Ski Equipment: —To Buy or Not to Buy — Is That The Question?
— by Renato
Yep, it’s that time of year again when you’re probably sitting on the fence about whether to buy
ski equipment or not. I went through this last year and a few seasons before that, so I can
relate. I finally decided that owning equipment was the best solution for me. This may or may
not be the right choice for you, but I hope that my experiences below will help in your decision-
I took a common sense approach to all this by doing basic research and a self-assessment.
First off, there really are only three basic options for obtaining equipment: renting, leasing and
buying. Which option, combination of, and/or what types of boots/skis you choose are strictly a
personal choice. Think of it like picking a cell phone, buying a car, or decorating a home — it’s
all about you! ☺
Now, before you let your inner diva/divo loose on a shopping excursion, consider a few things:
Ability level/Skier Type
- Are you a beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert or somewhere in-between?
- Are you a speed demon who flies down mountains like a bat-outta-hell or maybe a free rider
who prefers favors moguls, rails and jumps?
Perhaps you couldn’t give a flying fig about any of this stuff and you’re more along the lines of
those classic NYC Barbizon School types (“Be a model or just look like one!”) and want to do
some basic skiing but look stylish in the process. Whether you’re a combination of all, some of
these, or not really sure, it’s all good. These questions helped me to decide how much of a
vested interest I have in skiing and also in choosing the types of equipment available. It’s
important to be honest. Ambition is good, but putting on advanced skier boots that don’t allow
enough flex if you’re still a beginner is probably not a good idea.
Frequency of Usage/Resort Location
This is a major factor in determining whether to rent, lease or buy equipment.
- How many times did you go skiing in the past?
- How many times will you go this season or in the future?
- Where do you plan to ski?
This is the part where I dragged out the calendar, maps, and travel books — spread everything
out on my desk and on the floor — then went online to the SKI BUMS and ski resort websites to
figure all it out. I jotted down the ski trip information on a chart and kept a running total of ski
days and expenses for the whole season. This gave me a sense of how often I would be skiing
and the cost of equipment rentals.
Although equipment costs are another major factor, it’s really more about how much you want
to spend and what value you want to get for your money. That’s why items 1 and 2 above were
crucial in my decison-making.
Renting — adds up the more days that you ski.
Leasing — cost is fixed, but only for one season.
Buying — return-on-investment (ROI) is higher the more often you ski, but as a depreciating
asset, the value decreases over time (no biggie unless you’re looking to resell).
Portability and Storage
Lugging equipment to and from home is an important consideration. For city dwellers, this
poses a particular challenge, especially in upper floor buildings with no elevator. One thing that
I never bargained for was the gravel, caked mud and melted snow that greeted me upon
opening my boot and ski bags after a ski trip! Niiice. You may want to set aside an area to park
this mess so you can wipe and dry it (don’t procrastinate or you’ll get rusty ski edges — I’m
speaking from experience). Then comes storage: is there room on the floor, against the wall or
even on the ceiling somewhere? If you have a boot and/or ski bag it’ll keep things tidy.
Not really a big deal, but skis usually need a tune-up at the beginning of each ski season
(unless they’re new). You may also need some occasional maintenance during the season, but
this will depend on how often you ski, how aggressively, and on what types of terrain. A basic
tune up costs between $15 - $30. If you happen to get any gouges on your skis you can usually
remedy this yourself with some P-Tex. Any burrs and dings on the ski edges will require a visit
to the ski shop for repairs. Otherwise, some people go the DIY route and set up a basic home
workshop with a soldering iron, supplies, etc. I was pretty aggressive last season, did a few
terrain parks, hit some rocks off - piste, and only needed two tune-ups.
At this point, I had a basic idea of where I stood as a skier and I assessed the three options:
Equipment rentals tend to average around $25 per day (slightly less at around $20 with the Ski
Bums discount) for all the kit and caboodle — slightly more if you’re going to “demo” high-
performance skis. Ladies, you may want to see if the rental location stocks women’s boots
and/or skis. I’m not sure if this impacts those at the beginner level, but I would imagine that it
would at the intermediate level and up. I’ve seen places where the same boots are rented out
to everyone regardless of gender.
Equipment can be rented at a resort or local ski shop. My experience has been that ski shops
tend to have better quality equipment and better prices than resorts. I’ve also found that they
have more liberal return policies (e.g. rent on Friday night, return before noon on Sunday).
New England and West Coast shops seem to have a wide selection of top quality equipment to
rent. I rented skis in Park City, Utah and not only did I receive a lot of compliments on them,
but the performance level was astounding! Many shops provide online reservations, which I
highly recommend, especially if you’re going to a popular ski resort for a few days.
- Lots of fun for a low investment if you’re a beginner or only ski occasionally.
- Good way to “try-before-you-buy” various high performance skis before purchasing.
- Don’t have to deal with certain portability and storage issues, especially for long distance
- Quality and performance may vary.
- Inconsistency in skiing experience and skills improvement due to different equipment rented
- Most rental boots aren’t equipped to make adjustments if you’re flat-footed or bow-legged.
- The more you ski, the higher the cost increases until you begin to experience diminishing
- Sometimes there are long wait lines, which can cut into your skiing time.
I leased new boots for a season so that I could experience relative performance consistency,
demo different types of skis, keep expenses down, and for personal hygiene reasons.
Equipment can be leased from a ski shop for the whole season, or until the next season begins
(i.e. you can still have the equipment over the summer — when the shop closes or turns into a
patio furniture store — to go skiing in South America, and return it when they re-open in the
autumn). If you choose the lease-to-own plan, you can receive a discount on the purchase
price. Leasing prices can vary depending on the brand, equipment quality, and skier level.
- Good option if you plan to ski a lot and want to keep your equipment expenses fixed.
- A means to use new equipment without making a purchase, or alternatively, a good way to
demo before buying.
- Relatively better consistency in terms of performance and skills improvement since the
equipment is the same for the whole season.
- Lease too late in the season and the selection will be down to slim pickings.
- If the season turns out to be a mild winter, the opportunities to ski will be fewer, and the cost
of the lease may be prohibitive. Ditto if after all that, you decide to purchase equipment after
all, and it isn’t the equipment that you leased.
- Lease deposits can be pretty hefty, so be prepared to have cash or credit withheld until you
return the equipment.
An informal survey of online prices for used ski boots show:
- $45 for men and $50 for women, but as low as $30 and $10, respectively (strange price
variation, but go figure).
- New, last season model boots average $200 for men and $130 for women, but as low as $151
and $110, respectively.
- Ski boots obviously sell for much higher prices, but I’m just giving you a base level to start
from. If you’re not too keen on buying used boots for hygiene reasons, consider replacing the
foot beds with new ones (over the counter or custom) which you can get at most ski shops ($35
- $200). You could probably also replace the inner linings. The price will vary depending on the
make, model and year of the boot.
The same informal survey shows that used, shaped/parabolic skis with attached
- Start at around $100 for men and $240 for women (ladies, to save some bucks you may want
to choose shorter men’s skis or, even better, “junior” skis targeted to teens at much lower
prices — just an idea).
- New, last season model skis for both men and women both start at around $350.
All of the above prices will adjust, increasing and decreasing according to demand, as the ski
season progresses. As far as poles are concerned, they range from $10 - $130. I recommend
getting “composite” poles because their composite materials construction allow for more
flexibility and are less likely to break or get damaged. They average around $35.
- High ROI: the equipment will pay for itself the more times you ski.
- Good quality and great performance — which equals more fun on the slopes!
- Consistency in technique and skills development.
- No waiting in line to rent equipment.
Disadvantages: Aside from some possible portability and storage issues, the only
disadvantage I could find was related to air travel. Airlines treat skis as oversized luggage and
give it a lower priority than regular baggage (even for first class passengers). Therefore, during
layovers the skis sometimes don’t make it onto the connecting flight. Also, when you arrive at
your destination the luggage carousel and ski bag pickup locations may be far apart or, in the
case of Toronto’s Pearson Airport, on different floors — one behind US customs!
A Few Words on Strategy:
Get boots first.
This is what I did and it’s crucial because you’ll want boots that fit well and provide the best
control while skiing. You can usually rent skis and poles at a lower price because you have your
own boots, but call ahead to see if the resort allows it (New Jersey’s Mountain Creek will only
mount your boots on demo skis — which cost more). For consistency, you may want to rent the
same or comparable skis at the resorts you visit. Unless of course you’re demo-ing different
skis for comparison to make a purchase.
I researched/window-shopped boots and skis online, at shops and in magazines like buyers’
guide issues of Skiing (Sept. 2007) and Outside Buyers’ Guide (Winter 2007-2008) before I
made a purchase. I kept a mental note of prices and available services in order to compare,
and also considered other state shops that have lower or no sales tax (e.g. NJ, NH, DE).
Know what you want, but be flexible and open-minded.
I ended up getting my boots at a ski shop in New Jersey that was certified by America’s Best
Bootfitters (ABB). I liked the knowledgeable staff and services they offered (i.e. return policy,
free boot adjustments, etc.), particularly if I were to be unhappy with my boots.
With respect to skis, I had demo-ed various types and decided to buy that current year’s model
of the ones that I had rented in Park City — which also happened to be highly ranked by
experts. I found the best prices for new skis on E-bay and purchased mine mid-to-late February
for about half the retail price. If you go this route and want to get a great price for current year’
s skis, then be patient, persistent, and prepared to take some risks by waiting things out. I
found that ski equipment prices begin dropping every week around mid-season. Also, if you’re
really tall and/or favor longer skis, you’re at an advantage because there are fewer bidders for
those types of skis.
So that’s it! I hope that my account will help you in making a decision about renting, leasing or
buying ski equipment.
See you on the slopes…or more likely at the après ski pub!