By: Jackson Hogen
Published: September 2, 2016
Instead of using the Internet’s attributes to search for price, you should be using it to search for service. (Think Angie’s List™ for skier services.) We don’t say this because we’re one-percenters who are beyond haggling over price; far from it. We make this claim because the minor disparities one may unearth in sale price are far less significant than the huge gulf that separates America’s best specialty shops from run-of-the-mill retailers, into whose clutches you may fall if you make the lowest possible price your Grail. Now more than ever, you need the services of a true specialty retailer, perhaps more than you realize.
With all the information available on the Net—an enterprise in which we confess utter complicity—it’s possible to educate oneself to the extent necessary to make an informed decision about what sort of ski to buy. We estimate that roughly 30% of the buying public attains a high enough level of conviction to plunge ahead and buy online, presumably because they feel they got a better deal.
But did they? Begging the question, for the moment, of whether they bought a suitable ski or not—a big if—did they get the best deal they could? If the target of their affections was a sought-after, in-line model, rather than an out-of-date issue or a used ski, the chances of a reputable dealer selling such a model significantly below the market price is slim to none. The fact of the matter is, while it’s a general rule of retail that there’s an inverse relationship between price and service, in the ski world any shop that lies outside an isolated resort bubble is under enormous pressure to keep their pricing in line with the market price established by—you guessed it—the Internet.
The leveling effect of the Internet has increased the service-to-price ratio at America’s best brick-and-mortar retailers. They’ve had to raise the service ante to offer more than the automated world of the Net, while at the same time competing in an evermore open market for the skiing customer. By “service” we don’t mean such niceties as fancy fixtures and cookie-cutter employees; we mean the intimate knowledge of the sport required to be an authentic ski counselor. Few other pieces of athletic gear are so dependent for their suitability upon other factors that you, Dear Reader, are unlikely to consider.
Just to choose among the most obvious examples, only a specialty retailer is going to demand to see your naked feet before considering selecting a boot for you, or ask five questions about your boots before recommending a ski, or know how to make a slight stance correction that merely changes your skiing life. For the perfect ski to act like an extension of one’s being, it has to match all the other elements to which it is functionally interconnected, including the boot, the binding interface, stance position on the ski, fore and aft angle, lateral angle and the skier’s capability of providing the kinesthetic connection capable of driving this machine.
Good luck sorting all this out by yourself. Not that we don’t have great confidence in your analytic skills. We created Realskiers.com just for skiers like you, so please bear with us while we finish describing the lay of the land.
Even Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn have coaches. We all need a trusted collaborator who can look at what we really need and prescribe, not just the prevailing-wisdom solution, but a truly tailor-made experience. And if we can get all this at market price, why not?
It’s axiomatic that we don’t know what we don’t know. In a sport as technical as alpine skiing, with daily lift tickets selling for upwards of $100/day at major resorts, it makes far more sense to shop for service than for price. If all one shops for is price, normally that’s all one gets. But a search for the best service often yields better than expected benefits in terms of both price and return on investment.
So where can one find a “service search” for the American ski market?
You’re looking at it.
Next to every in-line alpine ski a “FIND” button. Likewise, next to every boot is a similar button. Behind each of these buttons is a regional dealer locator.
If you find a price on a web site for a current product that’s a meaningful amount below the MAP price, something probably isn’t kosher. Proceed as you wish, but when it’s time to assemble a binding on your new acquisitions, you’re telling the dealer to whom you grant this privilege that you don’t think their counsel and services are worth $20 on a $700 purchase. Bear in mind that most specialty dealers will mount, test and/or tune whatever new babies you pull off their rack for something less than the listed price for these services. Skis coming from other sources requiring the same treatment won’t get the same price breaks. While from your perspective the total invested might seem to amount to the same whether you bought locally or at a distance, you’ll be the only one who sees it this way.
If you’re buying last year’s product, searching by price makes sense, as everyone has a different level of inventory and attendant anxiety about its eventual liquidation. But for this year’s goodies, if you’re getting some super-deal on the product either the vendor is a shady operator or some other shenanigans are at work.
Naturally we wouldn’t go to all the trouble to test, score and describe every model on Realskiers if we didn’t think small nuances in behavior were important. But the simple truth is that any new ski that is well prepared will make you happier than whatever you’ve got now. It’s equally true that a highly proficient skier can make any tool work in just about any condition. Nonetheless, we dig deep into the details because we know that for many of you, you’re not just picking a ski, you’re embarking on a long-term relationship. We try to capture the feeling of what each ride is like so you can feel if the fit sounds right for you. It’s very much like dating: we’re describing some very attractive potential mates, any one of which you may fall deeply in love with, but it’s best if you only commit to one. To extend the analogy, if you date forever looking for perfection, you may fall in love several times but in the end you’ll spend a lot of time alone.
Given how long it’s likely you’ll own your new skis, it only makes sense to second-guess your own counsel and seek the professional wisdom of a marriage counselor, otherwise known as a specialty ski retailer. If this retailer resides in the high-rent district at the base of the ski area, expect very knowledgeable personnel and higher-than-Internet pricing. If the retailer is urban or suburban, you’ll usually pay the same price you find on the Internet, only you’ll have a real person to help you with the details.
Trust us when we say you’ll need help with the details. First of all, a real live dealer is going to see your boots when it comes time to mount your new treasures. Chances are, your boots – whether you love them or hate them – are a disaster. We conservatively estimate that half of all skiers aren’t even in the right size shell, much less the optimal boot. Spending $1,000 on a new ski-binding set-up—not to mention all the other costs of a ski vacation—without inspecting whatever you have on your feet as a guidance system, is folly incarnate. To cut to the chase, skis and boots ought to match each other functionally: you can’t run a race car with bald tires and an engine that fires on 3 cylinders. As we mentioned at the outset, you need the intervention of a specialty retailer more than you realize.
Speaking of boots, if you’re thinking of buying your next ski boots online, stop. Do all the research you want—Realskiers would be a good place to begin—but do not imagine for one second that you can find and fit the right boot online. In the interests of saving time—yours and ours—we don’t know any better way to stop you from buying a ski boot online other than to say it is tantamount to idiocy.
Get yourself some new equipment, go skiing, and it will feel like it’s all been worthwhile.