You walk into Avie’s Ski / Sports. A big smile on your face. You tell a story about the pair of skis you got for an incredible price at a local ski swap. A few minutes later the smile is gone. Replaced by a quizzical, skeptical look. Maybe an angry stare. Definitely one of frustration. You just heard the phrase “not indemnified” from one of the staff.

In easy terms, indemnified means that someone can be held responsible for compensation or loss in the event of some form of accident or failure. For a ski binding, this would mean the binding manufacturer.

Just What Is The Issue?

Let’s use the image of the binding here as an example. It clearly looks old, though it may not be. It most certainly is not in like new condition. Rust, oxidation, and dirt are obvious.

Metals and plastics make up ski bindings. Both are long lasting, but neither is eternal. Springs and levers, tensioning rods and screws. These make the binding function. A certified technician sets those springs and levers and rods to release the skier under certain circumstances based on skier age, weight, height, ability, and boot length. Rust, oxidation, dirt. All play into how well the binding will function, despite proper adjustment to manufacturer specifications.

The issue is that the manufacturer has no way of knowing how people take care of their equipment. Some do and some don’t. Most skiers really don’t give ski bindings much thought. They are viewed as part of the ski. And they are, but as a separate entity with a distinct purpose—keep the skier locked onto the ski; let the boot free as required. At the end of the day and end of the season the average skier stands the skis up in a corner of the garage or basement. Done till next season.

Binding Longevity

After a certain length of time the manufacturer will no longer indemnify—or hold themselves responsible—for a given ski binding. The manufacturer has a pretty good idea of how the metals and plastics in the binding will degrade over time given “normal use.” Lack of maintenance and/or environmental conditions (e.g., damp basement) hasten the rate of degradation away from “normal.” Manufacturers no doubt err on the side of caution when determining age for indemnification to cease. As they should.

So you walk into a ski shop, skis in one hand a ski boot in the other. You tell your happy tale and say you want the bindings adjusted to the boot. In return you hear, “We can’t work on the binding. It’s no longer indemnified.” You’re miffed. Even if at a bargain price you gave away dollars for something that cannot be used as anticipated. You can buy and install new bindings for a couple hundred bucks, but now your bargain is no longer the bargain you had in mind.

Sometimes people get angry when they hear we won’t adjust the bindings. Some get downright belligerent. Conspiracy theories are rolled out. “Dirty crooks” and sometimes much less nice things are said. Despite the tirade, we will not adjust the bindings.

For some reason with ski bindings people think they are indestructible. They look simple enough. And beefy enough. They ought to last forever. And they may indeed last forever. But they may not function as expected—or as desired.

Risk Rules

How about this example. You are going bungee jumping. The manufacturer says the big rubber band that keeps you from splatting on the landscape below are indemnified for 500 jumps. Are you going to be willing to be tethered to that bungee cord beyond the 500 rated jumps? Maybe if you were number 501, but how about at 520? 550? 600? Me? I would definitely wait for the new rubber band to be installed.

Technically, a ski shop could adjust non-indemnified bindings. Doing so would mean the shop accepts responsibility should anything go amiss during their use. Yes, the shop could have a lawyer draw up waivers to be signed so that responsibility is mitigated. But there is already a small mountain of paper work attached to every ski rental or lease, binding adjustment or mounting.

And we could predict the outcome of any lawsuit. It’s a real no-brainer. I can hear the judge saying, “Really? You are adjusting ski bindings that the manufacturer says may not be reliable? Seriously? The Court rules in favor of the plaintiff.” The gavel whacks the bench. Case closed.

Ski binding indemnification. It’s not a scam. Or a conspiracy. It’s about safety of the skier. Really. Stuff gets old. Plastics get brittle. Metals fatigue. Moving parts don’t move so good anymore.

Have A Plan

Ski shop employees do not get any satisfaction from having to tell customers—in as nice a way as possible—that their great ski gear bargain isn’t. And the worst part is, for that customer, they almost never can return the unusable gear for a refund. It’s a no-win situation in almost all directions (the seller of the skis does gain benefit).

Does that mean that you shouldn’t buy used ski gear? Of course not. But if the bindings on the skis look pretty beat up and old then be skeptical. If the bindings are more than 7 or 8 years old, even if in really good visual condition, you may want to think twice. In either case the binding may indeed work fine. But if no ski shop will adjust them, then it’s a moot point.

Your best bet is finding out if the bindings are indemnified before laying out any cash. How do you do that? Easy.

Build a relationship with a local ski shop if you don’t already have one. Buy stuff there. Have your gear tuned there. Ask them where you might find some bargains to keep the kids (and yourself) playing in the snow. Ask that if you do find a pair of used skis if they mind a call to determine if they are indemnified. It is very likely they will be happy to help.

In Conclusion…

Once you have your plan in place and find that great ski bargain, be prepared to get some specific information about the binding. You will need to provide the shop with the manufacturer and the model name and number of the binding. If the bindings are so worn that you cannot tell who made them or what model they are, don’t bother with the call. Walk away from the purchase. Or buy the skis and take your chances. But don’t berate the folks at the ski shop for your decision if you hear the phrase “not indemnified.”

We understand that skiing is an expensive sport. We sympathize with families trying to afford gear and lift ticket prices, and we realize cost is a huge barrier to entry to and continuing enjoyment of the sport. So please do look for good, used gear. But do so smartly.

Follow the above advice and you maybe can rewrite the opening lines of this article so that the smile never leaves your face. That really will be a happy ending. And a win-win for all.

If you want to learn a bit more about ski bindings see the Avie’s “Skier Need to Know—Bindings” page.