Each fall, all the big ski and outdoor magazines release their annual ski buyer’s guides showcasing the top skis, boots, and bindings for the season to come. There are standout models and hard to miss favorites, but what does it all really mean? And, is this a reliable way to purchase skis? We caught up with a few industry experts to understand how the review process works, what goes into a review, and how to navigate the information presented in this year’s buyer guides.
Each spring, each major ski magazine — and a website or two — invites a bunch of excited skiers to hunker down at a ski resort to test skis anywhere from four to six days. Typically, these are top-drawer skiers. It’s safe to assume that everyone there can crush the most advanced terrain on the mountain. Skis are pushed to their limits. The goal is to ride each ski in everything from deep powder to perfectly groomed corduroy, and by a variety of testers (in practice, a few days in spring may not produce a really broad range of snow conditions).
Outside those basics, each publication has its own process for testing skis. We know first-hand that the ski testing process is fun as hell, and that the people doing it are awesomely fun to ski with. The dubious side of the ski test is that the time frame for testing is short, and the conditions and terrain may all be the same. It’s hard to fully understand what a ski is capable of in a few runs on the same mountain in similar conditions in a matter of a few days. In order to really test a ski, you would want to ski it in all types of conditions throughout the winter — especially in crappy inconsistent snow, where you really rely on a ski’s versatility.
It’s hard not to get excited about winter while reading gear guides, plus, most reviews are eternally positive. We get it, skiing is fun (especially when you get to rip around the mountain with your best friends), but is it realistic that all the skis reviewed have no negative qualities to them? Probably not. But, remember that ski magazines aren’t in the business to hurt anyone and if they don’t have something nice to say, they probably won’t say anything at all. For more on this subject, check out our gear guide reading tips below.
We hate to say it, but the great days of rigorous ski testing could be over. In an ever-changing advertising landscape, magazines are under more pressure than ever to get along with their advertisers and create good-will. This fall, when you get home and are ready to kick your feet up with a cold beer and digest the latest and greatest in ski design, consider our top tips for getting the most out of a gear review:
The ski buyer’s guides, while fun to read and a quintessential piece of fall nostalgia, should be read with a grain of salt. The testers and their editors don’t know what kind of skier you are, nor the kind of terrain you ski in, nor where you live, nor your fitness level, nor your physical profile. The alternative to this year’s gear guides is, of course, custom skis. Learn more about our process here.
Editor’s Note: Don’t fret, there is an alternative. From what we understand, the guys at Blister Gear Review have spent the last seven years creating an alternative to the ski publication review process. They don’t accept marketing or advertising dollars from any gear companies they review which takes a lot of the misrepresentation out of their reviews. Their all-inclusive reviews note the positives to a ski’s performance, but also tackle what the ski does poorly. They can do this by skiing up to 15 days on a ski before they review it. In our opinion, they are publishing the most rigorous ski reviews today.
Wagner would like to thank Jonathan Ellsworth of Blister Gear Review and Joe Cutts, former manager of the Ski Magazine ski tests, for their expert opinion on how to navigate gear reviews and how the process works. Their opinions and knowledge on the matter, coupled with our own (some of our staff have been ski testers in the past), allowed us to put this article together. Cheers Jonathan and Joe!
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