Love It Or Lease It


Kids get you back. For all those times you forced them to make their beds or be home at 9, they get you back. How? By growing-so fast it breaks your heart, and usually in spurts that are impeccably timed to render the expensive sports equipment you just bought them useless.

Growth happens, but more and more ski retailers-some of whom even have children themselves-have begun to feel your pain. They've also figured out that if you have to buy your darling little ones new equipment every year, you're likely to push them toward a less expensive sport.

The solution? Retailers now offer seasonal leases and similar programs aimed at helping you outfit your children without going broke. Such programs enable parents to stay with the sport they love, reassured that their children are enjoying the same sport in equipment that is safe and of appropriate quality and size.In the old days, you did your best. Ignoring the advice of the earnest (and childless) shop employee, you "sized up," buying your son boots that were too big in hopes of getting two seasons out of them. Your son, fondly known as "Lurch," then spent the first year swimming in his oversized boots, wondering why his skis exhibited all the quick-turn agility of the Titanic. The following year was spent not on the slopes, but in the lodge, nursing frozen, black-and-blue toes.

Skis presented the same maddening conundrum, though to a lesser degree. You went long and hoped for the best. They were too long the first year, and too short the second. (And just right about July, when Lurch was galloping the Little League base paths shod in oversized baseball cleats.)

Relief generally comes in two forms: seasonal leases and buy-back programs. Seasonal leases typically offer used equipment and are fairly straightforward. You pay a single price-anywhere from $90 to $150-for a season's use of skis, boots, bindings and poles. Sometimes mounting is included; sometimes it's extra. But for far less than the cost of purchasing new gear, your child gets decent equipment that fits and works properly. Most shops even throw in free midseason resizing, if necessary. If your child skis 10 or more times a season, you'll save money over daily rentals, and convenience is an added benefit.

Buy-back programs require more money up front, but offer the benefit of brand-new skis/boots/bindings/poles, which can be a plus when you're dealing with fickle youngsters. You buy the gear at full suggested retail price (usually $250-$350 for a package deal), and the shop buys it back at the end of the season, generally paying you 50 percent to 70 percent of what you paid (provided Lurch hasn't used his new skis for a daring first descent of the local gravel pit). Some shops will cut you a check; others will give you store credit.

About half of all shops have some kind of program, so call around to find one and compare your options. In addition to ski equipment, many shops also offer snowboards (expect to pay a little more), as well as helmets. In all cases, bear in mind that it's best to make your arrangements in early- to mid-fall: The best equipment and most popular sizes are often gone by Thanksgiving, and shop employees have far less time for you in the busy season.

What's in it for retailers, you ask? These programs aren't huge money-makers and are sometimes even money-losers. But you'll be reassured to know that there is a profit motive. Chances are, the shop owner who can outfit your child for skiing without first running a credit check will gain your loyalty. Barring that, they at least get you in their shop three times a year-once when you size and select the equipment, once when you pick it up after mounting/adjustment, and finally when you drop it off in the spring. Perhaps during one of those visits, you'll think of a thing or two you need. And you might just find that you have a little more disposable income, now that you're not leveraging the 401K to keep your kids equipped.