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Swap 'til you drop

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As hundreds of people prepared last November to storm the Expo’s 7,000-square-foot Padgham Pavilion for hot deals on ski and snowboard equipment, Southern Oregon Ski and Snowboard Swap organizer Ron Johnson channeled his inner Martin Brody and lamented the need for something bigger.

Like the “Jaws” character, Johnson realized his allotted space didn’t match the beast coming his way in the wave after wave of deal-seeking ski swap patrons.

“I was standing in the middle of it last year, and I kept saying that line from the movie ‘Jaws,’ ‘We need a bigger boat. We need a bigger boat.’” Johnson says.

Jonson has that bigger boat beginning Friday afternoon when the ski swap opens its doors at 4 p.m. in the Expo’s 12,000-square-foot Olsrud Arena, the latest venue to house perhaps the greatest avenue toward putting more people on new-to-them ski and snowboards in Southern Oregon.

The annual fundraiser for the Medford Ski Education Foundation’s efforts to maintain ski racing and coaching for local high schoolers is in a new and bigger building for the third straight year, a testimony to the popularity of matching snow people to snow gear — cheaply.

“We keep growing,” Johnson says. “It’s a great problem to have.”

The latest edition of the event may be in its biggest building, but it works exactly the same way it did a decade ago when it was tucked into a corner of the North Medford High School cafeteria.

It started Wednesday and Thursday when people with used ski and snowboard equipment they wanted to sell brought their gear to the Expo to get it registered and priced by experts.

The big push begins Friday, the swap’s main day, from 4 to 10 p.m. when deal-seekers will pay $5 (kids 12 and younger get in free) for the chance to pick through the cream of the resale crop.

“The line usually has 300 people in it by the time we open, and there will be 1,000 people in there shopping that night,” Johnson says.

The big sale continues from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, then it shuts down for two hours for a closeout sale from 4 to 10 p.m., when all remaining merchandise will be 10 to 50 percent off.

Neither Saturday sale has an admission fee.

Several local vendors will sell new but closeout gear there, including The Black Bird Shopping Center in Medford and Rogue Ski Shop in Medford.

For its efforts, the foundation takes a 20-percent cut of sales, with all the money going toward the high-school ski program on Mount Ashland.

The swap allows kids and other snow-sports newcomers to test-drive skiing or snowboarding, or upgrade equipment as young snow enthusiasts grow.

“We’re going to fill the mountain with gear, and hopefully we’ll get people on the mountain who used to think the price of skiing was daunting,” Johnson says.

Two years ago, the swap finished a six-year run at St. Mary’s School in Medford, having outgrown the school’s all-purpose room and then its main gym.

It moved to the Medford Armory in 2017. Last year, the swap moved to the Expo’s Padgham Pavilion because of a scheduling conflict, creating an accidental upgrade in size. But supply and demand quickly outpaced space.

Not only was the pavilion packed last year, used skis and snowboards slopped over to about 1,500 square feet of concrete outside, where hundreds of bargain-hunters stood in line.

“It just wasn’t big enough,” says Johnson, who has shepherded the swap since 2009, even though he hasn’t had a kid in the association since 2011.

Like most years, Johnson and other volunteers have spent the year collecting old snow gear donations whose sale translates into profits for the nonprofit association.

“I’ve got 5,000 pieces of donated gear,” says Johnson, as he peruses the association’s cache in its clubhouse. “We’ll have 100 pairs of cross-country skis for $5 a pair.”

Deals like that have made the swap not only a financial windfall for the association and a bargain for purchasers, it has become the de facto start of Southern Oregon’s snow-sports season.

“I say that we’re a kickoff event for the season,” Johnson says. “Winter fun starts here.”

Just as “Jaws” saw three sequels, Olsrud Arena might not be the end of the swap meet’s sequels.

The association has its eyes on someday moving across the Expo’s concourse to the 20,000-square-foot Seven Feathers Event Center — a far cry from the postage stamp-sized digs in the North Medford High cafeteria when Johnson took the swap meet’s reins.

That’s quite a nice goal for the future,” Johnson says. “Maybe, maybe, if it keeps growing. All the while, it’s been quite a journey.”

For more information, see www.southernoregonskiswap.com.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Southern Oregon Ski and Snowboard Swap organizer Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Ron Johnson says he has 5,000 pieces of donated gear for the swap.