by Wagner Skis / Feb 20, 2021

Sure, it’s best to try skis before you buy them, but there are so many brands, waist-widths, price points, and flavors out there that it can be dizzying to choose which models to demo. Here’s a quick and easy guide to help you through the process.

Start by choosing the category of ski that you are looking for, which is mainly determined by waist-width. Do you want something versatile for all-mountain, all the time? You’ll want an all-mountain waist width appropriate for your ability and local conditions. Are you a groomer-oriented skier or want a carving ski for your quiver? You’ll want to go roughly 10 mm narrower. Do you want a dedicated powder ski? You’ll want to go roughly 10 mm wider. (Read this guide on what skis are best for different ability levels.)

In terms of the actual demo, the best way to go is to find a dedicated event at your local resort, where you can demo as many skis as you want. If that’s not an option, go to your local shop and talk to the folks on the floor. Here’s how to get the most out of each scenario.

Demo Day

First, you’ll want to memorize your DIN (the number on your ski binding that indicates the release setting) and boot-sole length, which is listed in mm on the outside shell, usually near the heel lug. The brand rep will need this information every time in order to adjust your binding.

Take each ski out and test it on the same run, preferably one where you can get a little bit of every terrain—groomed, bumps, trees, soft snow. Ski only one run on it. (You’ll get the most important information about its personality during the first few turns, before your body and brain adjust to it.) Make short and long turns, carve it hard and then back off and skid it around. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you ski: Is it light and lively? Damp and stable? Does it make you feel more confident? Does it take over and refuse to do your bidding, or does it let you do the driving? Is it demanding or forgiving? Does it hold an edge or chatter at speed? Most importantly, is it fun?

Be open to trying different sizes of the same ski—the 156 cm length might feel squirrely, but the 163 may be bomber. Also, try hard to be brand-agnostic. Just because you loved your old Dynastars doesn’t mean you won’t love the new Heads. The most important thing is to determine why you liked previous models, and to communicate that effectively to the rep or the shop so they can steer you in the right direction.                                                                   

Shop Demo

In this case, you’ll be skiing on the same ski for the entire day. Again, the information you get on your first run will be the most important, as you adjust and figure out how to ski pretty much anything as time goes on.

Talk to the folks on the shop floor at length before you decide on which models to test drive. Tell them your ability level, terrain preference, and favorite skis from your past. Be honest. (Women have the tendency to underrate their ability, while men overrate. Deflecting or impressing will not serve you in getting on the right gear.)

Get three recommendations within the same category and try them all. (Chances are, you may fall in love with the first one you demo because it’s new to you and has a fresh tune, so be sure to follow through and sample several.) Take notes on your phone on the lift rides so you remember specific attributes. (It’s easy for them to blur together after a few weeks go by.)

Once you get a good feel for what you liked and why, you can either buy that model from the shop or give the information to a custom ski designer at Wagner, who can build you your perfect pair. Schedule a call with us today.


Article by Kimberly Beekman

Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.