For winter sports lovers, it’s the event of the year – a bargain paradise that beats any after-Thanksgiving Day deal and a feeding frenzy that tops the women’s shoe sale at Nordstrom.
Thousands of people pining for snow and aching to carve turns soothed their cabin fever Saturday by splurging at the annual Mount Spokane Ski Patrol Ski Swap.
Known throughout the region for its vast selection and cheap prices, the ski patrol’s biggest fundraiser usually draws thousands of people every year to the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. On Saturday, several dozen were already in line by 6 a.m. – shivering in the freezing temperatures – for the chance of getting first dibs on equipment when the doors opened at 9 a.m.
“Some people wait for hours outside Wal-Mart to get $10 off a DVD,” said Joey Flores, a longtime skier from Nine Mile Falls and one of the early birds, whose long shopping list included fat powder skis, Black Diamond poles and a Honda roof rack. “We come here to get hundreds of dollars off all our ski equipment. … There’s no better deal.”
While some of the roughly 20,000 items for sale are used – or “experienced,” as some organizers like to say – many of the skis, boots, snowboards and other equipment are brand new. Approximately 30 percent of the gear is brought to the swap by individuals who want to get rid of stuff to buy new equipment. The rest comes from about 20 retail shops in the region, including Mountain Gear and Alpine Haus, that bring used and new equipment from previous seasons.
Whether you’ve been skiing or snowboarding since childhood or just experiencing winter sports for the first time, the annual swap is the most affordable place to get outfitted, said Seth Fletcher, a member of the Mount Spokane Ski Patrol and a ski swap volunteer for the last 35 years.
About 35 percent of the items for sale this weekend are snowboards and other boarding gear, he noted. In addition to alpine and Nordic ski equipment, shoppers can also buy helmets, jackets, gloves, hats and other apparel.
Skis and clothing for children, such us bibs and parkas, are among the most popular items, noted Gloria Fletcher, Seth Fletcher’s wife and another longtime volunteer.
“The little kids’ stuff goes like hotcakes,” she said. “And these folks have to come back every year because the kids grow so fast.”
Proceeds from the ski swap also go to a good cause, said the Fletchers, who have two grandchildren who started skiing at 15 and 18 months.
Although the ski patrol doesn’t disclose how much money it makes from the annual swap, all proceeds go toward the patrol’s first-aid and medical supplies, toboggans, patrol training and other needs. The ski patrol charges individuals and shops 50 cents per item, plus 16 percent of the item’s sale price.
A nonprofit, the Mount Spokane Ski Patrol is made up of about 130 volunteers – all strong skiers who like to spend winter outdoors and help others who enjoy the sport, explained Seth Fletcher.
Most of these volunteers were already at the fairgrounds on Friday, when people arrived with equipment to sell. On Saturday, many were there before dawn to prepare for the throngs of shoppers.
“The key is to get here early and to have a plan,” explained Casey Whitley, of Sandpoint. “We had it all mapped out.”
Since he and two other adults were buying Nordic and alpine gear for two families, some of them staked out the downhill boots and skis, while others joined the throng of people in the kids’ section. Like other families, they often buy equipment that their kids won’t use for another year or two – only because they come at such a good price, he said.
In less than half an hour, Whitley and his friend Todd Crossett had two shopping carts full of stuff – three or four pairs of $5 Fischer cross-country skis for the kids, $7 boots, half a dozen pairs of downhill skis in a variety of sizes and brands including K2, Rossignol and Volkl.
“For a family of five, this is so cost-effective,” said Sandy Konzal, of Spokane. “It’s also a great outing for the family.”
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