Cheap Meets Eco-Chic on the Ski Slopes

Around the time the first flurries of snow begin to dust the slopes in Aspen, Colo., Amiee White Beazley, a writer and mother of two teenagers based in nearby Basalt, hits the area’s annual ski swap, a fall pop-up sale for used and discounted snow apparel and gear with a festival feel.

“The ski bum mentality is always, ‘Never pay retail,’” she said. “That changes with age, money and access, of course, but most people here still live by it.”

While ski swaps are a time-honored tradition in many mountain communities, online dealers of used alpine gear — including boots, jackets, skis and snowboards — are growing, expanding the resale practice to a wider virtual audience, enticing newcomers to try snow sports at bargain prices and promoting recycling in an era of climate-changed snow totals.

“Outdoor items are expensive, and they last a long time,” said Aaron Provine, the president of Geartrade, an e-commerce reseller of outdoor gear based in Salt Lake City. Geartrade listings are up 72 percent year-to-date over 2021 — which was itself a record-breaking year — and sales are up 50 percent during the same time period.

“Resale really allows and promotes the ability to tinker with your gear or get into a new activity affordably,” he added.

Purging closets

The boom in outdoor sports during the pandemic — when getting outside provided a respite from lockdown restrictions — has come full circle now as then-newcomers dump gear they purchased for activities they didn’t end up loving or seek to upgrade introductory kits.

“There was a lot of purge behavior,” said Barruch Ben-Zekry, the founder of Out & Back Outdoor, a resale platform where goods average 50 percent off original retail prices. “People were literally stuck in their homes and tired of this stuff ever-present in their day-to-day.”

Launched in December 2019, Out & Back Outdoor didn’t fully get off the ground until after pandemic restrictions began to ease. By February 2021, the Denver-based online marketplace was filled with goods by the North Face, Patagonia and Arc’teryx across a spectrum of outdoor endeavors.

Ski and snowboard enthusiasts known to regularly change their gear help supply the secondary market, allowing buyers to try a new activity like backcountry skiing at a lower cost.

“We’ve found that the products are so high-quality and engineered for success for the purpose they were built for that they have tremendous life span,” Mr. Ben-Zekry said. “By and large, people don’t use them to their fullest extent. That leaves a tremendous amount of value.”

In some cases, snow sports enthusiasts were pushed to secondhand gear by a lack of new options available.

“Due to disruptions in supply chains across categories, some high-end gear was difficult to source new,” wrote Kelly Davis, the director of research at Outdoor Industry Association, a trade association, in an email. “Core participants who could not find the new product they needed but had to replace worn-out gear turned to secondhand.”

Resale gear doesn’t seem to significantly affect sales of new gear. According to retail analysts at the NPD Group, sales of outdoor goods, including equipment, apparel, footwear and accessories, grew 25 percent last year compared with 2019 totals.

“Because secondhand gear often fosters participation early in the learning journey of outdoor pursuits like bicycling, skiing, backpacking, fishing, et cetera, those participants are more likely to stay in the market longer, resulting in far more lifetime spending on outdoor recreation experiences,” Ms. Davis added.

Riding the secondhand wave

Whether driven by economics or eco-consciousness, thrifting is having a moment. A 2022 resale report from ThredUp, a secondhand e-commerce site, estimates that secondhand sales in the United States grew a record 32 percent last year.

Companies that promote outdoor recreation have long grappled with their contribution to consumerism and waste. In 2011, Patagonia famously published a Black Friday ad in The New York Times headlined, “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” which supported conscious buying and greener products, explaining that “it’s folly to assume that a healthy economy can be based on buying and selling more and more things people don’t need.”

After years of holding pop-up resale events, Patagonia introduced its Worn Wear program, selling used Patagonia goods and apparel online, in 2017. A used men’s Snowshot Jacket in “great condition,” which would have retailed for $399 when it was new, was recently listed on the site for $266.

The outdoor retailer REI Co-op held resale “garage sales” events in its stores for about 60 years before instituting its trade-in program and e-commerce site for used gear, known as Re/Supply, in 2020. It now also has brick-and-mortar resale stores in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Conshohocken, Pa.

“We see re-commerce as a significant opportunity for us to continue to evolve our commercial business model in the service of meeting our 2030 climate targets,” including reducing carbon emissions by 55 percent, said Ken Voeller, the divisional vice president of circular commerce at REI. “On average, selling a used item saves roughly 50 percent of the carbon associated with selling a comparable new product.”

The company’s trade-in program to recycle used gear and apparel — which must be an item REI formerly carried, though it does not necessarily need to have been purchased there — issues sellers a store credit. The trade-in business is on track to double this year.

Though REI’s biggest resale category is camping gear, interest in winter categories is up double digits percentage-wise this year. Recently, the site listed insulated Burton snow pants for women, which originally cost $200 new, at about $96 used.

“We see the used offering as a way to lower the price barrier to entry to getting people outside,” Mr. Voeller said.

Last year, Eddie Bauer launched (Re)Adventure, offering rental gear. This year, it added resale goods taken from store returns, which are priced at 20 to 60 percent below original prices for hiking and camping apparel and gear. Consumers can also rent items with an option to buy. A women’s down parka, originally $209, was recently available to rent for $8 a day, or to buy for $115.

Learning the resale ropes

When Bob Varga’s fiancée wanted to get rid of Spyder ski pants she was no longer using, he decided to give Out & Back Outdoor a try.

“I was just going to give it to Goodwill,” but Out & Back offered $40 or $50, said Mr. Varga, a Denver-based skier who works in medical sales. Using a prepaid shipping label from the service, he mailed the pants and received cash through an online transfer. (A new partnership with the retailers Dick’s Sporting Goods and Public Lands also allows sellers to drop their used gear at those brick-and-mortar stores.)

Curious what the pants would sell for, Mr. Varga kept checking the site, eventually finding them several months later priced around $80.

“They’re not making a ton of money on it, but the process was super easy,” he said.

Those scrolling for winter gear will find that availability can be spotty. Out & Back Outdoor plans to add skis and snowboards to its inventory this year, but free of bindings to avoid liability. It does not carry used ski boots because they are hard to clean.

REI carries used clothing and ski boots, but won’t sell any skis or snowboards that have had bindings mounted.

Geartrade, which acts as a consignment shop and allows direct seller-to-buyer transactions, deals in equipment, including skis. Recently, a pair of women’s DPS skis with demonstration bindings listed in good condition, which originally sold for $1,324, was priced at about $500.

As with any kind of thrift shopping, the trick is finding something in your size or color preference.

“You’re dealing with people’s closets, not a factory in Asia,” Mr. Ben-Zekry said.

Search filters at least make the needle more prominent in the haystack.

Sustainable shopping

The convenience of buying used gear may help attract newcomers to winter sports, where participation was largely flat over the past two years, according to Snowsports Industries America, a nonprofit trade association.

“You don’t go to Pebble Beach for your first round of golf,” said Nick Sargent, the president of S.I.A., referring to the prestigious golf course. “You go to a secondhand sports store for clubs and a local nine-holer. It’s the same with ski and snowboard.”

For families, the resale market shrinks the investment required to outfit a child who may need another size in the same season.

Most resellers say younger shoppers are driving the resale trend.

“People are getting squeezed and the ability of the younger generation to afford their own home has gone backwards,” Mr. Provine of Geartrade said. “One thing that remains consistent is that the outdoors are good for your psyche and mental health and people are looking for affordable ways to do it.”

For that cohort, keeping useful gear out of landfills is a priority when the recycling rate for textiles is below 15 percent, according to a 2018 analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“My older son, his generation is into thrifting and vintage gear for the environment,” said Ms. Beazley, the ski-swap shopper, referring to her 17-year-old. “We used to do it because it was cheaper. The environmental side just became important to the whole culture of doing this in the last five to 10 years.”

Elaine Glusac writes the Frugal Traveler column. Follow her on Instagram @eglusac.

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