The 2001 SKI Magazine Junior Ski Test, Sugarbush, Vt. Our mission (and we definitely choose to accept it) is simple: Try 53 pairs of skis on a great mountain, with the best snow in years, and then put into words what we feel on our feet as we rip through slalom gates, carve up groomers, bash through moguls and float among trees.
Here's how it works: A month before the test, we ask ski manufacturers for their hottest new junior skis for 2002. Boxes arrive at my doorstep. As the collection begins to fill up my kitchen, we catalog and code each of the skis, dividing theminto three categories: Race/All-Mountain Expert, All-Mountain Cruiser and Value/Learner (descriptions follow).
Our test team comprises 15 racers, ages 8-15, from the Green Mountain Valley School Ski Club, chosen not only for their skiing ability (they all rip, and not just in gates) but for their ability to evaluate skis and verbalize differences. As you'd imagine, they're all amped to ski the latest and greatest gear, to get their photo in SKI Magazine and, most importantly, to check out which skis they want their parents to buy for them next year.
As Day 1 arrives, the skis await in racks by the lift while the testers boot up. Some of the kids are nervous, but coaches are ready to help them if they need it. ("How do you spell 'controllabilitywise?' ") And binding techies are ready to turn screws. But first, I lay down the rules. "No talking about the skis on the lift; try to put every ski through the same test; one run per pair; keep an open mind; be very descriptive; and have fun!"
Off they go in a mad dash. First they take a run on their own skis-to establish a benchmark-then they head to the racks. Run after run, the testers ski down together, drop off skis, run inside to fill out test cards, grab energy bars, pick new skis, get their bindings checked and hustle to the lift for another run.
Day 1 is all business, and the testers fly through the racks. Day 2 starts off well, but in the early afternoon, discipline crumbles. One group of testers has built a kicker to determine how well the skis spin 720s; the others are deep in the woods testing whether the All-Mountain skis carve on tree-bark. Meanwhile, the coaches have snuck into the racks and begun testing skis themselves, and I'm stealing energy bars out of the testers' hands. Order is restored, however, and we power through the remaining skis.
Last on the to-do list is the debriefing, during which we talk about the skis in each category. Sometimes testers who are dry and analytical on paper become exceedingly animated and descriptive when asked about their favorites. (Example: "These skis are snappier than a pond of piranhas.")
There you have it. Now the results. Note: Each ski is ranked for Performance and Fun on a 1-5 scale.