Once upon a time, only beginners rented skis, and the rental equipment was old and badly beaten up. But these days, ski rental programs are keeping up with the rapid improvements in ski equipment and rental shops are upgrading their inventory every couple of years to stay current.
With these improvements, and the rising cost of transporting skis adding wild expenditures to already pricey winter vacations, some—even the very gnarliest skiers—are considering leaving their favorite skis at home and renting on site.
So, what’s the best strategy?
The Latest Tech or the Gear You Love?
Renting at the mountain gives you the option to demo the latest ski technology, including shapes and sizes you might otherwise be wary of buying at the shop. For instance, at Vail, Colo., Vail Sport’s Alpine Demo Package runs $77 a day and lets you try out this year’s ski and boot models from Salomon, Atomic, K2 and more. They’re the very best skis Vail has, all for less than $80 a day—and that goes for snowboards, too.
That kind of promotion can be enticing, but is it for you? If you’re a destination skier who hasn’t been on the mountain in a while, it can take time to adjust to new equipment, and you may not have a say in the exact ski you get. If you don’t like your rental skis, you’ll waste time having to find other gear. But one of the big benefits is you can often get rental skis perfect for your destination’s weather, even if it’s different than your home weather. Leave those east coast ice carvers at home and rent some fat powder skis for big dumps out west.
Many shops now take online rental reservations, which saves valuable time. Some offer free shuttles that bring you to the store and drop you back off with your gear. For even more convenience, ski valets bring equipment to your hotel or condo—for a price. Check out websites like RentSkis.com which is at 19 resorts across the U.S. and Canada.
💡Buy your own ski boots, and bring them with you as a carry-on.
If you bring your boots, you’ll probably save a few bucks on the rental, but more importantly, you can be sure you’re comfortable. Ski boots are tight and on your feet all day, even when you waddle to the bathroom, so having something you know works well for you is key. Its also makes for one less factor to worry about when you’re deciding if you like a new pair of skis.
Be Honest With Yourself
You’ll probably drop in the range of $600 to $1,300 to buy your own gear. Add around $50 charge each way to get skis on a plane if you’re planning to fly to your ski vacation. Renting gear at the ski area probably costs more like $40-80 per day. As with most items, the more you plan to use something, the more it makes sense to buy rather than rent. If you are someone who hits the slopes often, buying is still a sound investment.
And even if you do own your own skis, if you’re flying for a short ski trip, or tacking on a day at the slopes to the end of a business trip, the cost, and hassle, may mean it makes more sense to rent anyway.
We asked Bill Linkenheimer of Willi’s Ski and Snowboard Shops in western Pennsylvania about the destination rental trend. He says a lot of his customers are still taking their own skis, but that it depends on shipping costs “They’re finding it’s more practical than the exorbitant prices for demos and high-performance rental skis in resort towns.”
To save money, choose your airline wisely: Southwest allows two free checked bags. Each pair of skis or boots counts as one item, so you could bring your equipment and a suitcase for free. Most airline credit cards come with perks that include one or more free checked bags, but remember to ask how much they charge for annual fees.
In some cases, UPS and FedEx will ship ski equipment to your destination for less than airline fees. Also, check out specialized ski shipping companies like shipskis.com, lugless.com, and luggageforward.com to compare rates and get your best deals.
Linkenheimer says that many of his regular customers are getting around airline baggage fees, saying “customers who ship gear buy reusable, durable hard cases,” he says. “Then they stick the shipping label right on them.”
Whether you pay to rent high-end gear on-site or pay to tote gear you love is a personal choice. Just like skiing versus snowboarding—to each her own.