There are two things I always do at the start of a new season, first I kick the season off right with a great ski film, and second I always go to one of the large snow expos to gear up for the season ahead. This year I will be attending Snow Jam in San Diego. Having visited these enough times in the past I have the process down to somewhat of a science. And while there are no guarantees you will get everything you want at these shows, I have put together a few tips to help improve the chances you will walk out happy, and with some great new gear.
Tip #1: Take inventory of what you need. Prior to attending the expo, take a good inventory of what you actually need. This is a great time of year to do it, both your clothing and equipment have been in storage for almost half a year, and while it may have been packed away in good condition, it may not be that way once you take it out again. Get a list together of what you actually need to buy before the new season.
Tip #2: Do some research. Now that you have your list of what you need, start your research. These expos are usually selling clothing and equipment from the prior season. If you are looking for the absolute newest of new, you are probably not going to find what you are looking for, however, if you are ok with last year's models, and saving a good deal of money, then an expo is just the thing to attend. The shows won't have every model from last year, so you need options, and doing research is critical to providing you these options. For example, if you are looking for a good all mountain ski, go to last year's gear guide, pick out four models that you believe would be a good option for you, and go to the show with these four options in mind. You have no idea what will be offered at the expo so going with more options improves your chance of success. I think four is a good number too, you will more than likely get one of your options. The other important need for research is to determine pricing. While these shows do offer you a good savings, many online sites now offer deep discounts too, so with a good sense of competitive pricing you enter the expo armed with the right info to make the right decisions.
Tip #3: Get there early. Now that your research is complete and you have a list of options, it's time to head to the show – but get there early! Early means the first day of the show. Most expos are several days long, and the longer you wait to attend the show, the slimmer your options are when you do get there. Early also means, early on the first day. The first day of the show, there is more product, more options, and everything is a little more orderly, meaning you can actually navigate the floor and see where everything is, so you can plan your approach to get what you want. As the show goes on, things have been picked through and it starts to look like a battlefield. I can't stress this point enough – if you want the best options, get there early.
Tip #4: Beware of the goods, and the help. This tip actually sounds a little more ominous than it actually is, but the first point is to pay attention to what you are buying. All of the product that is on the floor at the expo has, more than likely, been at a retail space for an entire season prior; and, in addition, it has somehow made its way to the expo. That is a lot of time on shelves, in storage, in transit, and who knows what else. It does not mean these products are no good, it means you need to be diligent when deciding what to buy. Here are a few things to keep in mind, outside of just the cosmetic check for dings and scratches: 1) for skis – make sure the serial numbers (located on the top sheet, or sidewall, at about mid-point) are the same, and that both skis are the same size; 2) for boots – make sure both are the same size, also check for serial or sku numbers when possible to make sure these are the same; and 3) for clothing – try it all on, the labels may be inaccurate for sizing.
The second point to Tip #4 is to beware of the help when trying to get product knowledge or expertise. Most of the people that are working at the expos are there to help – help direct traffic, help with checkout, help with keeping the expo orderly. These people, while they may be winter sports enthusiasts, are not product experts. Again, this is where your research will seriously pay off. If you know what you are looking for prior to walking in the door you are that much ahead of the masses trying to get the same deal you are. However, if you are looking for product knowledge, there are some company representatives around on the floor to help. You can usually find them with their company badge on, and these are the people to get assistance from for product knowledge. They are scarce and usually in high demand, so be patient.
Tip #5: Remember the swag. Expos offer a lot of swag – lift tickets, discounts on travel and lodging, branded promotions and a lot more. So make sure you make an effort to get it! At the very least, if you don't end up buying anything, and you walk out with the swag, your ticket price for admission will have been worth it.
Expos can be a great way to get some quality gear at great pricing. If you do the research, attend the show, and don't end up finding what you are looking for, remember there are a lot of great deals to be found on the web. Also, it's a fun way to start the season, the energy around a bunch of likeminded winter sports enthusiasts is palpable – so have fun!
Enjoy the ride!