Since starting their first ski shop in Val d’Isere back in 1991, Scots Jock and Susan Dun have built their success on NOT just doing things the way all the other shops have always done but on what they call ‘Rental Done Right’.
For over 10 years they have been involved in a joint venture in the ski hire shop, Snowberry, with former World Champion, Annie Famose. Last season saw another step forward for Snowberry, with the opening of their brand new Snowberry Streetside shop – to complement the existing Slopeside shop at Rond Point des Pistes – in the very centre of Val d’Isere.
With peak season approaching, they offer some tips and advice of avoiding ski theft and mix-ups.
It’s one of the most annoying things that can happen on your ski holiday. You’re in a restaurant having a delicious lunch, and when you come out again your skis have vanished.
First there’s the inconvenience factor. There you are, stuck in the middle of nowhere. Usually you’ll need to make your way to a lift that accepts pedestrians – but not all do, so you could be in for a long and tiring walk, and a ruined afternoon.
Then there’s the cost. Of course if the skis are your own you’re looking at several hundred euros to replace them, but rental skis are more commonly stolen because the bindings are easier to adjust and fit a wide range of foot sizes.
Even if you’ve taken out insurance with the shop you rented from, there’s usually an excess and, if you didn’t opt for the insurance, you’re probably in for the whole replacement cost of the skis.
This might come as a bit of a shock, an awful lot of shops and particularly third-party agents and online brokers hide your liability for this sort of stuff in the very small print. Some shops even charge you an awful lot more, as a so-called excess, than the equipment cost them when it was new in the first place.
And to rub salt into the wound, the shop may insist you make a police report which can be a whole lot of hassle, especially if you don’t speak the language!
Theft or a mistake?
Unfortunately, there is a lot of ski theft around, especially in certain resorts and on busy weeks, when it’s easier for thieves to get away unnoticed. Most often, however, if your skis go missing – especially at a mountain restaurant or a busy bar – someone else has picked them up by mistake.
A lot of rental skis do look quite similar, and you’d be surprised how many people don’t really know what theirs look like. So mix-ups are pretty common, especially in places where there are a lot of skis lying about. You’d be surprised what people do sometimes take, convinced they are identical to the skis they hired. We have had someone skiing on one red Rossigol and one white Atomic, 15cm different in length, all afternoon, and NOT realising their mistake until we pointed it out!
But even if it’s a mix-up and not deliberate theft, unless you sort it out you’ll probably have to pay your hire shop the replacement cost or the excess.
Where it happens
Mix-ups and outright theft can happen anywhere, but there are some places where it happens more often.
Busy restaurants often have heaps of skis outside, so it’s very easy for someone to get confused and take the wrong pair.
Mountain restaurants accessible to non-skiers give easy pickings for thieves – they come up without skis, choose a nice pair and ski or take the lift back down again. They’re off and gone before you even realise your skis are missing.
Busy apres-ski bars are often a problem too. It’s easy for people to pick up the wrong pair, especially after a few drinks, and it’s often easy for a thief to walk by and grab a pair left outside, too.
Ski school can also be a prime place for ski mix-ups, especially if there are lots of young children with similar-looking skis.
In hotels and chalets with a communal ski locker, it’s easy for people to grab the wrong pair of skis or even boots in the morning rush, leaving you high and dry when you come to get yours and they’ve vanished.
Ski theft and ski mix-ups can and do happen anywhere skis are left unattended, even for a short time.
If someone seems to have ‘moved’ your skis away from where you left them, the chances are they’re not your pair, so be very careful.
Your poles might seem longer or shorter than they did before lunch.
It can be harder, or even impossible, to click into your bindings, or your skis seem to fall off all the time. This is one of the biggest give-aways – bindings don’t move by themselves!
But don’t be surprised if your boots do click-in easily in the wrong skis. Bindings are set to their optimum for a particular boot size and sole length, but you WILL manage to get boots that are one size bigger or one size smaller to click in, albeit not safely. Consider that most women have size 4 to 6 feet and most men size 8 to 10 and you can see the problem.
The dangers of taking the wrong skis
If your skis have vanished from a restaurant and there’s another pair left that look similar and you think must belong to the person who took yours, don’t be tempted to take them. Apart from the fact that they might belong to someone totally different and you could end up being accused of theft, it’s very dangerous.
They might be the same model, in the same length, from the same shop but the bindings have been set for someone else and could be dangerous. And it’s not just a question of whether your boots fit in, the release value is set for someone else’s skier profile and type and the bindings might not release if you fall.
If you have taken the wrong skis by accident from a restaurant, you might not realise that you have until you start skiing and your skis fall off all the time, or until you get to the top of a lift and you can’t get them on. Don’t be tempted to fiddle with the bindings, it takes a trained professional to adjust them properly.
If you’re not far from where the mix-up happened, go back there and see if you can sort it out – the other person may still be there – or get back down on a lift and go to your hire shop who should give you another pair for the rest of the day until you can sort things out.
How to prevent someone taking your skis
There are very few totally foolproof ways of preventing someone else from stealing your skis or picking up the wrong pair by mistake. But there are plenty of things you can do to make it a lot less likely.
One of the best ways to avoid a lot of hassle and expense is to invest in a ski lock. They don’t cost a lot and many models can lock up a whole family’s skis together. A combination can’t fall out of your pocket and get lost like a key can, but you do have to remember it. We’ve heard of cheaper combination locks jamming in very cold weather though.
If you can’t lock your skis, try and keep them within sight at all times. After all, you wouldn’t go off inside a bar or restaurant and leave your wallet with £500 lying around outside.
Some good shops provide name stickers which won’t deter a thief but at least make it less likely that someone else will take your skis by mistake. If your shop doesn’t do this, get a sticker or even a piece of waterproof tape yourself and mark your skis.
Many people split skis with a friend so that the two mismatched pairs are less likely to be taken by mistake and this does help, but it’s no guarantee.
Splitting skis will usually deter a thief too – if they are going to steal skis, they are most likely to go for the easiest (and quickest) option.
Know what your skis look like and which shop you’ve rented from – many rental skis look very similar but most shops have stickers with their name on their skis. There’s usually a bar code sticker with an identification number on your skis, too. If you’re not sure you’ll remember it, write it down and keep it in your pocket. Taking a photo of your skis is a great way to remember them.
If there’s a specific space in your hotel or chalet ski room for your particular room number, make sure you put your skis in the right place, and of course if there’s a lockable locker make sure you use it and lock it.
What to do at the time if it happens to you
If you come out of a restaurant and your skis are gone, don’t assume the worst straight away – it’s very possible that someone else has taken your skis by mistake.
It’s worth hanging around for a bit to see if they come back – often people realise quite quickly and the whole thing sorts itself out.
If there is another very similar pair nearby and after waiting for a bit no-one comes to claim them, it’s possible these are the skis belonging to the person who has taken your skis by mistake and if you’re lucky you might be able to track them down.
If they’re rental skis, there may be a sticker with the shop’s name and telephone number, and an identification code. If you have a mobile phone on you, call the shop, explain the situation and see if they can help. Hopefully they will be able to identify their client who rented those skis, contact them, tell them they’ve made a mistake and get them to come back with your skis and get their own. This is usually the quickest solution.
Failing that, call your own hire shop. It’s possible that the other person has already contacted them claiming you’ve taken their skis, so your skis may already be back in the shop.
If there is a suspicious pair of skis hanging around and you can’t call either your own hire shop or the shop these skis belong to, then take the name of the shop, the make and model of the skis, and the identification code which will usually be on a bar code sticker on the skis. Note down any other identifying marks.
If the pair which seems to have been left by mistake are someone’s personal skis, note any distinguishing marks or stickers and the make and model. It’s harder to identify someone’s personal skis but you might be lucky.
If you don’t manage to sort the situation out on the mountain, before you head back down, it’s worth explaining the situation to someone at the restaurant or a nearby lift and leaving your contact details in case someone did take your skis by mistake and comes back later.
And if there are other members of your party who are still skiing, it’s worthwhile getting them to pass by where your skis disappeared from at the end of the afternoon just in case the person who has made the mistake realises later and brings them back.
Once you get down
Once you get down to resort level, the first place to go is your hire shop. If you’re lucky, the other person may have already been in and your skis will be sitting there waiting for you.
If not, your hire shop should let you take a replacement pair for the rest of the day so that you don’t miss skiing time, then you can come back and sort it all out in the evening.
Ski shops know this kind of thing happens all the time and they’re used to helping people sort it out, so as long as the other pair that were left are rental skis and you have the shop’s name and the identification code there’s a good chance your shop will be able to find your skis.
They’ll normally call the other shop and hopefully the two shops will be able to sort it out and you’ll get your skis back.
But remember, it’s usually your responsibility to bring back the exact pair of skis you’ve rented so, if by the end of your stay your original skis have not been found, you’ll probably have to pay even if you have brought back a different pair of skis belonging to the same shop – after all, if you hire a car you can’t take a different one back!
Insurance for rental skis
Most rental shops offer optional insurance against loss or theft when you hire your equipment. It doesn’t cost a lot and can save you a lot of hassle, not to mention expense.
Of course, your holiday insurance may cover your rental equipment but check out the small print. Some policies only cover your own personal skis and, even if yours does cover rental, there can be all sorts of restrictions. It may only be covered if the skis have been taken from a locked ski locker and not if they were “left unsupervised” somewhere. Or the amount covered may be much less than the replacement cost you have to pay the shop.
Even if you’re sure your holiday insurance covers the full value of your rental equipment in every eventuality, many people feel it’s still worth taking the shop’s insurance. If you don’t, you will probably have to pay the shop the full replacement cost of the skis at the time and then claim this back from your own insurance, which can take ages and makes a big hole in your holiday money.
If you do take the shop’s insurance, make sure you understand the conditions. There’s usually an excess, but it should be a lot less than the full replacement cost. Some shops charge you more than the skis cost them to buy several years ago, though that is often hidden a very long way down the small print.
Some shops also insist you get a police report and, even if you don’t need one for the shop, you will almost definitely need one for your travel insurance if you plan to make a claim. To get a police report you will probably need a copy of your rental agreement with the details and identification code of the skis and your passport or a photo ID, and it can be useful to take along someone who speaks the local language if you don’t.
Once you have paid the shop for the replacement cost or excess, they should give you a receipt which you can then use to claim a refund from your own insurance if you are covered.
Have your say
Do you have any ski theft or mix-up stories? If so, we’d love to hear them, so please leave you comments in the box below.