I try to avoid it like I would avoid hurtling myself over a frozen waterfall of thick blue ice, but every once in a while my travels around the ski resort will lead me here. It’s not as nerve-wracking as trying to set an edge into a frozen cliff, but the mere thought of this place makes me shudder as though I were stuck indefinitely in an overstuffed elevator.
It’s the ski rental line.
Fortunately, my family has been at a point where this perfectly necessary and friendly corner of the ski resort is as good as invisible to us. My kids own their stuff now that they’ve grown out of junior equipment, so unless one of us has suffered a theft or sudden equipment failure, or simply uses the rental shop as a cut-through to somewhere else we want to be on a frigid day … well, you get the point.
Most families who ski regularly each season (regularly can be loosely defined as more than two weekends to upward of 100-plus ski days) understand. These lines are fraught with frustration for anyone in a hurry. While talented shop technicians furiously work wonders with screwdrivers, base grinders, dirty socks and stacks of painstakingly necessary paperwork to get hundreds of skiers and riders of all ages out on the hill, most regulars with younger kids opt for a better solution — a junior seasonal leasing program.
For generations, families have been taking advantage of junior lease programs offered in ski shops all over New England to secure safe, quality equipment for their kids well in advance of the ski season. As the kids grow up, the equipment can be traded up right along with them.
“It’s always great seeing families come in year after year and recollect on their past experiences with us,” said Jay Stenson, marketing director of Country Ski & Sport, which has Massachusetts locations in Quincy, Westwood and Hanson. “We always have customers that bring their children or even grandchildren in to get their annual lease and recall being fit for their first pair of skis by my grandfather, Raymond Stenson Sr. Putting ski boots on a 2- or 3-year-old for the first time is always a pretty funny experience. It’s really amazing to think that we are in our 50th year as a family business.”
It isn’t difficult to figure out why these programs are successful from generation to generation.
“A seasonal rental is the most sensible, affordable way to get kids skiing,” said longtime New England skier Paul Entin, president of epr Marketing, who fondly remembers bringing his son into their local shop to get equipment each season. The ritual signaled the start of a new season and got the family fired up and thinking snow. They would go during the week to avoid crowds and to ensure they’d get the attention needed for a proper boot fit.
“You’re getting reasonably like-new gear that’s been checked by certified ski techs, and you can swap it out as they grow and improve,” Entin said. “For (my son’s) first pair, the ski tech brought out the shortest pair of Salomon Crossmax I’d ever seen, and that was the ski I’d been wanting to buy for myself but couldn’t pull the trigger at the time. It was a sign we’d have a great season!”
Entin and his wife brought their son and his mini Crossmax skis that winter to Mount Snow, where they were season pass holders, some 17 years ago now. A few months later, Entin was finally able to get himself on a pair of his own.
It’s memories like this that local ski shops love to hear, because it reflects the kind of customer experience that builds loyalty in an age when virtually everything is available online with the click of a mouse.
“You can’t beat the value of face-to-face interaction with a ski shop employee who knows the ins and outs of ski equipment, has the knowledge to be able to put you in the right equipment based on your style and ability, and usually has experience testing that equipment to give you first-hand opinions,” Stenson said. “It’s nearly impossible to go online and find the right ski or snowboard gear that truly fits your skiing style and ability. Plus, when reading reviews online, you don’t know if it’s coming from a skier who skis 50 days a year in Utah, or skis once or twice a year in New England.”
Leases are done on a first-come, first-served basis. Families bring their kids in along with any equipment from the previous year and are sized for new boots and freshly tuned skis with bindings adjusted by trained professionals. “And if a child grows throughout the season, it is as simple as coming in to swap equipment for new sizes,” Stenson said.
Shops also are building in new incentives for junior lease customers. Through a partnership, Bretton Woods provides any child age 12 and under with a season pass when they lease equipment from Country Ski & Sport. “This has been an awesome opportunity for families to take advantage of our lease program, as well as ski as a family for an affordable price,” Stenson said.
Another incentive awards Country Ski lease participants $20 of credit for each year of participation. This credit can be applied toward the purchase of their adult ski or snowboard package when they grow out of junior equipment. “Many times we see kids exiting the lease program with nine or 10 years of credits built up,” Stenson said. “It’s always fun selling someone their first pair of adult skis, especially when you can remember when they walked through the shop doors to lease skis as a little toddler ready to take on the slopes for the first time.”