All the ski shop owners around town hope you've been paying attention to the weather news lately. With snow falling in Oklahoma and Kansas, can snow on the slopes be far behind?
"It's still a little warm here," says Bonnie Sydnor, owner of the Under the Sun Ski Shop in Frederick, "but the ski areas in Colorado have snow already and are opening earlier than usual."
And if the weather's not enough, another reminder of things to come is the seventh annual Baltimore Ski and Travel Show at Festival Hall this weekend, where demonstrations, videos, and chances to shop for fashions and equipment are intended to lure everyone with an interest in the slopes. (See story, page 5D.)
And with less than a month until the traditional skiing season opens, it's time -- even past time -- for serious skiers to start thinking about equipment.
Those who already have their own skis, bindings, boots and poles may think they're all set, but they'll still need yearly maintenance for their equipment.
"It's generally recommended that people take their equipment to their local shop and have them do a performance test," says Sheldon Hyman, director of the Baltimore Ski Club. "That should be done once a year. Now's a good time to do that."
"For somebody who already has their own equipment, the most important thing is to bring in their skis and boots -- get them out of the closet and dust them off and bring them in for a safety check on the bindings, we call it a binding check. Getting the skis ready to go for the season involves sharpening the edges, flat filing the bottoms and waxing the skis," says Gerry Brown, owner of the Ski Shoppe Ltd. on Main Street in Reisterstown.
Because of the relatively high cost of getting outfitted for skiing -- "you can start out for as little as $300 and get all new equipment," says Connie Wintersteen, manager of the Ski Haus and Cycle Works in Glen Burnie -- all of the local dealers recommend you rent equipment the first few times you go skiing. LTC That way you can see whether you really like the sport before investing hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
You can rent them from a number of local ski shops or from shops at the ski area.
You can rent equipment locally to make sure that when you arrive at the ski area you won't find that the rental places don't have the right skis or books for you -- although it's infrequent that that might happen, says Mr. Hyman. "The problem with local rentals is that you have to transport your skis and equipment to the ski area. So you have to balance the peace of mind of having it vs. the effort of getting it there. It walks a fence."
You should never borrow somebody's skis or boots. Adjustments are made to the equipment for the person using it. If you borrow boots or skis, the binding may not be set properly for your weight or skill level.
"If you fall there are forces placed on your bindings and at a certain point they release," Mr. Hyman says. "You want your bindings to release before you get hurt."
The bindings are set for a person's weight and skill level. A small person will have a lower release point than someone who is larger. If a smaller person borrows skis with bindings set for a larger person, the chances of getting hurt are greater.
"Adjustments to the bindings should only be made by a qualified technician," Mr. Hyman adds. "You wouldn't want a plumber operating on your brain."
You can arrange for whole season rentals at some local shops.
If you're ready to buy, the most important thing is to buy at a qualified professional ski shop. "Shop the ski shops and find out who knows the most about skiing," Mr. Brown says.
It's generally considered a good idea to buy everything at once -- boots, skis, bindings and poles. If you just buy skis, you'll have to rent boots, so you'll have to have an adjustment to the bindings every time you go skiing. And some ski areas won't rent one without the other.
There are a broad range of packages available to suit different needs and price ranges. Some stores offer layaway. Others offer free lift tickets or lessons with the purchase of equipment.
Getting a pair of boots that fit well is extremely important, Ms. Sydnor says. "Boots should be snug. The better the fit the more control the skier has over the skis. If someone's wearing a big old pair of boots they've borrowed, they're not going to be able to control their skis and they're not going to like skiing."
Selecting the proper clothing needs just as much attention as selecting skis and boots.
"The worst thing to do is to not be properly dressed for the conditions," Mr. Hyman says. "You do need warm comfortable clothing."
"If somebody goes skiing, nine times out of 10, if they didn't enjoy it, it's because they got cold or they go wet," says Ms. Wintersteen. "People have to learn how to layer properly and dress for the conditions.
One of the most important purchases is a good pair of long underwear, she continues. She recommends the new generation polypropylene with a hollow core. "Thermax is one of the brand names," she says. "It can wick away moisture but with the hollow core, it can insulate as well."
Many people want silk, thinking it's the best because it's the most expensive, she adds. But silk is best for people who are very active.
For women, pantyhose or nylons are not good substitutes for long underwear. They hold in moisture and don't protect you from the wind.
Mittens are better than gloves when the weather is very cold. And a hat is also a basic for keeping warm.
Don't be intimidated by the high cost of some ski clothing. "I've seen people ski in blue jeans and sweaters," Mr. Hyman says. "The most important thing is to be outside and enjoy yourself."