The Citizens' Ski Test

Pros, Schmoes: Here’s What the Average Joe Thinks of This Year’s Gear
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Pros, Schmoes: Here’s What the Average Joe Thinks of This Year’s Gear
2009 Guest Test team at Deer Valley

The Citizen’s Ski Test
Pros, Schmoes: Here’s What the Average Joe Thinks of This Year’s Gear
We get a few emails every year, usually a few weeks after our September Buyers Guide hits the streets, suggesting essentially the same thing. To paraphrase: “I notice that all your testers are famous expert skiers. Real people don’t ski like those guys, so how can they accurately assess the appropriateness of skis for real skiers like me?” The argument usually concludes with a generous offer of the correspondent’s own services as tester.

We have found that instructors, retailers, ex-racers, patrollers and the like are naturally astute gear testers because it’s part of their jobs to stay current on gear trends and they know the equipment inside and out. These folks also have the insights and vocabulary to explain the often nuanced differences in performance between skis. Perhaps not surprisingly, we’ve also found that these testers only get better at it after several years of testing gear for SKI.

The “real skier” thing is not a new debate. (You can find long, feisty Compuserve threads on the subject dating to the infancy of online bulletin boards.) So this year we decided to give it a try. The pros were back, and it’s still their assessments on which the rankings and data in the September issue were based, but joining us this year was a group of guest testers, skiing all the same models our pros tested (just a day later on each category).

The guests were a diverse lot, ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-60s. As a cross-section of the skiing public, they were a fairly accurate sample—typical intermediate-to-advanced technique, with differing styles and levels of aggressiveness. We had only two female volunteers, but with seven men, there was enough data to get a sense of the consensus on men’s skis. No one was going fast enough to attract patrol’s attention. There were no carvers in the group, though a few testers were taking full advantage of the pro testers’ advice (doing their best to apply lessons and evaluate skis simultaneously—with at least one noteworthy crash resulting). The guest testers brought plenty of enthusiasm to the project. They worked hard to get through all the skis in each category, and while most were content to relax in the evening, a couple of the younger ones were right there with the pros during the usual après socializing and shenanigans.

So here are the results of what “real skiers” make of the 2009-10 offerings for skis. This week, a look at what the guest testers declared to be their favorite category, the All-Mountain Expert Freeride skis.

(Note: The linked models would make the cut as guest tester choices for Gold Medal winning skis. Click on the photo gallery to see reviews.)
The guest testers and the pros were in lock-step agreement on one thing: The Volkl AC50 was king of this category. After that, all hell breaks loose. The No. 2 and 3 favorites of the pros, for example—Blizzard’s Magnum 8.7 IQ and Atomic’s Savage Ti—don’t even make the guest-tester cut. And two skis that you won’t see written up on the September issue (where we made the cut at six models, based on scoring) get way more love from the guests: namely, the Dynastar Legend Sultan 85 and the Rossignol Phantom SC 87. But hey, we expected some disagreement.  Here’s how the guests break down the 2009-10 Men’s AME Freeride category.  Let us know what you think of their work.