The Case for Renting Ski Gear

This might be the winter to consider the alternative to buying.

Winter sports can feel downright difficult to pull off smoothly. You’ve got tough winter weather and heaps of gear to transport from one place to the next. (Have you ever tried stuffing a giant ski bag into a too-small rental car before? It’s not recommended.) Want a solution that makes that commute a little bit easier? Rent your gear. 

Yes, REI sells plenty of skis and snowboards—and for some people, especially if you’re riding consistently throughout the season, owning your own gear can absolutely be the way to go. But if you’re only skiing or riding a handful of days per winter or if you’re planning a trip, then renting the heftier winter items like skis and snowboards may alleviate some of the hassle. It can also save you money, offer convenience, help the environment and remove a barrier that might prevent you from planning a trip in the first place.

REI has been renting gear for around 30 years, but for this winter, the co-op will offer a wider range of winter rentals, specifically equipment. In five REI stores—Folsom, California; Salt Lake City, Utah; Dillon and Boulder, Colorado; and North Conway, New Hampshire—skis and snowboards will be available to rent in basic and premium options, as well as boots and poles. 

For backcountry travelers, rental alpine touring gear and splitboards will also be offered at five stores (Salt Lake City, Dillon, Boulder, North Conway and Anchorage, Alaska). (Get educated on avalanche awareness if you’re venturing into the backcountry.)

Nordic skis will be available at 15 stores and snowshoes at 95. A limited number of season-long gear rentals for kids and adults will be available at these seven locations, a great option if you plan on riding throughout the season or if you have kids, who have a habit of growing every year. You can get freshly tuned skis and hang onto them throughout the winter for a fraction of the price of buying—season-long rentals cost $170 for kids, $280 for adults, and that includes skis, boots and poles. The cost for daily rentals vary depending on what you’re getting (a full price list can be found here)

In today’s economy, people are choosing a lifestyle where they don’t necessarily own everything they use. That includes skis.

It used to be that you could only rent ski and snowboard gear that wasn’t the highest quality. Rental programs were oriented mainly toward beginners or kids, and the gear tended to get used heavily. All of that is changing. “It’s not your beat-up rock ski that’s been in the fleet for 10 years,” says Peter Whitcomb, director of new business development and circular economy for REI. “All of the aspects of the customer experience that used to be painful in rentals—we are working to make better.”

Now, there’s rental equipment for every type of skier and rider. “What we’re trying to do is respond to a massive shift of customer behavior to be able to access, rather than own, a product,” says Brad Carnine, rental manager at REI’s headquarters in Kent, Washington. Carnine says the business models of companies like Airbnb and Rent the Runway are examples of “people choosing a lifestyle where they don’t necessarily own everything they use.” 

Renting gear can also help the environment. This comes down to maxing out the lifespan of the equipment. “We think rental skis are built to be used, so we want to bring them to the highest level of their natural life cycle as possible,” says Carnine. “By having them available for everyone, as opposed to having people buy them and use them somewhat sporadically, it’s a less impactful way to put those goods into service.”

Whitcomb is working with REI’s sustainability team to study the impact of renting gear versus owning. “Today, what we know is renting is generally a net good thing, because it keeps that product in use longer and optimizes the usage of that product,” he says.

 Phone and in-person reservations are the primary system for renting at select REI stores while an online reservation system is being developed. Click here for more info on REI’s rental programs.

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