Nothing like that first winter storm to get skiers focused on their priorities.
Last week, many Ventura County ski buffs made a beeline to their local sporting goods stores--to add accessories, to update their equipment, or, for first timers, to try to join in on the fun.
But what with skis, boots, bindings, goggles, gloves, waterproof clothing and other gear to deal with, shopping for the right equipment can be more of a challenge than using it.
This column, a brief guide to shopping for ski equipment, is primarily aimed at the novices, those folks who haven't yet plunked down big bundles of cash for the winter sport. Veterans, however, may want to take a note or two.
There are several ways of going about buying ski equipment. There are the mega-all-purpose sports stores like Sports Chalet and Sportmart. There are the smaller all-purpose stores like Big 5 and Oshman's. And there are the specialty shops, hard to miss with names like Ski Hut, that sell ski equipment, and nothing but ski equipment.
It just depends how specialized and knowledgeable you want your service.
The first thing to know when purchasing equipment is that most of the local shops--whether specialty or general--will offer some sort of discount package throughout the season.
Sport Chalet in Oxnard, for instance, offers a package that includes skis, bindings, and poles, accompanied by the mounting, torque testing and tuning of the bindings. "It's just a way of getting skiers set up," said Chris Lolly, manager of the store's ski department.
The price of the Sport Chalet deal fluctuates depending on the quality (a.k.a. the ability level) of the equipment. Last week, packages were going for between $249 and $449, about $100 to $150 less than the regular price.
At Ventura's Big 5 last week, a package featuring K2 brand skis was going for $229, down from the about $325 combined ordinary price of the separate items. Big 5 changes its packages weekly to highlight different brands of skis.
Sportmart in Oxnard's new Shopping at the Rose complex doesn't offer packages, but it does offer gift certificates. For purchases between $250-$300, the consumer will get back $25. The more money spent, the more money returned.
The bargains are the fun part. It's selecting the right ski that can be somewhat intimidating.
There are about 20 major companies and other smaller ones. They break down into lower-end skis (brands like Pre and K2), middle range (Rosignol) and higher-priced, higher quality skis for the more experienced skiers (Volant, Solomon, Volkl brands).
"There are no real major differences between companies," said Joel Halvorson, manager of Circle Ski and Sport in Westlake Village. "A lot of the companies build all-mountain, recreational type skis. It just gets down to personal preference."
Good entry level skis can go for $150-$200, and intermediate skis will fall in the $250-$300 range.
If you're one of those who has trouble deciding what socks to put on in the morning, let alone what skis to invest in, there is always the option to rent.
Again, the trick is finding a package that suits you best.
At Circle Ski the rental rate is $12-$14 for each day of skiing, with no charge for the pickup and return days. At Sport Chalet it's $15 for the first day, with the price dropping for succeeding days.
"Renting is usually just for entry-level people who want to get used to the skis before buying them," said Lolly. For advanced skiers who want to try out a ski before committing to it, shops may offer "demo programs."
So that is what to expect when looking for skis.
But, we hasten to add, the boots are equally, if not more, important.
"I would recommend to anyone just starting out, if they know it's a sport they are going to get into, the first equipment you would buy would be boots," said Lolly. "Boots are your steering, that's what gives you control. And if they don't fit properly, you're just not going to ski in them."
Leo Smith is a regular contributor to Ventura County Life. Write to him at 5200 Valentine Road, Suite 140, Ventura, 93003 or send faxes to 658-5576.