Anyone who’s been on a ski holiday without their own equipment will have experienced the overcrowded, stress and hustle of a ski rental shop.
A coach-load of you arrive, exhausted from your journey, and, before you even reach your catered chalet, you’re herded into a ski shop and from then on you’re on a convey-belt of boot fitting, ski selection and pole and helmet sizing.
Often being assisted by very stressed, slightly intolerant rental staff, at no point in the process do you feel like your own personal choice or preferences are taken into account. Out you come at the other end, usually with skis you don’t want, boots that don’t fit and a helmet which makes you look like you’re wearing a bucket on your head.
Take Back Control
There is another way. The trick is to remember that you are actually the customer, and what you want does count for something! Of course it’s hard to do this when there’s a queue of six other families behind you, all waiting to get their kids and themselves kitted out, and tutting if you take too long. So consider, instead, letting the crowds go first.
I discovered this little trick because my family is so hopelessly disorganised we never reach anywhere on time. We turned up late at the hire shop and were the only people there, the staff had calmed down after the initial rush and were suddenly happy to talk about the ‘right skis’ and ‘well fitting boots’. Another option is to avoid the rental shop entirely when you arrive, head straight to your catered chalet and wait until the morning to get your equipment, when again the shop will be quieter.
Let’s face it, ski boots aren’t the most comfortable things in the first place – but you really don’t want to make matters worse by accepting ill-fitting ones. The ski boot is your connection to your skis, if they’re too big (i.e. your foot can move around inside them) then you will have less control of your skis and skiing will be considerably harder.
When you first put your foot in a ski boot, your toes should touch the end. If they don’t, the chances are the boot is too big. Then when it is done up, your heel should be pushed back into the boot so that the toe no longer touches.
A few years ago in a ski resort I invested in a pair of supportive insoles, which I now move from rental boot to rental boot and I find it gives much more control and, even more importantly, substantially better comfort.
It can be hard for beginners to make informed choices about skis, but the one thing everyone can do is to be very honest about their experience level and then check and recheck with the rental staff that the skis they are giving you are appropriate to you.
In ski hire, honesty is definitely the best policy. For years I was very ‘British’ about my skiing level, modestly claiming to be less good than I was – it is no surprise therefore that I was given slow, short skis. Others err the other way and claim to be better than they are and end up on very fast, longer skis that they can’t control.
Of course, another way to avoid the rush and get a good deal is to sort out your ski hire online before you even arrive at the resort. While others rush to the tour operator’s hire shop, you can then wander off to your chosen shop and be back at your catered chalet while they’re still queuing. The other benefit of booking online in advance is that you can shop around for the best deals, many shops offering serious discounts for advanced bookings.
My final word of advice would be: always take equipment back that you’re not happy with. If you find your skiing level has declined or your boots hurt, don’t suffer in silence – these are things which can ruin your precious skiing holiday. Most shops will happily exchange skis and boots and you might find you’re an even better skier than you thought.
Belinda Smythson works for Ski Amis, a specialist ski travel agency and booking service that has been helping avid skiers craft their perfect winter holiday for over a quarter of a century. If you’re looking for the best catered chalet deals in the Three Valleys, Paradiski, Espace Killy or Chamonix Valley, Ski Amis is the go-to company for winter sports fans searching for the holiday of a lifetime.