I’ve often wondered how people can afford to ski. Between lift passes, apparel, skis, boots, travel, and food, it’s pretty easy to drop a ton of money. And as expensive as it is for one person, it can get really pricey when an entire family’s involved.

Luckily, there are lots of ways to save money. And one of the best is to buy used gear at ski swaps. You may not end up with the newest stuff out there, but if you know what to look for, you could end up with some great gear.

That’s the key: knowing what to look for.  Throwing good money into bad equipment won’t save you anything at all. So here are a few things you can do to help navigate the ski swap jungle:

Know where it came from: It helps if you know the person who owned the equipment, or at least how much it was used. Some people buy stuff, use it only a few times, and decide it’s not for them. Others may beat the daylights out of a ski before they decide to let it go. So if you can, find out how many ski days it had before it ended up at the swap.

Give it the old eyeball test. This is pretty simple. If it looks bad, it probably is. A few cosmetic scratches on the topsheet are no big deal. But if the ski is bent, if there are gouges out of the base, walk away.

How’s the camber?  Camber is the bend of the ski that puts spring in your turn. In conventional skis, it’s the upward arch formed from tip to tail when the ski is on the ground. Some skis made from 2009 on  have little or no camber, so it’s important to know if the skis had it to start with. In a conventional ski, you can check for camber by placing it horizontally on a flat surface. The ski should stand up on its tip and tail, with a slight lift or arch under the binding. A matched pair of skis should show an equal amount.

Check the edges: Do this as if you were sighting a rifle. The edges should be straight. You don’t want to see bulges, dents, gaps, or looseness where the steel edges attach, or rust that goes through the edges into the wall or base of the ski. You’ll also want to hold the ski bases together and press the camber out, making sure contact remains all the way up the skis to the shovel. Slide the skis past each other sideways, base to base. They should  slide smoothly. If there’s a brief slide, with “click-click” noises, the steel edges may be “railed,” or projecting below the base. A base re-grind by a ski shop can cure this.

Is there any delamination (layer separation) between the ski cap and steel edge, or top plate and sidewall? This can allow moisture to infiltrate the core. You don’t want it.

Are there any gouges? If there are any on the top sheet that go into the core, walk away. Gouges on the base  that don’t go through the ptex can probably be repaired.

How dry is the base?  If the base has a gray or whitish dry look, it’s most likely oxidized. This means that the base is prematurely old and won’t take new wax very well.  This will compromise the glide, as well as your own safety.  It can also mean that the previous owner didn’t care for the skis very well. You can also determine dryness by bending or flexing the ski, and then placing your ear near the bottom of the ski.  If you hear crackling, it means that the bottom is dry and brittle due to lack of care and poor storage. Walk away.

Bindings: Each year binding manufacturers provide ski shops with a list of “indemnified” bindings, which are bindings that are still considered safe. Generally, bindings with shiny metal or leashes are obsolete. Streamlined, colorful, composite bindings are modern. Even bindings considered “safe” should be inspected. You want to be sure that there are no cracks, loose parts, or loose mounting screws. Make sure the DIN settings are the same in the front and back. If not, the spring may be tired. A general rule is do not ski on bindings more than five years old, or that look like they have seen better times. Never ski on used bindings without having a proper release check performed at a ski shop.

Happy hunting, and happy saving!