9 Things To Look For When Buying Used Skis (Learned from Experience)

by Travis McCullough | Updated: July 27th, 2023 |  Skiing Articles

Buying used skis is a great way to save money this ski season, especially considering how brand-new pairs can cost well over $1,000. When purchasing second hand skis, it is crucial to check a few specific details to ensure that the ski will perform well and keep you safe. I cover the pros and con's of new vs second-hand at the bottom of this article.

The most important parts of the ski to check are its edges, bases, top sheets, and bindings, if they are present. These are the parts of the ski that take the most wear & tear and can render the ski unrideable if heavily damaged.

Skis sideways

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1. Check The Edges

It is possible to replace sections of the edges of a ski, but it is labor-intensive and expensive.  Replacing a ski’s edges isn’t worthwhile on a used pair of skis, so you will want to ensure they are in solid shape.

Straight Edges

First, make sure that the entirety of the edge is present all the way around the ski, And then ensure that it is straight by looking down the length of the ski. It is most important that there is no damage on the effective edge of the ski, but damage to the edges on the tips or tails could be a sign that the previous owner rode these skis excessively hard or didn't take the best care of them. 

Next, make sure there aren't any visible rust spots on the edges. Surface rust spots can be wiped away, but they are a sign that the skis weren't stored properly. If rust lingers on the edge too long it can begin to eat away at the metal and compromise its integrity. 

Sharpened Too Many Times

Finally, you will want to check how much life is left in the edges by examining their width. A ski's edges can only be sharpened a certain number of times, so you are going to want to make sure that the edges aren't on their last leg. 

You can tell how frequently a ski's edges have been sharpened by comparing their width underfoot versus at the tips and tails. A similar width is a good sign that the skis haven't been tuned too many times and can be resharpened in the future. 

Skier wearing Green Jacket

How Sharp Should An Edge Be?

Having dull edges can make it hard to turn or hold an edge at high speed, so it is important to make sure that they have been adequately sharpened. The best way to check this is with the fingernail test in which your fingernail should scrape away when dragged across the edge. 

2. Examine The Base On Each Ski

The base of the ski comes into contact with the snow when you are riding, so it is essential that they are in good shape. Some scratches and scrapes are unavoidable when skiing, but deep gouges that expose the core must be avoided at all costs.

These core shots allow moisture to seep into the core making it much weaker and prone to breakage.  When moisture gets inside the core, it can expand causing stretching or cracking that will lead to the ski breaking under heavy stress.

Make sure that any blemishes on the bottom of the ski are shallow and as far away from the edges as possible. These blemishes should be filled in with P-tex and covered with wax, so as long as they don't expose the core they aren't harmful. 

Skis Delaminate

3. Scan The Topsheets For Damage

Most people assume that top sheet damage is simply cosmetic, but the top sheets help keep moisture outside of the core, and delamination can actually lead to structural damage within the ski. 

Ensure that the top sheet isn't peeling off the ski, especially where it attaches around the edges. Small chips and scratches are okay, but deep gouges that penetrate towards the core are what we want to avoid. 

You can tell a ski has started to delaminate once the top sheet has been penetrated by looking at the ski from its profile. The ski will appear bulged, and the separate layers of the ski will become visible. 

Be sure to double-check the tips and tails of the ski because this is where they tend to take more damage. These areas tend to be the first that come into contact with rocks or sticks, especially when skiing in powder or the trees. 

4. Inspect The Bindings

Not all used skis will come with bindings, but if they do, they can be a good gauge of how well the skis were cared for. Check to make sure that the basic functions including the brakes work correctly on both bindings, and that they are free from any cracks or bends. 

In my experience, inspecting the bindings is a crucial step when purchasing used skis. My niece bought a pair of skis without thoroughly checking the bindings, only to find out later that they were damaged and needed to be replaced.

Each season most binding manufacturers will release a list of bindings that are supported with parts that meet current safety specifications known as an indemnification list. Don't purchase skis with bindings that aren't on this list because they can no longer be repaired or warrantied by the manufacturer. 

Buying skis without bindings on them is actually advantageous because it allows you to see the entirety of the top sheet and how many times the ski has been drilled for different bindings. A ski can only be redrilled so many times, and each new set of holes makes the ski weaker.

Ski Bindings Concept

5. Look for Brand and Model Reputation

When searching for used skis, the brand and model reputation should be a significant factor in your decision-making process. Established brands with a history of producing high-quality skis are more likely to offer durable and reliable products. Research the brand to understand its reputation in the skiing community and ensure that it is known for producing skis that cater to your skiing style and skill level.

Once you have identified a reputable brand, delve deeper into the specific model you are considering. Look for reviews and testimonials from other skiers who have used the same model to gain insights into its performance, durability, and any potential issues. Keep in mind that some models may be better suited for certain skiing styles, terrains, or skill levels, so it's wise to find a ski brand & model that other skiers rate highly.

6. Assess the Age and Usage of the Skis

Before purchasing used skis, it's crucial to assess their age and usage. Skis that have been heavily used or are more than a few years old may exhibit signs of wear and tear that could affect their performance and durability. Additionally, older skis may not have the latest technology and design features, which can limit your skiing experience and make it harder to improve your skills.

To assess the age and usage of the skis, ask the seller about their history, including when they were purchased and how often they were used. Look for signs of wear and tear, such as scratches, dents, or fading graphics, which can indicate heavy use. Be cautious of skis that have been used for multiple seasons, as they may require more frequent maintenance or repairs.

When evaluating the age of the skis, also consider any advancements in ski technology that have occurred since the skis were manufactured. Newer skis may offer improved performance, safety features, and materials that can enhance your skiing experience. While older skis can still provide an enjoyable skiing experience, you may be missing out on the benefits of newer technology if you opt for an older pair.

skis slide

7. Set a Budget and Compare Prices

Determine a price range that you're comfortable with, keeping in mind that you may need to factor in additional costs, such as bindings, boots, or tune-ups. Having a clear budget will help you narrow down your options.

Once you have established a budget, compare prices from different sellers, including online retailers, local ski shops, and individual sellers. This will help you get a sense of the average price for the skis you're interested in and identify any potential deals. Be cautious of prices that seem too good to be true, as they may indicate a lower-quality product or a scam. Sometimes you do get lucky - just be cautious.

The best time to buy skis is towards the end of the ski season.

When comparing prices, also consider the value that each option offers. For example, a slightly more expensive pair of skis may include bindings or come with a recent tune-up, which could save you money in the long run. By carefully comparing prices and considering the overall value, you can find the best deal for your budget and ensure you get the most out of your next pair of skis.

8. Verify the Seller's Reputation

When purchasing used skis, especially online, it's essential to verify the seller's reputation to minimize the risk of receiving a faulty or misrepresented product. Look for reviews, ratings, or testimonials from previous buyers to determine if the seller is trustworthy and reliable. This will give you confidence in your purchase and help ensure a smooth transaction.

Buying in-person is a great option if you can, but not everyone lives near a retail outlet.

If you're buying from an online marketplace or auction site, check the seller's feedback and history. Look for any red flags, such as a pattern of negative reviews or disputes with buyers. If you're purchasing from a local ski shop or individual seller, ask for references or recommendations from friends or fellow skiers who have had positive experiences with the seller.

In addition to verifying the seller's reputation, be cautious of deals that seem too good to be true. Scammers may offer used skis at extremely low prices to lure in unsuspecting buyers. If a deal seems suspicious or the seller is unwilling to provide information about the skis' condition, it's best to walk away and continue your search. By taking the time to verify the seller's reputation and trustworthiness, you can protect yourself from scams and ensure a successful purchase.

Skis in snow

9. Presence of Tune-ups

When buying a new car, you want to make sure that the owner took care of regular maintenance, like changing the oil. This goes the same for skis, if a pair of skis is in top shape when you buy them it's a good bet that the previous owner took proper care of them. 

The bases should have a fresh machine or hand wax done, and all damage should be filled in with P-tex. The edges should be nice and sharp, passing the fingernail test when touched. 

Don't Focus Only on Aesthetics

Most skiers focus on the quality of the graphics when buying a pair of used skis, but these are purely aesthetic and don’t have any bearing on how the ski will perform on the snow. They can represent how well the previous owner took care of the skis, but they don’t necessarily tell you if the ski will perform well.

Deciding Between New and Second-Hand Skis: Pros and Cons

When shopping for skis, one of the most important decisions you'll need to make is whether to buy new or second-hand skis. Both options have their advantages and drawbacks, and the best choice will depend on your individual needs, preferences, and budget. In this section, we'll explore the pros and cons of each option to help you make an informed decision.

New Skis

New skis offer the advantage of the latest technology and design features, which can improve your skiing experience and help you progress faster - but only if you choose a ski suitably matched to your skill level. Pick wrong and your expensive new ski may be making it much harder for you to progress.

New Skis
  • Latest technology and design features
  • Untouched warranty and support
  • No previous wear and tear
  • Customizable to your preferences
  • Higher initial cost
  • May take time to break in
  • Depreciates in value quickly

New skis can be expensive, and they may take some time to break in before they feel comfortable. The key financial consideration is that new skis (like cars) depreciate in value relatively quickly, so you will lose part of your investment if you decide to sell them later.

a woman is skiing down a snowy hill

Second-Hand Skis

On the other hand, second-hand skis can provide a more affordable option, especially for beginners or occasional skiers who may not need the latest technology. Buying used skis is also more environmentally friendly, as it reduces waste and extends the life of the equipment. However, second-hand skis may have wear and tear, and they may not come with a warranty or support from the manufacturer. It's essential to thoroughly inspect used skis before purchasing them to ensure they are in good condition and will perform well on the slopes.

Second-Hand Skis
  • Lower cost
  • More environmentally friendly
  • Potential for great deals on high-quality skis
  • Good option for beginners or occasional skiers
  • Potential for wear and tear
  • May not have the latest technology
  • Limited warranty and support
  • Requires thorough inspection before purchase

If you're willing to invest in the latest technology and prioritize warranty and support, new skis may be the better choice. However, if you're looking for a more affordable option and are willing to put in the time and effort to find a high-quality used pair, second-hand skis can be a great alternative.

I wrote another article, if you're interested in the pros and cons of renting vs buying.