Though the start of a real ski season could still be over two months away, it is ski swap time in most mountain towns. I still have a hard time getting my head ’round how expensive these fancy sticks can be, and generally prefer to spend money on trips rather than gear for trips, so swaps can be a fantastic opportunity to save huge amounts of money.

If you know what to look for.

This morning was the Kalispell Ski Club swap, which I’ve not attended before. Erring on the side of caution, I got there an hour early and was among the first ten folks in line. Getting to the Missoula swap an hour early won’t get you in the first hundred. I had high hopes, but unfortunately the KSC swap is like too many; primarily oriented towards downhill area skiing. The XC and BC skis and boots were on one tiny rack in the far corner, and the selection of auxiliary stuff (camping and climbing gear, clothing) was similarly all but non-existent. Nonetheless I lucked out, paying 5 bucks for the Fischer Europa-99s pictured above. 200cm, waxable, sintered base, beefy metal edges, light, and a profile identical to the version still sold today.

My pair are at least 25 years old, so the 65-55-60 profile is evidently a successful one (it’s roughly the same as the popular Madshus Glittertind).  Durability is always a concern with old skis, but these looked to be in outstanding shape.  The bases are much nicer than either of the two much newer skis pictured above, and there is no evidence of water damage or sun fading.  In summary, it pays to do your research, be critical and self-critical during the hectis rush, and perhaps to bring a small ruler to verify dimensions.  I presumed the Europa-99 was the E99, and knew that the dimensions were what I was looking for.  I flexed all our skis in the garage before leaving to freshen my memory; the profile of these skis is a known quantity, but stiffness can make or break a ski.  This pair, either due to age or design, is fairly soft, especially in the tip, a very desirable characteristic for a ski which will be used exclusively in the coldest months of the year (fishscales are better for spring).  They’ll break trail better than a stiffer, and be a bit easier to turn as well.  By contrast the Outbound Crown, above left, is very stiff, much moreso than the E99 or Guide.  This makes the short length (169) workable in firmer snow conditions for someone my weight, and gives them great pop for skating.

Getting a good deal at a ski swap requires prior experience.

While I’m inclined to trust these skis, after a few shorter outings, I do not trust a binding mount I didn’t do myself (or have a very good shop do for me).  In this case, the old 71mm nordic norm bindings won’t fit my boots anyway, so they got binned and the old Rottefellas I acquired for cheap at a used gear shop last year went on.

Removing bindings can be dead simple or rather protracted, depending on the glue used by the person who came before.  I pulled the Rottefellas off the Guides yesterday, in preparation for a rather different experience, and had a helluva time doing so.  Last winter my initial mount of the red Voile Mountaineer bindings to the Outbound Crowns came loose on a trip, and in response to their stripped-out-ness I remounted with a shit-ton of JB Weld.  Which worked well.  I mounted the Rottefellas on the Guides shortly thereafter, and because I was remounting in the same holes, also used JB Weld.  Too much.  The normal epoxy trick of heating each screw with a soldering iron did not work, so I had to use the semi-nuclear option of drilling out the center of the screw with a small drill bit.  Fortunately they all let loose before I had to go full nuclear and, with a larger cobalt bit, drill the head off each screw.

Point being, remove the bindings if it’s at all easy to do so, check the mount, remount with appropriate precautions, and ski with confidence.  I’ve never had to put my ski back together in the BC with branches and Voile straps, and never want to.

Single hole for heel plate.  You are supposed to use esoteric, metric drill bits of different sizes depending on top sheet material.  I drill with a 1/8″ bit, ream 1/3 of the way with a 5mm tap, and round the outer edges (so the hole doesn’t volcano up when the screw sets) with a larger bit (by hand!).

In this case the hole pattern is thankfully the same.  Modern 3 pin bindings have the two rear holes further back.  After I pulled the bindings and heel plates off, I measured and marked the balance point.  The old mount had the pin line 1 cm back.  Not ideal, but not a big enough deal to redrill.  I dry mounted one binding, measured and marked the location of the heal plate, made sure it was centered (their paper template is great), and drilled.  The easiest way to make sure a binding is centered enough is to stick a boot in it and eyeball the heel location.  This one looked good, and the screws felt solid going in, so I put some gorilla glue, snugged the screws, and called it good.

Glue for ski mounts has two functions: keeping water out and helping the screw hold.  Most of the time the second function is not necessary, and thus (IMO, and yes YMMV, etc) in my mind gorilla glue gets the first job done just fine.  Work it into the depths of the hole before inserting the screws.

I did all of the above for the second ski, and got all the way to the boot-centering check before realizing that the back two holes were off, only a little, but enough to make a perceptible difference.

If I had done this ski first I would have redrilled all the holes forward, but I didn’t want to unmount the first ski. Instead I used a 3/32″ bit to ream the holes a bit to the right, and mounted those screws with JB Weld.  I won’t plan on trying to loosen those, ever, but I shouldn’t need to.

Mounting your own ski bindings has a bit of a learning curve, but if I can do it, anyone can.  Seriously, I’ve had to redo a lot of mounts after skiing them and finding myself forced pigeon toed.  Precision is not my strong suit, to put it mildly.  Besides, if someone is going to fuck up my skis I want it to be me.

And as a bonus, you get my new town bike.

20 bucks. Coaster brake. Bent fork from the previous owner. I replaced the saddle and stem with ones from the parts bin. M thinks it looks stupid. I love it. Whitefish has a reputation for bike theft, and I wanted something I could lock up at bars or the bus station without fear.

The best part? It’s my first Huffy.