There’s frost on the pumpkin here at home and snow on the high mountaintops in Western Maine in these fleeting days of October. The calendar may say mid-autumn but I say it’s time to prep for winter, and that means getting ready for ski season, which with some help from Mother Nature should get cranking by the latter part of November.
If you’re in the market for some new ski goods, well, join the club. I love my K2 skis, but they’re seven years old now and pretty beat up. And my Lange boots, goodness, I’m not sure how long I’ve had them. It’s time.
New skis and boots and whatnot—you know, the latest and greatest stuff—is out of the question. I don’t have that kind of money to spend. You don’t either, you say? Alright then, we’re in the same boat.
Fortunately for you and me there are a bunch of ski shows and swaps happening in the next month or so, giving us some great opportunities to score some really good gear on the cheap. My colleague Heather Steeves put together a terrific summary last week: “Ski sales in Maine: Find your winter gear cheap.”
Just one of the sales has gone by; the rest are ahead, starting with this weekend in Bethel and Gorham and going right through to the end of November and the Downeast Ski Sale in Portland.
So, we’ve got plenty of chances to get outfitted with new skis and boots and accessories. But at these sales, with a blinding array of choices, some of it new, some of it used, how do you know what you’re buying? How do you know what to buy?? After all, you don’t want to drop a pile of cash of what looks like a bargain and find out later on the slopes that you’ve bought the wrong type of ski or boot.
For some helpful tips on buying gear at ski sales I talked to the good folks at The Ski Rack in Bangor, where the general manager, Peter Richmond, gave me some awesome advice.
CHECKING OUT SKIS
With skis, you need to consider length and width. A simple rule of thumb is this: For beginners, the ski should reach to your chin or just below; for intermediate skiers, to nose level; and for advanced skiers, to your eyebrows or above.
“We can usually figure to within a size or two pretty quickly,” said Richmond. “Then we talk to the customer and get more info. When in doubt, though, go shorter.”
A mild caveat: Sales people at shows do represent their companies, so be careful not to be steered toward their product for the wrong reason.
“Don’t go in blind,” said Richmond, who advised doing a little homework on your own before you go to the sale.
“Go online and at least figure out your size. A half hour of research will really help.”
One site recommended by Richmond was Evo at www.evo.com, where you’ll find excellent size and buying guides for skis and boots and all kinds of other gear. It’s incredibly helpful, so do go and check it out.
After length, consider ski width, primarily that under your feet.
“There’s a lot of numbers on skis, most of which don’t mean anything to most people,” Richmond said. “There’s the width at the tip and tail, but the most important is the waist width.”
For most of us that ski groomers, those typical icy and hard pack New England trails, a waist width in the 70-80mm range is best.
“That’s most of what we sell,” Richmond said.
For side country ski terrain, something all-purpose, all-mountain will be 80-90mm underfoot.
For powder skiing, the in-the-woods kind of stuff, you’re looking at 90mm plus.
This last wide ski isn’t really good for around these parts, but people still buy a lot of them.
“The narrower the ski is, the softer it will be, which is fine for most recreational skiers,” noted Richmond.
Prices are generally lower for these narrower skis, but get higher as the ski gets wider. Wider skis are, of course, stiffer, so you need to be a better skier to ski them properly.
As for bindings, most times you’ll find them already mounted on the skis.
“Most skis we sell are system skis, which come with a binding,” said Richmond. “Companies do a pretty good job of matching up bindings with skis.”
Also, be sure to take a good look at the base of the skis as well as the tops to be sure they’re in good condition.
CHECKING OUT BOOTS
As with skis, you should go to the sale pretty much knowing what size you need.
Again, check out the Evo site for their great ski boot buying guide. There you’ll learn that ski boots are measured on a Mondopoint scale. Street shoe size doesn’t really matter.
With Mondopoint sizing your foot is measured from toe to heel in centimeters. Trace your foot, then measure the length in inches. Multiply by 2.54 to get the centimeter equivalent. Now you have your Mondo size!
“Most people will drop down in sizing with ski boots,” Richmond noted. “Your ski boots should be snug, but most people tend to buy boots that are too big.”
Take the liner out and feel where the toe is, and get your heel firm into the heel pocket.
“Liners are thick and will compress over time, so you want a snug fit to start,” said Richmond.
When you stand up straight with your boots on your toes should be touching the front of the boot. But when you bend at the knee you should get ample toe room up front.
Boots also have numbers of them.
“These numbers represent stiffness. It’s a flex rating,” Richmond said.
Recreational skiers want a flex rating from 60-80. It’s 90-100 for intermediates and 100+ for advance skiers. Weight and size of the skier also matters.
Final tip: “Everybody has a smart phone, so do some Web searching right there at the sale to see if you’re getting a good deal. You should get at least 50% off MSR price on new gear,” said Richmond.
OK then, thanks Peter and everyone at The Ski Rack for all the great advice!
SKI SALE CALENDAR: “Ski sales in Maine: Find your winter gear cheap.”
SLOPE BARGAINS: 9 ski deals to act on right now.
SKI GEAR SIZE & BUYING GUIDES: Evo.com.
SKI MAINE ASSOCIATION: www.skimaine.com.