It's still summer in Utah, but skiers and boarders know Labor Day weekend is the typical season kick-off when bargain hunters begin sleuthing for resort preseason deals, discounts on last year's gear, and marking calendars for upcoming gear swaps later this fall.
This could be an especially good time to buy new gear because sales were down nationally last year, meaning retailers should have plenty of new carryover gear and apparel to unload at bargain prices.
Though ski numbers were off last year, industry leaders are hopeful the 2009-10 season will see more people on the slopes.
"We are optimistic," said Troy Hanks, of the National Ski Areas Association. "We were down some last year but, for the most part, the industry showed some resilience in spite of the recession. Skiers and riders are passionate about the sport. It's a lifestyle, so they find other areas to cut back in their budget. That's who they are."
If you're thinking about surfing Utah's famous freshy this year, here's a primer on what to look for in ski gear sales, swaps and preseason resort pass sales:
Labor Day ski sales » According to Kelly Davis, director of research for SnowSports Industry America, there are bargains to be had. Like most retail sales during a recession, ski and snowboard sales were down, which means there are many carryover items available from last year.
"There is going to be some great stuff out there," she said. "A lot of people put off buying big ticket items so now is the time to buy."
Davis said deals could be especially good on high-end apparel and alpine boots.
As for trends in this year's new gear, Davis said skis will be even bigger and fatter skis -- sales of fat skis were up last year even in a down market. A reverse camber rocker snowboard -- basically built in the shape of a banana -- is the hot item in that market this year due to its reputation for being better in powder. And Davis said ski and board manufacturers are putting more emphasis on graphics that make their product look more cool.
Pre-season lift ticket sales » "You can traditionally expect some bargain pricing late in the summer and early in the fall," said Hanks. "It is certainly the right time to buy lift tickets."
He suggested that skiers or riders who are purchasing season passes do some math: Estimate how many days they plan on being on the slopes and divide that number with the cost of a pass to see if the daily cost is cheaper than paying each time they hit the slopes.
While preseason resort pass deals can save money, especially for locals, it's a good idea to ask questions before buying. Are the passes transferable from one person to another? Must they be used during the 2009-10 season or can they be carried over to the next without additional cost? Are skiers willing to spend the season at only one resort if they purchase a season pass there? Are the passes reloadable -- if a skier or rider uses all 10 passes, can they purchase more passes at the same price? Are there holiday blackouts where the passes can't be used? Do resorts offer family, senior, youth or locals only passes? What is the deadline for a preseason deal?
Ski swaps » Ski swaps can be a way to make money selling gear you no longer use or to buy good used and sometimes even new packages at bargain prices. Most take place in northern Utah throughout the fall and often are associated with ski teams or clubs that charge an admission fee or take commissions of up to 30 percent of what is sold to raise funds for the sponsoring organization.
Dennis Maw, of the Black Diamond Store in Salt Lake County, which runs a true flea market swap, said the biggest challenge ski swap customers face is the lack of customer service or assistance. For example, when purchasing ski boots, having an expert fit you can make the difference between fun and misery on the slopes. "If a ski boot is not right, skiing is not a lot of fun," he said.
Maw said buyers who know what they are doing can find great deals but those without a lot of expertise may find it difficult to distinguish that equipment from gear that is damaged or doesn't fit.
Here are dates for some upcoming swaps. Be sure to call or check the organization's Web site for hours, details on submitting equipment and related costs:
Sept. 11-13 » Snowbird ski and board swap, benefiting the Snowbird Sports Education Foundation, at the Snowbird Center in Little Cottonwood Canyon; www.snowbird.com/events.
Sept. 26, 1-9 p.m. » Wolf Creek resort's Howl Fest, 2400 N. 3500 East, Liberty. Diamond Peak ski swap, season pass deals, contests and more; 801-745-3511.
Oct. 8-11 » Sports Den, 1350 S. Foothill Dr., Salt Lake City; 801-582-5611.
Oct. 16-17 » Rowmark ski swap, a fundraiser for the ski academy at Rowland Hall School in Salt Lake City. The swap will be at the Eccles Field House on Guardsman Way near the University of Utah; 801-355-7494 or www.rowlandhall.org.
Oct. 17 » Black Diamond, 2092 E. 3900 South, East Millcreek; 801-278-0233.
Nov. 5-7 » St. Lawrence Thrift Stores in Park City; 435-657-0209.
Nov. 6-8 » Park City ski swap and sale, a fundraiser for the Park City Ski Team, at the Basin Recreation Field House in Park City; www.parkcityskiteam.org or 435-649-8749.