I’m originally from Vermont’s Mad River Valley and I have been skiing since I was two years old. Skiing was a big part of my upbringing and a core activity and economic driver for my local community and Vermont is where I learned most of what I know about skiing. While snow didn’t usually come until Thanksgiving, every October my family would head to our local ski shop to start getting ready for the season.
I credit this shop with helping me learn how to navigate the complicated world of ski gear. My brother and I leased skis until we got to high school. This allowed us to grow and progress as skiers without needing to buy a whole new kit every season. When the time came to go get our new set up in October, I would excitedly march into the door of our ski shop and upstairs to the boot fitting room. The same guy year-after-year (Steve) would measure my feet, ask me how last season’s boots felt, and bring me a bunch of different boots to try on.
When I was really little, there weren’t many options and comfort was the priority. But as I got older and started having opinions about what I liked to ski, these visits to our ski shop allowed me to grow my knowledge as a skier.
The year I started competing in mogul competitions at Mad River Glen, I proudly walked into the shop and told Steve that I needed the best boots for that. He asked me what flex I had in mind. Flex? That was a new concept to me. Steve walked me through flex index ratings and how the stiffness of the boot impacts how you ski. He brought me boots with different flex ratings to try on so I could really feel the difference. I’m not sure exactly what boots I walked out with that year, but I did walk out armed with more knowledge about how to choose boots for the type of skiing I was interested in.
A couple years later, I was psyched to do more backcountry skiing. So, I went to our local ski shop and told them I wanted touring bindings. I spent two hours walking around the shop looking at all the different options for touring bindings. Did I want tech or frame bindings? How much did I care about weight? Would the bindings be compatible with the boots I already had? Inundated with options, I decided I needed to do more research on what I really wanted before committing to a binding.
Skiing can be an overwhelming sport. It feels like there’s an infinite amount of gear to choose from and so many variations of bindings, skis, and boots that it can be hard to know where to start. There’s also a lot of techy language that can make it feel inaccessible and intimidating. As I learned from a young age, local ski shops are your best friend when it comes to navigating the ski world.
Building a relationship with your local ski shop allows you to have support in choosing gear from people who will take the time to learn how you like to ski and what your goals are. They can explain why knowing the flex of your boot is important, what DIN setting you want, and the difference between rocker and camber. In my experience, your local ski shop wants you to love skiing so if you buy gear you don’t like, they’ll probably work with you to adjust it or swap it out. You may even be able to test gear before you commit.
Building a relationship with your local ski shop will not only help you get the best gear for you, it will also help you navigate the complex and dynamic world of ski gear. So, next time you’re browsing the internet and agonizing over what boot to buy or what width ski you want, close your computer and head to your local ski shop. I promise you, it’s worth it.