The World’s Biggest Ski Swap Is in...Alabama

Nathan Reed, left, drove from Chattanooga, Tenn., for the 8th year to the sale. "Pathetic isn't it," said Reed. Waiting for the green light to go shop, Reed stands next to Sean Floyd from Atlanta (middle to right), Michael Bowen of Atlanta with twin brothers Tyler Kidwell, bottom left, and Taylor Kidwell. The 34th Annual Ski and Winter Sale at Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Ala., was November 7th. Photo: Nathan Morgan (Nathan Morgan)
Nathan Morgan

More than 99 percent of luggage gets claimed as soon as it’s unloaded from the plane. The remaining 1 percent is sold to the Unclaimed Baggage Center, a business in Scottsboro, Alabama, that runs a 40,000 square-foot store where 5,000 of these forgotten items hit the sales floor each day. Over a million total items pass through their inventory each year.

The warehouse gets lots of electronics and clothing, but truly weird products show up, too. (Think a full suit of armor and rare musical instruments.) There’s also a lot of ski gear—and not just rental junk either. There’s high-end AT boots, top-notch skis, and plenty of Gore-Tex, all steeply discounted. Jackets go for roughly $15 to $200, boots for $15 to $100, and skis for $50 to $225.

The result: a ski swap on steroids, with 6,500 buyers waiting hours to get inside.

Photo: Nathan Reed, left, drove down from Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the eighth year in a row to attend the sale. Next to him (left to right) stand twin brothers Tyler and Taylor Kidwell, Sean Floyd, and Michael Bowen.

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)


Sam Cordle of Summerville, Georgia, waits in the rain outside the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)


Racks of boots, including options from Scarpa and Dynafit, wait for anxious buyers.

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)


Race skis, powder skis, and old-school relics were all on sale.

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)


After waiting outside in the rain, shoppers do the wave minutes before they’re allowed into the sale. The Unclaimed Baggage Center says it puts 5,000 items on the sales floor every day.

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)


Brenda Cantrell referees the pre-sale excitement, telling customers when they can begin pulling items off of racks. More than half the items were gone in less than 20 minutes after shoppers were allowed in at 8 a.m.

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)


A shopper nabs a shell from The North Face and a puffy from REI, both for $35.99.

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)


Larry Stocks drove with his son from Gadsen, Alabama, to attend the sale for the first time.

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)


Kelly Scott and her daughter Skyler, 2, live in Scottsboro and have been coming to the sale for three years. She walked away with a North Face jacket and a Patagonia vest that were marked down more than 50 percent off what she would have paid at a retail store.

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)


Cameron Ashley, an employee at Unclaimed Baggage Center, took the morning off to shop for gear.

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)


Mike Murdock, from Rome, Georgia, has attended the sale for the past 20 years. He estimates that he saved $2,500 this year.

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)


Will Brazelton, of Auburm, Alabama.

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)


Alicia Kidwell and her husband, Jeff, have been coming to the annual sale for 13 years. They now bring their 7-year-old twins Tyler and Taylor (pictured).

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)


From left: Friends Thomas DeGenaro and Ashley Thomas, of Pikeville, Tennessee, and Heather Magee from Chattanooga lined up at 5 a.m. to try and snag the best items.

Nathan Morgan
(Nathan Morgan)

Filed To: Ski Gear / Alabama / Photography
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