Warm and sunny days quickly turn people away from thinking about snow sports. Most people don’t want to buy new skis in April — that’s when they’re looking to buy a new kayak. That’s why the end of any season is the best time to stock up on that season’s gear.
Come spring, retailers will be looking to clear out their winter merchandise to make room for summer gear, so they’ll slash prices. Weekend warriors will be looking to swap their used equipment for a few extra dollars to cash in on their latest passions, so you’ll be able to find good used items.
For any used purchase, beware of damaged items. Make sure everything is in good condition and in good working order before you make your purchase. Never buy used safety gear (such as helmets) since you never know its history.
Use these tips and techniques to get the most out of every dollar you spend on outdoor gear this year.
1. Shop End-of-Season Sales for Winter Gear
When ski shops shut down for the season, they usually have to clear out the inventory. Many of these stores stay in the outdoor gear business year-round, converting to bicycle or camping gear stores come spring and summer. But there’s always the question of what to do with all the bulky skis and snowboards that are left. The answer is usually to sell them cheaply.
Spring is the time to get the best deals on winter gear. While the selection might not be great, the prices are. Each fall, many stores stock up with an entirely new inventory of all the latest models of skis. This means that at the end of each year, they’re looking to clear out whatever’s left.
Smaller, more portable items may be stored in a warehouse over the summer to re-emerge when the snow falls, but skis and snowboards are bulky and take up a lot of valuable inventory space, so stores want to sell them quickly. Getting the best prices on your gear is one smart strategy to cut down the costs of skiing and snowboarding.
Go in when the shop isn’t too busy and ask when they’re putting their winter equipment on sale. Tell the employees what you’re interested in, and ask them about prices and discounts. Depending on how much inventory they have (and what they’re looking to clear out before the influx of summer gear), you may be able to get a pretty good deal.
If you see something you like, ask if you can put it on hold to purchase when it goes on sale. They might even let you buy it at a discount on the spot if the sale’s coming up soon.
Of course, to get the best deals, develop a rapport with the shop employees. No one wants to deal with a nit-picky, cheap customer, but everyone loves to give deals to the customer who comes with a friendly attitude and brings in beer or baked goods once in a while. I’ve had great luck bringing these double chocolate bacon cookies into my local shop.
2. Buy Used Rental Gear
If you’re looking for solid and serviceable gear, but it doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest, ask a rental shop if you can buy a pair of last year’s skis, boots or other equipment. Shops are often looking to part with these items at the end of a rental season, and will often sell them to you at a steep discount.
It’s always helpful to inquire well ahead of time and see which shops are looking to sell rental gear at the end of the season, since not all do. Ask if they’re selling what you’re interested in, what types of discounts they can give, and when they’re typically looking to sell it. Let them know what you’re interested in, and follow up as soon as the rental season is over (or starts to slow down) for the best chance of snagging used gear at great rates.
Of course, be sure to thoroughly inspect the gear and make sure it is safe and in good condition.
3. Shop Store “Garage Sales”
Some stores, such as REI, offer special “garage sale”-style events where they mark down returned and slightly damaged merchandise. Typically held once or twice a year (check your local REI for their schedule), REI’s garage sales allow members an opportunity to purchase scratched and dented merchandise and customer returns at a deep discount. And because the company has a notoriously lax return policy, many of these returns and “damaged items” are in great shape.
It costs $20 to become a lifetime member of REI’s co-op, which makes you eligible to shop at the garage sales. Anyone can shop at the store, but once you join, you’re eligible for a number of perks, including 10% off your annual purchases, in-store discounts, class and trip discounts, and more.
As for the how the garage sales actually work, it varies by store. They are very popular events and some stores have implemented policies to prevent people from camping out all night in line to get the best crack at the deals first thing in the morning. Some stores give people random numbers for admission, others are first-come-first-serve, and some vary between these policies. Some stores don’t announce which entry method they’re using until the sale is just about to open to mix it up each year to keep people on their toes.
4. Go Online for the Best Deals
End-of-season deals aren’t just for brick-and-mortar stores. Head over to Backcountry.com to get deals on winter gear. Gear Trade allows private parties to cash in by selling their used gear online. Overstock.com has plenty of great deals on ski and snowboard clothing. Evo’s Outlet Shop sells the company’s skis at discount prices, and REI Outlet offers a variety of brands and items at rock bottom prices.
Just like brick and mortar stores, these behemoth online retailers don’t have endless space in their warehouses either and are looking to sell last year’s gear at deep discounts.
5. Use the Friend Advantage
If you happen to have a friend who works at REI or another shop, ask if they may have a “friends and family discount” day coming up. Many stores do this and offer a special deal to friends and family members of employees on certain days.
While it’s typically quite difficult to take advantage of a friend’s “pro deal” discounts, many stores will offer an opportunity for friends of the shop to get their own special deals.
6. Get a Job
If you really want the best deals, get a job at an outdoor shop. Some places make you wait a few months before allowing access to the really deep discounts, so people don’t work there for a week, fill their houses and garages with cheap gear, and leave.
A shop job is a great fit if you’re passionate about gear. These retailers typically offer special industry deals to employees, who can often order items directly from vendors through special programs, in addition to offering deep in-store employee discounts.
If you’re an avid outdoor enthusiast, working at a shop might be worth it for the gear alone, with the added bonus that you get to talk about your favorite subject all day and hear about people’s epic excursions. You’ll also meet like-minded folks to explore with in your off hours.
7. Shop Garage Sales, Thrift Stores and Consignment Shops
Don’t forget about regular garage sales, yard sales, thrift stores and local sports-focused consignment shops. People are looking to clear out last year’s equipment to get money to score the latest and greatest for summer, so keep an eye out in your neighborhood to see what’s up for sale.
Your Turn: Outdoor adventurers, how do you find the best deals on your gear?
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.