FREESKIER’s 10-step guide to testing skis

FREESKIER’s 10-step guide to testing skis

In case you were wondering where these ol’ ski rankings come from…


Skis upon skis, all waiting to be tested

Saturday, March 5, 2016, 7:30 a.m.

The unholy blare of iPhone alarm clocks rouses our valiant army of talented ski testers from their slumber. Rubbing the sleep from their eyes and stretching sore, tight muscles (and probably asking “How did I get home last night?”), the squadron feels the effects of a week’s worth of exhaustive ski testing. But sleep must wait. There’s work to be done. Noble work. The smell of coffee brewing gets the wheels in motion, and by 8:30, all testers have gathered at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola, in the center of Aspen. After soaking up instructions, they embark on a 14-minute, 3,267-vertical-foot ride to the mountain’s 11,212-foot summit. Testers might wave a quick hello to 14,267-foot Castle Peak—basking in the early morning light, off to the southwest—as they slide the short way down to the testing corral, where the day’s batch of skis lays waiting.

Once settled in the enclosure, otherwise known as our testing headquarters, the foot soldiers drop their packs, tighten their boot buckles, grab a pair of skis from the racks, form a small posse with some tester buddies and set off down the hill. With one blazing top-to-bottom run the adrenaline sets in, and the rush doesn’t fade till the lifts stop turning, almost seven hours later. This is the life of a ski tester, day in and day out. It’s a boatload of fun, no doubt, but it’s also grueling work. To give you a better idea of how testers go about their business, we’ve provided a 10-step snapshot.

Read more about why Aspen has been home to our ski test six years running.



Rule one of ski testing: Don’t forget your phone.

Bust out your smartphone and fire up our custom testing app. Log in to your account. Your profile stores all of your previously ranked skis, shows you which planks are in need of additional reviews and gives you an in-depth description of each ski. Singling out a ski that needs some extra lovin’ should be step number one as you gear up to make another run down the mountain.



This is the kid-in-a-candy-shop moment.

With a ski in mind, cruise on over to the racks that are assembled in rows inside of our roped-off testing corral and seek ’er out. Planks in hand, consult the app and familiarize yourself with the ski’s tech specs and its manufacturer’s notes on intended use.



Brand reps are on hand to give you the nitty gritty on each pair.

Now that you know a bit about the ski you’re about to rip, scan the testing corral and locate that ski’s onsite brand representative. For example, you’ve got the Head Monster 98? Find Head’s own Sam Blethen — “He’s got a red jacket and he’s the one that got everyone bottle service last night.” (In addition to testers and staff, this party’s also teeming with product designers and tech reps. They are there to give testers the nitty-gritty details of their beloved products.) Strike up a conversation. See what else you might uncover about the ski’s construction, beyond what you’ve already read via the app.



We love our technicians.

Next, head to the tech pit and have one of the on-site technicians adjust your demo bindings properly. Because we wouldn’t want anyone to eject at 70 MPH now would we?



It’s time to give ‘er a rip.

Once locked and loaded, it’s time to shred. So get after it already. You’re on the clock here. You’ve got 76 trails to choose from, spread across 675 acres and 3,267 feet of vertical. None of the trails are rated as “beginner” runs. Have fun out there.



There’s no category for style, but it’s highly encouraged.

In the midst of your downhill party, be sure to consider the ski’s performance in the following categories: versatility, carving, stability, float and playfulness. You’ll have to ski everything from bumps and jumps to groomers and chunky stuff to get a good feel for the ski



Ski testing at its best.

Be sure to bring your A game on the descent, because you’re in Aspen, after all. Rack up some bonus points by airing it out under the Ajax Express chair for all to see. The locals appreciate a good show.



Don’t forget to get down to business.

When you arrive at the bottom of the hill, try to avoid the temptation of pausing for a glass of champagne on the Ajax Tavern patio. Remember, this is a job, not a joy ride. Hop in the gondola and bust out that phone of yours again because you’ll need to record observations about the ski you just romped on while the run is still fresh in your head. Then, rate the ski on a scale of 1 to 10 for the five categories listed previously, in step six. You’ll also need to include your own in-depth commentary about the ski.



Check where you stand on the leaderboard.

Once you’ve saved your scores and remarks for that particular ski, rejoice as you watch your total ski count bump up a tally. Peek at the tester leaderboard and see which of the crew has scored the most skis for the day. Are you keeping up? You better be. This ain’t a picnic.



Just another day in the office.

You’re back up at the top of the mountain now. Consult the app again and single out a ski that needs some extra lovin’. Rip, review, repeat.

Related: The top 20 all-mountain skis of 2017

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