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Buying Used Ski Gear on Ebay

Note: Be sure to read the "update" at the end of the article, below.

Here's a quiz...which of the following represents the best "value" for your dollar? Let's assume that you are a strong intermediate skier and weigh 175 pounds.

  1. The Rossignol skis at your local shop are $529. on sale with Salomon Quadrax bindings, DIN range 2-9. You can clearly see that these are brand new, and the price includes a mid-season tune-up.
  2. A three year old pair of Rossignol "all mountain" skis, in "good" condition is available on Ebay for $29 plus firm shipping charges of $30. Photos show skis that seem to be decent. They come with Marker bindings and a DIN range of 3-10.
  3. Another pair of Rossignol skis, age unknown but they look just as good as #2, is listed on Ebay with a current bid of $5. The auction ends in 12 minutes. The listing says that they include top-of-line Geze racing bindings and cost $700 new. It also states that shipping will be determined at conclusion of auction.

If you said #1, you're wrong. The Quadrax is Salomon's entry level, lightweight plastic binding. No shop owner in his right mind would put this on anything but an entry level ski, so this package should sell for half of what it's listed at. Even if it isn't an entry level ski, the combination is wrong. Pass.

On the other hand, #2 is worth taking a chance on. A used set up like this is probably the same as a good rental pair, which will cost you $125 for the season, plus deposit. The Marker bindings will last a few years, the skis will as well if you take care of them. Worth taking a chance on these, if the seller has good feedback. Use the "ask seller a question" feature to learn more about the condition...describe your height, weight, ability and skiing habits, and see what the seller says in reply. If the seller has good feedback, you can move ahead based on what he says.

If you said #3, be prepared for that auction gavel to smack you right upside the head. The reason the skis are $5 is that all the intelligent buyers are staying away. The first flag should be the Geze bindings. This is a discontinued brand, and the bindings are no longer indemnified (supported by the manufacturer). That means that unless you are comfortable adjusting the DIN settings yourself, you are out of luck: No ski shop will touch these or any other non-indemnified binding. The fact that they are listed as "racing" bindings should also raise a flag; the DIN range on true racing bindings often starts higher than your appropriate setting (probably 5-6).

The pitfalls, however, have just begun. Let's assume #3 had decent bindings; you still don't have enough time to confirm the shipping costs with the seller. And without firm shipping costs, you are fair game. If you're taken in by the "$700 new" in the sales pitch, forget it. Some 8-track players used to cost more than that. If the skis are so valuable, why is the top bid $5?

The stuff nobody wants: Common E-bay Pitfalls.

"...boots are in like-new condition but one has a broken buckle that can be replaced at a ski shop..."

Sure, it can be replaced, if you happen to be proficient at molding engineered thermoplastics. For most of us, however, the parts will never be found unless we buy another pair with a good buckle. You can't "wish" an item to be good. The ONLY time to bid on broken or incomplete items is if you happen to know the item and have the needed part in your possession. In that case you can probably steal that pair of boots for a few dollars...unless some idiot is convinced he can fix it.

My son left it behind when he...

The "junior left it behind when he went to college" stuff is more prevalent than you might think. In fact, mom & dad will often say so in the listing. The thing to remember here is that junior probably left twenty years ago, and mom is finally dealing with the fact that he doesn't plan to come back. The downside to this is that the stuff is all old. Worse yet, mom and dad are even older, so they won't ship UPS. They only understand "post office" and probably wait outside for it to open so they can see if they got any checks today. They'll pack your item with the wrong kind of tape, and the guy at the counter will tell them he won't accept it, then they'll go see how much the strapping tape costs, and tell you that they estimated the shipping charges incorrectly, and of course they couldn't get back to you right away because something was wrong with WebTV...

I don't know much about skiing, but the boot clamps appear to be in real good shape...

This is just more of the same. Junior left it with mom, or he left it in a U-Stor-it facility, and the storage yard is auctioning it off. Sometimes it's a pawn shop, or somebody left something in the cellar at the fraternity, or the building super found it when a tenant left...in almost every situation, the stuff is old and the seller barely knows how to ship it. Best case scenario is you'll get something that smells only slightly musty, is only a little rusty, and it will arrive in three or four weeks. You'll buy the item for $12 and spend $40 to ship it; you're better off finding this junk at garage sales and leaving it there.

I bought these skis for my wife, but she...

Assuming the seller is sincere, this sort of thing is an opportunity to get a good deal; sometimes a great deal. Usually happens when some thick-as-a-brick husband (sort of like me) decides that his wife should have something so that she can participate in his hobby. He goes out and buys an item -- after a salesman has upsold him to top of the line skis -- and they are usually too long. She dutifully tries to use them. This often results in minor sprains or arguments or both. The skis then go unused for about a year before quietly appearing on ebay. In these cases, you can really get a great deal.

I'm selling this for a friend...

Means the seller bought some junk at his neighbor's garage sale. Or junior left it with an estranged girlfriend, sparing mom the trouble of listing it.

Used equipment "Dealers"

These entrepreneurs will buy every single obsolete item when an outfitter upgrades their rental equipment, then auction it online. They'll describe it as "demo" or "former rental stock" or "adjustable for rental use." You'll see the same seller offering multiple copies of the same item in a variety of sizes. It will look like it was once top quality stuff, but is now scratched up, and probably has small cosmetic parts missing. As long as you understand what you are buying, you can often find very sound equipment that just happens to look heavily used...because that's often what it is.

There are a couple of risks. First is that the seller has often made a significant cash outlay to get the stuff, and then goes ahead and sells with "no reserve." What the big print giveth, the small print taketh away: Shipping is usually significantly higher than average, so that they are sure to cover their bets. This is fine -- simply bid with the high shipping in mind -- unless "win the auction frenzy" leads you to overpay. Ain't capitalism grand?

Another risk in buying from these used equipment operators is that they are often selling a massive volume of stuff at the beginning of a particular season, which is when you happen to be most inclined to buy. Everything goes along smoothly, until the package arrives a day early with somebody else's item inside. In the frenzy of shipping, the wrong label got on one box, and it snowballs from there. A reputable dealer trying to build a business will make it right, but it's a hassle just the same.

The biggest advantage to buying from used rental stock is that these dealers tend to be more accurate about condition in their listings, the merchandise is quite heavy duty to begin with, and they usually offer a guarantee...so they tend to ship stuff that works. Just be prepared for stuff that cosmetically looks as if it has been through the wars.

-- Rick

Update 2011

When I originally wrote this article, Ebay was at the top of its game. In 2003 the site was a community of active buyers and sellers, and the "feedback" system had real teeth; the community policed itself. Those were the halcyon days.

Unfortunately the thing that seems to be policing Ebay now is Wall Street and the endless drive for profits at the expense of a shrinking community. Bidding increments, listing fees, final value fees and feedback policies seem to fluctuate with the weather. Sellers have been increasingly squeezed in pursuit of profits, now even charged a percentage of shipping fees, and the "Paypal" process nickels and dimes sellers as well.

All of this is passed on to the consumer.

As a result, the true bargain skis on Ebay are few and far between. What makes it worse is that when Ebay took the teeth out of the Feedback system, they made it very easy for crooks to take advantage. So now you have buyers who don't pay, driving sellers away. On the other hand you now have new sellers who won't bother to ship an item if it sells too cheap; they'll just stonewall until Ebay forces a refund.

And to top it all off, be careful when entering a maximum bid. Although Ebay has a stated table of bid increments, they reserve the right to change it. In other words, your winning bid may wind up being higher than it needs to be, with no apparent rhyme or reason. (This will eventually bite Ebay in the butt, because they've become a defacto auction house, which means that they will eventually have to be licensed in each state. Meanwhile Paypal seems to be functioning as an unregulated bank, but that's another story.)

Although Ebay is a shadow of its former self, the news isn't all bad. There are still plenty of reputable dealers working with used or demo skis and offering decent value, and of course there are small-time sellers who occasionally offer a pair of skis at a reasonable price.

Ski Swaps

Then as now, your best opportunity to find good skis at a good price is not Ebay but rather at a "Ski Swap". These tend to be held in October or November, often as fundraisers. Swap rules vary, but they generally go something like this: Sellers consign goods on a Thursday or Friday, and the sale opens to the public Saturday or Sunday. The Swap organizer usually takes a 20% commission on the sale, which is how they raise funds. Best of all, the

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