Welcome to the wonderful "rip-off" world of UPS. They've been gouging Canadians for cross border shipments for eons, but the only time the issue comes to light in the U.S. is when the dollars are close in value and Americans start shipping things from Canada.
Here's what happens. First, the brokerage fee has nothing to do with the feds. UPS will collect appropriate duties and sales taxes on the shipment for the feds (this is different from the brokerage fee), but this isn't an extra fee because you need to pay sales tax on a retail purchase in the U.S. regardless and can't dodge it by ordering from Canada. Duty is variable, and is zero on anything manufactured in Canada due to NAFTA (but with the exception of Line and some boutique ski brands, most skis are manufactured in countries that will require you to pay duty). Basically, the government portion of the charge (duty and tax) should be minimal.
Where you get raped is with UPS's brokerage fee. They don't allow you to do any customs importation paperwork yourself, so they do it and charge whatever they feel like. If you don't pay, you don't get the goods. It's complete robbery and they make more profit from it than they make from the shipping. In the case of shipments through the postal system, there are often no fees applied because it isn't worth the administration cost unless it's a large ticket item (might be the same on both sides of the border, but I'm speaking from a Canadian perspective). In Canada, if your mail shipment ends up being processed for duty and tax, then a flat $5 administration/brokerage fee is applied. One time I had some re-fills shipped up from the U.S. for my Daytimer (Staples had stopped carrying what I needed). The purchase price was $19 and it should have been delivered to my door with no extra costs by the post office, but the supplier used UPS (they claimed USPS on their website). When it arrived, UPS wanted to collect not only duty and tax (which the post office would have waived due to it being below a value threshold) but they also wanted $25 for brokerage fees... on a $19 item for chrissake! I refused the shipment and told them to send it back.
The lesson is to avoid UPS like the plague, if possible, and try to get all cross border shipments sent through the mail. In most cases it is far less expensive than UPS for shipping, plus you avoid their rip-off brokerage fee. Depending on the service offered, you can even get a tracking number.
Something I've noticed is that when I pay for premium mail service, it often ends up being delivered at my door (in Canada) by Purolator rather than Canada Post.... but without extra charges. The post office still does the importation processing and may, or may not, charge duty and tax, then they pass it off to Purolator as their contracted courier for domestic courier deliveries. It may be a similar scenario going in the opposite direction.
By the way, modern skis can be boxed small enough that they can be shipped by mail, as long as the shipper doesn't use an oversized box. If they have bindings, the only way they can be packaged small enough to ship by mail is to remove the bindings (or leave them in the original box if possible) then nest the skis together (base to top skin) and position the bindings on top of the upper ski. If you try to ship skis with bindings on them, base to base, the package will be too large for postal shipment (they measure the total length, height and width of the box) and they will need to go by UPS, FedEx, etc.
Edited by exracer - 12/5/09 at 11:50am