A moment in time

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A moment in time

The annual FREESKIER Ski Test hits Aspen Mountain during the biggest storm cycle in a decade

Once every 10 years we get a storm cycle like this,” said local photographer Matt Power, riding the Ajax Express with snow piling up on his lap. “This is something special.”

I stuck my tongue out and felt two snowflakes land and melt instantaneously. With my eyes closed, I tilted my head up and let the snow fall down gently onto my face, thawing into cool drops of water on my cheeks below my goggles.

It was day three, March 6, 2019, of FREESKIER’s annual Ski Test—FREESKIERFEST, as it’s affectionately known—and 13 inches of Colorado’s finest had fallen overnight. It was midday on Wednesday and the looming forecast held more of the same. We’d just come off a lap on Pussyfoot, dipped through the trees and hit the Hollywood jump underneath the Ajax Express with a group of 15 testers. Every hour, another inch blanketed the ground, and our persistent skiing was complemented by a seemingly everlasting snowfall.

Someone asked, “Have you got the time?”

Aspen Mountain with a fresh coat. | PHOTO: Matt Power
Powder day lift lines at the Silver Queen Gondola. | PHOTO: Matt Power

It’s peculiar how we can lose ourselves in the presence of the mountains, be so consumed by our surroundings that time itself seems to stop entirely; in some odd way, those transient moments incessantly ticking away on the clock seem to last forever. As skiers, it happens every time we make a turn. Translating thought to action, we experience the G-forces of a deeply cut left-handed carve on fresh, early morning corduroy or the subtle weight of powder snow against our chest as we float effortlessly through a gladed, snow-stacked wonderland. When conditions are perfect, when you can see your friends disappearing into powder clouds then reappearing next to you, when millions of pristine snowflakes are flying over your shoulders and you’re using gravity to paint tracks down the mountain, the moment becomes magnified. FREESKIER’s Ski Test cultivates this phenomenon.

Over 50 inches of snow fell from the sky over the course of FREESKIERFEST, causing avalanches along Interstate 70 that ripped trees from the ground, concealed the highway with snow and grabbed national headlines. The storm cycle also provided, to our favor, a relentless snowfall on Aspen Mountain that refilled every crevice, topped off every pillow and transformed the entire place into a perfectly-staged, powder-loaded coliseum.

SKIER: Rhianna Borderick | PHOTO: Matt Power

“Have you ever played the game Whack-A-Mole?” asked Aspen-based freestyle coach and veteran ski tester Tae Westcott, reflecting on this year’s event. “That’s what it was like during this snow cycle—you’d just catch glimpses of heads as they popped up through the pow before disappearing again.”

During the 17th annual Ski Test there was so much snow that our crew of ski testers and brand reps—and everyone else fortunate enough to have been marooned in the Roaring Fork Valley—were sequestered from the rest of the world. Highway 82 is the only road in and out of town in the winter, and, for two days, its only tributary—Interstate 70—stayed closed, effectively locking all of us in the Elk Mountains. Like Willy Wonka’s factory, there was no one coming in and no one coming out. Thankfully, we needn’t search for the Golden Tickets; we already had them. 

SKIER: Scotty VerMerris | PHOTO: Matt Power

For one week, all that mattered to our group was testing the skis on the racks and making sure we took so many investigatory laps that it was near-dark by the time we ordered our first après beverage at the bar. We spent our days pillaging fresh snow and swapping skis on nearly every run with the singular goal of reviewing the planks you’ll see on the following pages. Collectively, we graded every set of skis in real-time: ranking each pair numerically on its ability to carve on-piste or float in deep snow, its playfulness and pop versus its stability and power, and its overall versatility. More subjectively, we encouraged our testers to leave open-ended feedback prior to submitting a review.

Category by category, we worked from the burliest, big-mountain powder hounds down to each brand’s narrower, all-mountain offerings, allowing the conditions to dictate which sets of skis we’d be testing on that particular day.

On Monday, eight inches of snow blanketed the entire mountain; naturally, we grabbed the fattest freestyle and freeride skis of the lot, which you can find starting on page 134. The group of 40-plus testers brought an energy that was palpable and contagious.

Our collective hailed from “just down the street” to Maine and California—an assortment of local rippers, former pros, shop techs and one-time collegiate ski racers who still like to go real, real fast. At times, it seemed we were the only ones on the mountain, skiing in packs of 10 or more through the flurries. 

Tested, ranked and reviewed… by hot dogs. | PHOTO: Matt Power

“It began in the lift line, where every other skier waiting anxiously to ski pow was your friend from the test,” said Alta-based van lifer and three-time ski tester Anna Tedesco. “Once you loaded up, cranked the forward pressure and DINs on a pair of demo skis and began charging pow, you were accompanied by testers or reps on all sides. And when you reached the gondola after a high speed lap top-to-bottom, you loaded up with another pack of testers who just so happened to have the same idea.”

By Tuesday, the sun broke through the storm and it shone brightly, framed by an azure sky with scattered, nebulous clouds. From the top of the gondola, we could see that Highland Bowl was already pillaged. But on Ajax, corduroy lined the hills, so we grabbed the narrowest all-mountain offerings—the selection of 85-99 millimeter skis, featured starting on page 114—and made off like mad sculptors ready to lose ourselves in our next works of art. Eagerly, we etched into the groomed snow and chiseled at the tops of moguls, carving away leftovers from the storm.

Carving away leftovers from the storm. | PHOTO: Matt Power

Wednesday afternoon, the clouds reformed and dumped snow for the remainder of our time in Aspen. Our pattern continued: ski from first chair to last, polish off a couple White Russians at Schlomo’s, then paint the town red. Wake up, and do it all again.

The final few days of testing were focused on the go-anywhere/anytime, all-mountain offerings beginning on page 122. Given the conditions, these playful, powerful, mid-waisted skis provided the ideal platform for hopping, blasting, plowing, carving, trenching—whatever you want to call it—around Aspen Mountain. We skied in herds, hit cliffs, sought out secret stashes and recorded our findings after every lap. Here was a cliché come true: We were in a snow globe and it was up to Mother Nature to decide when the shaking would stop.

“Five feet in a week is a truly remarkable thing,” continued our ski test photographer as we neared the top of the Ajax lift. “The other day, I shot S1 Cliffs with [local ski gang,] The Freaks… I have only seen one person hit that line in the last 20 years. Weeks like this are the reason people move to the mountains.”

SKIER: Baker Boyd | PHOTO: Matt Power

The timing of FREESKIER’s annual Ski Test was perfect this year, yet, for an entire week, no one really knew what time it was, our only gauge being the sun when it went down and the lifts when they stopped spinning. Consumed by the test, locked in a magnified moment, we skied on hundreds of pairs of new skis from the best brands in the industry with the lone objective of helping you decide which set will suit you best in the winter ahead. Let this guide be the ultimate resource to finding your new favorite time-stoppers.

Explore the 2020 FREESKIER Buyer’s Guide