Sam Mezcat at OkemoAt a ski resort Demo Day, I asked my chair mate how he liked the skis he was trying. “I guess they’re OK, but I really don't know what to look for,” he said. 

With a huge — and constantly changing — array of skis and snowboards, choosing new equipment can be confusing. 

“Demo-ing from a respected shop is key because knowledgeable staff can help you pick the best skis or snowboard for you,” Sean Meszkat, director of retail at Okemo, told

By getting “a feel for your ability and goals,” retail staff can guide you in selecting models to try, agrees Gary Lisbon, regional manager for Vail Resorts Specialty Sports Venture shops, told us. 

They can tell as soon as you return if you had a good experience as smiles say it all. “Some buy the demos right then and there,” Lisbon noted. 

Both advise that demo/rentals staff will want to know: What area(s) do you ski/ride? What trails? How often? What was the last ski/board you bought? What type of skier/rider are you? What are your goals? When was the last time you demoed? 

Rockers for demo-ing at Vail ResortsMeszkat cites “the ease of demo-ing on the mountain, which enables one to try many models without having to leave the area. A good selection of brands is helpful,” he added, noting you might try something different due to the advice you receive and the ease of trying it and then find yourself pleasantly surprised. 

“You can try several models as conditions change,” Lisbon added, noting that what starts as a powder day for trying big, wide powder skis may see conditions get packed out and call for an all-mountain ski later.

Why Demo?

Demo-ing is key to finding the perfect match if you are in the market for new skis or a snowboard. But Meszkat adds, “I think everyone should demo!” 

He sees demo-ing as a way to “keep up on the latest technology. Skis and boards change yearly, with companies coming out with new models and shapes,” so it benefits people to “get out and try the new stuff,” he said.

Lisbon notes that  as technology has changed, the array of equipment available has grown and “the improvements make skiing and riding easier.” There are different models for parks, pipes, powder, moguls, backcountry, et cetera so you need to consider your needs or whether an all-mountain model is most appropriate for you, he explained.

At Vail Resorts Ventures Breeze shops in Denver, a demo season pass is offered that enables the Front Range market to take out demos for two or three days at a time. 

“Some just want that opportunity to be on the latest technology while others want to try top-of-the-line models before purchasing,” Lisbon said. 

Westerners may have more need for fat skis or “chubbs” on a powder day. Powder skis are wider and cambered under foot and have big "rocker" in tips and tails so they float in deep snow. For Easterners who vacation in the West, demoing provides the ability to try the powder “fat boys” while sampling the latest technology. Plus there’s a convenience factor of not lugging equipment through airports or paying extra baggage fees, Lisbon points out.

A Women’s Model

“Engineers are designing great products today, even high-end skis for women,” says Iseult Devlin, a  Stratton ski instructor and a tester of skis.

Devlin met Jeannie Thoren in the 1980s when Thoren was helping Blizzard design a ski for women. Thoren believes that “women are not small men and that anatomical differences affect how skis react to skeletal and muscular differences between genders,” Devlin noted. [Thoren was recently elected into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame as a pioneer in developing women-specific skis.] 

Women’s models have a lighter weight, usually sport a forward binding location, often have a softer flex, and are made for all ability levels. There are women-specific snowboards, too.

More Tips 

“Anyone demo-ing should go on the same run several times, make the same kinds of turns, including short, medium and long radius, and find some ice to be sure they will hold for you. Demo the next ski on the same conditions. The cost to demo is usually deducted from the new equipment price,” Devlin advises. 

Some resorts host complimentary Demo Days where various manufacturers’ equipment can be tried. You can sample the latest technology and maybe discover a reason to purchase new equipment — or to become a “two quiver” snow aficionado.

If you demo before you buy, you know you'll be happy with your choice. If you start now, you’ll be ready for the sales that come up in the spring and next fall. 

That is, if you can wait that long! Smiles matter. If you find one you love, grab it. Popular models sell out quickly.

Photos: Top -- Okemo's Sean Meszkat says demo the new technology (Bonnie MacPherson); Right -- Vail Resorts has plenty of rocker style equipment to demo (Vail Resorts); Bottom -- Sean Meszkat demo's rocketed skis on Okemo groomers (Bonnie MacPherson)

Sean Metzger on rockers at Okemo