Fall is a great time to score gear bargains -- but not on the stuff you might expect.
Go searching for fabulous end-of-season deals on bike gear, and you may be disappointed. Sure, you'll find discounted jerseys and odd-size shoes, but bikes themselves aren't cheap right now: 2012 models are shipping as I write, so the only rigs retailers are eager to unload are discontinued models.
That's not necessarily a bad thing: If you actually prefer the current bike to the overhauled version that's about to replace it (maybe you don't want carbon chainstays or a slacker head-tube angle), you stand to save big.
The best deals are on ski and snowboard gear, even though winter is still some months away. According to Jeff Ehring, Vice President & General Merchandise Manager for Specialty Sports Ventures (SSV), stores such as Colorado Ski & Golf and Peak Sports are selling winter gear at 30 to 70 percent off list price (which is as low as you'll find at the end of the year).
Colorado Ski & Golf also offers an unconditional guarantee: If you're not happy with the ski or snowboard you buy from them, they'll make it right by tweaking the setup or replacing it. That means you can buy
boards now -- and not worry about being disappointed when you finally get to use them.
Fall's huge sell-off events also offer attractive bargains. At Vail Resorts-owned shops such as Boulder Ski Deals and Keystone Sports, the Labor Day ski sales last one more weekend (Sept. 18 is the final day for super-sale pricing). After that, two massive expo sales -- November 4-6 in Denver and November 11-13 in Santa Clara, Calif. -- offer more discounts. That's because SSV actually buys gear specifically for these expos -- and the company's purchasing power is enormous.
"Among our vendors, we're usually one of the top five accounts," explains Ehring. For example, SSV bought up scads of K2 skis, and is offering them at particularly low prices this season.
But expos can be overwhelming, and the excitement of spotting killer deals can lure you into buying gear you don't need, or that isn't right for you. Before you shop, make a list of your wants and needs -- and only pull the trigger when the bargains you find match items on your list.
If you have time, do some preliminary research online to get familiar with the products you'll see on sale. And definitely use the on-site sales people: Retailers and manufacturers' own sales reps can tell you plenty about skis, boards, bindings and boots. Also, get details on what the product excels at, and compare that against your own habits (if those low-priced skis love powder and you never leave the hardpack, pass them by).
Online shopping is another option, since web retailers also offer deep discounts. But, Ehring says, "Most people want to touch and feel it first." If that's you, ask your shop to match the web price you saw.
Adds Ehring, "As long as it's in stock at the competition, we'll match it."
-- Kelly Bastone