How to start skiing or snowboarding without breaking the bank

How to start skiing or snowboarding without breaking the bank

Winter and ski season in Mammoth, Calif.SALLY DIBAEI/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Skiing and snowboarding are among the best ways to turn winter into something to look forward to. But there’s no doubt that they’re expensive sports, and they’re only getting pricier as inflation drives up the cost of manufactured goods.

If you’re looking to take your family skiing for the first time this season, we’ve compiled a list of considerations to get started in the cheapest way possible, while avoiding some common mistakes people who are new to the sport make.

Bart Giero, general manager at Play It Again Sports, a sport store that buys and sells equipment, in Toronto’s north end says savvy customers can generally get all the hard goods (skis, poles, boots) second-hand for $300 a child from a used ski store, with a used adult setup costing a bit more, and snowboard set-ups generally running a bit cheaper. That’s in contrast to new set-ups that often run into four figures.

Don’t buy skis more than five years old, and do your research if you’re buying online

It is common for people to come into Mr. Giero’s store with a pair of skis they bought second hand, and his staff have to tell customers that their bindings can’t be adjusted because they’re expired.

It’s something people new to the sport often don’t realize: most ski bindings are deemed expired by the manufacturer after roughly seven years for safety and liability reasons.

As for snowboards, Steph Francis, general manager of new and used sports good store, Sports Junkies in Vancouver, says people can get away with buying gear that is a little older, but shouldn’t buy anything more than 10 years old.

Skis and snowboards can be complicated pieces of gear, with different kinds of technology that makes them better for either new or experienced users. There are also all sorts of different shapes and sizes of boards and skis that affect how the gear performs.

For example, Mr. Giero points out that many new buyers are surprised to learn that weight is more important than height when choosing a snowboard size.

If you’re buying on your own through classified pages, it’s important to read into the basics of snowboards and skis. Otherwise, used ski shops can be a great source of information, and the extra expense at stores can be worth it.

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Consider season-long rentals

Some Canadian ski shops offer season-long rentals, where you can pick up a full ski or snowboard setup and hold onto it for an entire winter. Ms. Francis says season-long rentals are a fantastic option for people who are brand new to the sport, and they allow families to give skiing an honest try before committing to buying expensive new gear.

“You don’t know if you’re going to like it until you try it,” points out Ms. Francis.

“If they don’t like skiing halfway through the season and want to try snowboarding, they can no problem, as long as we have something in stock.”

Season rentals are considerably cheaper than daily rentals (rentals at Sports Junkies cost $180 for kids and $300 for adults, while daily rentals often start around $60 a day), and they’re great for children who might grow out of a pair of skis each season.

If you’re thinking about getting season-long rentals, it’s best to start looking early: Ms. Francis says her store generally is booked out by November.

For those who purchased beginner gear for themselves or their growing children, you can recoup some of the value by reselling or swapping equipment at your local store as well. Sports Junkies is one of many stores that buys used skis and snowboards, and that money can go toward buying higher quality gear down the road. Other local stores set up “gear swaps,” which are events where they showcase used gear brought in by the community. They’re great places to buy and sell at reasonable prices.

Don’t skimp on boots

It may not be the sexiest piece of equipment, but almost every ski and snowboard retailer will tell you that boots are the most important part of your setup. If there’s one item that you should spend the most money on, it’s your boots.

“If the boots don’t fit right, everything else is not going to work right,” Ms. Francis says.

“It’s hard to sometimes get customers to spend money on boots, and they want to get nicer skis because they look pretty.”

Not only do high quality boots make the biggest impact on your riding, but ill-fitting boots will be a surefire way to make your day miserable. Loose boots can hurt, not provide enough support, and they won’t be able to keep your feet as warm. Overly tight boots, can also lead to pain or discomfort.

Mr. Giero says it’s all-too-common to hear people complaining about their boots at the ski chalet, wearing three pairs of socks just to stay warm. It can be easily avoided with some help around proper fitting boots.

One piece of advice from him: if your boots are immediately uncomfortable when you put them on, that may not be a bad sign. Boots should be most comfortable when they’re fully laced (your heel will sink in further), and when your knees are bent (they’re designed to be comfortable in a skiing/snowboarding position).

Don’t blow your budget on fancy jackets

It might be all the rage to wear waterproof Gore-Tex jackets with price tags that approach $1,000 in downtown Toronto and Vancouver, but they’re overkill for most skiers.

Ms. Francis says it’s important to consider your region in Canada when picking a jacket and snow pants. In British Columbia, where many resorts have warmer and wetter weather, waterproofing is the most important feature.

She says a waterproof rating of 10,000 millimetres would suffice for beginner and intermediate skiers. That level of waterproofing will ensure that your bum and wrists (which often get soaked, particularly with snowboarding), will remain dry.

In Ontario, warmth is a more important factor to consider. Snowboarders can also consider using mittens instead of gloves for added warmth. ‘Lobster’ style gloves that have two pockets for your fingers and one for your thumb can also be a good option for skiers, who need a bit more dexterity to hold poles.

Mr. Giero also says a helmet and goggles are two very important pieces of gear that should fit well.

“People think they can just wear sunglasses, but it just doesn’t work,” Mr. Giero says.

Helmets should generally be bought new, since they shouldn’t be used after a crash. As long as it’s a certified, even the cheapest helmets will have the protection you need.

Consider night skiing

Many resorts near urban centres offer night skiing at cheaper rates. If you’re brand new to the sport, night or day won’t be much different if you’re spending all day learning on the bunny hill.

If you’re thinking of purchasing a season pass, some resorts offer 5×7 passes at low prices. These passes allow you to ski at night seven days of the week, and both day and night during weekdays, and they’re often considerably cheaper than full-access season passes.

It’s also important to build up your skills before going to the more expensive ski destinations. In Toronto, consider learning at Glen Eden before making a trip out to Mt. Tremblant or Blue Mountain. In Vancouver, it’s worth spending time at one of the three local ski hills before venturing to Whistler.


Are you a young Canadian with money on your mind? To set yourself up for success and steer clear of costly mistakes, listen to our award-winning Stress Test podcast.

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