Kids Gear: Buy or Rent?

When is it worthwhile to ditch the rentals and invest in kids' skis?
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Your seven-year-old just bombed down a tricky blue run. This is the first time you’ve actually had to work to keep up with him. It suddenly hits you that it’s time to take his skiing to the next level, which might mean buying better gear. Suddenly you’re struck with the doubt shared by all ski parents: Is it worth it? Your kid is certainly still growing; in fact, he’ll probably grow out of his gear in two years, if not by next season. But without good equipment, he faces certain limitations, like when he gets going too fast and those rental skis start to shake like Tickle Me Elmo.

So when exactly is the right time to buy skis for your children?

Tracy Gibbons, owner of Sturtevant’s ski shop, in Bellevue, Wash., says there is no exactly right time, but she urges parents to ask two questions before they shell out money for children’s skis.

First: What level is the skier? “Once kids are starting to try black runs, it’s time to move on to something higher-performance than a rental,” Gibbons says. So if your kiddo skis more than eight to 10 days a season for three or four years consecutively, she’s likely ready to ski harder runs, thus need better gear.

Second: Do you have more than one kid? “If you’re going to hand them down, we encourage you buy sooner,” Gibbons says. Hand-me-downs allow you to get up to five good years out of the equipment, after which you can sell it. Many shops, including Sturtevant’s, sell on consignment. Another option is to hit a swap. Gibbons warns, though, that if you don’t attend a swap staffed by knowledgeable employees, you could end up with useless gear. “I’ve seen eight-year-olds with adult boots,” she says.

What if Junior isn’t tearing down the mountain quite yet or your family doesn’t go skiing every single weekend? You have options too.

Trade-in programs are a popular hybrid between straight-up buying and the standby seasonal rental. Parents pay a buy-in to get involved (usually between $100 and $200) and can swap out their equipment whenever they like for up to 50 percent savings on a new package. The advantage here is that you can get higher-performance skis, use them until the child outgrows them, and then put half the original value toward another set.

“For the most part, these [skis] are beginner to intermediate,” says Randall Bush, regional manager of Boulder Ski Deals in Boulder, Colo. “But some kids are skiing steep blacks with this stuff.”