It is no secret that working at the shop is exciting every month of the year, but there is no month more exciting at the shop than December, that glorious month full of joy that marks the official end of November. In the bike shop/ski shop world, November is that very long, brown-colored month floating between bike season and ski season like an array of goose decoys in an eddy on the Fourth of July. It is the month when sales people outnumber customers on the sales floor. And it is the month when audible sighs from the boss outnumber audible rings from the cash register.
But November has a few good things going for it. It is the month when we host two of our biggest annual events: our preseason ski and snowshoe sale, and our ski and snowshoe swap. The preseason ski and snowshoe sale gives customers the chance to buy new skis and snowshoes at preseason sale prices. The swap gives them the chance to buy used skis and snowshoes at yard sale prices. At the preseason sale, you can buy a complete cross-country ski package and save a few 20 dollar bills. At the swap, you can buy a complete used cross-country ski package with only a single 20 dollar bill, and still have enough change left over to buy a pair of used snowshoes. Of course that particular cross-country ski package will consist of foam-injected waxless touring skis with three-pin touring bindings, a pair of low-cut three-pin touring boots a half-size too long and a half-width too narrow, and fiberglass poles with missing baskets. And those particular snowshoes will be 48 inches long and 24 inches wide, with shoelaces for bindings. And even though the experience of skiing on that particular ski package may be far from enjoyable, and the experience of snowshoeing on those particular snowshoes may be close to deplorable, you’ll be motivated more than ever to buy new equipment the next time around.
The swap also gives customers the chance to purchase obsolete, hard-to-find items, such as antique wooden snowshoes with rawhide lacing, bamboo ski poles with leather straps, and wooden skis with mohair strips glued to the base. These are all hot items that sell out fast to the early birds, who stood in line for two hours before the swap opens. When asked why these old items are so popular, folks will tell you it is because there are no snowshoes as silent as wooden ones, there are no pole as renewable as bamboo ones, and there are no skis as sweet as wooden ones, especially after a fresh coat of pine tar. Those of us who work at the shop tend to prefer the benefits of modern equipment, but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate classic sporting goods. We most certainly do, but we appreciate them for different reasons. We feel there are no snowshoes as good nailed to the side of a barn as wooden ones, there are no poles as cool for making homemade bike polo mallet shafts as bamboo ones, and there are no skis better for making shot skis as wooden ones.
If you are unfamiliar with a shot ski, it is simply a ski with six shot glasses, spaced about 12 inches apart, glued to the top of it. After the glasses have been filled, six brave individuals line up, side by side, and carefully hold the shot ski level. On the count of three, they simultaneously tilt the shot ski back. For anyone who has a hard time taking a shot of whiskey on their own, this is the answer. Yes, the shot ski is only a slightly more sophisticated drinking implement than the beer funnel, but it sure makes for a good time at the shop Christmas party.
We all work very hard during December, and if December were a big fruitcake, the shop Christmas party would be the candied walnut on top. It is a chance for us to not only drink from the shot ski, but to enjoy each other’s company outside of the shop while indulging in an impressive spread of delicious food and beverages. The boss, of course, pays for it all. Considering how hungry and especially thirsty we all are, it must be a substantial tab. But we don’t feel too bad about it. After all, December is the month when the register starts ringing again and customers walk in to buy things instead of walk in to ask when our next sale is coming up. In December, the audible November sighs from the boss have vanished like the last pair of wooden skis at the swap. However, by the time the last of us has finally left the Christmas party with a broken shot ski and a big mess in our wake, I’m sure there are some audible sighs from the boss’s lovely wife.