Welcome to the world of skiing and snowboarding! We know learning any new sport can be intimidating, but it can be especially so with skiing. That's why we're so hoppy to be sharing our Frog Family expertise! Once you've decided to make a family ski trip, one of the big decisions involves equipment. It can be a bit overwhelming to think of everything you need, let alone decide whether you should rent or buy. Don't fret, frog friends! We're here to help. We've got trusted tips to help you decide whether to rent or buy ski equipment. Before we hop to it, we should also mention that we're now selling Epic Passes, the Ikon Pass and hotels to save you some green on your next ski trip.
How Does COVID-19 Affect Renting Equipment?
Before we get into whether to rent vs buy ski gear, let's talk about COVID-19. It's probably our least favorite topic right now, but it's important to discuss, especially if you plan to rent equipment. The mountain equipment rental locations are open. Each mountain may have slightly different procedures and rules according to local regulations. You'll want to reserve equipment in advance (and be sure to book those ski lessons in advance too).
At the shop itself, the employees may limit the number of people allowed inside the rental location and have physical distancing measures in place. Guests and employees must wear facial coverings in the shop. The employees sanitize and disinfect equipment between use. On the other hand, you may be able to avoid the shop entirely. Many resorts have expanded complimentary rental delivery services (even to condos and houses). Hop over to our posts on what to expect when skiing at Vail Resorts this year and what to expect at the Ikon Pass destinations to learn more.
You may face different procedures than normal. For example, when you are done with rental equipment, you might just drop it in bins outside the shop for now.
One item you'll definitely need to add to your must-buy list is a face covering (or two) for each family member 3 and up. You'll need a face covering for all indoor locations on the mountain. A two-layer neck gaiter or cloth facial covering is fine. It needs to cover the nose and mouth. Purchase several for each family member so you can switch them out when they get moist from your breath. On the upside, your face is sure to feel nice and warm this year!
For the 2021-2022 season, most ski destinations do not require a face covering for outdoor areas, skiing, snowboarding, lift lines, lifts and gondolas. Local guidelines may vary and rules are subject to change.
Another item to bring if you are visiting a Vail-owned resort, such as the ones on the Epic Pass, is your vaccination card for any family member age 12 and up. You don't need it for skiing or renting equipment, but you do need it for certain indoor restaurants. You'll have to show the card, a photo of it or an official app to access any on-mountain, quick-service dining locations. That means if you want to put your 12+-year-olds in all-day lessons that include lunch, they must be vaccinated. If your child is not vaccinated, choose half-day lessons instead.
Now that that's been said, let's go over whether you should rent or buy ski or snowboard equipment and how to decide.
Factor in Skill Level Before You Rent or Buy Ski Equipment
If you're brand new, we highly recommend you rent ski equipment. Even if you've been skiing a few times, it's probably better to rent. By renting, you can get familiar with the equipment and learn what you like or don’t like prior to actually making that large purchase. If you find a rental ski boot that is really comfortable or a rental ski that makes it all seem easier, then you might decide to go out and purchase that brand or style. This way, you will have a chance to demo gear and make comparisons. Many ski resorts and rental shops have demo shops for just that reason. At Vail Resorts, you can swap out equipment as the conditions change or if you want to try a new demo. We love that flexibility with rentals.
If you are a more experienced skier, it makes financial sense to buy. However, you still might like the option of renting the right equipment for the conditions. For example, you might want to try powder skis on a fresh snow day or try out some new technology by renting a demo. Renting offers flexibility. It also helps you make a purchasing decision to see if you like the equipment before making an investment.
Even as an experienced skier, I once bought the worst pair of boots ever because I never had a chance to try them out on the mountain before purchasing. They gave me hot spots no matter what I did. My older skis needed to go at that point, so I sold the boots and rented different equipment for two seasons until I found a boot and ski that I was really hoppy with. Then, I went out and purchased them. The boot was one that was heated and custom molded to my foot, which was a big plus! As that equipment ages, I may rent again for a while since ski technology has changed a lot since my last purchase. Renting will give me a sense of what I like before purchasing again.
Consider Cost and Convenience Before You Rent or Buy Ski Equipment
Where and how often you ski may determine whether you should rent or buy equipment. Many learn-to-ski lessons readily include rentals. Another factor to consider in your decision is the cost of checking ski equipment when flying. When you check skis and boots, you have to pay a fee for checking the oversize equipment both ways. Depending on the airline, the fee can be as much as $100 per person per trip. You need to borrow or purchase a ski bag and boot bag (but the airline should count them as one item). Snowboard bags usually can fit boots too. But when you rent, you do not have to pay to check equipment, haul it through the airport or figure out how to fit it in the car with all your luggage. We have some hopful tips for flying with skis (including ways to save money and avoid paying fees).
Renting is a smart choice if you ski internationally because you may have to collect your skis or snowboard at customs before making a connection. We have missed a connection more than once due to a slow-arriving ski bag when flying back from Canada. Not fun! Lugging equipment through the airport and trying to fit it into a rental car is physically challenging. Renting removes all that headache. Plus, rental equipment is likely to be newer and offer the latest models. You can buy the latest model, but in 10 years, technology will have moved on.
On the other hand, if you will be making several ski trips each year and can drive to a ski resort, bringing your own equipment has its advantages. It's nice to be familiar and comfortable with how it performs. You don't have to wait in line and pay for rental equipment. With your own skis and an Epic Pass, Ikon Pass or other multi-day lift tickets in hand, you are ready to hit the slopes without any stops. Plus, if you want to try out a new ski or adjust to changing conditions, the option to demo something different is there.
If you are going to rent, one way to save money with rentals is to reserve in advance. Sometimes you can get pre-season pricing for a mid-season trip if you book early enough. When you book your trip, consider any rentals or lessons you need. We recommend renting in advance to save time. You can rent junior skis, sport skis, performance skis, helmets and more! Always opt to protect your noggin! In 2020-2021, many ski resorts expanded their ski delivery services to reduce the number of people in the ski shop. That may carry into 2021-2022. If that interests you, you might be able to skip a visit to the shop entirely!
What You Need Whether You Rent or Buy Ski and Snowboard Equipment
Ski Equipment for Adults
When you go to the rental shop, you will want to pick up skis, poles and boots. Be sure to get a helmet! The shop employees will help you find the right size and fit. They will set the bindings for your weight and skiing ability. That way, your beginner settings will help skis pop off more easily if you fall so you don’t get hurt. The advantage to renting is that everything is set up and customized for you and your level that day. If you discover that you love skiing and want to ski more often, then you can look into purchasing. But in the beginning, it just doesn’t make sense to buy until you get a feel for what you like and know that you will use it.
Ski and Snowboard Equipment for Kids
The best plan for new skiers is to rent equipment. Kids grow fast, so you may not want to invest in purchasing equipment. Give it some time so you'll know if they like the sport and get a sense of their skiing style. They may also switch from skiing to snowboarding. If you have several children who want to ski, consider buying equipment that can be handed down to younger siblings.
You want to keep your tadpoles hoppy. That means using good equipment that fits properly. Rentals always fit. If you choose a ski school that includes rentals or even has rentals on-site, it can make the process of going to and from ski school even easier. One thing to consider when choosing a ski school is how they do rentals and if they will let you leave your skis there overnight if you have multi-day lessons. It saves a lot of time and effort on your part if the ski school handles the equipment.
Whether you rent or bring your own equipment, kids need boots, skis, a helmet and maybe poles. Snowboarders need a snowboard, boots and helmet. Young and new skiers may not need poles. Check with the ski school. If you do decide to purchase new skis, you will also need to purchase bindings and have them attached, so be sure to get those if you are purchasing.
Equipment for Snowboarders
Snowboarders need a snowboard, snowboard boots (which are completely different from ski boots) and a helmet. It is a smart investment to purchase some other safety equipment. You can purchase wrist guards (there are gloves with built-in wrist guards). Wearing wrist guards and body armor to protect wrists, tailbones, hips and other parts can mean the difference from popping back up virtually pain-free after a fall or causing some real damage, such as a wrist fracture or very bruised bottom.
Are you goofy or regular? You should also know the answer to that question and what it means, because it affects how you set up the equipment. Most people are regular, which means their left leg is dominant and the left foot is closer to the front of the snowboard. Goofy riders have their right foot towards the front of the board. To decide if you are goofy or regular, stand still on the ground (not on a snowboard). If someone pushes you from behind, pay attention to which leg goes out in front of you to support you. That leg should be closer to the front of your board.
If you are buying, know that a brand-new snowboard will need bindings. Some bindings are easier to get in and out of than others. Make it easy on yourself or your tadpoles by buying easy-entry bindings that are easier to click in and out of. The correct bindings can save a lot of time and frustration when strapping back in after getting off of the lift or gondola. There's no sitting for a while in the cold snow getting reconnected. (Nobody likes to wait for the boarder who can’t get strapped in efficiently.)
Tips for Whether You Rent or Buy Ski Equipment
If You Rent Ski Gear ...
There are advantages and disadvantages to renting at a ski resort or off-site. You can often save a lot of money by renting off-site. But if there is a problem with the equipment or you get the wrong size, then you are out of luck.
When renting ski gear, find out if you can pick up your skis the day before. If you can pick up your skis after 3:00 p.m. the day before you need them, that's one less stop you need to make in the morning. If the tadpoles are taking lessons or any family members are taking beginner lessons, find out if you can acquire your rentals at the ski school. Some places take care of fitting the kids after you drop them off, which, again, saves time and effort in the morning. Nobody likes to start the day by standing in lines! We frogs are toadally into making skiing as effortless as possible. If the school keeps skis overnight, then that saves you from having to schlep them around. You'll probably take the boots with you overnight. Make sure they are warm and dry for the next day!
If You Buy or Own Ski Gear ...
Once you are ready to take the plunge and buy your own equipment, we have tips! Boot fit is one of the most important aspects of skiing, so it is important to find a good boot fitter. Generally, you will find them at specialty or smaller ski shops. My current pair of boots was heat molded to my flipper, so it fits like a glove. These boots have kept my feet happy for many years. I do not recommend getting used adult boots or even letting people borrow your boots. I’m a good sharer, but I put my frog foot down — literally — on sharing ski boots.
Take care of your boots. Dry them out and strap them up properly for storage. Some people buy a boot they love (keeping that familiarity of equipment) but rent skis at the resort, especially if they are flying to their destination. You may be able to carry on your boots and save checking fees. Whenever we store our skis on the rack, when we stop for lunch, we split up our poles. We've had our poles stolen too many times! I find if I place one of my poles with my skis and one with Leap's, they are less likely to disappear. If you have very expensive equipment, you can bring a lock or pay for a service to watch them (at some resorts). That can be the downside of owning your own equipment.
When buying skis, the best way to know what you like is to demo them first. Talk to the store employees and other avid skiers to get their feedback. Wipe down and dry your skis after use, store them in a bag, and get them waxed and the edges sharpened regularly. If you take care of your equipment, you can enjoy it for years to come.
Beyond Skis, What Do You Need?
In addition to hard equipment, you will need to rent, borrow or buy clothing to protect yourself from the elements.
- Thermals (tops and bottoms)
- A face shield or neck gaiter for indoor spaces. Many ski resorts require all guests to wear a face covering that covers the mouth and nose. The covering is required in buildings, restrooms and restaurants.
- A hat or ear cover (some helmets act as both a hat and noggin protector)
- A mid-layer
- An outer waterproof shell or jacket with vents (they make different ones for skiing versus snowboarding)
- Waterproof outer pants
- Good quality ski socks that wick away moisture
- Gloves or mittens (may vary based on snowboarding or skiing)
I prefer the gloves with an attached internal layer so if I pull off my glove to get a tissue or lip balm, my hands are still covered, but I won’t risk losing or dropping the outer part of my glove because it is attached to me. On a warm day, you can ski with the thin layer. I prefer to have two pairs of gloves in case the first one gets wet. I also recommend having a few packs of hand warmers or toe warmers for very cold days.
Hopfully, you now have a better idea as to whether you should rent or buy ski equipment. If you're new to skiing or snowboarding, I have a few more secrets for new skiers so that you're outfitted for success on the mountain. We frogs are always excited to save some “green” and pass the tips to you, so if you need to book lodging at ski resort hotels or purchase lift tickets, the Epic Pass or the Ikon Pass, be sure to check out our hoppin’ deals.
Related: Tips for Skiing During Peak Times