Time to Upgrade? When to Get New Skis, Ski Boots, and Ski Bindings

Published on 05/05/2023 · 18 min readIf 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.
Aaron Bandler, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Aaron Bandler

Making the choice to upgrade your ski gear can be a difficult decision. We know that it’s expensive, and for many people, purchasing replacement 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 specific categories like 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 here on Curated if you want to discuss your specific situation!

Wear and Tear

Sometimes, we just use our ski equipment 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.

Skis

Worn Out Bases and Edges

Do you use your skis a lot? Do you get your skis tuned every time you go skiing? Even if you take good care of your skis with a regular tune, they only have a certain number of days in them, though that of course depends on how and where you use them, including snow conditions, type of terrain, and skier style. Tuning your skis, while good for their performance on the snow, does wear down the metal edges and bases over time. If you get to the point where despite tuning and waxing your skis, they still just don’t perform the way you remember, they’re probably worn out.

If the damage to your skis is more moderate than the picture below, such as some small dents in the bases or some rust on your edges, this can be fixed!

These skis are done for. They’ve been ridden very hard for a long time, and the base material has worn off and part of the edges are gone. This is an extreme example; you would not want to trust your life to these on a black diamond! If your skis look like this, you should have replaced them long ago! Photo by Thomas Harari

It’s Just Broken

The materials that make up your ski are durable, but won’t last forever. The epoxy and wood glue that holds the layers together may eventually start to peel apart. The skis' steel edges may break or crack, and the topsheet may start to peel away. The bottom of the ski may even be so shot with gouges 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. Give them a new life by turning them into a fun piece of decor like a bench for the garage or a shot ski! Finding the right skis is exciting, but also can be challenging, so feel free to reach out to me or another Curated Expert for some guidance.

This ski has a separated sidewall. The layers of material that make up the ski are peeling apart, and the edge is broken and separated. This type of structural damage is difficult or impossible to repair. Photo by Daryl Morrison

It shouldn’t take a Ski Expert to know that this ski is just plain done for. Photo by Thomas Harari

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. Even the most high-quality, modern skis have a life plan. 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 is an aggressive skier who 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 part of the rocker profile and 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 your ski has no camber profile left. You will notice the lack of camber if your skis feel like they have lost stability at higher speeds.

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 new bindings to your ski requires drilling new holes into them, and different styles/models/brands of bindings have different screw patterns. When you take one ski binding off and put another one on, it requires filling the previous holes with plastic plugs and drilling new ones. Your ski will lose some structural integrity each time a new set of holes is drilled and binding screws inserted, and that will result in the 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 for a very reasonable price. 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 old holes look like they were filled by a professional, but would you buy a used car without wheels?

A screenshot of an actual Craigslist Ad in my area. It might as well say “buy my damaged goods!” You’ll probably regret it if you do, even at a great price

Boots

Ski boots are the most important pieces of equipment to get right and know when to replace. I would stray away from aftermarket boots unless you are only getting a few days of skiing each year. A good boot will help you enjoy your days on the hill and improve your skiing.

Before purchasing a new boot you should have an understanding of your foot type. Do you have a high-volume or low-volume foot? Are your arches high or low? Do you have a larger or smaller calf and ankle? These are all questions that a Curated Expert may ask you. Boot fitters can help customize a boot to your foot with heat molding and work on the shell. Keep in mind, boot sizing differs from normal shoe sizing, and understanding the dimensions of your boot is important. The length of your boot with typically be expressed in centimeters (cm) and the width in millimeters (mm). There will also be a flex rating on every boot. Stiffer flex boots are designed for more powerful, expert skiers.

The Duct Tape Test

Do you need to apply duct tape to your boots because the buckles are faulty? If the answer is yes, it’s probably time for a new pair of ski boots.

You’d think I wouldn’t have to explain that this is just a bad idea. Photo by Eric Redner

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 only have so much longevity and can’t escape the wear and tear on heel and toe pieces rendering the boot unsafe.

You know those pieces of plastic that extend from the toe and heel of the boot and click into the bindings? Those need to meet a minimum standard in order for a certified technician to make adjustments to your bindings. If the sole is worn too thin or has become too rounded, it 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.

Boot soles don’t get worn down from skiing, but actually from walking around in your boots. One of the easiest and best methods to preserve the bottom of your boot soles and keep then in excellent condition is using a pair of CatTracks when walking around. When it comes time to click into your skis, simply toss these in your pocket.

Packed-Out Liner / Worn-Out Shell

Even the stiffest ski boot shell with quality ski boot liners that you had custom fitted at a bootfitter will eventually wear down. The foam liner and synthetic insulation on the inside of the boot will compress and lose its high-performance fit, and the ski boot's 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 and wear beefier socks to get the edgehold you want and the ski boot fit just isn't the same as when you bought them, 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 winter out of these boots and get a new pair next season, go for it!

Bindings

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 ski 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 death wish, 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 at a local ski shop or resort, which means you’ll be taking a lot of personal risk. Probably best to head into the demo shop.

The guy who hasn’t skied in five years but decided to pull his 15-year-old skis out of the closet? It turns out I know him. And guess what? Even though those Rossi Bandits from c. 2005 are still in decent condition, those bindings are no longer indemnified. So...no dad, you shouldn’t

The Question of Compatibility

Not all boots will click into all bindings, and not all bindings will fit on all skis. Shopping with a Ski Expert can help you make sure that all your stuff works together as it should!

Boot-Binding Compatibility So your skis and bindings are still in great shape and you need new ski boots? Consider the fact that ski 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. Also, some particular demo-style bindings struggle to take a larger boot size; make sure you look into the size range before buying that style of binding.

Most recently, it seems that the ski industry is coalescing around a new standard called “Gripwalk.” For a lot of people, this ski boot trend is an improvement over the traditional alpine boot sole that featured awkwardly shaped plastic that made walking downstairs more of an extreme sport than skiing. Gripwalk soles have a rubberized, ergonomic sole that gives them better “grip” while you are “walking," making them an ideal choice for a boot upgrade. If you decide to buy a sweet new pair of GW boots for the upcoming season, you should probably double-check that they’ll work in your old bindings first! Even if your new boots have the exact same boot sole length you may just need to make an adjustment to your bindings' forward pressure with different boot sole types. This is an easy adjustment that most ski shops can do for you in a few minutes.

Ski-Binding Compatibility 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 on the binding heel piece? The things that keep the ski from flying downhill when you release from it? Those are the brakes, and they 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 brake width wide enough 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.

Helmets and Goggles

Many people think that helmets and goggles only need to be replaced if they are damaged or out of style. This is really not the case and using your super outdated helmet and goggles can actually be quite dangerous. Helmets get packed out and become less protective over time. Most helmets are actually only dinged to take one or two big hits. If you have gotten a concussion or had lots of hard hits on your helmet, it is probably a good idea to get a new one. For more, read "When Should You Replace Your Ski Helmet?"

Goggles can get scratched overtime and being able to see is crucial for safety. If you do not want to purchase a new pair of goggles, you can always look into replacement lenses.

Outerwear

We have all had those favorite jackets and ski pants with broken zippers and worn-out Velcro that we just don't want to get rid of. However, over time, ski jackets and pants lose their waterproofing capabilities. If you stay dry, you have a much better chance of staying warm. No one wants to be held back by bad weather and having to constantly go to the lodge to warm up.

Base and Midlayers

Are you still skiing in your old cotton fleece and t-shirt? If so it's likely time to upgrade to some higher-quality underlayers to help you stay dry and warm. A a general rule I tend to stay away from cotton base layers because they absorb sweat and do not dry well. A faster drying base layer will help you stay dry, and remember, dry = warm! As far as midlayers go, I think some of the best options for warmth are Merino wool and real down. If you are unsure if your layers are outdated and in need of replacement, always feel free to reach out to an Expert for some guidance.

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 hard goods 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. My poles have been skiing for about 55 years (no joke!).

Photo by Aaron Bandler

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 powder 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.

Graphic by Aaron Bandler

I’m Getting Better at Skiing, Should I Upgrade?

This is a really common scenario, and probably the number one reason why people shop on Curated. You’ve put in some time on the slopes on your first setup or rentals, 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 to accommodate some of the latest updates for each type of gear. 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 skier category, but who is extremely athletic and skis a lot. It’s kind of surprising he hasn’t progressed to an advanced skier 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 with a softer flex rating, 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 or the number of ski days you put in!

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.

Still have some questions about whether to buy new ski gear, or maybe about what new gear to buy? Reach out to me or any other Curated Ski Expert—we can help you out.

Approximate LifespanWhat to Look For
Skis100-150 daysDamaged edges, base damage, and feeling tired
Boots100-150 daysPacked-out liner, unresponsive shell, worn-out toe and heel pieces
Bindings150-200 daysIndemnification

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