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Treasure hunting at ski swaps

Bob Berwyn

After a lip-cracking summer, the fresh coating of white on our mountains is a welcome sight. With deep-golden cottonwoods ranked along the rivers and bright orange and red aspens flaring on the hillsides, this has to be just about the prettiest time of year, especially for skiers and snowboarders, whose hearts are beating just a little faster at the sight of all that snow.The timing couldn’t be better. Even though we all know that September snow doesn’t mean it will be a good winter, we can’t help but hope that it signifies snowfalls of epic proportion, with powder up to our eyeballs by Christmas. And to top it off, it’s time for the annual round of ski swaps, a ski country tradition that ranks right up there with hot chocolate around the fireplace and getting your season pass photo taken.The Breckenridge swap is this weekend, and even though I’m pretty well set as far as ski gear, I’ll be there bright and early, looking for that elusive ski treasure. I’m not even sure what it is, but I’ll know it when I see it.Ski swaps, of course, are related to garage sales and flea markets, and I’d like to encourage everyone to visit one of these events, not just because the proceeds benefit a worthy local cause, but because it’s the ecologically correct thing to do. Just think, by buying that pair of classic 1974 Rossi ST Comps, you are saving space in your local landfill. And who knows, someday you really may get around to building that ski chair.Just like garage sales and flea markets, swaps are great places for people-watching think of it as cheap ski town entertainment in the slow off-season. The first customers, lined up at the door hours before opening, are the specialists. They’ll be looking for a lens to replace the cracked one in their vintage 1960s Uvex goggles, or for a spring that will fit their 1970 Look-Nevada bindings.If you’re a seller, don’t forget to bring several cardboard boxes filled with scrap pieces of ski wax, single safety straps and mismatched pole grips. Hardcore swappers will dig through your stash, thinking that they will find exactly what they need down at the bottom. They probably won’t, but they’ll end up buying your half-used Chapstick on a string or a one-armed Power Ranger anyway.My favorite character is the guy who roams the swap in a hooded sweatshirt, wearing a walkman, cycling gloves and clutching a pair of bamboo ski poles in his hands, all while making little grunting sounds as he digs through piles of used fleece headbands and fuzzy socks.You’ve got to be ready to haggle. As a seller, you may have some sentimental attachment to your old Lange liners that you wore when you skied your first black diamond run. You may think they’re worth 20 bucks, but my advice is, be prepared to take a quarter. Take my word for it, you’ll end up ahead remember, people are paying YOU for the privilege of hauling away your moldy junk!My only real regret about swaps is that ski shops seem to have taken over. It used to be that it was a really a non-commercial scene, with individual sellers and buyers. More recently, the big chain stores use the swaps as a way to unload last year’s bad merchandise at slightly reduced, but still inflated prices. I say steer clear and look for the mom and pop table, where you may find a hand-knit Peanuts scarf mixed in with the hand-warmers and stretched-out knee braces.The advantage of buying from a private seller is that each piece of gear comes with its own story. You’re not just buying a pair of skis, you’re buying a legacy – something with karma already built in. And that, as they say in the ad, is priceless.Bob Berwyn is a freelance writer and long-time swap shopper who has been known to hit the slopes outfitted entirely with second-hand gear.


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