Winter Sports

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Baggage Fees Create New Market for Rental, Shipment of Ski Equipment

27 Jan, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Everyone hates airline baggage fees.

Everyone, that is, except those who stand to benefit, namely ski and snowboard rental shops, and equipment shipping companies. And the economies of both have made a quantum leap forward in the last few years.

While skiers and snowboarders whose livelihood depends on competition will continue to travel with their gear, the rest of the world (meaning the vast majority of ski area tourists, those whose visits propagate the snow sports industry) have been forced into a paradigm shift.

The advent of baggage fees and weight limits saw vacationers paying hundreds of dollars round trip to bring their skis or boards as an oversized or overweight second checked bag on the airplane. Bulky clothing was bad enough, adding extra pounds to suitcases. Throw a boot bag into the mix and you might as well look for a bank to approve a loan, they said, jokingly.

And that made the time ripe for the growth of two industries, both of which will be something with which sports event organizers will have to familiarize themselves.

One option, renting gear slopeside, suddenly became far more appealing, particularly since ski and snowboard shops were offering skiers the opportunity to demo the newest and most advanced equipment. It also created a market for those who were willing to shop around can find lower prices, and in most cases, book their skis online and receive a discount for doing so.

According to Steamboat Today, National Ski Areas Association president Michael Berry actually thanked a group of airline industry managers in 2012 for the baggage fees.

“I know it’s something you don’t get kudos about often,” Berry said. “But baggage fees have had significant positive impact on our business metric.”

Although Berry was laughing at the time, he wasn’t kidding about the revenues the fees have indirectly routed to resort operators and independent ski shops.

“The growth of (rentals of) high-end demos has been huge,” Berry said. “We’ll rent you the right ski for the right day, and not only that, we’ll deliver it to your condominium. You’ll never have to touch them except when you drag them out to the snow.”

Renting equipment creates flexibility. If a skier wants to enjoy steep, groomed runs one day, and bumps or deep powder the next, he or she can swap out equipment as needed. And if equipment malfunctions or breaks, the rental company is responsible for supplying a replacement.

The second industry that has seen a boom has been that of equipment-specific shipping. Those who don’t want to leave their gear behind can always ship it directly to their destination. Private companies, often known as luggage concierge services, have sprung up to ship snowboards, skis, boots, poles and anything else a customer wants moved from point A (home) to point B (the mountain), whether the destination is domestic or international. Other sports where gear shipment has exploded include golf, waterskiing, SCUBA and anything else where vacationers are reluctant to pay baggage fees. Some companies are even offering to ship regular luggage, touting their costs as less than those of the airlines. UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service are also in the mix, offering deals.

Some airlines are fighting back, offering upgrades to service that allows passengers to travel with more luggage at a lower cost. But as restrictions tighten, and as some airlines even raise baggage fees during high-demand periods (thanks but no thanks, Spirit and Frontier), equipment rentals and shipment will become the wave of the future.

Already organizers of ski trips, diving vacations and more are providing advance information about rental companies, as well as shipment services. In many cases, working with a vendor in advance can net discounts for users and rebates for the sports event owner and can create lasting relationships, particularly when events have signed multi-year contracts with destinations.

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