It may be a pain to lug your own skis to the slopes, whether it’s trying to squeeze them into a taxi, with the driver freaking out about his precious car (and don’t even try it in Tokyo where the taxi drivers will get cheesed off if you disturb their oh-so-delicate snow-white upholstery), trying to understand your airlines luggage rules and ski carriage costs and then finding out at the check in desk that they don’t even know it themselves, or making your friends wait at while you drop your skis off at the over-size check-in at the far end of the airport, trying to balance the end of your bag on your knee while they weigh it because you know it is over weight as you have to take at least two pairs of skis not knowing what conditions will require. At the other end when you land: of course skis are usually the last thing that come out on the carousel. And god forbid you use public transport – you’ll look like a right twerp clutching skis on the tube!
But arguably all this is worth the pain if you want to avoid what can often be the even more stressful experience of renting. And your reward can be the moment you flash a smug smile at your ski chums and ask them, only half-jokingly, to get a bloomin’ move-on while they’re queuing at the rental shop.
We’ve all been there. The frustration can start right from the word go (or the word snow!) – when you’re asked to type your details onto the ski rental shop’s computer. Although this mainly applies to rental shops in North America, it’s not uncommon in the Alps too. If you’re from the UK, where do you find the appropriate country? Is it UK, England or Great Britain, Inghilterra or Angleterre?
As often as not, you’ll find yourself trawling through the Es, the Gs and the Us simply to find where to start. And if you can’t find the mother country, it’s very tempting to click on – even by mistake, as in a typical typo – to somewhere like Egypt, Greece or Ukraine.
Assuming you’ve successfully clicked on the right country, the fun begins. If you know, after years of experience, what sort of skis you’re planning to rent, that doesn’t mean the rental guy behind the desk is going to agree with you or want to give them to you. As far as he (or she) is concerned, the customer is not always necessarily right. You want 170cms? Or 175s? And a DIN setting of 7 or maybe 8? All-mountain? You may have to fight to get them. Mr Smart Alec behind the counter may take one look at you and strongly suggest you rent a pair of 160s – or at the most 165s. With a DIN setting of 5 or 6. Even though you tell him that you ALWAYS ski on at least 170s and they’re ALWAYS set on 8, he may still try to influence you, patronise you and know better than you. Even if you do point out that if your skis are set on 6 they are almost certain to pop off the moment you hit your first bump! Oh and if you happen to prefer 125cm poles to 120 or even 115, you may have to argue that one too!
Recently I was renting skis in Banff, Alberta, as I really couldn’t be bothered to take my own amazing skis with me for all the reasons explained above, as well as the crazy airline charges imposed by BA. Amazingly, the rental shop in Banff had an identical pair of Völkls (even the same length) that I’d recently bought from Snow+Rock. A good start – but then, annoyingly, the rental guy wouldn’t put the DIN setting at more than 6. When I asked why, he said anyone over 50 and it’s a 6! Infuriating! He didn’t even offer me a screw-driver so I could increase the DIN (they do offer you one in some North American resorts) but instead directed me towards the ski-lift for the DIY option. But guess what – by the time I got there, I’d already come out of my skis! Quelle surprise!
As for Europe, experiences vary. The standard of equipment tends to be of high quality but when they give you the categories, it’s mind-boggling – from beginner, intermediate , expert to bronze, silver, gold , 1*, 2*, 3*, 4*, 5* , 6* !
Back in the day it used to be simply beginner, intermediate or race skis. And within race it was slalom or GS. Now it’s freeride, all-mountain, carving, evolution, premium, excellence, economy, VIP…where do you start?
Some shops will offer you a great brand, be it all-mountain or racing at differing prices depending on the skis’ age – which is not always visible. Some shops will be heavily sponsored by one manufacturer, especially within the 5* hotels. So whether you like it or not, it’s going to be Dynastars or Lacroix!!
My mate Rob Freeman, no mean skier I can assure you, wrote an article about all this last year for the Skier and Snowboarder magazine (he is the deputy editor). He also mentioned the fact that if you are really inexperienced (and therefore unlikely to have your own skis) this leaves you completely at the mercy of the rental shop.
He says the least inexperienced you are the more likely you are to be asked “the most banal and inane questions”. This, he says, “is to make sure they can happily palm off the hapless, inexperienced skier with any old blunt and floppy pair of skis…safe in the knowledge the customer won’t have a clue that the skis should be in the re-cycling bin rather than being rented out.”
And he adds: “What you really want to do is check out what they have available, and have a good browse among the racks. They hate you doing that. They know you might come across something really decent, hidden away at the back of the shop that everyone’s been raving about, and you really want to try out, but they don’t want to let you because the shop manager has his eye on them for a blast on his half day off tomorrow.”
On one occasion I was accompanying a group of clients to a ski hire shop in Italy and without even being asked a question the ski technician took one look at my client and put a pair of skis in front of her, asking her for her boots, and proceeded to adjust the bindings. She turned around and looked at me, saying: “He hasn’t even asked how much I weigh!”
When I asked him why he didn’t ask her standard of skiing or her weight, he replied in Italian, “I can tell by one look how much she weighs and what her skiing is like”. Arrogance, or what? Of course I said something completely different to my client and ran off to look for some scales. Levels of diplomacy on the ‘how much do you weigh’ question vary greatly! (I am sure there are some stories on that but I cant think of any immediately) Its always worth knowing your stats in kilos, centimetres and euro shoe sizes as stones, feet and UK sizes can still lead to blank expressions in some places!
There are still some wonderful old ski hire shops in resorts I won’t name, but perhaps run by the father or grandfather of an ex ski-racer, which have not changed a bit. They will only have old hand-me-down skis from a big chain for beginners, or top-of-the range race GS or slalom skis.
Overall, though, if you’re a bit of a beginner, you’re liable to be palmed off with sub-standard gear. And if you’re not a beginner, you tend to get treated like one anyway – and patronised. If you want my advice, however tedious it may be, I suggest you bring your own skis. And if you’re concerned about the airline charges, fly Swiss. They carry them for free – which is why they are justified in calling themselves “The Skiers’ Airline”.
And if you are uber lazy, then contact First Luggage who will pick your skis up from home and have them delivered to your hotel by the time you arrive. I used them last year and it certainly saved me space and grief in the cab going back home as well as in my rental car in the Alps.
I think you need some positive experiences or examples maybe too…set up along the lines of – Overall things are definitely improving and we should say there are a plenty of great state of the art shops out there now offering a great service……something about the electric lockers you get that go on your ski passes etc etc
Just remember whatever shop you use, don’t just go for the cheapest price you can find online, think about the location of the shop, which can be hugely important logistically in some resorts. Often the option of shops that offer storage at the lifts or on the slopes can be very important in some of the more traditional non purpose built resorts where you will never see the savvy locals traipsing around town in half open boots, sweating under the load of their gear because they know to store their equipment at the shop on the mountain.
Overall we work with a number of shops where we know their owners and know that they offer a great service, and offer a good range of skis as well as dealing with groups efficiently to reduce queueing when everyone shows up at the same time. In resorts where we don’t have such a close relationship, we work with Skiset, who have a good reputation and a good selection of shops. As for which category suits you…the best of British. Or possibly English, Inghilterrian or Angleterrian!
Please share any of your experiences with us.