Fortunately, the barter system is still alive and well in our nation’s ski shops. Having spent the better part of a decade in the back of various North Lake Tahoe shops, most recently at Porters Sports Tahoe City, I’m familiar with the process of trading beer (or other stuff) for shop work. But before you show up with a twelver, know that there’s an etiquette involved in the process.
First, do not assume that it is OK to waltz into the shop and pay for your work with beer. Some ski shops are actually trying to turn a profit, especially in a bad economy, and the owners or managers might prefer cash in the register versus beer in the fridge. Ask the technician or the person taking in your gear. If it is accepted practice at the shop, it’s important to establish the terms of the arrangement. You might think that shop techs always love microbrews or heavy beer, but you should ask them their flavor of choice. After months of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, sometimes all they want is an ice-cold Budweiser, or they might not want beer at all. Food can be the quickest way to a ski tech’s heart, especially if they’re already heavily stocked with beer.
Equally important as what you’re trading is how much to offer. A six-pack is not adequate payment for a full tune-up. Shop work is expensive, and the more you beat on your gear, the more work it needs. A good rule of thumb is trading at least one-third the value of the work you’re having done. The beer isn’t just for the tech’s personal consumption. More often than not, the back shop is sharing their plunder with the staff out front.
Help your cause by not flaunting it. Don’t carry a case of beer past the register and tell everyone how it’s for the shop guy, because they’re not exactly supposed to drink while working. Find out if there is a back door where you can drop off the goods, or discreetly carry them through the shop in a bag. When in doubt, do what Shane McConkey would do: Bring in a case of Red Bull, two boxes of Clif bars, and a pair of Oakley goggles with extra lenses. While he may have had ridiculous requests, like tunes on tandem monoskis and big mountain snowlerblades, the man knew how to trade.