Thursday, 9 February 2012

Ski Day 35: Vintage pricing, vintage skis

Vert: 6,775 m    YTD cum vert: 204,585 m
Runs: 21    YTD cum runs: 460

Mt. Norquay was having Tooney Thursday again, where lift prices are a measly $2 (one person I talked to was sure it was a typo -- they though it was going to be $2 per run). They started doing this last year to celebrate their 85th anniversary, and were charging just 85¢ at that time. Even though it's 135% of the price from last year, two bucks is a deal no matter how you slice it.

It brought out a fair crowd, many of whom I spoke with that don't get skiing that often. I get it. Skiing's not cheap. Norquay's regular daily lift prices are $59 (plus GST), Sunshine and Lake Louise are $83.95 (including GST). A couple of areas in the US (Vail and Deer Valley) are over $100. And sure, you can get discounts with cards and multi day passes, but skiing is still pretty expensive.

Perhaps that's why Tooney Thursday brought out the biggest collection of vintage skis I have seen in one day. You can tell "vintage" skis. They're long and straight. "Modern" skis are shorter, fatter and have shape to them. This link gives a bit of info about the differences and how they came about. Vintage skis are ones owned by people who ski perhaps once a year and have done for 30 years. Their skis are 25 years old or more (modern shaped skis emerged in 1992). Given the cost of skis, some of the folks who can only afford to come skiing on Tooney Thursday can only afford to use their 25 year old gear.

The downside with 25 year old ski gear is IT'S NOT SAFE. The problem is the bindings, which only have a useful life of 10 years. Bindings have springs in them to hold you in, and screws to adjust the tension of those to specific DIN settings. The setting is based on your height & weight, plus your skiing ability. The right setting insures your skis release when you fall, and don't release when they shouldn't. The springs on bindings that are 10 years old or more don't work right. Being an engineer, I know it's because metal fatigue changes the spring constant. In short, the spring "remembers" it is shorter than it should be. So 10+ year old bindings don't release in predictable ways. They may pop off. Or more likely, they won't release at all. Ski technicians in shops aren't allowed to fix, change, adjust or reinstall bindings more than 10 years old for this reason. On a binding more than 10 years old, the DIN setting is meaningless.

Now, when I tell this to folks on skis that look like they came from a museum (because that's where they belong), they typically answer:
  • "Well, I never fall, so it doesn't matter". Sure. When the skis come off because the binding let them, you'll fall, it will be unexpected, and it will hurt.
  • "I fell recently. They came off just like they're supposed to". Or "I test release them periodically by kicking my foot out. They're fine". Neither one of those is a valid test. Neither proves they'll release when you need them to. All they prove is that the spring still works. Given that it's metal, it will keep working for about 500 years. Just not very predictably.
  • "I unscrew the springs every summer, and re-tighten them every winter". Minor problem is that is not enough to insure the spring constant stays the same and the spring works predictably.
  • "I like the way these skis ski". I guarantee you'll like the new ones better. There's a reason they're no longer made. The new ones are easier, for one.
If your bindings are more than 10 years old, chuck them, because skiing injuries tend to be pretty severe and can be debilitating. If your skis are more than 20 years old, throw them away. If you're not sure their age, take them to a shop and ask the tech. If you can't afford new skis, rent.

Because even though skiing isn't cheap, it's really false economy to run the unnecessary risk that old bindings give you. 

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