Sean Mulready

by Sean Mulready

Looking for Jr. Equipment?
Buyer Beware

Buying skis for your kids may be an expensive and time consuming activity that is going the way of the leather boot.

Leasing, in a variety of forms and programs, streamlines the process by limiting the available gear options and limits the risk and up front cost by offering gear at a fraction of the retail cost.

Over the last decade or so, ski and snowboard specialty shops are noting a dramatic shift towards leasing children's equipment. Stefan Hausberger, owner of Zimmerman's in Nashua NH, has been around long enough to see dramatic changes throughout the industry but especially in his own store.

"We've been into leasing for 12 years now," he said. "There has been a huge shift from buying to leasing.

BrettonWoods Photo
Mount Washington from Bretton Woods. Courtesy of Omni Mount Washington Resort

"In the mid-80's when everything was going good in the ski business we sold 250 pairs of kids' skis a year," he recalled. " Last year, we rented 3,500 (skis and snowboards combined with skis still dominating) . Our sales were nearly non-existent. We sell a few
junior racing skis but over 99 percent of our business is now rentals."

Cost and convenience have driven the dramatic change. At Zimmerman's a one year lease for a use ski and snowboard package is $119.99. New ski equipment leases for $179.99 and leasing a new snowboard packages costs $199.99. Even with little or nothing spent on advertising, Hausberger is amazed by how completely the shift has changed his business and brought so many more people to his store.

I'm almost apprehensive talking about this story," he said. 'When we started, we were one of the only ones offering (seasonal) rentals but more shops have jumped on board since then."

To make his leases more appealing than his emerging competition's when he first ventured into leasing, Hausberger persuaded New Hampshire ski areas to offer a single daily lift ticket with each seasonal package. He started with just Crotched Mountain but over the years added tickets from Waterville, Ragged and Bretton Woods. That last area upped the ante considerably this year by offering a season pass instead of a single lift ticket for all five to 12-year-olds who lease a complete package this year. That season pass has no black out dates and currently costs $459 if purchased separately. The price goes to $489 on December 1. On top of that, each time that pass is used on the mountain, it comes with a $15 reduction in the price of an adult all mountain ticket bought on the same day. Neither Bretton Woods (which simply sent out a press release in late August) or Zimmerman's has had to do much in terms of advertising. The word has gotten out quickly.

"We're in a very scary position," said Hausberger a few days after Halloween. "We're going to run out of skis in two weeks. We're already out of three sizes and I'm going to have to reorder new equipment just to take care of our customers."

Hauseberger noted that he expects to run short of gear every year...but not until January or after. "It's a nice problem to have," he laughed.

He's not alone.

Massachusetts shops have seen the same shift towards leasing. Mark Stenson of Country Ski and Sport in Hanson notes that his three family owned stores have already seen increased interest in leasing and buying because of the new Bretton Woods offer.

"I have families arranging their trips to take advantage of this," said Stenson. "They say that they're going to go up to Bretton Woods over Christmas or Martin Luther King weekend because of the pass."

Long before that program started this year, though, the shift to leasing was going strong.

"We've been offering leases for 10 or 15 years," he said. "But in the last five or 10 years they've really taken off. Now, most families lease. Off the top of my head, I'd say that about 90 percent of the parents with young kids are leasing instead of buying."

Their lease program offers families a complete ski package starting at $99.95. By early fall, that price had risen to $119.95, a level that Stenson felt would continue through the season. Prices can go higher if more advanced equipment is required. Parents must also pay a deposit of $145. Even with the deposit, though, parents using the lease program have to tie up less than half the money that it would likely cost to outfit their youngsters if w equipment was being purchased. In addition, there's no annual tune up charge, and no need to replace boots which often fit properly for just one season.

Even at shops which don't offer leasing, the concept of returnable equipment has taken hold. Rodgers Ski and Sport with shops in Lincoln New Hampshire and Scarborough Maine doesn't lease gear. In those shops, buying and owning is the only way to go but they offer a trade-in program which makes it at least similar to a lease. If the package comes back in reasonably good condition after a year's use, up to half of the initial purchase price will be refunded.

That kind of return on investment is what prompted Bretton Woods to include the Rodgers' shops in its new program. According to Matt Koroski, Leisure Sales Manager at the Bretton Woods Omni Resort, they wanted to restrict the program to shops which did offer some kind of a return. The program targets those people for whom the expense of outfitting their children keeps people from skiing just as much as does the cost of lift tickets.

"Stores have come up with a way of making the equipment more reasonable," he said of the season pass pilot program. "Now we have created a way to make the skiing more accessible."

Although the program is unique to Bretton Woods at this point, Koroski wouldn't mind the flattery which comes from imitation. If other areas offered the same deal, he thinks that more people might be encouraged to pick up and/or continue skiing or riding.

"It should benefit everyone in the long run," he said, "If we keep people in the sport."

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