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Gear

I Was Raised to Believe That Gear Doesn’t Matter; Now I Know Better

There’s nothing wrong with second-hand or outdated gear, unless it’s holding you back on the slopes.

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My family has never been a gear family. In fact, you might even call us an anti-gear family. My hippie, ski-bum parents were tight on money and big on teaching us kids to do without. They skied in— and continue to ski in—gear that’s so old it’s become cool again. In recent memory, they’ve busted out wool pants and gaiters, and my dad just retired a pair of Raichle Flexons from the ’80s. He got them secondhand (of course), and loved them so much he re-lined them, bought parts to fix them, and designed his own boot strap.

Related: Your fancy new ski boots still rely on tech from the ’60s

While my friends showed up on the hill in new ski clothes every winter, my stuff was also always secondhand and noticeably outdated. My first real skis came from a cousin who was a full 10 years older than me. By the time the skis made it to me, they were ancient. Instead of a brake, there was a piece of paracord looped around the ski boot like a leash. There was also something seriously wrong with the bindings. The skis popped off constantly, and when they did, the leash rarely did its job. I spent many hours searching for runaway skis, and even more time scratching off the ice that coated the leash’s clasp in order to reattach it. I was always that kid holding everyone up.

To make matters worse, around that time I put my winter jacket (which I got new—a near miracle in my household) too close to the woodstove, melting the outer layer in the back of the jacket. My crafty mom covered the gaping hole with a cloth patch in the shape of Odie (the pup from Garfield, who was a favorite of mine), but that didn’t exactly block out the wet and wind. At that point, it was what I had.

In addition to my questionable gear, we usually had a limited number of ski days, so we’d make the most of it by skiing the full day. There were no late mornings or early returns in our house. I remember longing for lunch—the moment when my dad would pull out the bag of flattened PB&Js and we’d find a corner in the lodge to warm up. Then, it was back to the grind.

As an adult, I get it. I admire it. But as a kid, dealing with skis that wouldn’t stay on, a jacket that let in the cold (and was decidedly uncool), and long, forced ski days only made me miserable. I liked being outside and hanging out with my friends, but skiing itself felt pretty punishing.

I grew to have a complicated relationship with ski gear—and by extension, skiing. Though my family is a ski family, I stopped skiing consistently in middle school, and only went a handful of times in high school and college. By the time I landed in New York City as a young adult, it seemed my ski days were over.

It wasn’t until I got a job near my hometown and started working at the base of the local ski area that I circled back to skiing. At first, I was adamant about using my old gear from college. After all, everything still worked and that “do without” mentality had been drilled into me.

My gear epiphany came on a powder day. I was skiing a hike-to chute with two friends and suddenly, I was 10 years old all over again. This time, instead of broken bindings and paracord, I was navigating deep powder on a pair of too-short-for-me twin tips. With every turn in the heavy snow, a ski would pop off and I’d have to go digging. After four or five digs, I told my friends to go on without me (“just leave me here!”), it was a powder day, after all. When they did, I just sat there and cried.

I had finally had enough. I finally had my own money (and a boyfriend who worked at a ski shop), so I could buy whatever gear I needed or wanted.

I bought a pair of all-mountain K2s that could handle a powder day but would also work on an icy groomer. The difference was huge. I could charge through choppy snow and stay afloat in a powder field. I also bought a waterproof Arc’teryx jacket, which, ironically, I singed by the fire; I invested in high-quality baselayers (my latest base layer obsession is Patagonia’s Capilene Air); I figured out that good ski goggles (I swear by Dragon Alliance) actually fight fog, and that skiing is infinitely more fun when you can see.

And perhaps most importantly, I bought a brand-new pair of Salomon ski boots and had them expertly fitted and heat molded to my feet. I also got custom foot beds (which for the record, are worth every penny).

Related: The best bootfitters in North America, according to industry pros

Suddenly, skiing started feeling less like something I had to do and more like something I wanted to do. It turns out that when you have skis that are suited to your ski style, bindings that work, boots that fit, and clothes that keep you warm, skiing is a lot more fun.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve become a gearhead following my “gear trauma.” But I no longer hold tight to the idea that you should use every piece of equipment until it breaks. A lot of my ski equipment is still pretty dated—I’ve had my ski boots and footbeds since 2015—but I’m not shy about investing in new and quality pieces when the situation calls for it. Last season, I got a pair of DPS Alchemist Yvette skis (with their Phantom wax, which I love), and this year, I’m eyeing some new ski poles and pants.

These days, you won’t see me kitted out in the latest gear from head to toe, but I also won’t keep you waiting while I chase a runaway ski, either.

 

More Essays on Skiing

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