Finn Bondeson of Orono and Katrina Belle of Bethel compare ski poles at Carter’s XC Ski Center in Bethel during a tent sale on Oct. 24. Nordic ski poles – like boots, skis and bindings – take some know-how to pick out. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Finn Bondeson grew up in Aroostook County, where skiing is a way of life. He’s been on skis since he was 3, and owns five pairs. He’s even raced in one of the world’s longest Nordic races in Sweden, a grueling 56-mile test. So Bondeson is used to offering tips to friends new to skiing.

“Sometime people go to used gear sales and buy stuff that is the cheapest, and it might be old. Maybe they get a cheap pair of boots, but they don’t fit right, and they end up having a sub-optimal experience,” said Bondeson, who lives now in Orono. “There’s a lot of knowledge you need to understand all the pieces to the puzzle.”

During a fall when several annual ski swaps have been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, many opportunities still exist to find used gear for those thinking of trying a new winter sport. But navigating the purchase of a used set of Nordic or Alpine skis should be done with some advice, as experts say there are too many pitfalls a new consumer can fall into when trying to find the proper fit, style or quality of used gear.

Bondeson and many ski technicians agree: Buying used skis can be worthwhile as long as the set fits and is well suited to the skier’s ability. 

Ski shop technicians consider a person’s weight and height, as well as where they will ski – whether on groomed trails or in the backcountry – and if they want to ski with an aggressive style or at a more cautious speed.

According to experts, here are tips for shopping for used ski equipment:

Rental boots await the start of the season at Carter’s XC Ski Center in Bethel. One expert says ski boots are the most important piece of Alpine equipment. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

GET THE PROPER FIT 

For Alpine skiing, ski boots are the most important piece of equipment you’ll buy – and the boots have to fit properly for the skier to execute good form, according to Andrew Dailey, co-owner of Sidecountry Sports in Rockland. Those looking for deals, he said, sometimes make the mistake of buying a boot that is too big, often because newbies are wary of having a ski boot fit so tightly.

“If a boot is two sizes too big, a skier could injure their ankle,” Dailey said.

Used boots also can be cracked under the foot in places you can’t see, or simply worn down. Both affect the performance. When Dailey assists at the Camden High ski team swap, he does a function test on boots to make sure the used boots being sold actually have a second life.

Another pitfall Alpine ski buyers run into is when they purchase outdated binding that won’t hold the boot. Having the adequate bindings is critical to make sure they will release the boot from the ski when needed. If not, the result can be a grave injury.

“Bindings are listed on a performance list that ski shops get,” Dailey said. “If it’s deemed not safe by the manufacturer there is not a shop on the planet that will work with that binding.”

NORDIC IS NO DIFFERENT

As with Alpine, the boot fit in Nordic skiing is important. But Nordic skiing requires a boot that fits looser, more like a sneaker. So veteran Alpine skiers who are new to Nordic should not expect a tight-fitting boot.

Poles also fit very differently.

“For skate-skiing, it should be up to your mouth or the bottom of your nose; for classic skiing, it’s more like under the underarm. The poles are all longer than in Alpine skiing,” said Tim Akers, who manages Akers Ski in Andover.

Another mistake deal hunters make is buying Nordic skis similar to those they used in high school, maybe 20 years ago. Today Nordic skis are shorter, said Deven Pendexter, who runs the Outdoor Center at Pineland Farms.

Anne Carter, owner of Carter’s XC Ski Center in Bethel, affixes price tags to skis during the center’s tent sale, which runs through Nov. 8. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“It’s a constantly evolving sport. Today it’s more about how much you weigh than how long the skis are,” Pendexter said. 

And if you know nothing about Nordic skiing, the bindings surely will confuse you. Today there are two different kinds. But used ski sales are famous for mixing and matching boots with the wrong bindings.

“We’ve had people show up at the ski shop with used gear where the bindings and boots don’t fit. So they have to rent a pair of boots,” Pendexter said. “That is the biggest thing to pay attention to at a swap.”

SWAPS AND TENT SALES 

There usually are a dozen large-scale ski tent sales or swaps around Maine, but this year only a handful will be held because of the pandemic. Farms that transition to cross-country ski trails in winter also typically hold sales at the start of the season, and some still might.

In addition, many retail stores offer “trade-ins” (similar to car dealerships), and have used gear to sell. So ask your local ski shop about used gear.  

Here are some of the tent sales or swaps taking place this month:

• Brunswick Recreation Department ski sale, Brunswick, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Nov. 8. A scaled-down version of the 53rd-annual community ski sale will be held with COVID-19 safety protocols. 

• Carter’s XC Ski Center, Bethel, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday to Sunday through Nov. 8. With all the inventory they have, if you don’t see what you want under the tent, just ask. Go to cartersxcski.com

• Central Maine Ski Swap, Waterville, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Nov. 7. This will be a true ski swap where people can sell their gear inside or outside the Quarry Road Trails garage and under tents. To learn more, see quarryroad.org

• Titcomb Mountain, Farmington, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Another classic swap with used gear from the community. To learn more, go to titcombmountain.com

• Camden Hills Regional High Ski Sale, Camden. Last week, the team’s Facebook page said it was aiming to have a ski sale under tents on Nov. 20 and 21.

TRY BEFORE YOU BUY

Many retail shop owners recommend renting or leasing for a season before buying used gear, and most offer rentals or seasonal leases. Here are some community centers that also do:

• Caribou Recreation Department, Caribou: caribourec.org

• Fort Kent Outdoor Center, Fort Kent: 10thmtskiclub.org

• Midcoast Conservancy, Wiscasset: midcoastconservancy.org


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