It is almost impossible to discuss the expense of ski racing without quickly turning to equipment as one of the largest factors. There is no argument that the cost of equipment can be, or is, one of the largest expenditures associated with the sport; however, it is also critical to step back and examine the return on investment associated with that outlay. Limiting the view to simply how much is spent can ultimately render additional money paid for training, travel, and racing less effective because your equipment is acting like an anchor rather than a trusted ally.

While money is no object for some families, others are not as fortunate and must choose wisely where to save and where to spend. No matter your situation, with the right guidance and mindset, you will find that those who spend the most money don’t always end up skiing the fastest.

Equipment is not the place to cut corners

In addition to being a costly piece of the ski racing puzzle, equipment is also a sizable variable in the larger ski racing success equation. While it is a challenge to minimize or control as many variables as possible in that equation, the ramifications of cutting corners when it comes to equipment can render all other efforts less effective. A FIS athlete who switches ski brands to obtain ‘full’ sponsorship can relish in their savings until they struggle through a $5,000 camp and return home frustrated, lacking consistent time on-snow, confidence, and with a bunch of question marks about how to move forward.

The horror stories abound – boots purchased too big in an effort to extend use; skis purchased too long for the same reason; bindings well beyond their usable life and inappropriate for a growing athlete are remounted; and my personal favorite – a helmet that has earned its retirement stays in the boot bag (these things protect kid’s brains and need to be treated as the critical tool they are). With all these situations, and especially with boots and skis, the decision to spend for new but stretch the use almost always results in limited skill development, a struggle against their equipment as well as the competition, and reduced success, regardless of how that is defined.

Assess the situation rationally

Understanding how you, your child (or parent), and coaches all define success is an important step to analyze where your money should be spent. Are you a driven, determined athlete who has committed to a skiing program with a track record of developing and advancing athletes to the highest levels of the sport? Are you trying to develop as a human being and push yourself?  Are you looking to improve and spend time with your friends? Or maybe you land somewhere in the middle of all of this. No matter, answering these questions honestly will help steer your buying decisions. Regardless of ultimate goals or how you define success, the idea of keeping it simple should always be applied – a U12 racer likely does not need multiple pairs of skis for each discipline and/or different boots, setups, etc. Even with older athletes, a healthy focus on skill development should be maintained.

Educate yourself and shop smart

So, with some questions answered about your intentions and ambition, and an understanding that saving money by making an ill-considered purchasing decision will likely cost you in the long run, what comes next? There are several ways to save money on equipment without detracting from other aspects of the athletes training or jeopardizing their safety. Parents, make sure you are an active participant in your child’s ski racing – even if that participation is limited to building a relationship with a reputable shop or an equipment-savvy coach, being involved will help you shop (and spend) wisely.

Here are six ways to get more bang for your buck:

  1. Athlete sponsorship
  2. New, previous season closeout products from retail stores
  3. Season lease programs
  4. Hand-me-downs from other club or team members
  5. Online consignment
  6. Ski swaps

Sponsorship: Depending on age, ability, attitude, and results, brand sponsorship may be an option. Sponsorships go through each brands race director but usually need to be facilitated by a local dealer. Talking to your coaches, attending a fit day, or talking to the staff at your local race shop should give you an idea if sponsorship is an option. Stats and results are important, but companies’ want to work with great ambassadors too.

Closeouts: Shopping for previous season closeout skis and boots at a retail shop or online will often be the least expensive option for new gear. Selection will typically be very limited and if you are after sought-after sizes, you’ll need to gamble a bit with late spring, early summer purchases or strike right away when you find the right gear closer to the fall. Choosing this option does not mean that you must stray from a developed relationship with a local retailer. Ask them to investigate what might still be available from the manufacturer. A reputable shop will always try to work with a budget and make sure that the athlete is getting the right gear.

Season lease: High volume ski shops in areas where there are large race programs may offer a season lease program that includes both new and used skis and boots that are appropriate for younger/lower-level racers. These programs allow you to trade in/trade up each year to guarantee your athlete is always using the appropriate gear. These programs usually top out at a 70 or 80 flex boot and/or a size 23.5, so once your athlete exceeds these specs/sizes, this option won’t be viable. Remember to plan ahead and shop early – these programs are not that common, have a limited amount of product available, and usually sell out quickly!

Hand-me-downs: Tapping other athletes or parents from your ski club or ski team can often yield workable solutions, especially for lower usage items like U14/16 speed skis, SG poles, etc… Given the scarcity of these items to begin with, reaching out to your existing network can help check three boxes at once – keeping costs in check, getting otherwise unobtainable equipment, and putting some money back in a teammates pocket that they can put towards new gear.

Online consignment sales: Online consignment sales like eBay and Sideline Swap have become increasingly popular. There is a downside – you cannot see or feel the products or try anything on, and you are reliant on the seller to disclose use, condition, etc. Both eBay and Sideline Swap have strong buyer protection in place, but it behooves you to do your research and make sure you know as much as possible about what you are buying before pulling the trigger.

Ski swaps: If none of these options yield the equipment you need then it’s time to start making a list of all of the upcoming ski swaps within a reasonable distance and start systematically shopping like it’s your job. Most ski swaps are run by ski shops or ski clubs and are held at ski shops, ski resorts or public schools in areas where there is a large base of active skiers. Prime ski swap season is mid-September to mid-November. Make sure you are well educated on what you need – binding age and compatibility with your boots (children vs. adult DIN sole) are two really important pieces. Given that it’s 2021, you can minimize the chances of getting stuck buying something you cannot use by hitting up someone you trust via text or FaceTime before you leave the swap. Don’t be afraid to call the race shop who does your mounting and tuning, or your athlete’s coach. A brief conversation with a trusted ally who is knowledgeable in race gear can save you all time, energy, and money.

Consider the ROI of equipment cost: While it is easy to point the finger at the cost of equipment, the issue is not black and white – it is vital to consider the ROI achieved by judicious (or not) spending. Attempts at minimizing equipment as a variable in the larger ski racing success equation can have far-reaching impacts in either direction. Do your due diligence, shop smart, and save where possible, all while maintaining a clear aim at achieving your unique goals. And remember, you should be having some fun too!