VAIL - Ski & Snowboard Club Vail is a big deal in the Vail Valley. Its athletes include current and future Olympians, and many parents have made huge sacrifices to bring their children to Vail for the program.Since the club's annual Ski Swap is one of its main fundraisers each year, it's no wonder the event - now in its 43rd year - takes up all of Dobson Ice Arena for three days every October. Tons of ski and snowboard gear, both new and used, fill the aisles and bleachers for this annual event that also symbolizes the beginning of the ski season.Ski season doesn't actually begin in Vail for about three weeks, but Ski Club Vail athletes should be able to begin skiing at Golden Peak sooner than that. They, along with professional ski teams from around the world - including the U.S. Ski Team - have access to the slopes in early November thanks to a state-of-the-art snowmaking system put in place a few years ago. Some of the money raised at the annual Ski Swap helped make that new snowmaking system happen, too.Euginnia Manseau, who manages the Ski Swap, calls the event one of the club's most important fundraisers. She said the swap had some of the best deals ever this year, but she wished more people would have turned out to take advantage of the deals. Around 11 a.m. Saturday, a steady stream of customers came browsing through the hundreds of items on sale at the swap, but Manseau and other volunteers said the turnout seemed light compared to previous years. Manseau said it seemed like many retail stores in town were also offering good deals and sales, which may or may not have impacted the swap, she said."Sales are definitely down," Manseau said. "But there's been a steady pace throughout the day today."Some shoppers didn't hold back, though, like Boet Vandenberg, 9, and his father, Marcel, and grandfather Theo. The trio approached the checkout line with a basket overflowing with new gear. The Vandenbergs are from the Netherlands and now live in Denver, and Boet is a member of Ski Club Vail. Marcel Vandenberg said the family did very minimal skiing while living in the flatlands of the Netherlands, but they have become quite loyal to the sport since moving to Denver. They were thrilled to find such a huge selection at the Ski Swap in preparation for the season.Lauri O'Brien and her son, Weston Roach, 4, were also perusing the aisles looking for anything and everything to prepare Weston for the ski season. O'Brien said she found gloves, skis, boots, poles and more at the swap on Saturday.O'Brien said it felt good to support the local club, too, while shopping for gear her son needs this winter. That's a point Manseau likes to hear because she knows Ski & Snowboard Club Vail is not just an elitist club for wealthy children and teenagers. There are plenty of people in the program who absolutely need help covering the costs of competing throughout the winter, she said. The Ski Swap proceeds help reduce the costs for athletes, making the club more affordable and accessible for all families, she said. And with more than 500 athletes and 116 employees, that's no small undertaking.Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.