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Question: Can you help me to understand why, in the 2020 SKI Magazine Gear Guide, the Stöckli 88 came in at number seven, but in 2021 Gear Guide, the same ski was number one? My understanding is that ski hadn’t changed except for the graphic. I am trying to better understand how you do the testing, not so much a question about that specific ski. – Adam in Pennsylvania
Every winter, around the end of February and the beginning of March, SKI rounds up about thirty testers to get together and test planks that will be available at retailers the following autumn and winter. These testers are professionals within the ski industry with resumes that include PSIA National Team Membership, international competition experience, ordering the inventory that ski shops will carry on the rack next year, and more. At the test, every tester fills out a scorecard for each ski based on specific performance characteristics. Those scores are averaged for each ski, and then the skis are ranked according to these scores in SKI Magazine’s annual Gear Guide.
Learn More About the SKI Test Scoring Categories: How to Become a Ski Tester
Watch: How We Test
While many testers have years of ski testing experience, there is always some turnover in the test squad that brings in different testers with unique skiing styles and experiences. The new testers’ scores compared to the previous year’s crew is the first variable that can shift the ranking of a ski compared to previous seasons.
The location and snow conditions of the test venue can also influence ski scores. For the past two years, the test was held at Taos Ski Valley, N.M. Previous to that, SKI tested at Deer Valley, Snowbird, Beaver Creek, and other locations. This year, SKI will be at Solitude Mountain Resort, Utah. The variations in terrain at each location—as well as the snow conditions, which can also vary year to year—can sometimes help amplify or weaken a certain ski’s performance characteristics, affecting its overall score.
Yet another variable is the other skis entered into the category. Most ski brands typically release either new versions of skis or entirely new lines every two to four seasons. Brands choose which ski they want to enter in each category: Carving, Frontside, All-Mountain, All-Mountain Wide, Deep Snow, and Value. Sometimes the same skis are entered for consecutive tests, including the Stöckli you mentioned, but all-new models are also added by other brands that may not be quite as enthralling as previous models (according to our testers, at least), which allows some skis to rise in the rankings.
Skis that have the highest overall score in their category are given the “Best in Test” distinction, and all-new models that win their categories are given the “Gear of the Year” distinction.