime, here’s the Skibum dissertation on buying used stuff online.
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Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down.