How We Test Skis

Here are the ins and outs of how we conduct the best ski test in the industry.

Consensus can be merciless. And when the results are in, we often have some tough phone calls to make. But for every brand that tanks in the test, there’s a brand that shines, and we want readers to know which factories are on their game.

What we shouldn’t have to say is that objectivity rules our test, but we know what goes on at some other tests. So we’ll say it: There’s no “pay-to-play” fee for entry. No medals are exchanged for ad dollars. No palms are greased.

Who are our testers? Sure, they all rip. But more important, the team includes some of the most experienced testers in the business, and that’s what counts—because testing 15 or 20 different skis in a day is a bewildering experience to anyone who lacks experience. The team includes a mix of natural gear evaluators: instructors, shop owners, former racers and freeride competitors and industry product developers—this year it was a team of eight men and eight women.

Brands that have done well in the test in past years are allowed more skis, while brands that have done poorly get fewer test entries, because with limited time and resources, we want to focus on the good stuff. Meanwhile, brands that sell more skis in the U.S. market (according to industry sales figures) are allowed more skis in the test, because we want to write about what’s widely available for sale. If a brand wants to get more skis in our test, it’s up to them to perform well and sell more skis, and we’re willing to defend this controversial approach in the interests of you guys—our readers.

We convene at Snowbird in early March because we can’t think of a better place or time to test in terms of efficient terrain, reliable snow, convenient/affordable travel, and sheer enjoyment. We base our operations at the bottom of the GadZoom lift, which affords a super efficient high-speed access to almost 2,000 vertical feet of marvelously varied terrain, from hairball chutes to high-speed groomers.

We group the skis by categories according to waist width and intended application, so that on any given test day we’re comparing apples to apples. Every tester skis at least one run on every ski (more than enough for an experienced tester, we assure you). After each run, testers grab the next ski, hop on the chair, and fill out a test card on the way to the top. They tell us exactly what they think, and then we tell you. If a ski doesn’t make the grade, we leave it out, because if we have nothing nice to say, we say nothing at all.

We even show you the data, controversy be damned, because it’s highly illuminating. We know testing is somewhat objective and imperfect, and we know you know that, but we still think you want to see it. Use it wisely. And have a great season.