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how to buy kids' downhill ski equipment inexpensively in northern michigan

I’ve been procuring kids’ ski equipment for six years on a limited budget and I’ve learned there are lots of right answers. Here are the tips, tricks and traps I’ve discovered, and I hope friends will share more thoughts in the comments. 

Renting Kids’ Ski Equipment at Northern Michigan Ski Resorts

While you’re determining if kids are going to like skiing, renting is a great option. You know the equipment is maintained, appropriate for their size and skills, and tuned. When you’re traveling, there’s the added bonus of not have to lug that stuff around or check it onto a plane. If the kids don’t warm up to skiing the first day, give it a couple more tries. My daughter was having a bad day on her second ski adventure, but the third day was a blast. After 3 or 4 days skiing, those rental prices are going to add up to more than other options. 

Boyne for kids up to 12: $23 for skis, boots, poles. Helmet is $12 extra 

Boyne for kids 13 and up: $40 for skis, boots, poles. Helmet is $12 extra. 

Boyne offers discounts on these rates for 4-hour rentals and multi-day rentals. Helmets are available only on a first come first served basis. 

Crystal Mountain for kids up to 6: $22 for one day for skis, boots, poles. Helmets are $10 extra.

Crystal Mountain for kids 7 - 12: $32 for one day for skis, boots, poles. Helmets are $10 extra.

Crystal Mountain for kids 13 - 17: $36 for one day for skis, boots, poles. Helmets are $10 extra.

Crystal offers discounts on these rates for 4-hour rentals and multi-day rentals. 

Homestead for kids up to 8: $24 for skis, boots, poles. Helmets are $5 extra. 

Homestead for kids up 9 - 17: $30 for skis, boots, poles ($37 for high performance); Helmets an extra $6. 

Mt. Holiday for kids up to 10: $18 for skis, boots, poles. 

Mt. Holiday for kids 11 and up: $20 for skis, boots, poles. 

Shanty Creek for kids up to 12: $29 for one day for skis, boots, poles. Helmet is $10 extra. 

Shanty Creek for kids 13 & up: $39 for one day for skis, boot, poles. Helmet is $10 extra.

Shanty Creek offers discounts on these rates for 4-hour rentals. 

Buying Used Ski Equipment for Kids in Northern Michigan

Once kids are hooked on the sport, you’ll want to consider other equipment options to save money across the season. 

Kids Ski Equipment Options at Northern Michigan Resale Shops

I bought my daughter’s first used equipment for about $70 - $100 at Play it Again Sports in Traverse City on South Airport. I found the sales people there very knowledgeable and there was a moderate selection in her size. The real benefit of this option is that you can shop ahead of the season or during the season. They also have end of the season sales. Downsides? Selection isn’t as wide as some other options. 

Ebay? 

A friend of mine checked out Ebay prices and they look pretty good. I’m a big believer in having my daughter try on boots. Once, she found a staple sticking straight up into the heel—ouch! And you don’t have the benefit of any expert advice when you buy that way, but the prices look decent. If you know exactly what you want and you see it there, go for it. 

Kids Ski Equipment at Northern Michigan Ski Swaps

I had lots of questions before my first Northern Michigan Ski Swap. The one locally with the most notoriety is the Grand Traverse Ski Club’s Ski Swap the weekend of November 15 - 17. There will be 10,000 items for sale there. 

I had heard stories about folks staying up all night or lining up at 2:00 in the morning. My friend Jodi, who’s been nearly every year buying for her daughter, put my mind at ease—you don’t have to get in the “line to get in line” while it’s still dark to take advantage of this kids’ ski equipment option. Now that I’ve been a couple years I have some strategies. Here are the basics:

Step 1: Get a time ticket. Go to West Middle School and get a ticket for when your time is. One person can pick up 2 tickets (parent + child). They start giving out those tickets at 7:00 am. Then you can leave and get breakfast, do other shopping, nap … then come back at your appointed time. Can you pick up that time ticket after 9:00? Sure. You might stop by at 10:00 am and they tell you to come back at 1:00. 

Step 2: Show up at your time. The doors open at 9:00 am letting the first 50 folks in. If they are running a bit behind, there might be an additional wait, but it is usually less than a half hour. 50 folks are allowed in at a time, so there’s plenty of room and when a couple folks leave, more go in. 

Step 3. Get advice from the Don Orr sales folks on-site. Not a free for all rummage sale! Boots and skis are well organized by size. There are even shoe/boot scales you can use. And I have come to respect the advice you get from the Don Orr Ski’n Beach Haus staff; know them by the fleeces with their logos on them. 

Step 4. Check out with cash or check. Last year, they were testing using credit cards. This year the site still says cash or check. Be prepared for to pay with cash or check, you can always use a card if they allow it as plan b.

Want to sell old equipment at the ski swap? 

Selling ski equipment at the ski swap adds two more days. On friday drop off your equipment. The Don Orr experts are there to help you price it, but it is your decision what price you put on your equipment. If you really want to sell it, they’ll tell you what bargain price will attract the most buyers. Then on Sunday, you come back to find out if your equipment sold or not. You’ll get either a check or your equipment back. 

What about those folks showing up at 2:00 and 3:00 am? Is your child is skiing at an expert level and you’re hoping to get expert level equipment—like racing level stuff. Then you might want to be in the second or third group of 50 just to make sure you have the most choices. You won’t have to stay up all night. Last year, I got there at 6:00 am and I was in the 9:30 time slot. (We had a funeral that day and I knew I wouldn’t be able to be there after 10:30). One year, I got there at 10:00 and they told me to come back around 1:00. We found equipment both times. 

Northern Michigan Ski Swap Pricing

The first year, I found ski swap pricing to be right in line with Play It Again Sports. Now with a couple year’s experience, I expect to outfit my now 10-year-old daughter for right around $100. 

There are other swaps, too. Shanty Creek Resort’s rental program just purchased new equipment, so all the old stuff will be on sale the Friday after Thanksgiving. (One can also decorate a gingerbread house at Shanty Creek that day). There’s a Leland area swap, but I haven’t found the date yet. 

November 30, 2013

Antrim Ski Academy Ski Swap at Shanty Creek

December 7, 2013

Walled Lake Northern High School Ski Swap

Smart Ways to Buy New Kids’ Ski Equipment in Northern Michigan

If you’d prefer to buy new equipment, but worry that the kids will grow out of them in a season, check out several of sporting good stores for “club” programs where a small fee now keeps kids in equipment that fits. 

Boyne Country Sports “Junior Has a Fit” Program 

Choose from several packages ranging from $279 to $310 for skiers and $349 to $419 for snowboarders in the Boyne Country Sports Junior Has a Fit Program. Then pay an additional $40 on time fee for the privilege of returning that equipment at the end of the season. Next year, you have a credit of that package price to use to get the next year’s equipment. For example, buy $279 worth of this year’s new equipment plus $40, for $319 total. Turn it in at the end of the season. Next year, get $279 worth of equipment at no additional cost. And at the end of that year, turn it in again, and you still have $279 credit for the third year. 

Bahnhof in Petoskey Kids Club Programs

There are two programs at Bahnhof, but the info isn't easy to find on the website. At Bahnhof, if you sign up by November 23rd, you can lease equipment for a single season for $119.95. Also at Banhof, with their Kids Club Program, you buy equipment for $269.95 and receive a voucher for that amount in new equipment year after year. (no fee). 

The downside of this program? It’s more expensive initially. You might have to pay a little more if equipment prices go up. And there aren’t any hand me downs for siblings. But it’s new equipment and if things go wrong, you have a local retailer standing by the products if there are defects. 

Watch Out for Hidden Ski Equipment Expenses

Every year I forget to budget for tuning … when you get new skis from the ski swap, the bindings will need to be adjusted to fit your child’s boots and skiing skill level. Sometimes those bindings will need to be moved on the skis, which is a bit more. It’s about $50 most places. Don Orr has an early season special of $26.95. Play It Again Sports, under its Services button, will tune skis for $10 if they don’t have to install or move the bindings, $30 if they do. And most of the resorts do tuning too. Buying new skis, most of the stores will tune them for you as part of the purchase price. 

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Tags: Boyne, Creek, Crystal, Homestead, Northern Michigan, Shanty, alpine, downhill, equipment, kids, More…ski swap, skiing, skis

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Comment by Rachel North on October 31, 2013 at 2:36pm

My friend Eric Morganroth writes, "My son uses the Boyne Country Sports program. I think it is an amazing program for growing kids. I spent about $275 dollars last year for ski, bindings and boots custom fitted for the season, we used them for a ski club and while traveling to ski. At the end of the season, we returned them and were issued a certificate. This year, we went in and used the value to get another set, based on his new sizes, and only paid $30-40 dollars for binding mounting. We can keep doing this year after year for $40.00. How can you beat that?? It's skis and boots that grow while he grows and never the expense of new equipment and trying to sell or maintain old equip."

Comment by Rachel North on October 31, 2013 at 2:34pm

My Friend Deborah de Lorenzo writes, "My experience is only via xc but I think parents there have the same challenges with all the different xc bindings being another big variable. My thought is to go ahead and buy (not rent) helmet and shoes - buy them where you (or your child) can try on in person (ski shop, craigslist, gear swap, friends etc). Companies have such different fits even within the same head or shoe size.

"Renting a helmet at $12 days can add up fast, and it's often dicey getting a good fit, which is a safety factor. As with shoes, there's nothing like having your own that you absolutely know will work for you or your child. With the shoes as a constant it's easier for kids (or adults) to evaluate different rental skis."

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