By Bonnie MacPherson
Like the first robin of spring or the initial blaze of orange on a maple tree when autumn approaches, it is the annual ski swap that is the harbinger of winter in Vermont’s ski country. In Ludlow, it’s the Okemo Mountain School Ski and Snowboard (OMS) Swap that heralds the approach of ski season.
Primarily, a ski swap is a consignment sale of used snowsports gear: skis, snowboards, bindings, boots, poles, helmets and accessories. The OMS Ski Swap is a three-day sale scheduled to take place in Okemo’s Roundhouse at the Jackson Gore base area on Nov. 18-20.
The sale specializes in alpine and racing-specific gear, but also includes new surplus equipment and soft goods: outerwear, base layers, gloves, hats, goggles and more. People who want to sell equipment can drop it off during designated times. A portion of the sale price, 25% goes to Okemo Mountain School, and the remainder is mailed to sellers in the form of a check a few weeks after the swap. According to OMS Head of School Mariel Meringolo, the sale nets between $20,000 and $30,000, and benefits the OMS operating budget.
“This fundraiser allows us to attract and retain great teachers and coaches and purchase equipment for the school,” said Meringolo. “It also helps us keep tuition affordable and offer scholarships.”
Okemo has been hosting a ski swap since the late 1970s. It began as a fundraiser to help support the mountain’s ski patrol that was made up mostly of volunteers. Following changes in resort ownership and the staffing structure of ski patrol over the following two decades, the ski swap was offered as a fundraiser to Okemo Mountain School.
The original location of the sale was the ground floor of Okemo’s Clock Tower Base Lodge. It eventually grew to include the mezzanine level. In 2019, the OMS Ski Swap relocated to the Roundhouse at Okemo’s Jackson Gore base area. The sale fills the entire ground floor public space and half of the mezzanine level.
“Another evolution of the Ski Swap took place about 15 years ago,” said Meringolo. “People were interested in donating items — not selling on consignment. That has been really big for us, growing the event and increasing the amount of money we raise each year.”
Planning a multi-day, winter-sports-gear consignment sale is no small task. The process begins in June each year. Meringolo lead the project for many years. When her role as head of school expanded, she relinquished much of the event planning to OMS Development and Fundraising Coordinator Kate Foster. Early planning includes save-the-date notifications to vendors. In addition to local ski shops, OMS works with several groups who secure product for the Ski Swap through the purchase of surplus inventory, retired rental fleets or inventory liquidation. By October and early November, the focus shifts to publicity — getting the word out about the event through advertising, community calendar listings, printed flyers and through digital outlets like social media. When consignment drop-off days arrive, students, parents, teachers and coaches help with tagging, organizing and storing equipment. Just prior to the sale, they help set up the event and move the gear into place. During the Ski Swap, volunteers, including Okemo Competition Center staff members, program participants and their families, work four-hour shifts over the course of three days. Each shift is covered by 10 to 15 volunteers. Staff members from local ski shops Totem Pole Ski Shop, Northern Ski Works and The Boot Pro assist with breakdown and cleanup of the event.
“There are always unexpected bumps along the way,” said Meringolo, “but the event is a well-oiled machine compared to 20 years ago.”
Okemo Vice President and General Manager Bruce Schmidt is pleased that the Ski Swap continues to mark the approach of the ski season at the resort, and that it helps promote skiing and riding inclusivity and affordability. “The OMS Ski Swap is an important event which helps raise funds for a great organization while also offering options for skiers and riders in the region to purchase new or slightly used equipment for themselves and their families,” said Schmidt. “Okemo is proud to support OMS and the Ski Swap with the donation of the Roundhouse, as well as set-up support and other logistics that we offer between Mariel and our team.”
For those with equipment to sell, drop-off is in Okemo’s Roundhouse at Jackson Gore. Consignment drop-off times are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 12, Sunday, Nov.13, and Wednesday, Nove.16. Only gently used skis, snowboards, boots and bindings less than seven years old will be accepted.
The Okemo Mountain School Ski Swap is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 18, from 4 to 7 p.m. (early access is available from 3 to 4 p.m. for a $5 admission fee, or free for Okemo employees); Saturday, Nov. 19, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 20, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Okemo Mountain School, located in Ludlow, is a non-profit educational institution dedicated to the academic and athletic development of serious snow sports athletes. Student athletes are given the opportunity to train in alpine ski racing, snowboarding, and freestyle skiing, while pursuing a rigorous course of academic study.
More information is available at okemomountainschool.org.