SKI Test 2003: Buyer Be Savvy

Ski Test 2003

Before you settle on new skis or boots, you've got work to do. Fortunately, it's an enjoyable process, and there's time before the snow flies.

First, decide where you'll shop. Urban and suburban stores tend to offer lower pricing. Some have excellent staffs and service, but the only way to find out is to visit. Avoid "big box" stores. They tend to carry the cheapest models, and the staff rarely knows skiing. At the other end of the spectrum are ski-town shops. If their prices are higher, it's because rents are higher and the selling season is shorter. But such shops are staffed by dedicated skiers. Intelligent sales advice almost always saves you money in the long run.

How much will you spend? Don't be shocked by the "MSRP" prices in these pages: "Street" prices are 10 to 25 percent lower. Many buyers err on the side of frugality-and get what they pay for (especially with boots, where some low-end models are awful). Others think "more expensive" is always "better," though the priciest skis and boots are often too demanding for them. Mid-range offerings can be great-especially in the era of super-sidecuts.

Next, decide what size and shape ski you want. The rule for length: forehead-high for experts, chin-high for beginners, and nose-high for everyone else. As for width, mid-fats are taking over. Not quite powder skis, but wider than conventional skis, they measure 70 to 85 mm at the waist. The narrower ones are surprisingly grippy on hard snow; the widest can be helpless in anything but powder, where they're sublime. Moderate widths are the most versatile.

With boots, fit comes first. Try on many models, and don't choose too large a size: When the liner packs out, you'll be swimming. Tight fit means better performance. Remove the liner, step in the shell, and with your toes touching the front, make sure there's no more than 2 cm of room behind your heel. Next, find a boot you can flex: If you have trouble budging warm plastic in the shop, imagine it on a frigid day. You should be able to bend your knees without being pushed backward.

Do your homework. Read up, visit websites, and rely on good shop people. Whenever possible, try different models on snow. And, of course, use this Buyers Guide. Choose your skier-type, decide what kind of skiing you enjoy most, and look for the best match for you. If a shop doesn't have the model reviewed here, there's often one just above or below it in the product line. Find out what the differences are, and decide if it suits your needs even better. But with any of the medal winners on these pages, you have the word of SKI Magazine's testers: This stuff rocks.