This article is aimed at the many of you that are new to the sport of skiing, or have only been a few times. However, this doesn’t mean that those of you who are old hats at the sport won’t find something for you in this article; in fact, I welcome those of you who have your own tips to email them to me at [email protected] . If I get enough of your tips, I’ll do a reader’s mailbag tips and tricks article.
If you have explored SkiSoutheast.com extensively, you might have read some of the information in the “Helpful Info” part of the page. For those of you who haven’t, you are missing out on a great source of info for new skiers, both in skiing technique, attitude, and gear. Some of what I say might rehash a little of that information, but for the most part I am trying to present you with some new insights that will save you a little money, make your skiing experience better, or both. So here goes (in no particular order of importance):
Bandana: Your best friend on the East Coast
How many of you have found yourself in this situation: you pull up to your favorite ski resort and see that the snowmakers are on. After skiing through the granular snowstorm for an hour, you go to the ski shop in the resort and end up paying $15-25 for a Gator or balaclava to protect your face. Here’s a tip: go to your local Walmart or Target and pick up a bandana for $1.00. Tie it around your face (like a bank robber of the old westerns) and voila, your face is protected on the cheap. You can outfit your entire family for less than the price of one brand-name face protector! Note: MAKE SURE you wash your bandana in hot water before you wear it. When it gets wet the dye in the bandana will run and stain your skin, if not washed beforehand. It comes off, but with much scrubbing and cursing to be had!
Goggles: You get what you pay for
When my father and I took a trip to Snowshoe earlier in the season, he had a revelation: high quality goggles make a difference. At the ski resort you have a choice: buy the cheapo goggles, or spend the big bucks for the good ones under the counter. Many of the cheap goggles you buy at the resort ski shop are not very well vented, and can become a foggy mess after a short time on the slopes. If you decide to get a good pair, the nice goggles will almost always sell for retail and set you back $50-120. The thing is, with a little online research you can find good quality goggles online for almost as cheap (or cheaper!) as you would pay for lesser quality ones at the resort. A good place to look is Overstock.com, which carries high quality Oakley, Smith, and Scott goggles for a fraction of their retail price. I bought a pair of Bolle goggles from them a couple years ago for less than $40, and they have been great. Other places to look online are BackcountryOutlet.com, Altrec.com, and Moosejaw.com. These sites will all run deals on goggles, and you can often find a really nice pair for a fraction of the price.
Helmet: To wear or not to wear?
SkiSoutheast.com already has a GREAT article on why to wear a helmet while skiing. Another fantastic resource is SkiHelmets.com, which offers helmet reviews and information. I recommend you read their section entitled “What’s your excuse”, in reference to why you should wear a helmet. Personally, after dodging a wayward beginner at the Silver Creek area of Snowshoe and sliding into the trees last year, I decided I needed to start wearing a helmet. There are so many pros to wearing a helmet that I will never again go without one, and I highly recommend that any of you who ski even a few times a year think about investing in one. Again, you can find discounts on helmets at the same websites I mentioned before, and you can find a good one for $40-50 if you search the internet enough.
Ski socks: A Revelation
This one was a new one for me this year: dedicated ski socks. I had always just worn Smartwool hiking socks under my boots, and while comfortable, getting real ski socks was a revelation for me. Socks made especially for skiing (or boarding) will generally make your boot fit more comfortable, even in rental boots, and can help decrease shin bang. A pair will run you around $15-20, but it will make your feet that much more comfortable.
Glasses or Contacts
Please, I beg of you: don’t wear glasses if you can help it. They fog up, get in your way when wearing goggles, and can easily become broken in the event of a fall. After a season of wearing glasses, I decided to go with contacts and my skiing life has been better ever since. Trust me, if you wear glasses, get some contacts for your ski trips.
Resort Food: Is it worth it?
The answer is: it depends. If you have saved up your money for a ski vacation, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to the great dining that some resorts (especially Snowshoe) offer. However, the food courts at a lot of places will charge you $2 a chicken strip, or $6 for a cheeseburger. You can save quite a bit of money (especially with a family) if you just plan ahead and pack your food. If you do spend money for food at the ski resort, I have found that pizza is often the least expensive option.
Buy or Rent?
For those of you who ski many days a year, I highly recommend purchasing your own skis and boots. If you are a committed skier it will save you money in the long run, and you will be able to skip the rental process every time you make a trip to your favorite mountain. The next bullet down has a short treatise on boots, but a full rundown on what kind of skis and boots to buy could very easily be its own column. I recommend you take a look around the internet for suggestions about buying skis and boots, especially in the Barking Bear forums at EpicSki.com; it is a great resource for learning about ski gear and skiing in general. I can tell you that many of the pros out there will tell you one thing when it comes to buying skis: Demo Demo Demo. The best way to find the planks that fit you best is to try out many pairs of skis, and lots of local resorts will do demo days early on in the season.
Now for those of you who rent: There is nothing wrong with renting skis. You don’t have to worry about ski racks, tuning your equipment or wear and tear on your gear. However, definitely take a look at the rental fleet of the resort where you are skiing. Some resorts have new rental gear, while others are using gear that is 4-6 years old (or older), and has seen its share of wear and tear. This is where demo rentals come in. At most resorts you can pay a little more (usually about $10-15 a day) to rent performance demos, and I promise you they can make a huge difference. Skis see advancements in technology every year, and newer skis will go a long way in making your skiing experience better. If you can’t afford to upgrade to demos (as a poor college student, I definitely know about this), many places like Ski Barn will offer a mid-range upgrade that will provide you with higher end boots and skis. Again, I highly recommend that you spend the few extra dollars a day to upgrade to better equipment.
Boots Boots Boots
The Helpful Info section of SkiSoutheast.com has a GREAT article on how and why to buy boots, and I am trying to reinforce that idea as much as I can: DO NOT buy skis before you find a pair of boots that fit well; many long time skiers will recommend that if you only have money for one or the other, buy boots before you purchase skis. Boot fitting is as much an art as it is a science, and a boot that fits well can really make or break your ski experience, especially if you are skiing for 10+ days a year. Ill-fitting footwear can put you in pain and keep you off the slopes, so finding the right boot can be crucial. I highly recommend finding a shop that has been certified by America’s Best Boot Fitters (ABB), or to find a local shop where the boot fitter comes highly recommended. I personally bought my boots from Freestyle in Roanoke, VA, a shop that is ABB certified, and they did a great job. I highly recommend their shop, but regardless of where you go, make sure the boot fitter is well regarded and that you take time to find the right boot.
When it comes to ski gear in general, I truly believe that you get what you pay for. If you buy the higher end outdoor gear, it will perform better and last you longer. Trust me, I know that money for gear can be hard to come by, but quality gear will make your overall experience better. Honestly, you can follow my gear tips for less than $100. Just looking around the internet while writing this, I put together the following package: Oakley O-Frame Goggle ($34.99, Overstock.com), R.E.D. Trace Helmet ($39.93, REI-outlet.com), Smartwool Ski Sock ($9.93, REI-outlet.com), bandana ($1.00, Walmart). Total: $85.85, and the rest of your $100 should cover the shipping.
I hope these tips help some of you, and I look forward to hearing some of your tips and tricks. Until the next article, Think Snow!
Send comments and emails to: [email protected] (Rob would appreciate hearing from you!)