23 February 2017

Where to Buy Backcountry Ski Gear



Like most outdoor pursuits, you need a lot of stuff for backcounty skiing. Between hard goods and soft goods (and tutus) you can expect to spend anywhere from $2,000 to $12,000 to get outside. Yikes! Since you really do need all of this stuff, here's a handy guide for where to spend, where to scrimp, and where to find the gear you need (assuming you live in the greater Seattle area).

And if you're completely new, check out this Backcountry 101 post outlining the gear you need and how it works and my post about How To Get Started Backcountry Skiing.

Where to spend:


Boots

Most people think about skiing as a leg-intensive sport, and it is. But it's also a foot-intensive sport. You control your ski primarily with the stabilizing muscles in your feet. When your boot fits well, your skis will be responsive to these micro-movements. When your boot is too big, your foot will work to control your skis to little avail. When your boots are too small.... well, we all know how that goes down.

Buy new boots. Just do it. Spend the money and get what you want. Most boots these days come with moldable liners (and the bootfitters will do this for free when you buy in-store) and all boot shells can be "punched out" if they squeeze you in specific places. Do buy boots that feel pretty good on your feet already, and do have them molded and fit by a professional. I also recommend spending the extra money to get custom foot-beds, but these aren't necessary. Do not buy boots that don't feel right on your foot expecting to "punch them out" to comfort and just don't buy used boots unless you can remold the liners and are planning to buy custom foot beds.

Bindings

Like boots, bindings are expensive. They are also heavy, and the type of binding you get will directly impact the level of fun that's achievable in the backcountry. Unless you plan on primarily skiing in the resort and doing only a little sidecountry action, do not get a hybrid touring binding. You want a straight up, light-weight tech binding like this one from Dynafit.

I know, I know, there's like a $100-$200 difference between the two. Let me put it this way: think about the moment when you're outside in the snow, completely wallowing. How much would you pay in that moment to not be suffering? Forward that money to today and buy the binding that weighs half as much. Tech bindings are easier to tour in, easier to carry, and don't freeze up and refuse to lock into ski mode the same way hybrid bindings do.

Waterproof/Breathable

Living in the Pacific Northwest, where it will rain while you are skiing, having gear that is waterproof is a good idea. The catch-22? You also want it to be breathable. This is so you can sweat under your clothes while it's raining without creating a rainforest inside your coat. At some point, you will just be wet, but the longer you can stave off that reality, the better.

Pick a few key pieces of gear and spend more for waterproof, breathable materials. Start with your jacket, ski pants, and backpack. If you're feeling ambitious, throw gloves/mitts in there too. The good news is, you can buy this stuff used. Make sure to follow the care instructions and treat your outwear regularly with Nikwax.

Where to skimp:


Skis

Skis are like cars - the second you "drive them off the lot" you lose half the value. And like cars, they deteriorate over time but can last a damn long while with basic care. Scour the "Where to buy" links below for used skis. Be sure they have been well maintained. Avoid skis with huge, unrepaired core shots, rusty edges, or skis with multiple previous owners (as that means the skis have probably been drilled more than once for binding mounts). You get bonus points if you can find skis with bindings and skins cut to match!

Poles

Seriously - you do not need fancy poles. You can get fancy poles, but you don't need them. Go to Goodwill and find some that fit you, or buy them used at the end of the season from a demo shop. Collapsible poles are great for long, multi-day trips and are conveninet for packing the car, but you don't need them. To find poles that fit grab a pair, flip them upside down, and grab with your hand right under the basket. If your arm is at a 90-degree angle, the poles are the right length. You can use your trekking poles for skiing too - just swap out the trekking baskets for bigger powder baskets.

Soft Goods

Like poles, you do not need fancy soft goods. I wrote an entire blog about how to layer for the backcountry, and any of the layers I reference can be bought at a steep discount. Right now (mid-February) is a really great time to score deals at your local retailer (on things like ski socks, long underwear, fleece, jackets, pants, and, my personal favorite, down booties). Go out there and knock yourself out.


Were to buy:


Proski Seattle

Located on Aurora Avenue at 90th in North Seattle, Proski is a little gem run by Mike, Michael, and John. They do big business out of a small shop and are super helpful regardless of your knowledge and ability level. They're patient teachers, great boot-fitters, and just damn excited about their jobs. Seriously, I LOVE this place and have only ever had the best service. Tell them Kristina from The Mountaineers sent you and they'll hook you up with a discount. Seriously.

Evo

Evo is the other great ski shop in Seattle. They're bigger than Proski and have a larger selection. In my experience they are skilled at boot fitting and do a good job on ski tunes. The staff tends to be a little less knowledgeable about all the gear (in part because it's such a big shop with more stuff), but if you do some online research in advance and know what you want, this is a good place to go.

Second Ascent

In the heart of Ballard in Seattle, Second Ascent is a great place to find great second hand gear and good deals on new stuff as well. They have an incredible variety packed into a welcoming shop, and do great bike and ski repairs.

Turns-All-Year

Turns-All-Year, or TAY, is a website forum for backcountry skiing. You can post and view trip reports, find partners, and sell gear. Check out their Yardsale section for deals on everything from skis and skins to packs and poles.

Cascade Climbers

Cascade Climbers is the TAY for climbing, but a fair number of skiers are active on there as well. CC also has a Yard Sale forum to buy and sell gear. Keep in mind the geographic reach of both of these sites is broad, so you may end up paying for shipping or driving far distances to pick up the gear.

Backcountry.com

Reputable discount website for backcountry gear - they basically sell overstock items. You can find a lot of clothing in last year's colors and discontinued ski gear here. Take note of the return policy. Bonus: Mountaineers members get a discount.

Steep and Cheap

The crack-cocaine of gear. They put a new "deal" on until it sells out, often there's a new deal every 2-7 minutes. If you like gear and don't like getting any work done whatsoever, check this website out. It's addictive, and you will buy more than you need, but dammit if you don't think you need all that stuff at the time! Visit the home page and select "current steal" to get the best deals, or you can shop around. They're owned by Backcountry.com, so everything you see here in the regular site you can get at Backcountry too.

Craigslist 

This is pretty self-explanatory. You can find anything on Craigslist and it's always worth looking. In general, I've found that the experienced backcountry enthusiasts will use TAY or CC, or the Facebook groups below, to sell their gear because it's more specialized. Craigslist is a good place to find deals on soft goods.

Facebook Groups: Turns All Year and PNW Ski Classifieds

Folks are migrating away from visiting forums directly and are instead forming groups on Facebook instead. These are two great groups for finding and selling gear. You need to request to join, but assuming you aren't a crazy person, they're easy to get into and worth exploring.

Happy Shopping!



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