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Salt Lake City Weekly Fast, Cheap & Out In the Snow

Need gear? Get it used.

By Bill Frost

DECEMBER 1, 1997:  The same dilemma pops up every year: You have little spare scratch, yet you must ski! Or snowboard, or whatever else you powder freaks do.

You see, the Winterize issue presents special challenges to some writers who are forced to churn out copy concerning the local Olympic hobby. Some people believe that going out into the winter climes on purpose is, well, insane. To some of us, snow is just something you scrape off of your car before you venture out for a double mocha latte and a parmesan bagel.

Returning home from the living white hell out there, some of us take that urban K-ration, huddle in front of the tube, and wait to see if that loon Eubank is wearing the white jacket again tonight. We believe that snow is evil and wrong, and our experience with skiing and such doesn't stretch much beyond seeing Hot Dog: The Movie on cable 117 times. But, when thrillseekers are lining up at state line and throwing money at you, you just have to roll with it.

That said, let's make a long trek back to the original point: Buying all that skiing and snowboarding gear doesn't have to drain the bank account — get it used.

Buying used gear isn't something that comes to mind when you're starting out in the glamorous world of winter sports, but the stuff worked last year — or, in some cases, 10-20 years ago — so why not now? It's not as if the snow has become more high-tech in the past 12 months, right? Hans and Lars may scoff at you out there on the slopes as they swoosh by on their designer rigs, but who cares? You'll have the smug satisfaction of knowing that you got a deal, something that those damned foreigners will never understand.

Now, where do you go? Ski swaps are a good start, but they have that fly-by-night, garage-sale vibe about them. Pawn shops aren't much different, but at least there's a 50-50 chance they'll still be there next weekend. Of course, you may not be: Remember that VCR you bought at the pawn shop? The one that jammed and caught fire when you tried to tape Jerry Springer with it? Now, imagine that same point-of-sale care and accountability when you're shooting down a mountainside at 75 m.p.h. Scary, eh? But, that's the kind of live-on-the-edge, spit-in-the-face-of-death kind of sportsman you are.

For an area that promotes this kind of winter insanity, there aren't many places that sell used skiing and snowboarding equipment. We threw a dart into the phone book — or "Dex," as we refer to it here — and wound up at Play It Again Sports. They have three locations in the valley, but they're not the only place selling used sporting gear; there's also Active Sports Recycling in Sugar House.

We managed to bribe some poor sucker into posing with assorted gear while we snapped wacky pictures of him — all it took was $5 and an advance copy of John Harrington's new Christmas book. What you see in the photo is a near-complete representation of what Play It Again Sports has in realm of used winter parphenalia: Snowboards, averaging between $149 and $250; skis, from $39 to $169; boots, from $15 to $250; poles, from $6 to $25; goggles, $10 to $25.

You may notice that there's also some hockey stuff in there: This was purely to make the shot look cool, even though hockey is, technically, a winter sport. And, although some skiers and snowboarders do wear helmets, they don't usually wear bicycle helmets, as the geek pictured here is.

Used clothing isn't available, but would you really want it? Sure, maybe you could find the pants that Tony Danza racked himself up in, giving him a condition that eventually caused him to star in bad, quickly-canceled sitcoms (yeah, that's the reason), but chances of that are as slim as Hot Dog: The Movie NOT turning up on cable this weekend.

Snowshoeing: The Gathering, by Cheryl Fox

Something about snowshoeing always conjures images of a solitary mountain man trudging through drifts of snow, deep in some remote wilderness. He bends low against the snow-filled wind, ice crusted in his scraggly beard and shaggy, bearskin coat.

A sound snaps the winter silence, and he turns to see not some raving, wild beast but a happy group of showshoers out for a day of exercise in winter's magic landscape.

These days, snowshoeing is accessible to almost anybody. High-tech, light-weight designs allow people to buy snowshoes specifically made for their preferred activity, from extended backcountry excursions to trail running. Likewise, new fibers allow us to workout without becoming encased in sweat-soaked wool. Even better, we no longer have to go it alone. A variety of commercial and non-profit organizations now provide group tours into the winter wilds around Salt Lake City.

The Wasatch Mountain Club has been organizing trips into the Wasatch since the 1920s. Larry Nilssen, the club's current snowshoe coordinator, says they plan to offer at least four snowshoe excursions each week through the winter. Vince DeSimone, a leader for many of the club's trips, notes that snowshoeing "is almost becoming more popular among club members than crosscountry skiing."

The reason is the simplicity of snowshoeing. As Tom Cammermeyer of the Park City-based Norwegian School of Nature Life puts it, "Anybody can do it. Skiing seems to take a little more time to learn."

People enjoy snowshoeing in groups for a number of reasons: At the Norwegian School of Nature Life, the guides focus the group's attention on nature and our impact upon it. The school's motto, Friluftslif — or "open-air life" — translates to a program that encourages their four Cs: Communication, consideration, cooperation and commitment, rather than stress and competition.

Sigi Verhalen, who offers tours through her mountain biking and hiking operation, Sport Touring Ventures, says, "Snowshoeing is more fun [than skiing] because you can bushwhack through trees. You also tend to stay away from steep, avalanche slopes, whereas in skiing, you're looking for open slopes."

She notes that many people in her tours find others with similar abilities. "People make friends, get to know others who enjoy the sport, and can then form a group of their own."

Sigi also points out that while anyone can do the sport, it is still excellent aerobic exercise.

Larry Nilssen notes that the Wasatch Mountain Club makes "provisions to introduce people to the sport if they're unsure." By offering so many trips throughout the season, the club provides opportunities for people to explore areas they might not know about otherwise.

Whatever the ability level, Nilssen says that, "You tend to get a compatible group: a bunch of exercisers who like to do the lunatic fringe stuff" or a group who prefer a more gentle adventure.

Echoing this sentiment, Vince DeSimone remembers the group of six to 12 people who regularly participated in weekly snowshoe excursions last winter. They all had similar abilities and a similar desire to do some pretty aggressive stuff.

Everyone agrees that, despite the simplicity of snowshoeing, it remains a great aerobic workout. You generally don't go as far as you would if you were just hiking. For Larry Nilssen, however, that isn't a drawback. "It's a very athletic event. I do it just to get out in the winter. Since I lost all the cartilage in my knee, I can't bend enough to ski well. For people who have had injuries, snowshoeing is a good way to stay active in winter."

Nilssen also reminds us that there's more to it than a workout. "Being in deep powder snow in a pine forest on a dimly lit winter afternoon can be a very spiritual experience. It's quiet. With high-tech stuff, you can be warm and dry while the world around you is wet and cold and blowy." u

For more information, call the Wasatch Mountain Club at 801-463-9842. All trips are free and membership is not necessary.

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