In our “Ask the Gear Nerd” series we answer your gear-related questions, so you don’t have to make the same mistakes we did. To submit your gear questions, first, join Active Pass, then email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I am an advanced skier looking for a new pair of skis. Is it possible to get a quality pair for under $600 these days? – Stu S., Denver, Colo.
The short answer is, yes! You can. In fact, we test skis in this price range at SKI’s annual gear test and they have their own category in our results, which you’ll find in the “Value Skis” department. The purpose of this category is to determine the best skis around the $600 price point.
If you’re not familiar with the Value ski test, here’s a primer: At SKI Test, brands can enter a second ski of their choice in any standard category—carving, frontside, all-mountain, all-mountain wide, and deep snow. The catch is that their entry must be priced at or under $650 MSRP (or around $750 MSRP with binding). These entries are then tested along with all of the regular-priced entries at the SKI Test and are scored the same way by our test crew.
After the scores are tallied, the Value entries are ranked against other Value entries with a special equation. That scoring formula takes the ski’s score from testers, multiplies it by 1,000, and divides it by the price.
This formula heavily emphasizes the price, which is why we also include the regular test score alongside the value score.
Because of the varied categories, the Value Ski results almost always have something for everyone. The entries from Nordica and Head are usually great options for intermediate and advanced skiers who are ready to break through when it comes to carving and moguls. There are usually some twin-tipped options from Armada and Liberty that are great for skiers who dabble in the park but also want a ski that can tackle the whole mountain. And there are always all-mountain options from various brands that can hold their own everywhere they go.
If price is the most important part of your ski shopping experience, the value score equation tends to rank the most affordable options the highest. These skis are ideal for lightweight skiers who are happy on the blues but might want to occasionally check out what the black diamond runs are like.
If performance is most important, the skis with the highest test scores are going to be the best options. These skis are relatively more expensive than the rest of the Value category, but are still good options for advanced and even expert skiers trying to get the most bang for their buck.
Pro-tip: Because the skis entered in the Value category usually don’t have a lot of marketing hype, they are even easier to find at a significant discount during end-of-ski-season sales.
Two Value skis really stood out at last year’s SKI Test: The Armada ARV 96 and the Head Absolute Joy. Both earned the highest test scores in the Value rankings and were ranked very high in their SKI Test categories (men’s all-mountain and women’s frontside, respectively). They made such an impression on testers that a few mentioned these skis by name when asked what they were looking forward to skiing at the beginning of SKI Test this year.
Long story short, advanced and even expert skiers can definitely score a great pair of skis in the $600 price range, sometimes even with bindings. Just keep your eyes on the Value category in the 2022 Gear Guide this fall to see which affordable skis rose to the top, or check out last season’s results here: Best Men’s Value Skis and Top Women’s Value Skis.