The leaves are down, the hills are white and there are ski swap signs around town.

“When’s the Swap?” is one of the most commonly asked questions at the ski club office in September. Followed closely by, “Can I help at the Swap this year?”

For an organizer, it’s one of the busiest days of the year. For a volunteer or new club member, it can be a day of fun and new friendships. And for others, it’s a chance to buy and sell used sports gear for most winter activities.

It’s definitely a community tradition that has been happening almost as long as I’ve been here. I think, for some, it’s a tradition to be near the front of the line every year.

Most years it’s been me opening the doors early on a dark October morning and the early birds have been there waiting, even at 6:30 a.m. Maybe they camped in the parking lot overnight.

The volunteers begin to arrive soon after that. The first few years, the main organizer was Bill Parry. He was followed by Tony Polyck, who led the charge for about 20 years. This year, it’s a team effort with Mike Kramer and Lorrie Greer organizing about 40 volunteers.

After last-minute, frantic preparations and a few cups of coffee, the volunteers look at the clock, approaching 9 a.m., and then at each other, with a sense of the impending stampede. My job is done, but theirs is only beginning.

“It’s nine o’clock. Open the doors!”

A steady stream of bargain hunters and treasure seekers stream through the doors at Mount Mac, and soon the volunteers are scrambling to help swappers in their quest for the best deal and the right stuff.

Each year we look at ways to make the mad rush a little more sane, but maybe that’s part of the swap’s mystique – that scramble for the best bargain. This year’s swap will take up the whole main floor at Mount Mac, with the hope that spreading out the gear will help with crowding and the chaos of the first hour.

It is a fundraiser for the club, but more importantly, it’s the start of the season and a chance for many to find some cheaper equipment. I remember a couple of swap days when we could actually go for a ski afterwards, but most years there is just a hint of snow in the air and a sense of anticipation that the season is only days or weeks away.

It’s not just a swap for cross-country gear; all winter sports gear except the motorized type is welcome. In recent years, snowboards have been a big item, and now with Mount Sima’s opening assured, there should be a lot of boards on the market.

To make selling more convenient, equipment can be brought in for three evenings on the week before the swap. Drop off equipment for sale at The Ski Base, downstairs at Mount Mac on Wednesday and Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. and upstairs at Mount Mac on Friday from 6 to 8 p.m.

The swap is combined with a winter fair, which provides a chance to preview new equipment and programs. Three local sport stores, Icycle, CMS and UpNorth, will have their latest gear on display and will be happy to tell you about it. Cross Country Yukon, Biathlon Yukon, Snowboard Yukon and other groups will be set up for program registration and information.

Mike Gladish is the manager of the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club. Contact him at info@xcskiwhitehorse or 668-4477. Or you can visit the website at www.xcskiwhitehorse.ca.

SIDEBAR

After the swap, the season is underway whether we are skiing or not. Here’s what’s happening at Mount McIntyre in the next couple of weeks:

Jackrabbit/Bunnies/Lynx/SnowFun Registration begins Oct. 17 at 9 a.m.

Ski School sign-up for lessons (all ages) begins Oct. 17.

Introduction to Community Coaching (ICC) begins Oct. 23 and 24.

Officials training and Event Organizer Orientation begins is on Oct. 26 from 7 to 9 p.m.

Coast Mountain Sports Wax & Wine is on Nov. 6 at 7 p.m.

Wax Room Hours in Oct. are Tuesdays to Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.