An Expert Guide on When to Replace Your Ski Gear
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if it ain’t safe, replace it! Ski expert Aaron Bandler explains how to know when it's time to buy new gear.
Making the choice to upgrade your ski gear can be a difficult decision. We know that it’s expensive, and for many people, getting all new gear all at once can be out of the question. I love helping people save money; sometimes that means finding you a great deal, and sometimes that means advising you to hold off on new boots in favor of new skis and bindings, or vice versa.
One of the most common questions we ski experts get asked each season is "do I really need to replace my skis/boots/bindings/poles?" I’ll walk through a few cases for when and why you may choose to replace or not replace a piece of your gear, and as always, please message me or any other ski expert if you want to discuss your specific situation!
Wear and Tear
Sometimes, we just use our gear for its entire usable life, and after years of fun together, it’s time to say goodbye. Here are some things to look for if you think your gear is at the end of its life.
Worn Out Bases and Edges Do you use your skis a lot? Do you get your skis tuned every time you go skiing? Skis only have a certain number of days in them, though that of course depends on how and where you use them. Tuning your skis, while good for their performance on the snow, does wear down the bases and edges over time. If you get to the point where despite tuning your skis, they still just don’t perform the way you remember, they’re probably worn out.
It’s Just Broken The materials that make up your ski won’t last forever. The epoxy holding the layers together may eventually start to peel apart. The metal edges may break. The bases may be so shot that the core is showing through in multiple places.
In pretty much all of these cases, there’s almost no benefit to trying to repair them. Maybe it’ll get you to the end of the season, but skis that have been used till they die are a trophy and they deserve to be retired. Turn them into a chair and you can stay together forever.
No More Spring in Your Step Much of a ski’s ability to flex through a turn and pop you from one turn to another is derived from the wood core at the heart of the ski. Over time, the wood fibers will break down and what was once a snappy, springy ski now feels wobbly and slow.
Anecdote: I skied with a friend recently who was on a pair of nine-year-old Volkl Mantras. He likes to ski fast and hard, and loves to lay down an edge. He swore that his skies were the best skis ever, and that he never needed to replace them because there’s no better ski in the world, blah blah blah, you get the idea. Then he said…”but I do wish it had a bit more camber.”
For the unfamiliar, camber is the rise in the middle of your ski. If you placed a brand new ski on the floor, the middle might float above the floor a bit. The camber is what gives the ski the ability to pop from one turn into another. It’s the spring that compresses into a turn, and when released from the turn, provides a little bounce to help you up and over to the opposite edge of your ski.
The point is that for this friend, his desire for “a bit more camber” was evidence of the fact that in nine years of skiing fast and hard, he had skied the camber out of the ski. He had flattened the profile and lost the power of that spring. The changes that occur over time are subtle to the eye, so it’s not always obvious that ski has no camber profile left. You will notice the lack of a camber if your skis don’t feel as stable at higher speed as they once did.
Death by Mounting A ski can only be mounted so many times. Some will say that a ski can be mounted three times, and that’s a decent rule-of-thumb, but not necessarily true all the time. Mounting bindings to your ski requires drilling into them, and different styles/models/brands of bindings have a different screw pattern. When you take one binding off and put another one on, it requires filling the old screw holes and drilling new ones. Your ski will lose some structural integrity each time a new set of holes is drilled, and that will result in loss of torsional rigidity, or worse, a catastrophic failure depending on how you use your ski.
For this reason, I usually try to update my skis and bindings as a set. Some skiers have figured out a rotation where they replace bindings periodically over the life of the ski, but I’m generally of the opinion that you should mount your skis and remount your bindings as little as possible. Some skiers will replace a set of skis but decide to keep their bindings if they’re still in good shape. There’s not really a problem with this, but you may come across sale ads for used skis sold without bindings. I don’t really recommend buying these, as they are essentially damaged goods. If you know the person and the skis have only been mounted once, you may take that chance if the price is really good and if the holes look like they were filled by a professional, but would you buy a used car without wheels?
The Duct Tape Test Do you need to apply duct tape to your boots in order to use them? If the answer is yes, it’s probably time to replace them.
Worn Out Soles We get it, you found comfortable boots and you never want to replace them. Comfortable boots can be a diamond in the rough. But even the most comfortable boots can’t escape wear and tear on the soles that eventually renders the boot unsafe. You know those pieces of plastic that extend from the front and back of the boot and click into the bindings? Those need to meet a minimum standard in order for a certified tech to adjust your bindings. If the sole is worn too thin or has become too rounded, they cannot be guaranteed to perform reliably in a binding. If your bindings don’t release when they’re supposed to, or do release when they’re NOT supposed to, you’re gonna have a bad time. The soles of your boots are like the tread on your tires, and they need a minimum amount to work safely.
Packed-Out Liner / Worn-Out Shell These go together. Even the stiffest boot with the snuggest liner will eventually wear down. The foam liner will compress and lose its high-performance fit, and the plastic shell will stretch out and lose the stiffness that lets you hold speed through a carve. If you find that you’re having to buckle your boots tighter and tighter to get the edgehold you want, it may be time to say goodbye. Granted, this one relates more to the performance and comfort of the boot rather than it’s safety, so if you can squeeze another season out of these boots before getting a new pair, go for it!
If Anything is Visibly Broken, Replace Them This one is pretty self explanatory.
Are They Indemnified? If not, consider replacing them. Not sure what I’m talking about? I’ll explain.
Each year, binding manufacturers release a list of old bindings that they will still “support.” That is to say, if you have non-indemnified bindings, you will be unlikely to find a binding tech willing to adjust them for you, and if you do, you’ll need to sign an additional waiver for them to do so. Basically, the manufacturer is saying that they can no longer guarantee reliably safe performance from those bindings, and they won’t take any responsibility for any injuries that occur if they fail. This doesn’t mean that all non-indemnified bindings are a deathwish, but it means that if you haven’t skied in five years and you decide to pull your 15-year-old skis out of the closet and head up to the mountain, you probably won’t be able to get the bindings adjusted, which means you’ll be taking a lot of personal risk. Probably best to head into the demo shop.
The Question of Compatibility
Not all boots will click into all bindings, and not all bindings will fit on all skis. Shopping with an expert can help you make sure that all your stuff works together like it should!
So your skis and bindings are still in great shape and you need new boots? Consider the fact that technology is advancing each season, and that can give rise to compatibility problems. In the recent few seasons, boot soles have started to look a little different. Numerous standard designs for boot soles have emerged, and they don’t all play nice with every type of binding.
Most recently, it seems that the industry is coalescing around a new standard called “Gripwalk.” For a lot of people, these are an improvement over the traditional alpine boot sole that featured awkwardly shaped plastic that made walking down stairs more of an extreme sport than skiing. Gripwalk soles have a rubberized, ergonomic sole that gives them better “grip” while you are “walking.” If you decide to buy a sweet new pair of GW boots, you should probably double check that they’ll work in your old bindings first! Your ski expert can help you with this.
Choosing a pair of bindings isn’t rocket science, but I talk to a lot of skiers who still get confused by the different models available, knowing that the right binding depends on your size and skiing ability. Human to binding compatibility is the more important piece of the binding equation, but there are some considerations for choosing a binding that will work with your ski.
You know those little metal arms that fold up and down along the side of the ski? The things that keep the ski from flying downhill when you release from it? Those need to be sized appropriately for your ski. I talk to people from time to time who are on a tight budget, and they want to upgrade their skis, but keep their existing binding. The problem is that sometimes, they have a ski that’s 88mm wide, and they want a new ski that’s 104mm wide. There’s a very slim chance that even if the old binding was in good enough condition to reuse, it would have a wide enough brake to fit around the new ski. In almost all cases, I wouldn’t recommend choosing your new ski based on what works with your old binding.
I’m Getting Better at Skiing - Should I Upgrade?
This is a really common scenario, and probably the number one reason why people shop at Curated. You’ve put in some time on the slopes on your first setup, and you’ve totally got it down. You’re holding speed comfortably, you’re stopping effortlessly, you’ve explored most of the mountain by now, and you haven’t caused a lift stoppage in a long time. Buying all new everything today is off the table, so where do you start?
This is a conversation you should have with your ski expert so they can get the details of your gear, but depending on your situation, you are usually fine to upgrade your skis/bindings and your boots separately. If your skis and bindings are in decent shape and the bindings will work with a new set of boots, maybe it’s boots this year and skis next. Maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, this is where we truly get into the case-by-case situation which makes shopping with an expert very helpful.
I recently skied with a friend from out of town who is solidly in the intermediate category, but who is extremely athletic and skis a lot. It’s kind of surprising he hasn’t progressed more by now. This season when we skied together, he had a brand new set of sweet skis with excellent bindings on them. They were a super solid pair of all-mountain skis sized appropriately, and were in terrific shape. Even after putting in half a season on them, he’s still just not getting to the next level despite thinking he’s doing everything right. I finally took a look at his boots. They looked like they were purchased at the liquidation sale for a ski rental shop that went out of business in 1994. They were the absolute bottom of the barrel beginner level boot, they were completely packed out, and they were seeing 20+ days per season with a guy who is 6’4”, 250 lbs, and a former NCAA athlete. No one had ever explained to him how much a part of the equation the boots are. Oftentimes, it’s the boots that will take you to the next level even more than the skis.
If your ski boots look anything like the pairs in the rental shop, I’m probably going to recommend you start by getting proper boots, and then we can talk skis once you have the feel for how “real” boots work.
Last and Least: Poles
Now that I’ve made it clear how to spot gear that needs an upgrade, let’s briefly talk about the final piece of the hardgoods puzzle: poles. I talk to people all the time who tell me that they need new poles because their poles are “old.” If you think you need new poles, you probably don’t unless they are too short, too long, broken, or you’re putting together a touring setup and need a set of adjustable ones. In those cases, we can help you find some new ones, or if you just want some in a different color that match the rest of your kit, then we can help you with that as well. But since you’ve read to the bottom, I’ll tell you about my poles. I have been skiing for 30 years this season (2020-2021). My poles have been skiing for about 55 years (no joke!).
My dad bought these poles in the mid-1970s and used them for decades. When I was a kid, I remember him having old poles. Within the last few years, I finally convinced him to bequeath them to me. I replaced the handles to fit my enormous battery-powered heated gloves, but otherwise, the poles are as they were. This past season at an industry event, I showed them to a K2 sales rep. He offered me a brand new pair of poles in exchange for them. I declined.
Before I had my dad’s vintage poles, I had a mismatched pair. One of my poles was from high school, and the other one was found leaning against a trash can at Vail (its partner was snapped in half and sticking out of the can - I didn’t steal anything!). The point of all of this is to say: a pole is a pole. Save your money and get the pieces of gear that will actually help you ski better.
Consider this flow chart if you’re deciding whether or not to replace your poles with new ones.
Still have some questions about whether to buy new gear, or maybe about what new gear to buy? Reach out to me or any other Curated ski expert - we can help you out.