If you know the secrets of how to buy, you can get stuff like an $850 designer jacket for under $100, an entire child’s set of skis, boots and poles for $30 or less (much cheaper than renting), or 2009’s hot $1,200 skis and bindings for $200 (though at that price, it may need some base work). Here are the swap secrets.
First, skis and snowboards: The first thing to look for is the dreaded “delam”—as in, delamination, where the base separates from the top skin. It looks like a ripple at the top or base edge of the ski or board. Sometimes it’s hard to see, so run your thumb and index finger around the edge feeling for a bump. If it’s starting to delaminate, don’t buy it.
Next, look for warping. Put the skis together to see if they meet evenly at the tips and tails with a nicely raised camber in the middle. Snowboards should lie on the floor with nose and tail perfectly flat. If one edge of a ski or board is twisted away, even slightly, it’s warped and will ride “squirrely.” No matter how cheap, warped gear is no bargain.
If the bases are white and fuzzy with scratches, the gear came from someone who didn’t take care of it. It probably only needs a new grind and a good wax job, which will usually cost around $50. Add this to the swap price; if it’s still a bargain, buy it. But look closely for deep dings that have gone below the surface structure. This may require an expensive repair called a “base weld.” If it’s very deep and more than three inches long, it may affect the integrity of the ski or board; buy it only if you’re willing to take a gamble. Some connivers will try to hide the damage with a shiny coat of wax, so turn the base to the light and examine it very closely.
Never, never purchase a helmet at a swap. You have no idea if it’s ever been in a crash, which essentially makes the helmet useless. You have no idea how old it is; I once purchased a “new” helmet I later learned was a 3-year-old cheap model that cost as much as a brand-new, modern helmet. Learn from my mistake. If you’re paying more than $25 for something supposedly new, call a ski shop, describe the item and ask how old it is.
A swap is a great place to get clothing, but again, careful checking saves a lot of later annoyance. Before you buy that fantastic parka, find out if the previous owner is selling it because the zipper keeps catching in the lining, or because the snaps require the strength of Samson to fasten. Snap the snaps and zip up the zipper at least five different times, separating jacket zippers each time. Examine all seams closely to see if there are rips or if it’s fraying. Especially examine the crotch area of a pair of pants, often the first section to rip. Hold sweaters up to the light and look inside for holes or snags. Look at glove seams, feeling around inside as well, to see if seams are starting to wear, especially in the fingertips. Most important, try everything on!
It’s hot swap time, so you’ll see ski and snowboard swaps advertised everywhere. Two good ones: the traditional St. Lawrence Thrift Stores Annual Ski Sale in Heber City (Park & Recreation Building, 90 N. 100 West, Nov. 12, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Nov. 13, 9:00 a.m.-1 p.m.) will offer terrific deals for beginners.
For cross-country, Nordic gear and snowshoes, try the Soldier Hollow Pre-winter Ski Sale, Nov. 5-6, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Soldier Hollow Lodge in Midway, with junior ski packages from $75 and adults from $189.
The Ski Utah website (SkiUtah.com) has a list of upcoming swaps and their locations.
Whether you ski or board, whether you want hip snow duds or warm stuff for your 2-year-old, check out the swaps first.