Anyone who’s been to a ski swap knows it can be overwhelming. There’s gear everywhere, loads of people are crowded into a small space, and most likely your children aren’t on their best behavior. Add to that the uncertainty of not knowing if the equipment you are buying is a good value or the right fit, and it can be a downright nightmare. Since swap season is upon us, I thought I’d pass along a few tips to help ease the stress and ensure a positive shopping experience.
Skis – The #1 question I get while working a swap relates to sizing. Luckily, it’s pretty simple: for children, we are fitting beginners anywhere from the base of the neck to the chin, meaning the ski tip should fall into this range when the tail end is placed on the ground next to a standing child. Any taller, and the skis will be too hard for them to control and learning to develop a feel for turns will be more difficult. Intermediate / advanced youth skiers are usually sized from the chin to the forehead. When shopping for adults, beginners should look for a ski length that falls somewhere around the chin. Intermediates are sized around the nose to eyebrows in length, and advanced skiers will want to stick around the forehead and up. Remember these recommendations are just that – recommendations. If you are an advanced skier looking for a quick turning, easy to ride ski, cheating down to a shorter size is totally fine. The only thing we urge parents not to do is get their children into gear that is too big in the hopes it will last a year or two longer. More times than not, the child will not enjoy their introduction to skiing due to the difficulty they face with skis that are too long or boots that are too big.
Another thing to remember to check when purchasing used skis are the bindings. You’ll want to ensure the they aren’t just too old. Each season, our shop receives a list of bindings we are legally allowed to work on. Once a binding reaches a certain age, it’s considered non-indemnified. What is non-indemnification? In short, it means the manufacturer no longer supports or recommends shop technicians working on those bindings because of age. Why do you care if a binding non-indemnified? Because if you buy skis with non-indemnified bindings, you probably won’t find a shop willing to adjust them for you (ours included). Most swaps will have a list floating around, so don’t hesitate to ask.
Snowboards – Boards are usually sized by weight, so it’s a good idea to check manufacture’s recommendations for yourself / children prior to visiting a swap. If that’s not something you have time to do, a very general rule of thumb is to fit a board between the chin and the nose with the tail end of the board on the sitting on the ground. Beginner youth sizing is a bit shorter, with the tip of the board usually somewhere in the neck area. Again, I stress this estimate is just a starting point. Ability, terrain, and boarding preference all play into which board is the best choice. And for those with size 11 feet or larger, it’s a good idea to look for “wide” board versions to give you a bit more width underfoot. This reduces the chance of hitting the tips of your boots in the snow during your toe-side turns.
At swaps, most boards include a binding in the total purchase price. Bindings are available in several sizes designed to fit a range of boot sizes, so it’s important to ensure the boots you’re buying fit into the bindings. To do this, simply open both straps and slide the boot into the binding. If the boot is too wide to slide all the way to the back of the binding or too small allowing side to side movement once in the binding, the fit is no good.
Boots – Like skis, sizing is the one thing people need the most help with. Fortunately, like sizing skis, fit is actually pretty easy to determine. With ski boots, there are two ways to do it. The first is the quicker of the two, but it’s not 100% accurate. And while we also wouldn’t recommended for fitting children’s boots, it works if you’re in a hurry. To do it, place your foot into the boot and close the top buckle only. Forcefully flex your shin forward towards the front of the boot several times. This helps set the heal back into the rear of the boot. Once this is done, you can fasten the remaining buckles. When you feel happy with the tension of all the buckles, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. With your knees locked backwards in an upright position, you should be able to feel a slight pressure on the tip of your big toe from the front of the boot. With knees bent forward towards the front of the boot (the position you would be in while skiing), the toe pressure should go away. If fitting a youth boot this way, it’s best if they don’t feel the toe at the front of the boot to ensure a little room for foot growth. Just be sure to check overall fit and make sure the boot can’t be pulled off the foot while buckled.
The second way to fit boots is called shell fitting. While a bit more time consuming, it’s the only way to ensure a proper boot fit, and is highly recommended for children. To do this, start by removing the liner from the boot shell as shown below.
Then, place the foot into the shell of the boot and slide the foot forward until the toe just touches the front of the shell. Next, measure the distance from the back of the heel to the back of the shell with your fingers. Adults should have one and one-half to two finger widths, children should be around three to allow for foot growth. For a more performance fit with adults, cheat down to about one finger width behind the heel. Remember that while a proper fitting boot will feel too snug at first, the volume of a new boot will increase during the first few times up to the hill. Also, a boot fit like a comfortable sneaker will increase the risk of blisters and discomfort while decreasing your ability to control your skis.
The overall fit for a snowboard fit is very similar to that of a ski boot – there should be a little pressure on the toe while standing with the knee locked backwards. Once the knee is bent forward, this pressure will go away. With all boots, it’s important to note that if you feel any pain or pressure while trying them on, try other models and brands. Most of the time, this discomfort will not go away after wearing the boots a few times and will make for a long, painful day on the slopes. Also if you feel any heel lift inside the boot while walking in them, keep looking for something better. This too could lead to discomfort, increased fatigue, and loss of performance.
Poles – Poles are easy. Just flip it upside down, grab the pole so the basket is resting on top of your hand, and place the handle on the ground. With your elbow at your side, your arm should be making a 90° angle. Simple as that.
Lastly, make sure to check the condition of the gear you are buying. Not sure what to look for? Check out my recent blog post. It will tell you all you need to know about damage, wear and tear, and caring for you new gear.
Swaps are a great place to find deals as long as you know what you are looking for. Be sure to research ahead of time and only buy equipment that fits both you and your ability level. A great deal on a pair of race skis will only end in disappointment if you are a beginner looking to hit the slopes for the first time this year!