The equipment swaps now going on across the country can be a racer’s best friend. More exactly, a racer’s wallet’s best friend.
    Where else can you find barely used Spyder or Descente speed suits for under $60? Where else can you get last year’s race-stock skis, with bindings and lifters, for about 10 percent of the original cost?
    But, buyer beware! You have to know how to shop the swap to be sure of getting a good bargain.
    The first question to ask: Whose swap is it? Store events such as the various Sniagrabs (now up to 79 throughout America) or the big Nestor’s tent sale in Pennsylvania cater mostly to non-racing skiers and snowboarders. They are good places to outfit the family or get some pleasure-skiing gear, but offer little in the way of racing or training equipment.
THE EQUIPMENT SWAPS now going on across the country can be a racer’s best friend. More exactly, a racer’s wallet’s best friend.
    Where else can you find barely used Spyder or Descente speed suits for under $60? Where else can you get last year’s race-stock skis, with bindings and lifters, for about 10 percent of the original cost?
    But, buyer beware! You have to know how to shop the swap to be sure of getting a good bargain.
    The first question to ask: Whose swap is it? Store events such as the various Sniagrabs (now up to 79 throughout America) or the big Nestor’s tent sale in Pennsylvania cater mostly to non-racing skiers and snowboarders. They are good places to outfit the family or get some pleasure-skiing gear, but offer little in the way of racing or training equipment.
    Resorts often have swaps offering a mixture of race and rec gear, but the swap held to benefit a local racing team is your best bet. 9
    Here’s a good tip: If you need new gear, it may sometimes be better to travel to one of the bigger racer-oriented events, such as the Park City Ski Swap in Utah (Nov. 3-5). Some people fly in from as far away as Texas or California for this one, saying that the money they save pays for their trip.
    “Just look at the town that, per capita, has the most members of the U.S. Ski Team. A swap close to headquarters (Park City is home to the U.S. Ski Team) is going to give you a lot more high-end stuff,” said Rob Clayton, former U.S. Ski Team coach and now headmaster of PC’s famous Winter Sports School.
    As an example of past bargains, two years ago, former freestyle program head Jeff Chumas sold his entire collection of new-looking ski team uniform jackets, more than 20 of them, for $15 each.
    But any swap sponsored by a race team will usually have bargains for racers. The good stuff goes quickly, which is why people start lining up at the Park City event about seven hours before the doors open. Wherever you swap shop, go in knowing what you want (so you can find it quickly, before it’s gone) and something about current retail value (so you don’t get ripped off).
    New items often come from vendors who either donate to the cause or bring last year’s stock that didn’t sell. This is where it’s important to know something about prices. A sharpie vendor at a big swap once brought in a large stock of four-year-old Carrera helmets, selling them for only a few dollars less than a comparable new model would have cost.
    Before buying any used stuff, check it out thoroughly. Slightly worn race suits can be a bargain, but not if the zipper doesn’t work or a seam is ripping. You have to do more than try the suit on. Hold it up to the light of a window or bright lamp and check the entire suit for holes and rips. A little gate shredding of the lower leg fabric is fine, even inspiring. But if light shows through the crotch area, the former wearer has stretched it out — the suit’s life is over.
    Skis are often the best buy, if you know how to buy. Don’t bother checking the ski or board by flexing it. That’s like kicking tires in a car lot — it doesn’t really tell you much. It’s more important to put the skis together to see if they are warped.
    There will be a lot of race-stock swap bargains this year, because the FIS recently again reduced the standing height of ski, lifter and bindings. That means FIS racers must get rid of their old gear. If it’s legal for you, grab it. Masters and club racers can score big this year.
    Clayton has some good advice for used ski buyers: “Be sure the skis are NOT waxed so you can see the true condition of the base. Wax will cover up nicks and scratches. Check the edge that’s remaining to see that there’s still some edge there. Check the serial numbers on both skis and be sure that they match up. Someone could put together an unmatched pair,” Clayton advised.
    Clayton said that buying used boots is OK, as long as they have not been foamed. “Don’t buy boots that have been foamed to someone else’s feet. Also make sure that the buckles are all good, especially the catches. Check the soles for wear. A worn-down heel could be dangerous, because it will affect how your binding works.”
    A few light scratches on a ski base can be ground off, but watch out for a bunch of off-color spots. Those are base repairs, sometimes even base welds, and show that the ski has had some hard wear. Check that the top skins are smooth. Run your finger lightly over both top and bottom edges. If there is a ripple, it’s a sign of impending delamination. Don’t buy it.
    Never buy a used helmet. Any helmet is only as good as its first big crash. Because you may have no way of knowing the history of the helmet, you won’t know if its protection has been compromised.
    Poles, shinguards, stealth shirts … these are always bargains, especially for junior racers who are quickly outgrowing their current gear.
    There is another benefit to swaps besides the bargains. You are probably waiting impatiently for your favorite resort to open, looking at every snow report. The season will seem a little bit closer when you are shopping the swaps and meeting other racers also looking for bargains.

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