Aside from looking at a ski’s geometry (waist width, tip shape, tail design) and length (in most cases, don’t go above the third eye), you should consider where you want to use your ski. Do you love to ski frontside groomers, a mix of on and off-piste or perhaps do you want a ski for powder only? Then look at the skis available to you in that category. Of course, if you can try before you buy, all the better. Attend a demo, or demo skis from your favorite shop and consider the following:
Read the magazines and look online. Use ski reviews to learn about what’s out there and to narrow down your choices. Then try a smaller selection for yourself and test the skis you’re interested in.
Figure out the end use. It helps if you understand the skier type of the intended consumer. Is it a recreational skier, a former ski racer or a beginner skier? What are their tendencies, goals, and aspirations? Then figure out what snow conditions the ski is designed for. Packed powder, crud or deep snow? Go beyond the ski and understand the culture and the landscape.
Get an overall impression. Testing skis is a bit like dating—you’re looking for what you like and what you don’t like. When you try out a ski, ask yourself some questions: Is the ski light or heavy? What about maneuverability? Does it want to make short or long radius turns? Is it playful and surfy or powerful with strong edge grip?
Record your answers. Professional gear testers use test cards or apps to rate skis. They look at the performance of skis in terms of characteristics like stability, responsiveness, turn shape variability, flotation, versatility and edge grip. You can make notes on a card you keep in your jacket. Go fast, go slow, mix up your turn shapes and seek out variable snow conditions
Think like an engineer. Engineers analyze each ski’s performance at a deep level by looking at things like edge-grip transmission, how the ski handles, rebound at the end of the turn. The level changes depending on ski type and consumer. For example, the edge grip is much more important in a racing ski than a freeride ski, and handling/sliding is more important in a beginner ski than a high-performance ski.
Think like a ski instructor. Focus on the ski’s tendencies in the different phases of the turn. For example, at the entry of the turn, does the ski hold a consistent edge? Do the tips engage at the initiation of the turn? How does the ski feel in the middle of the turn? Are you confident with the edge grip? How does the ski release out of the turn? Is it dynamic or dead?
Think in terms of waist widths. Skis are often categorized by waist width because this helps people identify if they want, for example, a ski that’s designed for groomed runs or off-piste. Manufacturers and magazines may use different category names, but generally skis are separated by waist width into the following: race, frontside, all-mountain, and powder skis.
Put it through the paces. To really know a ski, you need an entire season of snow conditions—from icy hard pack, to mid-season powder, to spring corn. Since you might not have a whole season, take a demo ski all around the mountain to as many different types of terrain and snow as possible. Hopefully you find the ski that feels right everywhere or that gives you confidence on the snow.
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