Today is the first day of SKI testers cranking out big vert as the industry's most comprehensive week of gear tests starts at Snowbird, Utah. That means hundreds of test cards, lots of sore quads and, well, passionate shop talk deep into the night. And there's even eight inches of fresh at the 'Bird. Here's the final list of skis we’ll test.
It’s a long list (see below)—about 150 skis, the most we can effectively handle in five days of testing. They’re divided into categories according to intended uses—this is how we make sure we’re testing “apples to apples” on any given day. We group the skis by the snow type they’re best designed for, which comes down to waist widths:
- Hard Snow, up to 85 mm, for speedy frontside cruising on groomers.
- Mixed Snow East, 85-98 mm, for everyday use in typical Eastern conditions.
- Mixed Snow West, 95-110 mm, for everyday use in typical Western conditions. (This category, as well as Mixed East, includes wider skis this year, as manufacturers push the envelope of what constitutes an “everyday” width.)
- Deep Snow, 110-127 mm and up, for powder days.
The remaining category is Value, where manufacturers may enter a ski of any waist width provided it costs not more than $699 (Minimum Advertised Price, which is typically about $200 less than the MSRP).
We’ll test one category each day, waiting till the last possible moment to announce the category in case there is (or isn’t) snowfall in the forecast, so that we can match the conditions to the category as best as possible.
Some companies get more skis than others. It’s a controversial approach among the manufacturers who get fewer entries, but we do it for the reader. The number of skis allowed each brand is based on two factors: market share and performance in last year’s test. By factoring in market share, we reflect what’s actually out there in the shops. By factoring in past-year’s performance, we reward companies, however small their sales are, for doing well in the test—because we want to focus on the good skis and spend less time on the dogs. In the end, doing well in the test is the quickest way for a brand to get more skis in next year’s test, which should in turn help them to sell more skis and gain market share.
You know the rest: Every tester tests every ski. Debriefs/discussions are held daily at the end of testing. Test-card data is entered in our customized Filemaker Pro program, adjusted for standard deviation among testers (because some are generally stingy, some generous), and sorted according Average Overall Score (scale of 0-5). Then we publish the data, so that readers can see exactly how every winning ski ranked in relation to the field according to our team of seasoned testers. (No other publication does this, but we think it’s worth the heat we take from manufacturers in order to give you the straight scoop.) And it should go without saying, but manufacturers are not charged money to participate in the test, and any quick comparison between advertising pages and test results will show no correlation.
So here’s the list. Remember, we don’t write about skis that don’t medal in our Buyer’s Guide, so this will be the last you hear from us about roughly half these skis. And bear in mind that these are the skis each company thinks have the best chance of medaling in our test; even if they don’t medal, they’re probably still better than the average ski.
Now we’ll go back to watching the Snowbird weather report and looking forward to five days of testing the latest stuff on the awesome GadZoom terrain. Watch this space for daily test-week updates.