It just might be our favorite week of the year: Ski Test, Snowbird, Utah, March 10-14.
The preparations have been made: test cards printed, categories defined, test skis identified, Cliff Lodge rooms assigned and—for some of us—gym time increased. We have a lot of miles on snow in front of us.
On Sunday, 30 testers and a crew of staffers pull into Snowbird, along with reps from 16 ski brands bearing 160 key 2015 models to crank up the most comprehensive ski test, hands down, in the industry. Testers will be assigned their official Helly/Hansen test team uniforms. We’ll gather for beer and pizza at the Tram Club, go over some test protocols, catch up with friends, then get to bed because we’re going to need our legs.
Some companies get more entries than others. That’s based on two factors: market share (because we want to tell readers about skis they’re most likely to encounter in the marketplace) and past performance in the test (if a small company makes great skis, we want to tell readers about those too).
The skis are split into groups according to intended application, which means mostly according to waist width. We’ll watch the weather and monitor slope conditions, testing the fat skis on soft snow or powder, the narrow widths on the firm stuff. This mirrors how we present the skis in next fall’s Buyers Guide: grouping them by intended use: hard snow, mixed conditions, the deep stuff.
As test venues go, Snowbird rocks. Not only is Snowbird one of the snowiest places on Earth, the terrain is perfect. We dig our binding pits at the GadZoom lift, which serves up 1,823 vertical in about seven minutes—the perfect mix of terrain and the perfect amount of time on the way back up to fill out a test card.
As for the test team, well, it’d be intimidating to add up the combined days on snow this crew gets over the course of a typical season. We’ve got patrollers, instructors, coaches, ski-shop retailers, elite freeskiers and racers, Easterners, Westerners—all people who are immersed in the ski life. (Hemisphere jumper Mike Rogan typically racks up 300 days on snow each year.)
Every one of these testers has the most important quality of a gear evaluator: years of experience. They’ll rely on it to make sense of what would otherwise be a bewildering onslaught of test models, keeping in mind the needs of all types of skiers—rippers and intermediates, freeskiers and carvers alike.
Each day we’ll rally for breakfast at The Forklift, ski all day, report to Cliff Lodge hot tub (the girls always get there first), gather for a debrief session (feisty arguments, weird consensus, cheesy jokes), eat well, and then, because we’re three dozen typical ski bum buddies together in paradise, we’ll have a cookie and go to bed. Or something.
Monitor this site; we’ll be posting galleries of photos from the test, along with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram updates using the hashtag #SkiTest14. Other than being hip high in powder, we can’t think of a better way to spend a week.