Cross-country ski for free

Kamariea Forcier

Aside from savings on outdoor sporting equipment, one rental and retail store on the St. Paul campus offers something free to students, faculty and staff members.
Free cross-country ski rental, provided by the Outdoor Store located in the St. Paul Student Center, gives University students and staff members a chance to learn a skill without paying the large fees generally associated with rental equipment.
“A lot of people come in here who’ve never skied before,” said Tim Pharis, a University senior and employee for the Outdoor Store.
“It’s pretty expensive to rent skis around town. By having the free option like this, not only is it a good option to find out about our store, but it’s a great way to learn about a new skill,” he said.
The University-owned shop opened in 1971. Because it is considered a buying association and not a retail store, the store is able to market new outdoor equipment at 15 percent to 20 percent below retail prices to its members.
Staff members at the store rent and sell camping and skiing equipment for rates much lower than other outdoor stores, said Pharis. People need to show their fee statement and pay a yearly membership fee ranging between $3 and $5 to buy items.
Partly funded by fees allocated to the St. Paul Student Center, Pharis said the store generally breaks even each year.
“We’re not out to make a profit,” he said. “We’re basically providing a service to students, faculty and staff.”
Free ski rental originally started as part of the University’s “What’s On Wednesday” events series, Pharis said. Although he doesn’t remember how long the store has been offering free ski rental, he said it’s a good way to draw people into the store.
“Nobody really knows about our store at all,” he said.
Students need to show a University identification card and fee statement to rent skis for free between 5 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays. At other times, students can rent a cross-country ski package for 24 hours at a cost of $10.
Two nearby St. Paul trails provide locations for testing the skis. One location, the University Les Bolstad Golf Course, is within walking distance of a drop-off site of the University’s St. Paul Campus Circulator bus.
Students can also use the cross-country trails at Como Park in St. Paul. Both are within a 10-minute drive from the St. Paul campus, and both are free to use.
Denise Hoffert, a University senior, works for the Center for Outdoor Adventure and said her office takes advantage of the rental store just two doors away.
“I’ve used their cross country skis before,” she said. “It was really convenient and really easy to rent them there.
“For students who are going on a camping trip with us, they can pick up stuff the day we’re supposed to leave,” Hoffert said.
“They don’t have to worry about taking home a pair of snowshoes, or a sleeping bag, and then bringing it back to campus for our program, and then bringing it back home or to the rental store,” she said. “It’s super simple to rent it over there and then come on a trip with COA.”
Pharis estimates that 30 percent to 40 percent of renters have never skied before coming to the store for free ski rental.
“For the people who just want to go out and see if they like it, why go out and spend $20 if they can try it for free and see if they like it?” he said.
The store is able to accommodate up to 50 people who want to ski. However, Pharis said usually only a handful of people take advantage of the opportunity.
“It’s just a good thing to have people come in to see the store,” he said. “I wish more people knew we were here. Everybody’s welcome. The busier, the better.”