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Ski swap sizzles

When a group of high-school parents formed a nonprofit association to get Medford kids a ski-racing program in the mid 1990s, they needed a way to raise money to pay for things like coaching and insurance.

Like other organizations across the country, the Medford Ski Education Foundation turned to a ski swap as a way to raise cash and help defray the cost of equipment for kids who grow out of gear in a year.

“It was tiny, maybe a couple-hundred items,” volunteer Ron Johnson says. “It was like a garage sale.”

More than two decades later, the Southern Oregon Ski & Snowboard Swap has once again grown out of its britches and is moving to the Expo’s Padgham Pavilion, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point, where thousands of buyers will be able to sift through about 7,000 mostly used items for sale Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16-17.

The swap is so popular that it earns the foundation enough money to pay for half the costs it accrues annually to race at Mt. Ashland and other venues throughout the state.

The swap meet started in part of the North Medford High School cafeteria, and now the event will command nearly 8,000 square feet in the pavilion, as well as 2,000 square feet of outside display room.

“We’re going to be tight for that space, to be honest,” Johnson says. “It’s going to be a full house. That’s what happens when you grow.”

The growth comes out of the need for less expensive gear in a costly sport. The foundation takes a 15- to 20-percent cut of sales.

The action starts fast and furiously with an early-bird sale that will run from 4 to 10 p.m. Friday Nov. 16, with a $5 per person admission (kids 12 and younger get in free). The big sale runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Then it shuts down for two hours for a close-out sale from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday, when all remaining merchandise will be 10 to 50 percent off.

Neither Saturday sale has an admission fee.

People who want to sell used equipment must register and bring the gear to the Expo from 2 to 7 p.m. Wednesday or Thursday, and foundation volunteers will help with pricing.

For more information and maps, including fee information for selling gear, see southernoregonskiswap.com.

Several vendors will sell new gear there, including The Black Bird Shopping Center in Medford, Rogue Ski Shop in Medford, Klamath Basin Sports in Klamath Falls, The Fifth Season in Mount Shasta, California, and Sportman’s Den, from Mount Shasta.

The vendors say they see the gear swap as a way to help grow the sport rather than as a competitor that cuts into their business.

“I’ve used the phrase ‘necessary evil’ in the past,” Rogue Ski Shop owner Bob Matthews says.

The swap allows kids and other snow-sports newcomers to test-drive skiing or snowboarding, while the shop gets to liquidate equipment from its shelves, Matthews says.

Together it helps diversify and grow the snow sports community, whose numbers have been flat for years, Matthews says.

Ultimately, swappers may become shoppers, he says.

“If they like it enough, eventually they’ll be in here buying something,” Matthews says. “My hunch is, that’s about a third (of shop customers).”

Those starting out often target the bigger-ticket items like discounted snowboards and skis, which account for about 60 percent of the foundation proceeds, Johnson says. Smaller gear and clothing account for most of the rest, with the net now clearing more than $20,000 for MSEF, he says.

The swap is billed as being open to anything that’s winter sports, so there can be a smattering of things such as telemark skis. Last year they sold a set of studded tires. This year there’s a Nordic Track and a Skier’s Edge, both preseason workout machines.

“So, yeah, we’ll take about anything,” Johnson says.

In the beginning, the ski swap’s footprint was small. Other swap meets by the Rogue Snowmen Ski Club filled the Knight’s of Columbus hall on Black Oak Drive. The foundation’s swap meet began in the late 1990s in a partitioned part of the North Medford cafeteria.

“It wasn’t even in the whole cafeteria, just half,” Johnson says. “That’s how small it was.”

That’s where it remained, growing steadily until it overran that hall in 2009, when the foundation began luring more vendors to sell closeout items, and the public started to take notice of the opportunity, both to buy and sell ski gear.

“That’s when it really took off for us,” Johnson says.

The following year the swap moved to the all-purpose room at St. Mary’s School.

“It wasn’t their gym, it was more like their band room,” Johnson says. “That was a small room, but it was bigger than the North Medford cafeteria, so it was a bit of an upgrade.”

The swap eventually moved into the main gym, and that was outgrown last year, so the swap moved to the Medford Armory.

This year’s move to the Padgham Pavilion is more of a lateral move space-wise, and was borne out of scheduling conflicts at the armory.

“It’ll be full,” Johnson says. “We’ll even have a display area outside that will add another 2,000 square feet to put us at about 10,000.”

The swap’s new address also might be short-lived.

Johnson says the foundation is eying the Expo’s the Seven Feathers Event Center, which covers close to 25,000 square feet.

I think the handwriting’s on the wall that it’s going to be in the big building pretty soon. Like I said, that’s what happens when you grow.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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IF YOU GO

WHAT: Southern Oregon Ski & Snowboard Swap

WHEN: Early bird sale runs from 4 to 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16. The big sale runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17. The close-out sale is from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday, when all remaining merchandise will be 10 to 50 percent off.

WHERE: Padgham Pavilion, The Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point

ADMISSION: $5 per person Friday (kids 12 and younger get in free). Saturday admission is free.

SELLER INFO: People who want to sell used equipment at the swap must register and bring the gear to the Expo from 2 to 7 p.m. Wednesday or Thursday.

MORE INFO: See southernoregonskiswap.com.

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