EAGLE COUNTY — Edwards resident Julie Moore is queen of bargain gear finds. The mother of three has found snowboards for under $100, picked up nearly new Burton ski pants for a fraction of the retail price and scored deals on ski and snowboard boots for her kids at the beginning of the season.
She might have some bargain hunter savvy, she admits, but as she tells her friends, to save some money on winter gear, you just have to know where to look. She’s a regular shopper for used gear, she said, and with growing kids aged 5 to 10, the family doesn’t see much point in buying brand new gear each year.
Gear hounds can find all sorts of equipment and clothing for the season, new and used, at the annual Vail Ski & Snowboard Club Swap, which took place last week. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck — the Thrifty Shops in Eagle and Edwards, Transition Sports in Avon and the upcoming Nordic Ski Swap (are all places to go in search of a snowy deal.
The art of being Thrifty
Moore is a regular at the Eagle County Thrifty Shops, which sells used ski gear and clothing of all kinds throughout the winter. They have a particularly good selection of kids sizes, she said.
“You can save hundreds of dollars,” she said. “It’s great if you’re in a bind at the beginning of the season. The kids need some new equipment almost every year. Sometimes you’ll magically find something brand new. It’s because of the town we’re in, and there are people who have the money to give away nice gear and get new stuff.”
At the Thrifty Shop, you’ll find everything from gear for Nordic to backcountry to snowboarding. The shops also carry a variety of non-ski and snowboard gear, such as figure and hockey skates, snowshoes, sleds and just about anything else that comes to mind for winter fun. The best part is, the Thrifty shops keep an inventory in their warehouse, along with items donated throughout the winter, so the selection is constantly being restocked.
“Our warehouse is filled with winter gear,” said Greg Osteen, Vail Valley Cares director. “We’ve spent the (beginning of fall) sorting and organizing a dizzying number of skis, boards, boots, poles and more, and both the quality and quantity of this year’s selection is a little overwhelming.”
Moore suggests checking the stores often (she’s even gone back twice in one day) to keep on top of new inventory and get the best equipment when it’s first put out on the floor.
“If you’re looking for something in particular, it helps to be willing to go back several times,” she said. “People ask how I find such good stuff there, and it’s because the inventory changes so often.”
Shoppers not only save, but they can know their money goes to a good cause. The Thrifty Shops go toward the Vail Valley Cares grant program, which in 2013 awarded 31 valley-based charitable organizations a total of $275,000 in contributions.
Got equipment to donate? Donors can schedule a free pick-up by calling 970-926-7134, or can drop things off during store hours.
The art of choosing gear
When it comes to picking and evaluating used gear, there might not be any better expert than Stafford Turner, owner of Transition Sports in Avon. The shop sells consignment used gear, as well as new equipment as well. He said he’s spent the past 2 and a half years looking through used gear for the shop, and as he says, “It becomes an art form.”
At Transition, you can save as much as 50 to 80 percent off new gear prices. There are other upsides, Stafford said.
“You’re not so scared to take it out and use it, unlike with new stuff,” he said. “Plus, it’s an opportunity to figure out what it is you’re looking for and try out different options.’
The shop doesn’t take gear older than 5 years, mostly because some of the newer technology with rocker and camber combinations in skis and snowboards took off after 2008. He gave some helpful tips on how to choose some once-owned, but still-quality equipment.
• Do your research: “There are 20 different versions of rocker and rocker/camber combos now,” Stafford said. “There isn’t a right or wrong kind, but there is a right or wrong one for you. You really need to talk to someone to figure out the style that suits you. Figure out your needs and the options before you start looking.”
• Check how often skis have been remounted – Has it been remounted more than twice? Mount more than that, and you risk compromising the integrity of the ski.
• Pay attention to the binding system: On skis, if you’re buying used, it’s nice to have something that adjusts easily. For snowboards, make sure baseplates and high backs are in good condition. Straps can easily be replaced.
• Look for core shots and split sidewalls: Cosmetic damage and scratches are fine, but are there any big gashes (core shots)? Are the edges fraying? Delamination on the sidewalls mean the glues that hold the layers together are starting to split.
• Don’t skimp on the boots: Age doesn’t matter as much with boots, said Stafford, but they might be the piece of equipment that has the greatest effect on your day on the slopes. Try out a bunch of different boots without looking at the price and pick the one that feels best, he advised.
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at email@example.com and at 970-748-2927.