RealSkiers: So You Want to Test Skis?
There's a big difference between skiing and ski testing. (Copper Mountain)
Everybody loves to demo new skis. When most skiers try out a new model, they just go skiing and see if they like it. They may lack the vocabulary to describe precisely what they prefer and what they loathe, but they can easily distinguish between being happy and being miserable.
Realskiers.com readers tend to be more analytical, striving to think their way to an optimal solution. They want to understand all they can about the behavioral bundle somehow encapsulated in the static object they can only flex and caress when pulled off a ski shop rack.
Now all demo devotees, whether disciplined or devil-may-care, can apply the Realskiers.com test method and see how their results compare with those of the experts. The Realskiers.com test card has been converted into a handy mobile app. Links to both Apple and Android apps are provided at the bottom of the Realskiers.com home page.
Step by step instructions on how to use the app are here.
If you are a consumer (as opposed to a Realskiers Test Center employee), please enter the lower-case letter "c" when asked for shop name. This will allow us to segregate and compare consumer scores to those recorded by our pros.
If you make a sincere effort at filling out a test card, you'll quickly discover there's a big difference between skiing and ski testing. You can't evaluate what you're skiing at the same time as you're sorting out how to ski. Ski testing requires laser focus on how the ski behaves under varying circumstances; a certain measure of technical proficiency is a prerequisite for any reasonable capacity for ski assessment.
So, presuming one has the requisite skill set, how does one go about capturing the data needed to fill out a test card?
First, make your test run as consistent as possible. Unless testing Powder skis, you need groomed or partially groomed runs to accurately read several criteria. A short mogul section is useful, as is a patch of off-piste rubble or a glade of trees; anywhere the snow is uneven and unprepared.
Once rolling, execute every variety of turn shape from short to long, shallow to deep, sudden to languorous. As you move through turn shapes, move up the speedometer. Make slight shifts in your balance point to assess how willing the ski is to forgive foibles.
Drift isn't exactly synonymous with skidding, but it's a part of any turn that isn't a continuous carve, i.e., most of them. The ability of the ski to feather the turn by briefly releasing the edge is an indispensable component of high performance skiing.
Finally, we arrive at the tenth criterion, Finesse/Power balance. Finesse qualities include forgiveness, drift, slow-speed turning and short-radius turning ease. Power attributes such as stability at speed, rebound and continuous carving capability are best appreciated by aggressive skiers with a complete skill set. A ski that is responsive to pressuring at a high edge angle yet also can be steered easily from an upright stance (and concomitant low edge angles) has a good balance of Power and Finesse properties, making it suitable for a very broad range of skier types.
Before I bid you bon voyage on your first test run, allow me to point out a couple of limitations inherent to our methodology. Note that we don't score points for lighter weight, skin compatibility or climbing ease; in other words, our criteria are not adapted for evaluating backcountry skis. We also don't ask our testers to ski backwards, ride rails or drop into a half-pipe, so we steer clear of examining Pipe & Park models.
By now the Alert Reader may be wondering, just what is Jackson going to do with scores and comments contributed by civilians? My hope is the app allows me to capture enough consumer feedback to compare the "civilian result" with the average scores submitted by our Test Center personnel. If it also allows a few skiers to make a more informed buying decision, then the exercise will have been worth it.