Ski Swaps: A Great Way to Get Outfitted for Ski Racing
By Jodd Bowles AMS Alpine Coach & Director of Racing at Lost Valley.

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The Auburn Ski Association Swap (ASA) held in the Auburn Middle School minutes before opening the doors

A ski swap is a ski sale that allows you to sell your used equipment and buy used and new equipment at good prices. A true ski swap is not to be confused with a “tent sale” or some other sales that may present themselves as a swap and are often held in a local community centers or armory civic centers, usually put on by a ski shop looking to move into the local market and give very little back to the local ski community. True ski swaps are run by local non-profit clubs, teams and organizations. Profits from the swap go to support the clubs’ goals, usually skiing and racing in that area, so you get a benefit three times: it is a place for you to turn your used equipment into cash for very little cost, it is a great place to find good used equipment at fair prices, and the proceeds support ski racing and skiing in your area.

Swaps may differ slightly, but the general idea is a non-profit organization runs the swap and sets up a drop-off time when you have your chance to bring equipment you want to turn into cash. If you are selling last year’s new race skis you just paid $1,500 for, I’ve got some bad news for you—they are now worth much less than half that on a good day. The good news is that if you bought at the swap last year, you can ask a little less than you paid last year and use that for what you need this year.
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The swap is full of equipment from individuals and ski shops. Yes, ski shops are selling their stuff at the swaps, usually the equipment they want to move and convert into cash—brand new stuff a year or two old or older, some used they took in trade, or leftovers they purchased from the manufacture—to help get you some better equipment at better prices. The swap organizers will charge you a percentage, usually between 12% and 30%, for selling the equipment. In the case of the swap in Auburn it is 15%. If that seems steep, remember that the swap handles advertising, renting the room, credit card fees, and food to feed the workers and vendors. You do not have to put that ad on E-bay and deal with shipping and the chance of the payment not clearing. And don’t forget that you or someone in the area directly benefits from that 15%. In Auburn proceeds support the Auburn School Department teams, Special Olympics and Learn to Ski programs, funding to help elite racers compete, and safety equipment like netting and improvements in timing equipment to help events run safer and more accurately. The trick is in pricing your items properly. Too high and no one buys, too low and you do not make the max. Not everything will sell. At this swap, there are usually experienced people that will give you their honest opinion on what is a good selling price, but opinions do vary. Very old equipment or vintage is not something for a swap. It may be worth something as a collector’s item but not at a swap, so look elsewhere to sell collectibles. Any broken equipment, non-DIN-standards bindings, blacklisted bindings, and old plastic boots are no good, and the swap will do its best to keep them out of the swap, so don’t even bring them. Straight skis are almost worthless, and at the Auburn swap we donate them to a ski chair maker so we do not have to pay to throw them out. A rule of thumb is that stuff older than five years may be getting too old to sell at the swap.

As for the sale itself, it is best to arrive when the doors open to find the best deals. Remember, there are vendors there who are selling their stuff and will look to sell their equipment first. After all, that is how they make their living. They fill up box trucks and move the equipment around each weekend to help out the club running the sale. So check the tags to see what shop they are from. The vendors account for the majority of equipment at the swaps. There are workers from the swap, usually local coaches that have knowledge about equipment and are only interested in setting you up with the best deal. And sometime you can get your coach to help you out if an MPA hands-off policy does not keep them from talking to you. I will add that vendors at the Auburn swap as a group are great, and although they are working for their shop, they have your best interests at heart. I have seen them sell something from a different vendor on many occasions if it is better for you. Also, the vendors have the most information on the equipment they sell.

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You need to have an idea what you are looking for. That race ski with the binding that is selling for $50 with bindings that DIN at 20 is not a deal unless you can find a binding that will work for you. And the boots for $30 that do not fit are $30 wasted. If you cannot find what you need at the swap, I advise you to go to a local shop and work with them to find a good deal on equipment that will work for you. Have your needs list, and only get the equipment if it will be good for you. Do not buy something because it is inexpensive; most likely you will be throwing the money away. The best deals are usually used equipment brought in from the private market, so learn what the tag looks like and check that private equipment first. The vendor tags (each vendor has a unique tag) are mostly leftover brand new equipment and cost more—but still a good buy. If you need boots get them last, because otherwise while you are getting fitted all the best deals may fly off the floor.

After the sale, you return to pick up any equipment that did not sell and get a check for the equipment that you did sell. It is rare that something is missing. In my 17 years working the Auburn swap only a few items ever went missing. The swap is not responsible for missing merchandise, but you can ask for consideration as a courtesy. Do not expect to get more than you had the item listed for, and remember that the volunteers holding the event are tired and have been volunteering for most likely days, so ask nicely.

Now you should have some of the equipment you need for the season and should have converted that equipment you no longer use into some cash.