This week we’ve published several pieces about why skiers should shop local, ranging from the selfish to the sentimental rationales. But, before the week is done, I think it’s worth discussing how to effectively shop local. There can be a bit of an arcane dance when it comes to procuring products and services at ski shops. That’s common anywhere experts with a bunch of knowledge, and a crusty demeanor interact with the general skiing public, and while it sucks that there’s any barrier to entry, being prepared goes a long way.
Balance your internet research with real world experience
At their best, online gear reviews and local ski shops function in a synchronized symbiosis. Good reviews help customers figure out what sort of gear they’re looking for and educate them on key features and differentiations. That saves shop employees time, so that instead of having to start from a blank slate, they can fill in the knowledge gaps.
There’s an entire language to ski gear, and it can be intimidating to try to become fluent in it. That either requires a lot of time standing around in a ski shop, wasting everyone’s time, or reading a bunch on the internet.
But, just like saying you do your own vaccine research on YouTube, coming into a ski shop with an attitude of “I read the reviews so I know more than the shop staff” is a terrible idea. Reviewers get it wrong sometimes. And more importantly, there are often local terrain and conditions nuances that a good ski shop employee can contextualize.
Ski reviewers, myself included, bring a wealth of knowledge about our own preferences, terrain, and skiing. But a great shop employee complements that with years of experience with a wide variety of skiers, on a wide variety of gear. They can often speak to durability and long-term customer satisfaction better than I ever will be able to. So trust them, listen to them, ask smart questions, and use reviews to educate yourself, not puff yourself up.
Be honest (but also kind)
There’s a common trope of a skier walking into a shop, wasting everyone's time trying on a bunch of gear, and then declaring that they can buy it online for cheaper and walking out, leaving everyone frazzled, without a sale. Don’t be that person. Especially don’t be that person if you’re just figuring out sizing so you can use your pro deal.
If you’re headed to the shop with absolutely no intention of buying the thing you’re there to check out, be upfront about it. Let them know that they should prioritize paying customers over you. Try to find something else to buy while you’re there. And remember, lots of shops will match online prices.
Ski shops provide products (gear) and services. Unfortunately, too many shops haven’t figured out an effective way to charge for those services. My local shop, Backcountry Essentials, does a really good job of this. They offer a $10 “Boot Consultation” with their bootfitters. If you buy boots, that $10 goes toward their price. If not, no worries, party on.
Even if your shop doesn’t charge for a boot consultation, figure out a way to make it worth their while. Buy something else while you’re there, tip your fitter, tip your tech. And remember that rent in ski towns is paid in cash, not six packs.
Best case scenario, you walk into a shop, try some things on, and buy the gear that works best for you right there. Worst case, you walk in, talk down to staff, are demanding, and require a lot of attention, and then at the end announce that you’re headed home to buy it off the internet. Even if that’s the truth, try to strike a happy medium. Be polite. And do your best to make sure to buy the things that make sense locally.
Get your skis mounted (the right way)
One of those aforementioned shop services is binding mounts. Even if you buy a full new setup online, you’ll still need a shop to poke holes in your skis, attach your bindings to them, and calibrate your bindings to your boots. And this mounting process is where I see some of the biggest frustrations with ski shops occur. I’ve written, at length, about it here and here. So we won’t rehash too much of that here, but it’s worth a quick recap.
Binding mounts most often go wrong because of poor communication. As the customer, you can remove a lot of the ambiguity in that communication, and make sure that the brunt of the responsibility for the mount itself falls on the shop. Mark where you want the center of your boots to fall on both skis. Write out clear instructions and the details of your gear on the slip. Be polite, but make sure that you communicate your mounting needs in such a clear way that a four-year-old could understand them. Shops are doing a lot of mounts in a short period of time. Do your best to make their life easier. It sets both you and the shop up for success.
You know who works at ski shops? Skiers mostly. Skiers who love the mountains, love thinking about ski gear, and love helping other folks experience their passions. Be kind, be respectful, be human. Everyone has the same goal here, skiing.
Shop local when you can. Plan ahead, do your research but be humble about it. Skiing is the best. Don’t ruin it by being a jerk or by setting yourself up for disappointment at your local shop.