The Waitsfield Ski & Skate Sale will celebrate 40 years of outfitting winter lovers in the Mad River Valley this weekend.

Consignment drop-off will take place Friday from 4-7 p.m. inside the Waitsfield Elementary School. Volunteers can shop from 7:30-8:30 a.m. Saturday before doors open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday’s sale will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and unsold items can be picked up from 1:30-2:30 p.m.

It was back in 1979 when something very special started inside the elementary school. A few hundred people propped up their long skis, boots, skates and extra winter gear against the walls of the school gym and looked at what others brought.

Historically, midweek meant ski and skate days for children in the Mad River Valley. After school, they went skiing at Sugarbush and Mad River Glen or participated in other sports activities. Over time, this tradition helped forge a culture of community and fostered a lifelong enthusiasm for the outdoors and family-centered sports. And that’s where the Ski & Skate Sale story began.

The entirely volunteer-run swap was first started by Carol Hosford, Connie Jamieson, Callie McAllister, Judy and Malcolm Reiss, Bob and Nicole Graham and Liz LaFerriere. The goal was to make skiing more affordable for families, and the swap was intended to provide exposure to sports they might not have had access to otherwise.

“We wanted to give all kids the chance to learn how to ski,” said Jamieson, a former ski instructor. “But to do this, we first had to find a way to reduce the cost of the equipment or make it nearly free.”

The early events were truly swaps — with no vendors. People brought out their old gear and sold it at reasonable prices.

“We had quite the variety of skis back then, some with old Cubco bindings that barely released,” Jamieson said.

As the skis were precariously lined up along the gym walls, they tended to fall over during the first few years of the swap.

‘As a kid, I remember the skis falling like dominoes and making a huge racket,” said Hillary Downing, who volunteers for the event. “We even had a special volunteer whose job it was to keep them from falling.”

These days the event is much more than a sale — it’s an institution. With nearly 180 community members volunteering over 1,000 combined hours over three days, outdoor enthusiasts fill every corner of the elementary school. And the equipments even extends into a tent near the playground outside, with a diverse array of new and used alpine, Nordic, free ski and snowboard gear. There will also be skates as well as helmets, goggles, poles and apparel.

“Our community shares a common bond in that we’re all hoping for the snow that creates our winter playground,” said Kaiya Korb, principal at Waitsfield Elementary School. “And proceeds from the sale help the PTA raise money for winter Ski & Ride activities as well as other enrichment programs, such as Kindergarten ‘ECO’, school plays, the Inspiration Project and many others.”

The hefty amount of equipment and expertise are what make the sale unique. The inventory of equipment has evolved over the years, featuring vendors like Alpine Options, Plymouth Ski & Sports, MountainOps, Pinnacle Ski and Sports and Vermont North Ski Shops. And for all of the changes, one thing has remained a constant: the volunteer support.

Montreal resident Lia Pavel is a long-time volunteer who makes the trek to Waitsfield every fall.

“All the staff are super knowledgeable in skiing as most are from the Mad River Valley, including patrollers, instructors and coaches,” Pavel said. “They ensure that people are matched with the best deal and best product.”

And that’s why thousands of enthusiasts line up every year to take part in the event. The annual tradition has transformed from a ski swap to an important school fundraiser that is instrumental in igniting a passion for winter sports while bringing a community together.

“We are so proud to celebrate our 40th year, and grateful to have the parent and community volunteers that make this possible every year,” said Andrea Cox, the event’s committee chair. “To commemorate this special milestone, we will be selling a Ski & Skate Sale hat we have designed with Skida.”

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