The first Calgary Ski Swap was then established in 1963. At a meeting for the Calgary Ski School, a group of mothers were struggling with the high cost of the Calgary Ski Club’s racing program and the cost of outfitting their children. So they thought, why not organise a swap of equipment and clothing among the families to help defray the annual cost of skiing?
In 1964, the Ski Fair as it was called was organized by Jean Robb. Over the next eight years her small basement operation grew into a large event.
Facilities then moved to the Calgary Tennis Club before moving to the Agriculture Building at Stampede Park in 1965 where it stayed for 19 years. During this time the sale grew from a one-day event to three, then a five-day format Wednesday through Sunday.
Isabel Elliot was another person who was very involved in the early days. She subsequently moved to Vancouver where she was instrumental in starting what has become the very large and successful annual Vancouver Ski Swap.
As the Ski Sale grew in size, reputation and success, the Calgary Ski Club needed help. The obvious choice lay with a group that was knowledgeable in skiing, equipment and crowd control. The Canadian Ski Patrol (Calgary Zone) stepped in as of 1968, led by Ozzie Larue who spearheaded the first volunteer ski patrol in Western Canada in the late 1940s. Eventually the CSP joined the Calgary Ski Club as a full partner in 1970, creating a joint organizing committee with alternating directors each year.
About this time the Calgary Ski Club changed from a family ski-racing club to an adult recreational ski club. Young racers such as Mike Wiegle, Reto Barrington and a junior racing star by the name of Ken Read joined the Lake Louise Ski Club. Ken’s mother, Dee Read, was asked by Jean Robb to operate the first small clothing section in the 1970 Ski Sale. The following year, Dee organized the first exclusive clothing section and operated it under the auspices of the Lake Louise Ski Club, making a profit that year of $150. Each year since, the Lake Louise Ski Club has contributed its volunteers to run the clothing section of the Ski Sale.
The ski sale could not have succeeded without the active support of the local ski retailers. Ski shop proprietors such as Ozzie Larue (Ozzie’s Ski Shop), Hans Reinhart (Ski Cellar) and the Compton brothers, Al, Bruce and Ethan from Premier Sports donated a tremendous amount of time and expertise. They, and their staff, came and appraised equipment as it was consigned for the ski sale. Local ski shops also started to consign their unsold stock from the previous year, establishing a tradition that has continued to the present day. By 1986, some 30 ski shops and ski areas were consigning new and rental equipment. This support remains today with Jean Hunt and Dan Russell of Ski Cellar continuing the tradition.
By 1977, the ski sale had grown so large that the job of keeping track of equipment and clothing consigned and sold, as well as preparing the cheques for goods sold, had become a major challenge. The solution was to install a large computer in the Agriculture Building for the duration of the sale. Initially, this was supported with sponsorship from minicomputer manufacturers starting with Wang and later Sperry. In 1988, personal computers and a custom software program became the solution. By 2000, the PC network had grown to 10 computers for data entry and up to six cash tills during the sale. In 2011, it introduced new software developed by a CSP member in Vancouver and already in use at major swaps across Canada, including Toronto and Vancouver. New computer hardware and scanners were also introduced.
In 1984, the sale moved to the Round-Up Centre and became associated with the Calgary Ski, Travel & Recreation Show. This continued until 1996 when rising costs of rent, door admissions and parking at Stampede Park led to a decision to move to the current location at Max Bell Centre.
Over the years, as many as 1,000 individuals, 35 ski shops, and countless ski areas and manufacturer representatives have consigned more than 10,000 items. The ski sale is a huge materials handling and volunteer management challenge. Giving guidance on ski gear appraisal and sales, while very important, pales compared to the challenges associated with lifting and moving up more than 10,000 items, maintaining security and tracking their consignment, sale, reclaiming and payment. Some 300 volunteers working 800 shifts over five days (approximately 4,000 hours) do the equivalent of a season’s business of a small ski retailer.