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2013 Ski Test: How It Works

2013 Ski Test: How It Works

We pull back the curtain on our industry-leading ski test.
By Kimberly Beekman
posted: 09/19/2012
2013 How We Test FT

We know how this sounds, but testing skis is challenging. It requires a racer’s technical skills to differentiate between models, plus a writer’s verbal skills to articulate those differences clearly—not to mention a shop guy’s knowledge of the equipment. Does a ski that slings you across the fall line get its power from a stiff tail? A sharp tune? A sheet of titanium? Also required: quads of steel. In the 2012 test at Snowbird we tested a total of 131 skis over five days, averaging upwards of 30,000 vert per day. Most of all a tester needs testing experience. Even for an excellent skier, the sheer number of test models can be overwhelming at first. But with experience, nuances between skis become more obvious. 

 Each winter, we discuss our categories with product managers from each major manufacturer, who then decide which of their models they think will compete well in each category. (We also run a separate ski test with smaller “indie” brands. Look for those results in a later issue.) We test only high-performance models because our readers are avid skiers. If you’re not a ripper quite yet, look for skis with high scores in the Forgiveness criterion, or consider less expensive models related to the models we review. Each manufacturer is allowed a certain number of entries—some get as many as 11, some as few as six— which they can allocate in any categories they choose. (Many enter two in Deep Snow, for instance, because that’s the hot category these days. How do we decide how many models to allot each brand? Our formula takes into account the manufacturer’s market share (we want to evaluate skis that consumers can readily find) and its performance in the previous year’s test (we want the best skis from brands that have already proven themselves). We shouldn’t have to say this, but we do: We never make companies pay or buy advertisements to be included; an comparison of ad pages to gold medal skis shows zero correlation.


Test team › We handpick a cadre of ripping, experienced testers: ex-racers, instructors, shop guys, retailers, local rippers. For objectivity’s sake, we avoid sponsored athletes. Any cards that demonstrate company allegiances are thrown out before results are tallied.

Venue › We test late in the winter at Snowbird, Utah, because of its convenience, variety of terrain, quality and consistency of snow and, well, because it’s Snowbird. Which is to say it’s awesome.

Test protocol › We set our test corral up at the bottom of the Gadzoom Express quad (high-speed, 1,823 vertical feet) where the product managers hang out with diamond stones for between-run tune-ups. We lap the lift for five days straight, testing the category that best suits the conditions each day. Testers take each ski into every type of terrain, then fill out a card on the chairlift. They score each in nine criteria, then write descriptive comments about the ski’s behavior on the back. The skis are then ranked according to their average score across all criteria.

Results › We medal a total of 81 skis, a little more than half of what we test, which, in turn, is only the top 10 percent of what’s on the market. We do not review skis that didn’t make the cut.

Here are quick previews of our three test categories:

Hard Snow

Mixed Snow (West)

Mixed Snow (East)

Deep Snow

reviews of 2013 Ski Test: How It Works
Got my Ski magazine and can't seems to put it down. I look forward to it every year. Thanks and can't wait for the snow to fly here in Utah.
I ski in the midwest and your testing is done in an area of frequent powder. Why don't you use a non-powder test site in the mid-west or east? I first noticed this bias two years ago reading ski reviews. The writers were real hot about rockers and about half of the models described were some form of a rocker. Rocker to a mid-westerner means, thin snow. How about testing on hard pack and ice? Everyone skiing east of the Rockies has to deal with those conditions. Regarding your registration page - Why is the oldest birth year you allow 1964? I'm way past that and still skiing. I also have the impression that your testers are young and athletic. I instruct in the mid-west where most skiers are the opposite of your testers. Positive note - skies have definitely improved in recent years - even for mid-western skiing and older skiers. My most common advice is to ditch those old skies or garage sale bargains and get something new (beside getting off your heels). don
I was surprised to see some ski brands had no golden awards, one that caught my eye in particular was Armada. In Fernie, Armada has a pretty loyal following. Not me in particular, I like Line and was looking at the Influence (105 got gold but 115 did not, which is hard to explain maybe I don't understand the system). The appearance of objectivity is very important. Maybe Armada wasn't interested in your ratings? If that is the case a listing of companies that weren't interested should be provided. Exactly how the products get selected for testing is definitely not clear (at least not to me).
October 23, 2011 Shamefully, I just got around to reading your September, 2011 Buyers Guide, in order to get myself pumped up for the approaching ski season. I read your ski reviews with great interest, and certainly commend you on your testing thoroughness. However, I’m in a quandary about your visual ski ratings using a trail rating analogy: Does a square mean the ski is only suitable for intermediates, while a square and diamond mean suitable for intermediates to experts, and a double diamond mean suitable only for super-experts? What are the groupings – maybe snow type: powder, crud and hard pack? But, if so, then, what is the sometimes used fourth grouping? You do your readers a disservice by not providing a graphics legend to clarify the quick-look graphics ski rating summaries. I hope that next year’s Buyers Guide will contain some sort of description about these cryptic graphics ratings so that I’ll be able to understand exactly what they mean. Skibob
What is a "Mixed Snow Value" and how is it calculated? My assumption was that the lower the number, the less capable the ski of going from groomed to off piste. I see a lot of ones and twos, but then the Kendo appears with an eleven!
How did you manage to pick the Blizzard Bonafide as the best Mixed Snow West ski yest not mention it in your list of Mixed Snow East skis? I agree it is a fantastic ski and will be on it for my second season this year but it is definitely more geared to harder Eastern conditions. I've used it both East and West but would pick a wider ski if I lived in the West. When I first demo'ed the ski in Aspen at the end of the 2010-11 season, I asked the Blizzard rep, who lives in New Hampshire, for a ski that would work well at Mad River Glen and the Bonafide was his first choice. Boy was he right!
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