Buying used skis, poles, and boots is risky business. Not only does it take a lot of knowledge to actually know what you’re looking for, but the signs of wear and tear can also be hard to spot. So I called a professional.
Katie Marvasti is the service shop manager at The Gear Fix, in Bend, Oregon, one of the largest outdoor gear consignment shops on the west coast. She really knows used skis. She spends countless hours each season helping customers get the right kits, and she personally oversaw the repair and subsequent sale of 588 pairs of used skis last year alone. The following are her tips to buy skis, bindings, boots, and poles secondhand.
Use an Age Limit
Marvasti implements a general ten-year limit on the skis and boots the shop accepts. “Once you get past ten years, that’s when things are more liable to fall apart and the plastic is more likely to degrade,” she says. “You can still find a lot of great stuff within that window and not break the bank doing it.”
Use Google Images
While it might be easy to find a brand and model of ski by looking at the top sheet, determining the year it was made can be tricky since some brands make the same model for five or more years at a time and only change the top sheet. “If you Google Image search a ski you can find the year the ski was made” by looking at the year the top sheet graphic was released, Marvasti says. If you can’t find it is likely too old anyway.”
Inspect Bindings Closely
“Bindings are the most important thing for your safety,” Marvasti says. “When you’re looking at bindings if you see any discoloration or cracks in it—red flag. You don’t want to risk your knees on that.” It’s also incredibly important that bindings reflect your proper DIN, or release, setting because the calibration can be off and you can’t tell if that’s the case without the use of specialized equipment.“When it comes to the DIN settings, there are little springs in there that make the skis release when you fall and you want it to let go at the appropriate time,” she says. “You don’t want your skis coming off mid turn but if you take a tumble and your skis don’t come off, there is a serious chance you could get injured. That’s why we always suggest bringing them to a professional to be set up.” A reputable ski shop will not only get you lined up with the correct DIN setting based on your height, weight, and ability, but will also test your bindings with a calibration machine that will make sure the bindings are performing correctly.
Get to Know Your Local Ski Shop
Most ski shops won’t work on bindings older than five or six years due to restricting insurance policies, according to Marvasti. But you might get lucky: “If you’re looking at bindings older than that, you may want to see if you have a ski shop in town that is able to work on it,” she says. (The Gear Fix pays higher insurance to work on older bindings than most ski shops.) Your best bet is to call your closest ski shop to see if they work with the bindings you are considering purchasing. “If you buy bindings that you think are great, but can’t take them anywhere to get tested or adjusted, that puts you in a precarious position,” Marvasti says.
Bottoms over Tops
Top sheet damage is usually superficial and doesn’t affect the performance of the ski. Marvasti recommends fixing ones that bother you with a little bit of epoxy at home. “The bases you want to inspect more closely,” Marvasti says. “Shallow scrapes are totally normal, but a deep one—a core shot where you can see the material underneath—that raises some red flags.” While core shots are repairable, they’re often pricey to perform and often don’t hold for more than a season or two, especially if they are near an edge.
Check the Edges
Your edges are critical for turning, and if one of them is blown out, the likelihood of your ski performing well is low, Marvasti says.“Run your finger all the way around and make sure the edges aren’t popping out anywhere,” she says. “Edge damage is another one that is very difficult to fix, and even when they do fix it, it’s never going to be as good.”
Look into the Soles
The number one thing you should check is the soles of boots, Marvasti says. How worn are the heels and toes? If they’re worn smooth and even just a few millimeters thinner than they once were, they may no longer be compatible with bindings, which can be extremely dangerous because it could affect the binding’s ability to hold or release when it needs to. Boots worn to the point of having no texture are a no-no. Some pairs have replaceable soles, which are a good fix for worn down bottoms. But if the screws keeping those soles on the boots are worn down that is a good indicator that they are pretty worked over.
Broken Buckles Aren’t Deal Breakers
“If a buckle busts on a ski boot, that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of its life,” Marvasti says. “I keep a big bin of old buckles here at the shop to try and fix buckles that do bust.”
Don’t Forget the Liners
Marvasti suggests getting your hands inside a pair of used boots you are considering buying and feeling the back of the liner above the heel. This is the area most likely to experience wear and tear. It’s its worn through, skip it. If the liner is solid, see if you can find out how many times it has been heat molded. Most liners can handle two to three moldings in a lifetime, so if it was only heat molded once, you can get them molded to your feet at a ski shop.
Don’t Overthink Them
“If it doesn’t have a big kink in it and it has baskets, go for it,” Marvasti says. “You want it to be the right length. Flip it upside down, grab it under the basket,” and put the top of the grip on the ground. If your arm makes a 90-degree angle, you’re good to go. If you’re looking for used poles to use in the backcountry, consider factors like carbon (lighter, but more fragile) versus aluminum (heavier, but sturdier).