The Sharing Economy Meets the Ski World

Thanks to a crop of new share-friendly gear sites—essentially, Airbnb for outdoor gear—you can now leave your ski bag at home

Here’s the concept. You’ve booked a ski trip someplace awesome and maybe you don’t own ski gear or maybe you just don’t want to schlep your overstuffed ski bag to some remote, snowy corner of the country. So you decide to rent. But nowadays, you’re not stuck with just low-end, dinged-up rentals from the corner ski shop.

Because in our modern, share-friendly economy, you can now rent things like Patagonia jackets and pants, Burton gloves, and Zeal goggles from a website that’ll deliver the goods to your door and you can borrow a pair of nearly-new powder skis from a guy’s garage in Jackson Hole or Telluride.

In the age of hitching a ride from the airport on Uber and renting a spare room on Airbnb, the share economy has officially arrived in the world of outdoor gear. But still, questions remain: The idea of it all sounds convenient, timesaving, and appealing, but does it actually work? I decided to find out by testing this new era of sharing for myself.

It’s not just renting skis. It’s borrowing someone’s lifestyle.

First up, clothes. If you ski more than a handful of days a year, like me, you probably own a jacket and pants. But let’s say you don’t want to deal with packing your gear for a long-distance trip or you want a different outfit—like, say, a vintage onesie in the shade of cotton candy.

That’s what I picked, at least, from GetOutfitted.com, a site launched in 2013 by a Colorado guy named Julian Flores, who didn’t want to invest in outdoor gear but still wanted to get outside in the mountains. His site rents complete ski outfits (including goggles and gloves), skis, snowboards, snowshoes, plus summer gear like tents, mountain bikes, and folding kayaks.

“Our main goal is to democratize the outdoors and get more people outside by breaking down the barriers to participating,” Flores told me. “We serve people from experts who want to try new gear or don’t want to travel with what they may already own to complete newbies who want to access high quality gear before making a commitment to the activity.”

My onesie of choice, which the site nicknamed “Patricia,” cost $25 a day and I rented it for three days of skiing in Tahoe. It was slated to arrive via FedEx on a Wednesday and when the package never showed, a nice gal in customer service named Amber apologized profusely for the shipping glitch, then promised me it was being overnighted from their fulfillment center in Denver to arrive the following day. Problem solved. The ’80s-era one-piece arrived in mint condition, just in time for a day of spring shredding with friends. I would be the best dressed by far.

Next up, skis. I looked around at a lot of different gear sharing sites. There’s GearCommons.com, which I’d heard of before but it’s apparently already gone belly up. There’s Spinlister.com, which focuses on bikes and surfboards and claims to rent skis and snowboards, too, yet no winter gear was to be found in the Tahoe area. Strike one there.

Finally, I found StokeShare.com, a site started by two surfers from California with a background in sustainability and green building. Co-founders Joel Cesare and Warren Neilson had this idea to launch a site where users could post their own outdoor gear—surfboards, bikes, skis, tents, you name it—and rent it out to travelers looking to borrow gear and gain some local knowledge.

The site launched in April 2015—so it’s still very much in its infancy, but it already has around 500 users and over 800 pieces of equipment in around a dozen U.S. cities and growing. As a philanthropic bonus, the site also partners with nonprofits for at-risk youth to help get kids into the outdoors.

“We’re hoping that when the marketplace is mature, you can, say, go to Costa Rica for a surf trip, find a board online from a local guy who will not only rent you his surfboard but he’ll also tell you where to surf and where to get a fish taco afterward,” Cesare says.

Since the site was so new, there wasn’t a ton of gear available in my search area, but I did find a pair of Line women’s powder skis for rent for $20 a day or $40 for the week from a girl named Paige in Tahoe City. Granted, her listing didn’t tell me much about the skis—no length, model name, or width was listed, but there were some detailed photos.

Rent my gear dot com. PHOTO: Megan Michelson
Rent my gear dot com. PHOTO: Megan Michelson

I meet Paige, a cheery redhead who drives a Subaru, in her garage to check out the goods. She has a few pairs of skis for rent, as well as other gear like a climbing harness, sleeping bag, and Nordic skis. Fortunately one of her pairs of her skis has demo bindings, because Paige certainly isn’t planning on turning a screwdriver or re-setting bindings or DIN settings for me (so be sure you know how to do that yourself or take them to a qualified expert).

But Paige is kind and helpful and I can see how this interaction—meeting a local, using their gear—makes this whole concept unique. It’s not just renting skis. It’s borrowing someone’s lifestyle, and sure, there are going to be a few hiccups along the way, especially as these sites work out their kinks. But in this moment, it makes sense to me. In addition to renting her skis, Paige also suggests a few local spots she likes and she tells me where her favorite breakfast place is.

“It’s one step more than a rental shop, because it’s real people,” Paige says. “We can tell you where to go that’s off the beaten path. And we can say, ‘Hey, I’m heading out skiing tomorrow. Do you want to come with me?’”

I hope she doesn’t mind my pink one-piece suit.