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The Test

An insider’s guide to how we test

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Q. How does the test process work?

A. SKI’s gear test is the most comprehensive, objective test in the ski world. Before we hit the snow, we spend countless hours discussing categories that mesh with what the manufacturers offer and that help consumers identify what’s right for them. Manufacturers then decide which model to enter in each category.

Our veteran test teams gather to test powder skis at Snowbird, Utah, all-mountain skis at Deer Valley and boots in Stratton, Vt. All are professional and experienced. They are former racers, coaches, retailers, instructors and ski-town locals. Manufacturers tote their fleets of gear, and tune the skis meticulously before the test.

Testers ski one category (roughly 15–20 skis/boots) per day, taking each pair everywhere—groomers, bumps, crud, steeps and powder. Then they complete a test card, rating the skis in eight performance criteria (see chart), and writing extensive comments. At the end of each day, testers debrief (discussions while testing are forbidden). Scorecards are collected, and the numbers entered into a database that corrects for standard deviation (some testers are stingy; others generous). Medal-winners are the models with the highest average scores across all criteria.

Q. Why are all the reviews positive?

A. We only publish the winners. Fewer than half the gear tested—manufacturers submitted 172 skis overall—earn scores worthy enough to win. Can’t find a review of a particular ski? It didn’t make the cut or wasn’t entered into the test.

Q: Do you ever use amateur testers?

A. To diversify our ski test team this year, we brought in guest testers. Olympians they were not, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a bunch more passionate about the sport. They followed the same protocol as the pros, but we kept the scores separate for consistency’s sake.

Q. Why haven’t you ever shown the rankings before?

A. Testing isn’t an exact science, so we’ve always hesitated to reveal the rankings. This year, however, we let the statistics speak for themselves. But remember: All the featured gear is excellent; choosing is just a matter of taste.

Q. What should i buy first, new boots or new skis?

A. Boots. New skis may be sexier, but if you’re sloshing around in old, packed-out boots, you won’t be able to feel any difference. Nothing improves your skiing more than good, properly fitted boots. 

Q. I’m an aggressive expert female skier. Do i need to buy women-specific gear?

A. Women’s gear has come a long way, baby. No longer just a wimpier, flowery version of the men’s, women’s skis and boots are engineered to suit the female anatomy—with all the performance any expert woman could need (save, perhaps, a heavyweight World Cup downhiller). Still deliberating? We’ll simplify: Women’s gear equals more fun on the hill.

Q. What do the numbers mean?

A.Testers scored each ski from one to five in the eight criteria listed below, and compared each ski only to others in its category—not to every ski tested. In other words, a Powder: Super Wide ski might have earned a higher score in hard-snow performance than a Speed ski, but that doesn’t mean it grips better on ice; it just grips ice well for a ski in its category.