Never underestimate the power of bartering—especially when fresh-baked desserts are involved.

As a ski bum and a cheapskate, I have a deep, visceral reaction to opening my wallet and paying money for services rendered. 

I know, I know, this is how the world works. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against currency. I never pass up an opportunity to earn some extra cash; and oh, the thrill of finding a long-lost $20 bill crinkled in the forgotten pocket of a pair of jeans.

Currency, and the exchange thereof, does great things. For example: employing a dentist to fix the tooth I knocked out with a slalom gate, or securing into my possession a brand new pair of skis. Because, while it’s true that money won’t solve everything it can buy a great deal of happiness (if, perhaps, your happiness equates to a new pair of something 112 or so underfoot that’s pretty stiff but still playful, accompanied by confidence-inspiring bindings that all the gear guides call “bomber”).

Once you take those beauties for a top-to-bottom spin, however, it may reveal that a factory tune isn’t really a tune at all. That’s when it becomes apparent that your equipment needs a little love. Like any good boyfriend, I say, these puppies just need a little shaping, repetitive burnishing, and may even require getting some wax involved. But unlike boyfriends, I prefer to outsource this upkeep. And because of my aforementioned aversion to parting with currency, especially for things I could technically do myself, I’ve developed other methods to suit my needs.

When it comes to ski maintenance, there remain a few good men and women who support my quest to take capitalism back a few hundred years and let me barter my way towards keeping my fresh boards fresh. Nothing makes my soul happier than striking a deal for a ski tune without the vulgar discussion of money. It’s thanks to these open-minded fellow ski bums that I’m still able to hold my own in the beer league.

I’ve found many cash alternatives of choice over the years. Of course, there’s the canned, fermented option. You’d blush to know the things a ski tech will do when gifted a case of beer. And my amateur baking skills did not develop for nothing. That chocolate whiskey pecan pie was, initially, to impress a boy, but it also impressed a whole back shop worth of boys into tuning my skis. 

The transaction is not over with the thud of a case of beer on the rubbery ski shop floor, however. It’s all about returning the favor. When I do spend money on ski-related items— because, appallingly, Patagonia has yet to make me a sponsored athlete—I take my business to my favorite, barter-friendly brick-and-mortar. I’m recommending their services to friends, my visiting dad demos skis from their rental shop, and I’m directing small-talk-loving tourists to the shop for whatever piece of gear or apparel didn’t make it into their luggage. While my tune might be a monetary loss, I try to make up for it in pure hustle for my homies at the ski shop.

As is the unwritten rule in a ski town, keep your friends close and your ski techs closer. I will for now; I know someday new legions of shop employees won’t know me and any bartering pull I had will go right out the window. In any case, I relish my current status with friends in high places while it lasts, bracing myself for a fall from ski bum glory. Until then, here’s to keeping my hands clean of filings, wax shavings, and cold hard cash.

Tess Wood knows how to take care of her own skis but admits that it’s so much nicer when someone else does it for her.

Originally published in the October 2019 issue of SKI Magazine. Don't miss out and subscribe now to get the rest of this season's issues delivered to your mailbox.

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