Reflections of a Guest Tester

This year, we invited eight guest testers to our annual all-mountain ski test at Deer Valley, Utah. Here's one man's take.
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Joe Moylan

We woke up on our final morning of testing a little sore and a bit tired. More than 30 of us had spent the last three days skiing the very best K2, Rossignol, Kastle, Fischer, Nordica and many others had to offer. As we made our way to the ski corral, the pains and the fatigue quickly melted away. A storm had raged all night, but now the skies were blue and 11 inches of fresh snow awaited our arrival. I clicked into my first set and loaded the chair. I could hear bombs exploding at nearby Park City as I floated above 1,300 vertical feet of virgin corduroy. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as a giant smile came over my face. Could it get any better than this?

Four days earlier, I, along with seven other amateur skiers from around the country, landed in Deer Valley, Utah to represent the inaugural class of SKI Magazine’s guest tester program; an experiment more than 25 years in the making.

I earned myself a spot on this prestigious team one afternoon in February when I sent the editors at SKI an email explaining why I would make the perfect guest tester. The “job” description they sent me the following day was straightforward enough: Get to Deer Valley, test the latest and greatest from the world’s top manufacturers, and, oh yeah, swap turns with former Olympians, U.S. Ski Teamers, World Cup champions, and the editorial staff at the magazine. How hard could it possibly be?

It turned out to be plenty difficult, as no one prepared the rookies for the amount of booze that lay in wait. We received our first lesson during the welcome dinner when we just happened to park ourselves at the same restaurant as the pros and were immediately barraged by rounds of Patron. The libations continued well into the early morning hours as we double backed to the hotel for an evening of “boat races.” My team won the first couple of relays, but I was definitely the weak link. Jackson Hogen, whom you may know as the Pontiff of Powder, was decent enough to tell me so, saying that I “drink beer like old women drink wine.” A reality I can’t defend, but blame largely on a narrow throat caused by my crane-like features.

I stumbled back to my condo at 2:00 a.m., my ego slightly bruised, but my excitement for the coming day still well-intact. I remember thinking, “If these guys ski as hard as they party, this week is going to be heavy on fun and light on lucid memories.” I was right on both fronts.

The following morning the rookies were thrown into the ski testing experience like anxious children into a swimming pool. We had four categories to test, a dozen skis in each, and just four days to get them all in. We were confined to the runs in the immediate vicinity of the Sterling Express lift, which not only provided an impartial testing environment, but also maximized our time. There was, after all, free skiing in the afternoon, an unfamiliar mountain to explore, and chutes to be had.

We spent the next four mornings doing laps, riding each ski once, and logging data on our unique observations.

I believe SKI brought the amateurs in to provide a fresh perspective that its primary demographic could relate to. After all, the vast majority of subscribers are not professionals. Were we successful? I’d like to think so. Within just a few runs we were all speaking the vocabulary of the job, could verbalize the different mannerisms of each ski, and were quick to separate the obvious dogs from the clear stand outs.

Our process for data compilation was wholly unscientific, which is why it was so much fun to collect. In all honesty, this was the single greatest experience of my young adult life. If you had the opportunity to participate, but passed, feel free to take a moment and kick yourself. For the rest of you learning about this for the first time, all I can say is do whatever it takes to be here next season. Just keep in mind you will be competing for at least one less spot. Nothing short of a restraining order will keep me from Deer Valley in 2010. – Joe Moylan



SKI Magazine’s 2008-09 Gear Test: How the Test Works

Test Director Joe Cutts guides you through the inner workings of SKI’s annual gear test at Deer Valley, Utah. Find out who writes the reviews for the magazine’s Buyers Guide, how the testers push each ski to its max, and what inspires them.