Behind the scenes: The most comprehensive ski test of 2015

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We ran 314 pairs of 2016 skis through the gauntlet in the best conditions of the season.

Forget the Dumb and Dumber jokes. Dispose of the cheesy lines from Aspen Extreme. Ignore the notions about fast cars and loose women. When it comes to our annual Buyer’s Guide, there’s only one thing you need to know about Aspen, Colorado: For five straight years, it has served as the ideal ski testing grounds for our squad, allowing us to bring you the best all-mountain skis of the year—time and time again.

FREESKIER ski test infographic

FREESKIER Ski Test, by the numbers.

In March of 2015, our team of editors converged on historic Aspen Mountain, otherwise known as Ajax. Joining us were our hard-chargin’, good-times lovin’ throng of ski testers, plus representatives of numerous ski manufacturers and, with them, hundreds of 2016’s best skis—each pair prepped and ready to rock. For seven consecutive days, Ajax was transformed into a world-class ski-testing laboratory, serving to distinguish the good, the great and the exceptional skis. The latter grace these very pages. They’re ranked. They’re fully endorsed via our Editors’ Pick stamp of approval. And now, they’re lining ski shop walls, waiting for you to bring them home.

The Chosen Few

The people integral to the success of the ski assessments are our beloved testers—our mad scientists. They come from all walks of life and locations across the United States. They’re built in various shapes and sizes, and all have different ways of looking at the mountain. Honestly, they’re the wackiest bunch we know. Yet, despite comedic tendencies, you better believe that their skiing savvy is nothing to laugh at. With their help, we narrowed a vast, seemingly infinite collection of skis down to 101 top models.

Our editorial team handpicks our ski testing squadron. The group consists mostly of rippin’ Coloradoans who have made lives for themselves in the mountains. Some work in ski shops. A handful are former professional athletes. Others represent ski resorts. The rest are pure ski bums, “funemployed.”

There’s An App For That

After each high-octane, blazingly fast run on Ajax, the testers turn to our handy mobile app to log their evaluations. With a few simple clicks, testers rate skis on a scale of 1 to 10, based on the categories of carving, stability, versatility, float, playfulness and overall stoke. The ratings compound into a massive heap of testing data, directly at our fingertips. If a certain ski has received enough reviews to satisfy our needs, we’ll pull it from the racks right then and there, allowing our testers to migrate towards models that need further analysis. This process ensures a thorough and proper evaluation of each ski in the test. Moreover, the app allows testers to document their feelings in the moment, while the strengths and nuances of a certain ski are still freshly embedded in their minds.

Kicking Things Off With A Bang

On the evening preceding the start of our test, we loaded 314 pairs of skis from over 30 different manufacturers into snowcats at the bottom of Aspen Mountain. The shiny, mouthwatering planks were delivered to the summit, while our brood of testers salivated over the collection from the base area. From that point on, Mother Nature bestowed upon us some of the best testing conditions in recent memory. In fact, FREESKIER’s veteran testers confirm these were the best ski testing conditions they’d ever experienced.

Photo by Kjell Ellefson

So. Many. Skis.

While we slept—visions of our first day on-hill dancing in our heads—Üllr sprinkled Aspen and its surrounding peaks with fresh snow. When we awoke, six inches awaited our eager testers, who were chomping at the bit to schmear turns all over Ajax’s 76 trails, 675 acres and 3,267 feet of vertical. The modest amount of powder provided optimal conditions to test the highly versatile 100- to 114-mm waisted skis. Testers surfed atop the fresh snow and charged steep pow turns in the morning, and gobbled up chunder when the afternoon sun showed its face. The next morning was yet another pow day, causing massive, shit-eating grins to permeate our testers’ faces. Not only were the skiing experiences remarkable, the testing data was piling up as rapidly as the snow.

A Day That Will Live In Infamy

As if our first couple of days on snow weren’t good enough, come day three, the western Colorado sky erupted with fluffy, white goodness, turning the mountain into a field of dreams that would baffle even Kevin Costner…

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