How to navigate a ski swap
Fall ski swaps are a great tradition marking the coming winter, connecting with other skiers around the excitement of new equipment and the shared hope of coming snow. Swaps are a great way to get inexpensive gear, especially for parents who are meeting the growing (literally) demands of a house full of skiers.
But swaps can also overwhelm with piles of seemingly disorganized, unrelated, and unmarked equipment with few clues as to the quality and function of the gear. So I thought I would chime in with a few tips that I often find myself giving to customers here in the shop who are asking about ski swap equipment.
The majority of boot brands' primary sizing method is European sizing (38, 39, 40...) and *in general* I find that the Euro size is the most consistent size across all brands and models. Even brands whose main sizing is in UK, I think their Euro equivalent matches up well with the other brands. The US size can be super inconsistent, so figure out your Euro size and use that as a starting point. Many people have Danskos or Birkenstocks and I think the Euro size on those matches up well with most boots.
Comfort is key when trying on boots. This is the connection of you to your equipment, so you want to be excited about putting them on every day! "Snug" is a great word to use when describing boot fit. Once it feels "tight" that might be too small or too narrow. Boots will break in, and in general they will get more comfortable as they form to your feet. Watch out for the hard parts of the cuff and hinge on skate boots...if they are biting into your feet or ankle on first impression, that will only get more annoying over time. But diffuse, snug pressure will often break in nicely.
We recommend wearing the thinnest sock that you are comfortable with when skiing. It will wick moisture better, and staying dry is the key to staying comfortable when skiing. A thin sock also keeps from bunching up, reducing pressure points that can mess with your circulation. A comfortable, correctly-fitting boot will be warmer than an ill-fitting boot with a ton of padding and insulation.
Long term, the NNN/Prolink binding system is the way to go. Madshus, Fischer, Rossignol, and Alpina are exclusively NNN, and Prolink by Salomon is also NNN. Staying away from the SNS system will give you more options down the road. If you are unsure, and you already own boots that are good to go, bring them with and make sure they connect correctly with the new skis you are purchasing. Or take a photo of your existing equipment and ask if it is compatible with the new boots or skis you are looking at. Bindings can be swapped at a shop no problem, so there are always options if you end up with equipment from different boot/binding ecosystems.
Skate and classic poles are almost always 10cm different in height. Pay attention to where the strap exits the grip of the pole. When standing in flat or running shoes (no big heels) and with the pole upright on the floor in front of you, we like to see that strap at lower lip or upper chin height for a skate pole. For classic poles, the strap should be below your shoulder but above your armpit. When in doubt, go longer! Poles can always be cut down.
When looking at poles, I think it is worth it to spend a little more for skate poles (in comparison with classic). You will benefit from the lighter weight and increased stiffness in that longer pole, and for growing kids that pole will eventually become their next classic pole and you can just buy one new skate pole down the road.
Both skate and classic skis are fit according to weight, and a correctly-fit ski will make skiing more enjoyable for you! Ideally the skis you are looking at will have a weight range written on them by the shop or previous owner. If you are looking at similar skis, it is definitely worth it to choose the skis that more closely match your weight even if they cost more. Good skis can have a +/- 10 pound window of opportunity from the ideal weight in the middle, so there is some wiggle room. Length is a secondary consideration, but for beginner skiers you can choose a shorter ski for starting out. They are lighter, less awkward, and easier to maneuver, making it more fun to get out skiing the first time.
Friends who ski:
Bring your friend who knows a thing or two about skiing! It's a lot to keep track of; there are so many nordic brands and models available and swap pricing can be all over the place, not giving you a great indicator on whether or not the equipment is good. Your skier friends are often very nerdy and will have more info than you could possibly need and will help you get what you want at a good price.
The object of skiing in general is to have fun, and that especially holds true with kids. I think that starts with comfortable boots. If you can get the boot dialed in, the skis and poles are secondary. Kids will play on skis all day long if feet are warm and don't hurt. It is worth it to take the extra minute to fully lace up the boot and tuck in the flaps etc to make sure that everything works. It can be hard to get a straight answer from kids on whether a boot fits. Ask if they can wiggle their toes comfortably. Try on another size of the same boot. It can be hard to give an evaluation on one boot, but they can almost always tell you which of two boots is the better one.
If you don't find what you need, come in to Boulder Nordic Sport at 90th & Penn in Bloomington. We will get you set up with package discounts and plenty of previous years models at sale prices. (of course we have all the latest and greatest as well) And look for our coupon in the Chinook Book.
Good luck! And we look forward to seeing you this winter.