RealSkiers: Ski Of The Year
As a ski test editor for realskiers.com, I’m expected to name my Ski of the Year, the sure-fire, can’t-miss, only-an-idiot-wouldn’t-love-it best ski money can buy. Not wishing to disappoint my public, I have dutifully done so.But I did so in full awareness that the enterprise of picking a single ski that is somehow a cut above all the rest is part public service, part public disservice. Every ski review based on on-snow testing – the only kind worth entertaining at all – is a composite of several snapshot ski runs.
If the testers are technically proficient and have years of experience, the composite picture will be sharp, well-defined and an accurate depiction of what is likely to be felt by another proficient skier.
If the testers are either less skilled than they imagine, don’t adhere to consistent testing practices and/or compare disparate ski types in an incoherent jumble, the resultant “winning” ski might just as well be pulled from a hat. There are a couple of published ski tests that seem to take perverse pride in selecting as Ski of the Year a “winner” that no other test worldwide has on its list of nominees.
Given the inherent subjective elements in any ski evaluation, it’s fair to compare a ski test to a beauty contest. Selecting one woman as fairest of them all is what makes the latter a competition – and also utterly ludicrous. Beauty, as we all know, is inseparable from the eye of the beholder. Declaring one woman out of fifty, a hundred or a million to be the most dazzling, talented, beguiling - pick your favorite bundle of adjectives to go along with your “winner” – is transparently idiotic. But that doesn’t seem to derail the beauty pageant biz or the public’s insistence on an anointed best of the belles.
If the same hundred young women were transported around the continent every spring to multiple venues and subjected to a varying set of criteria before wildly different judging panels, you wouldn’t end up with one Miss America, but several. So it is with ski tests. So it is with ski test “winners.”
Ski tests are news, not history. They lack the perspective of time, of knowing which skis actually moved the sport forward or helped more skiers enjoy it. While they’re an aide in understanding the market of the moment, they tend to be deaf to the past and no more able to divine the future than any other human effort on this front.
For example, if one had to pick the most important ski of the 1990s, it would probably be the Elan SCX, the avatar of shape. At the time I was conducting the Snow Country Magazine ski test with an elite crew of testers but inappropriate snow conditions (wet new snow with flakes the size of silver dollars); our team hated it and nearly every other prototypical shaped ski we tried that day. We now know that the S ski, the SCX and the Kneissl Ergo were the first signs of an incipient design revolution. But if all you looked at were our test results, you wouldn’t have known it then.
While the evolution of the alpine ski is far from over, we are now in a period of design maturity. The well-capitalized brands know how to use their machinery to best effect. Each has their own recipe for success, but every design chef knows his way around the kitchen. No one with a respectable R&D budget is making bad skis. Even some of the microbrew brands have stringent quality control standards that deliver a high performance ride.
Point being, it’s hard to find a terrible ski. Where I do my field research in the guise of working at Bobo’s Mogul Mouse in Reno, I once counted close to 200 adult models in stock, and I probably missed a few. The worst ski on that wall, in the right size, in the optimal conditions and with a favorable tune, is still eminently skiable.
Excellence Is Omnipresent
If the buyer of a current ski has a problem, it’s that excellence is omnipresent. The market is so chock full of well-designed skis that it’s more important to pick the right category (roughly segregated by waist width) than it is to find the right model.
I’m not suggesting there aren’t any definable differences among skis of the same ilk; to sustain the pageant parallel, while a dozen women might all be described as beautiful, one would still expect to find many variations in shape, height, hair color and style, etc. While the quality is consistent, the details diverge.
People – you read it here first – are not the same. Our tastes differ. We move through the world at different paces. No two publications are likely to pick the same Ski of the Year. Even within the confines of realskiers.com, my favorites of this year do not overlap with those of Peter Keelty, my co-editor.
There are many reasons why there’s little consensus on the best ski of 2014, or any other year. Among them is the fact that at the beginning of every ski day, it isn’t the ski of the year that matters, but the skis on your feet that moment. They are the skis of the day, and most likely it’s going to be a good day.
Photo: Ski wall at Bobo's (realskiers.com)