How to Buy Ski Gear: The Ultimate Guide

Published on 05/05/2023 · 15 min readThe world of ski gear can be hard to navigate! Skiing Expert Kat Smith is here to break down everything you need for skiing, and how to go about purchasing it!
Kat Smith, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Kat Smith

Photo by Hannah Martin

It’s no secret that skiing involves a lot of gear and is not cheap! There is a lot to consider, from hard goods such as skis, bindings, boots, and poles to soft goods including helmets, goggles, gloves, waterproof outer layers, base layers, and ski accessories. Some of this equipment is available to rent, which is a great option for beginner skiers or those who only take the occasional ski trip. But if you are ready to purchase ski gear of your very own, where do you even start? How do you know you are purchasing the best gear for you and at the best price?

My name is Kat Smith, and throughout my 32 years of skiing, I have used and purchased quite a bit of ski gear. Regardless of whether I am upgrading gear for myself, purchasing new gear as I explore new ski styles, or purchasing gifts for friends and family, I always ensure that the gear I purchase is the best option for the person using it. It’s tempting to purchase that ski/binding package that would save you a ton of money or that ski jacket that is the exact color you’ve been looking for, but understanding the unique features that make these items great for you (or not!) is key to making a good purchase.

Use the guide below to help you understand how to make a good purchase when shopping for ski gear. It will help you decide how to sift through the thousands of gear options and narrow it down so your purchase is tailored to your specific gear needs!

What Gear Do I Need?

The first step to understanding how to buy ski gear is knowing what gear you need. Ski gear can be divided into two categories: hard goods and soft goods/apparel.

Hard Goods:

  • Skis
  • Bindings
  • Ski boots
  • Ski poles

Soft Goods/Apparel:

  • Helmet
  • Goggles
  • Gloves or mittens
  • Ski jacket
  • Ski pants or bibs
  • Base layers (top and bottom)
  • Ski socks
  • Balaclava, neck gaiter, or face mask

In addition to the gear listed in these two categories, some gear, such as midweight layers, backpacks, and hydration packs, are common and may add comfort but are not essential. Other useful but not essential gear may be specific to only a certain style of skiing, such as avalanche safety gear and climbing skins (backcountry skiing), shin guards (ski racing), or even a cross-country ski setup.

Figure out what ski gear you need by going over the above lists. Once you’ve done this, you can consider each item individually and start to narrow down your options.

What to Consider When Buying Ski Gear

A few friends and I on the skin track. This snowfall is certainly not stopping us from getting out there, but we need to ensure we have the right gear to keep us warm and dry in all the conditions we may encounter! Photo by Kat Smith

Should I Purchase New or Used Gear?

Ski gear and apparel can be expensive (although you can always wait for the sales—more on this later!), so buying used gear is a nice option. Used ski gear is plentiful, and there are many different ways to find it. Websites such as Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace have hundreds of ski gear listings. Outdoor gear exchange shops and local ski swaps are other great options, depending on where you live. The annual REI yard sale is one of my favorite places to find lightly used outdoor gear. In addition, many ski shops will sell their demo ski gear at the end of the ski season at discounted prices.

While purchasing used gear is a great way to save a little money, you mustn’t sacrifice just because you found a great price. Instead, research the product you’re purchasing, just like you would if you were purchasing it brand new. Something that looks like it’s in great condition from an aesthetic standpoint may not be from a functional standpoint. For example, the topsheet and bases on a pair of skis may have no scratches or gouges, but if the skis have been remounted multiple times, they are not in great condition.

Unlike in the store, used gear is not always available in every size option. You may stumble across the exact pair of skis you’ve been looking for at a ski swap but find that they are the wrong length for you. Do not overlook certain features on your need and want list just because you found something at the right price point. You’ll end up upgrading that item a lot sooner than you would if you had just gotten the correct item brand new!

What Key Features Do I Need?

When starting the process of searching for ski gear and apparel, you’ll notice that there is no shortage of options to choose from. A good way to narrow these options is to look at the possible features and decide what you need. Next, consider which features are your priorities—what are non-negotiable? For example, if you are purchasing new bindings and the ski boots you already own have GripWalk soles, it’s a priority that the new bindings are GripWalk compatible. Suppose you are looking for a new ski jacket and often ski on the coldest days in January and February in the Northeast. In that case, insulation quality and a promise of warmth is likely a standout feature for you.

What Key Features Do I Want?

Once you’ve filtered the options to only those with the features you need, you can start to consider the features you want. Colors and patterns, materials, and certain style features are examples of things that you may be willing to overlook or sacrifice.

What Is My Budget?

While ski gear is generally expensive, you can find most items within a pretty wide price range. Before you set out to buy new ski gear, it’s helpful to know how much the items typically cost so that you can determine a realistic budget. Below are the price ranges you should expect when purchasing new ski gear.

ItemLower RangeUpper Range
Skis$300 (with or without bindings)$1,500 (without bindings)
Ski Boots$200$900
Bindings$120$700
Poles$30$200
Helmet$50$350
Goggles$50$350
Ski Jacket$120$600
Ski Bib/Pants$60$550
Gloves$30$200

Like anything, the price often correlates with the item's quality. More expensive gear is typically more durable, has more useful features and technology, and is designed for high-level performance. That being said, there’s usually no need for a beginner rider to purchase items priced at the top of the range. Beginners do not need the high-tech features that an advanced or expert skier would need, and they aren’t demanding the same performance from their equipment. For example, if you are a beginner skier, you can likely find a pair of ski boots that are perfectly functional for your needs on the slopes in the $200-300 range.

Where Can I Find Deals?

As mentioned above, you can find plenty of ski gear deals. If you have the luxury of waiting for a sale or promotion, it’s a great way to save money. During the spring, when the ski season is winding down, many ski shops start to clear out the current season’s gear to make room for the next season’s gear on their shelves (and summer gear!). But if you miss out on the spring ski sales, don’t fret. Any of "last season's gear" that doesn’t get sold in the spring is bound to be discounted during the summer! And if you have your heart set on the newest, most up-to-date gear, check out the Black Friday deals!

Features to Look Out for When Buying Ski Gear

My husband, Jos, and I out in the backcountry. Our backcountry gear has different features than the gear we use at the resort. Photo by Jos Smith

Not everyone will have the same needs and wants list since their skiing abilities and personal tastes may differ. However, knowing your skier level, skier style (more on this later), personal preferences, and budget will help you decide and narrow down the choices. For example, if you are an advanced skier who hunts deep powder out West, you don’t want narrow skis with more camber than rocker in their profile. (These would be better for a skier who spends most of their time carving groomers.)

Since there are so many gear options out there to choose from, shopping and purchasing gear can be daunting! You want to ensure that you get the most functional gear without sacrificing your style and preferences while still getting your money’s worth. That being said, when starting your search, stick to the features you need and want. The chart below outlines examples of some features to look out for in different types of ski gear. Once you know what features there are, you can prioritize them.

ItemFeatures to look for
SkisLength, width, ski category (i.e., all-mountain, carving, powder, etc.), turn radius, sidecut, rocker profile, flex/stiffness, weight, twin tips
Ski BootsSize, last width, flex rating, walk mode, grip walk soles, alpine vs. alpine touring compatibility
BindingsDIN range, brake width, grip walk compatibility, alpine touring compatibility, release safety features
PolesLength, weight, shaft material, basket type, grip material, telescoping
HelmetSize, MIPS technology, ventilation, goggle compatibility
GogglesFrame size, lens shape, anti-fog treated, compatible with helmet, interchangeable lenses, glasses compatible
Ski JacketSize, insulated vs. shell, waterproof, fit type, length, ventilation (i.e. pit zips), powder skirt, helmet-compatible hood, number of pockets, pocket type (i.e. chest pockets)
Ski Pants/BibsSize, insulated vs. shell, waterproof, fit type, ventilation (i.e. thigh zips), adjustable waist, reinforced cuffs, number of pockets
GlovesSize, gloves vs. mittens, waterproof, liner type

How to Choose the Right Product for You

A couple of friends of mine opted for some fun colors when purchasing their ski apparel. Photo courtesy of Kat Smith

Now you better understand how to sift through the countless options, but how do you know which items are the top picks for you? How do you know which features should be on your personal “need” list? For this, it’s important to have a good understanding of your skier level and skier style. Are you just starting, or have you been skiing your entire life? Do you find yourself knee-deep in powder regularly or carving that Northeast hardpack? Do you like to explore the terrain park or natural features in the backcountry? Maybe a combination of all of the above?

Although not necessary from a function standpoint, you must also not forget about your personal preferences and style. It doesn’t make sense to base your ski purchase solely on the topsheet design, but it does make sense to bypass a certain jacket because it doesn’t come in any colors you like. Ski gear comes in bright colors and patterns, and the apparel comes in various fit types. Find something you like and let your personality shine through your gear!

How to Choose the Right Ski Gear for You

Below, I’ve described a few skier level and style scenarios and outlined some good gear options!

Wes: The Beginner Skier Buying Ski Apparel for the First Time

Wes is a beginner skier based in the Northeast who just wrapped up his first ski season. Although he’s only been skiing a handful of times, he loves it and is excited to continue to get out on the slopes next year. He has been renting skis, boots, and poles and borrowing most of the ski apparel from friends. Wes feels invested enough in the sport that he has decided to purchase his soft goods, which he won’t “outgrow” as he advances his skills, including a jacket, pants, helmet, goggles, and gloves.

Budget Consideration: Since Wes is shopping for gear he won’t have to replace very often, purchasing items with all the features he needs and wants is a good idea knowing that he won’t need to upgrade for a while. On the other hand, if he is still deciding his commitment level to skiing, he may want to get more affordable gear to get him through another season or two while he decides and then consider upgrades later. Since Wes is not planning to ski any more times this season, he should wait until the ski shops have their end-of-season sales. He won’t miss anything by not having the gear right away, and he may be able to save a bit of money!

Below are some features Wes should look for and considerations he should consider when shopping for this gear: 1. Ski Jacket

  • Comfortable size and fit.
  • Since Wes will be skiing at a resort and primarily on groomed runs, an insulated jacket rather than a shell will keep him warmer during the frigid Northeast days, especially on the chairlift.
  • Breathability and ventilation so he can dump heat and moisture on those warmer days or when his heart rate gets high as he challenges his skills

2. Ski Pants

  • Comfortable size and fit.
  • Ski pants with light insulation will keep Wes warmer than shell pants, especially in the Northeast.
  • Breathability and ventilation for warmer days.

3. Helmet

  • Comfortable size and fit.
  • MIPS technology for maximum safety.
  • Compatible with the goggles he purchases.

4. Goggles

  • Frame size that fits his face.
  • Compatible with the helmet he purchases.

5. Gloves

  • Gloves versus mittens, which is typically a user preference.
  • Size.
  • Wes should consider his budget but likely doesn’t need to splurge on a fancy, expensive pair of gloves.

Lauren: The No-Limits Ripper Taking Her Skills to the Backcountry

Lauren is an advanced skier who spends her winters in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and skis 50+ days per year. She skis all the terrains at the resort, from groomed runs to open bowls to steep chutes, and has been dabbling in the backcountry for the past year. When she first started backcountry ski touring a year ago, she purchased the avalanche safety gear brand new but bought a used touring setup, including skis, bindings, boots, and poles on Craigslist. A year later, she is ready to upgrade the heavy setup she bought for something lightweight and touring-specific.

Budget Consideration: Since Lauren skis hard and plans to use this gear often, she should splurge on high-quality gear that can take a beating and last for multiple seasons. Lauren is looking to get out on her new backcountry setup this season, so while she can still browse for deals, she shouldn’t wait around too long for a sale.

Below are some features Lauren should look for and things she should consider while shopping for her backcountry ski touring gear: 1. Skis

  • An appropriate length for Lauren’s height, weight, and skier level
  • Waist width in the 95-105mm range, which will be able to handle fresh powder on the descent but won’t be too heavy when climbing.
  • Lightweight skis.

2. Bindings

  • Correct brake width for Lauren’s new skis.
  • Alpine touring compatible.
  • Compatible with her touring boots.
  • Lightweight.
  • DIN range appropriate for her weight and skier level.

3. Ski Poles

  • Lightweight, durable poles made out of carbon fiber will be strong enough for when she’s ripping the downhill but light enough for long backcountry tours.
  • Telescoping/adjustable poles are ideal for backcountry use and will accommodate the length she needs on the skin track and on the descent.
  • Since Lauren lives in Jackson Hole, interchangeable or powder baskets would be most appropriate for the snow conditions she sees.

4. Ski Boots

  • Correct size and last width for her foot’s length and width.
  • Appropriate flex rating for her weight and skier level.
  • Compatible with her alpine touring bindings.
  • Walk mode.

Brendan: The East Coast Ripper Looking for Versatility

Brendan is an intermediate-advanced skier whose home resort is in Vermont, but his sister lives in Utah, so he takes two or three trips per year out West to visit her. Brendan owns a pair of solid carving skis, which are great for him in the Northeast but haven’t always been ideal for the conditions he sees during his trips to Utah. So he’s decided it’s time to add a pair of all-mountain skis that can handle the powder conditions out West to his quiver. He also needs bindings. Brendan likes to ski all terrain, including groomers, trees, and wide-open bowls when he is out West.

Budget Consideration: Brendan needs to decide on a budget for both the skis and the bindings that make sense for his financial situation. Still, since he plans to get at least 10-15 ski days per year out of these skis, Brendan should look into the mid to high range to get what he needs. Depending on the time of year, he may want to wait and see if the skis he wants go on sale during Black Friday!

Below are some features Brendan should look for and things he should consider while shopping for this gear: 1. Skis

  • A length that is suitable for his height, weight, and skier level
  • Width in the 95-105mm range, a versatile width for Western ski conditions and various types of terrain.
  • Skis that fit into the “all-mountain” category

2. Bindings

  • DIN range that is suitable for his weight and skier level.
  • Brake width that is compatible with the skis he purchases.
  • Compatibility with the ski boots she owns.

Conclusion

Whether buying ski gear for the first time or upgrading some well-worn gear, not just any item will do. Your brother's ideal ski setup may differ from the ideal ski setup for you! It’s important to consider your needs, wants, and budget so that you can get the most out of your new gear and you feel satisfied with your purchase. And if you are still unsure about what gear best suits you? No problem! Reach out to a Curated Skiing Expert to find all the gear and apparel you need to be well-equipped next time you hit the slopes!

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