Outdoor sports can be risky this time of year, and finding the right gift for winter- sport lovers can be pretty chancy too.
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Granted, your friends and family will be much more forgiving than the weather and terrain this time of year. No matter what you buy them, you're pretty well guaranteed a smile, a hug and a thank you.
But if you notice your gift gathering dust in the shed come February, it's a pretty good hint that what you bought wasn't exactly what they had in mind.
Skiers, boarders, skaters, fisherman and hunters like to be prepared when doing their thing. "Surprise" in the mountains or on the water often means something very unpleasant. It's easy to go wrong with surprises under the Christmas tree, too.
Rule one: If you're not sure exactly what's wanted, don't spend a lot of money on a major purchase. There are plenty of less expensive holiday gifts that outdoor folks will welcome, no matter what their sport.
Some gifts can be lifesavers. Headlamps are relatively cheap, handy and helpful in any number of situations, especially during these short days.
For skaters and cross-country skiers who take to frozen lakes, a probe is a virtual must. Poke it downward, and if water seeps up, you're on thin ice.
Ice picks are another inexpensive safety tool. Long-distance skaters in Scandinavia don't leave home without them. The best models hang around the neck in light plastic snap-aways, where they can be snatched in a second.
They go virtually unnoticed until you need them. And when you need them, you really need them. They consist of one or two short-bladed picks that skaters can use to drag themselves up if they fall through the ice.
Among the newer safety devices are avalanche transceivers, but they don't come cheap. Several varieties are advertised on the Web for upwards of $250. The Ortovox X1, for example, is advertised as a "hybrid" beacon that combines the most positive aspects of digital and analog signal reception.
"We should get the word out about avalanche transceivers," said Scott Fischer of Foggy Mountain sports shop. With more people heading into the backcounty because of this year's heavy snow, their signals can save lives.
One of the hotter items this year is the snow skate - sort of a combination snowboard and skateboard. Basically, it's a snowboard without bindings that lets you push yourself along on flats and ride down slopes.
Shopping for hunters and fishers can be tricky. It's probably a good idea to let them choose their guns and poles for themselves.
But all hunters need ammo, and all fishermen need lures - even if they already have a supply. Ammunition is expendable, and lures get lost.
For vicarious sports, snowboard and skate videos are selling well this year, said Pat van Pool, owner of Sequence, a valley snowboard and skate shop.
And everybody, naturally, needs warm clothes.
"Outerwear is obviously big this time of year," said Dave White at Western Auto Marine. "Carhart Arctic gear is popular. Also, we sell a lot of Yak Tracks, which are cleats that fit over any boot of shoe to make an ice cleat."
Helly Hansen thermal underwear is also popular, he said.
Have a lot of sport people on your gift list? Stuff their stockings with warm wool socks or gloves. It's hard to have too much warm weather gear.
If all else fails, merchants agree, there's always the tried-and-true gift certificate.
With that gift, you can always be sure the price is right.
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