Ski swap season is upon us. On fall weekends, skiers across the country will systematically comb through piles of used gear to try and find a semi-decent deal. What could go wrong?
While there are certain to be plenty of great buys and solid pieces of equipment, there will also be plenty of beat up, trashed, and worn out gear. This includes packed out, smelly ski boots, twice-mounted skis, and un-indemnified bindings. Make sure you do your due diligence before whipping out your wallet. Nobody wants to buy somebody else’s problem.
You found the perfect pair of skis in your length. The model before you is an a 1/4 of the price of a new pair. The stoke level is sky high and you’re ready to make the purchase. Not so fast, you need to make sure you aren’t buying a worthless set of skis.
- Over-drilled – This can be a difficult one to figure out but discovering the truth behind those planks is critical. Try and figure out how many times the skis in question were drilled and/or mounted. It is generally accepted that a ski can be drilled twice before significantly compromising torsional stiffness and structural integrity. Each time a ski is remounted, the ski technician might be forced to move your binding slightly forward or backward of the suggested mountain point to make sure there is no interference with new drill holes and existing holes. Moving your “boot center” forward or rearward of the skis recommended mount point can negatively affect how a ski handles. Look for drill plugs that are hammered into the ski. This will help you locate old holes. If the skis have bindings on them, be careful, some holes may be hiding under the binding. If the seller is around, interrogate him/her about how many times the skis were drilled. There is no use in buying a ski that you are going to need to mount 4 cm behind the recommended line.
- Noodle – Skis will lose stiffness and strength over the course of their life. After enough days on the hill, the ski’s materials weaken and performance changes. Give it the old hand flex and see how they feel. If a ski feels oddly soft, that’s a red flag. Ask around and see if anyone is familiar with the make and model of the ski. They may know how the ski should feel.
- Edges and Sidewalls – It can be easy to spot base damage and top sheet delamination. That said, edge and sidewall damage may not jump out immediately. Take a good look at the sidewalls and edges. Carefully scan the skis for dents/cuts in the sidewall or splits in the edge. These are much more expensive fixes than your standard P-Tex or base weld and if the edge is broken– the ski is essentially dead.
Buying used bindings can be tricky. There is likely no need to worry if the bindings were made in the past several years. Older bindings can be a bit more of a gamble and nobody wants a knee surgery because of a janky old binding.
- Indemnification- This is very important and could require some research. There is a finite period where binding manufacturers stand behind their bindings. If a binding is outside of that time period, it is no longer indemnified. Buying a binding that is no longer indemnified is a bummer. Ski shops are no longer allowed to adjust these bindings and at that point, you will either be clumsily adjusting them in your garage or buying new bindings. Ski shops will have a list of which bindings are still indemnified. Google should also be able to help. Check out this guide from Ski Bum. Yes, this is a lot of information, but indemnification is immensely important.
- Wiggle or Play – As simple as it sounds. Give the bindings a good wiggle with your hands. Any movement or play in the binders that seems out of place could very well be problematic. It may simply be a matter of tightening a few things up, but it’s always worth checking.
- Torque Test – Okay, so this one is not something you can do at a ski swap. We highly encourage you to get a torque test (otherwise known as an ASTM) on any used binding. In fact, some ski shops will require this. A torque test checks for consistent release values in your bindings. This can help prevent pre-releases or the opposite– not releasing at all.
Buying boots at a ski swap is nightmare fuel. While al skiers agree this is easily the most vital piece of equipment in a skier’s quiver, nobody wants to go sticking their nose in someone’s old shoes. Watch out for boots with these red flags.
- Sizing/Pack Out – Many folks will instinctively go right to a shell fit. The simple but relatively vague and unscientific rule shell fit does give you an idea if you are in the right boot shell. Pull the liner out of the boot. Stick your foot into the shell and scoot your big toe forward to contact the front of the shell. How much room is left behind your heel? If you can get two fingers behind your heel, the shell is likely too big. One finger behind the heel signifies a cozy, performance, fit.
- Liner – But wait, what about the old liner? Will this skew my shell fit? Yes, it very well might. If the used liner was skied hard for enough seasons, the liner could be worn out completely. The liner material could be packed out meaning it no longer has the same volume it originally did. This can skew your fit. Beware. Aftermarket liners can be spendy.
- Toe Box Wear – The squared-off toe of a boot helps determine how well securely you are attached to your binding. Take a look at the toe of the boot, if the plastic is rounded off or heavily worn down, it may not safely and securely click into your bindings. No bueno.
- Worn or Rounded Sole – Similar to a worn toe box, a worn boot sole can be problematic. The AFD (Anti Friction Device) plate that gives you an elastic feel in the binding toe piece may not function properly with a rounded sole.
- Walk Mode – If you are buying an alpine touring boot, make sure to test the walk mode. Flip the lever back and forth and take a walk around the parking lot. Sometimes the mechanism can develop some unwanted play in ski mode. This will be detrimental to downhill performance. Sometimes the boot can slip out of walk mode and lock the cuff.
- Tech Fittings – If you are buying an alpine touring boot, check the tech fittings that are set into the boots. After enough wear and tear, they can come loose or become damaged. A damaged or loose tech fitting will prevent the binding pins from engaging the boot properly. This can lead to all sorts of problems that could land you in a hospital.
As much as we all love a deal, don’t force it. It is far more important to be on properly functioning, well-fitting, and safe gear…even if it means spending a bit more.