Local Shops vs. Resort Shops vs. Big Box Stores vs. Online RetailersThat's a big list, I know. Let's break down the advantages and disadvantages of each choice. The assumption here is that you've done your research and narrowed your choices down to a handful (three at most) of snowboard models. If you haven't yet done this, take a look at my article on How to Choose the Right Snowboard before continuing.
The Local Snowboard Shop:
- Advantages: Big or small, these places are staffed by snowboarders. They're knowledgeable, passionate, and usually willing to go the extra mile to make you happy. The best part about buying a new snowboard from your local shop is that when you do, you're forming a relationship. Chances are they'll remember you next time, and you'll be treated more like a friend than a walking Discover card. They truly appreciate your business. And, should you ever have a warranty issue or trouble with your snowboard, they'll be ready to go to bat for you.
- Disadvantages: Most shops only carry certain brands, so if your local shop doesn't carry the brand of board you're looking for, you'll either have to look elsewhere or look at different brands of snowboards. Depending on the size of the shop, popular models often sell out fast. Not all local shops offer product demos, so if you're looking to demo a board or two before buying - and you should be - you may have to look elsewhere, at least to try the board you're interested in.
- Advantages: Resort shops are a lot like golf course pro shops in that they're on the resort property, owned and run by the resort, and tend to sell more of the little things (lip balm, goggles, clothing and accessories) than the big ticket items like snowboards and skis. Proximity to the slopes has its advantages, however, especially when it comes to demo programs. Most resort shops offer demos of everything they sell for a small fee, the cost of which is then put towards the purchase of whichever board you choose. These shops also tend to stock a better variety of brands, again due to their proximity to the slopes.
- Disadvantages: Returning to the golf course pro shop analogy, resort shops tend to be more expensive than other retail outlets, the thought being, "They're here, they need a board, so they'll pay whatever we ask." The staff tends to be less knowledgeable about specific products than the guys and gals at the local shops, mainly because resort shop staff sell such a huge variety of products. You're likely to be looked at more like that walking Discover card at the resort shop, too - they see so many skiers and riders each season, so it's tough to remember specific faces. Dealing with warranty issues can be tough, especially if the resort is located far from your home.
Big Box Stores:
- Advantages: There aren't many. Although retailers like Dick's, and The Sports Authority, do sell name-brand snowboard equipment, their overall focus is so wide that it's nearly impossible to find an employee in the store that knows anything about the snowboard equipment they're selling. However, it is possible to find good equipment at these places on occasion, and when you do, it's often priced cheaper than anywhere else. For young kids that are constantly outgrowing their gear, shopping at these places isn't a half-bad idea.
- Disadvantages: The selection is going to be limited, and may even be outdated (last year's equipment). Service, while friendly, will be nowhere near what you'll find in your local snowboard shop or at a resort shop. Warranty issues are often difficult to resolve, and don't even think about going back for a tune - for the most part, they don't offer the service.
*In my experience, the disadvantages listed above hold true for 99% of these stores. I managed to find the exception, however, on a trip to Vail, Colorado last spring. The Vail Sports Authority had a better selection, lower prices, and a staff that was just as knowledgeable as the other shops in town. Don't expect to find that in Podunk, USA however.
- Advantages: Buying a snowboard online isn't for everyone, but if you know exactly what you want, you'll often be hard pressed to beat the pricing online. Because the Internet is seemingly never-ending, you'll usually be able to find the board you want online, even if your local shops are sold out. Many online retailers offer package pricing, and some will even wax your new snowboard before shipping it to you. Find an online store that offers free shipping, and voilà - you've even saved gas money!
- Disadvantages: Buying online is not without its risks. You won't be able to physically see the product until it arrives. You won't be able to demo the board, and you may not be able to ask questions of the sales staff (this depends on the online store - some places have extremely knowledgeable staff available via phone or online). Shopping online means doing your due diligence beforehand. Make sure the company is a reputable business, ask about their return policy, and don't do business with anyone that can't spell properly...if the website looks shady, it probably is.