Part Four: Putting It All Together

January 8, 2009

In the first three parts of our four part series, “Understanding & Choosing a Ski”, we’ve covered the major classes of skis (carving, all mountain, freeride, and backcountry), all of the most important characteristics of each particular model (waist width, sidecut, stiffness, and length), and even touched on why people make the decisions they do when buying a ski. In this final part, we’ll focus less on the actual components of the ski, and more on the buying process. When to try? Where to buy? What’s really in a brand name?

The Ideal Process: Selecting A Ski

In ideal circumstances, You’d start by trying a ski from each of the four main categories of skis we described in part one to see how they differ. Ski a carver and feel its responsiveness. Move on to an all mountain ski and understand its versatility. If conditions permit, hit the woods to find some deeper snow, and see just how well a backcountry ski performs in its element.

Once you’ve had the opportunity to contrast these main varieties of ski and narrow it down to the particular class that best suits you, try a couple of runs on as many skis of similar lengths in that class as you possibly can. If you’ve decided you are looking for a wide backcountry ski because you typically hit deep, untracked snow in the high alpine, try as many backcountry models from different brands as possible. Just remember - If the skis aren’t the same length, you aren’t comparing apples to apples.

The difference you see from model to model will be considerable. It can be difficult, but try to put words to your experiences, and write them down - “The Rossignol Phantom was softer than the B82, but the little bit of added sidecut made a big difference when I was turning.” The time and effort it takes to think about and write down these observations will pay off in the long run.

Finally, go back out with a few lengths of the particular model you’ve decided you like best. If you skied on a 170, try the next size up and the next size down if possible. If you are looking at a carving or all mountain ski, pay particular attention to control at higher speeds. With a freeski or backcountry model, think about the weight and flotation you are seeing from each length. Choosing a length is often about making trade-offs, but one size will probably feel more right than the others.

What a Name Does and Doesn’t Mean

People are always surprised to hear my philosophy on brands - that the brand of your ski really doesn’t matter as much as you probably think it does. For one thing, many people have the misconception that the brand of ski is in some way associated with the type of ski. While this is true in some cases (Fischer is particularly well known for its racing stock, while Icelantic pumps out only some of the widest powder boards we’ve seen yet), most manufacturers have a lineup of skis that crosses the entire spectrum, and there’s no reason to limit yourself. Focus on the individual models, and not who manufactured them.

Indicators of Quality

My statements above would be considered downright nonsense if we were talking about anything other than skis. The reality is, though, that there really aren’t any bad ski manufacturers around - I can’t think of one in particular that doesn’t have a loyal following, regularly produces products of questionable workmanship, or doesn’t have at least one ski in the past years’ lineup that was worthy of praise.

At the same time, quality is something that you’ll need to consider - because just about every one of said manufacturers has a line of beginner skis. It isn’t that they are designed or constructed poorly, it’s that they aren’t designed to handle the type of abuse that anyone other than a true beginner is likely to throw at them. They are designed to be affordable and to get you down the hill - so steer clear of anything labeled “beginner” or even “intermediate”.

In Conclusion…

I know what you are thinking: it isn’t a perfect world, and trying that many skis would take me an entire season. But that isn’t necessarily true - if you can find a demo event. Often put on by local shops, manufacturers, or third party demo organizers, these events bring hundreds of skis from a variety of brands right to the slopes for you to try for free.

Check the events calendar at your resort of choice, ask around at some of the larger shops in your area, or go directly to manufacturers’ websites to find out when these are happening. In the years that I’ve staffed a demo, I’ve always noticed a considerable number of skiers who come just when they hear a demo is happening. If you are looking to buy skis, you should be too.

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