Subject: How to Pick a Good Ski Shop
Answer: The problem isn’t just a matter of finding a shop which offers price and selection but being able to identify shops which offer price, selection, and service. And not just where you live, but where you ski on weekends and vacations. Of the three, service, in our opinion, is the most important and the hardest to judge.

If you are the 50th percentile skier/rider you ski or ride 10 to 12 days a year on average and turn your equipment over every 2 1/2 to 3 years. But when you add up annual equipment inspections, tunings and waxings, and the occasional repair job, you are out looking for service a lot more often than for the best price on a major item of equipment.

Good service starts when you walk in the door. First impressions count. But it’s more than a cheerful greeting, neat appearance, and good eye contact that you should be looking for. Before you let the staff impress you with how much they know, check out the store’s service policy. If you are serious about finding out just what to make of the shop, drag along the oldest set of equipment you, a family member, or friend is still using and see how the staff reacts.

If you are met with a “we can’t work on that,” they probably shouldn’t and you’d be wise to check out another facility. But if the shop takes the time to explain why the equipment ought to be retired or discusses what it will cost to make the equipment serviceable, then the shop is worth a second look. When you walk in the door with a piece of older equipment too many shop employees see only problems. What you should be looking for are the ones who instead see opportunity.

This attitude is particularly true of bindings. The staff of a well-managed shop, even if they lack the parts, tools, and technical information to properly service your pair, will at least take the time to inspect the system and point out why it is worn out, incompatible, or obsolete, and if it’s not, they will either pass you along to a shop more familiar with the make and model or they will ask you to sign a statement documenting the limitations of the work they are able to perform, and then make a good faith effort to service the equipment. Watch out for shop employees who examine a list hidden behind the counter and shake their heads (see Used Equipment FAQ for more help in dealing with this problem).

Similar problems may be encountered in attempting to get boot fitting help or ski repairs. However, unless you’ve picked the right shop, it’s more likely that you’ll get more help than you need, not less. There is a general feeling among many on both sides of the counter that no matter how good the tune or the fit, for enough money it can be still better. Just as in the field of healthcare, take at least 51% of the responsibility by providing accurate feedback and documenting what works and what doesn’t. Treat a good ski tune or boot fit job like a prescription which you can have filled the next time you have the problem. If you’ve picked the right shop they’ll be happy to do just that.

Each year thousands of ski shops across the country must fill many thousands of positions, and each year an ever increasing percentage of these new hires are also new to the ski industry. To help meet this annual training challenge the SKI AND SNOWBOARD MECHANICS WORKSHOP, in cooperation with the major equipment suppliers, has conducted hands-on training for boot, binding, ski, snowboard, and rental mechanics, and their managers at sites across the country (see our Workshop Descriptions for information on what these programs cover). To start your search for a good ski or snowboard shop in your area or at the resort you’ll be visiting, check out our SHOP LIST for the names and locations of shops that sent staff to these Workshops.–CFE