Guidelines For An Objective Assessment.

Take your pick. The lads at Epic Mountain Sports at Winter Park will help you out. Credit: Epic

One of the great things about ski rental shops today is their willingness to rent top of the line skis. This is a great deal because for $35 – $50/day, you can try skis that will set you back $1,000. For the CPAs, math and economic majors, the break-even at $50/day on a $1,000 pair of skis is 20 days or more if fees are factored into the analysis.

So why demo? Three reasons come to mind. One, eliminate the hassle of checking a pair of skis as baggage. FYI, I can get everything, including my boots into my two carry-ons.

Two, you may want to try one or more pairs before you buy.

And, three, you want to try different brands to see how they ski. Dynastars don’t ski like Rossignols which definitely don’t ski like Heads. Atomics handle differently than Fischers or Volkls or Elans.

Demoing skis can be very informative even if you have no intention of buying new skis. Based on my background as a professional ski tester in the last century, here are five tips learned the hard way to help you compare different skis.

Tips For Comparing Demo Skis.

One. Test on the same trip and if possible, on consecutive days in as close to the same conditions as possible.

Two. For your first run on a new pair of skis, pick a slope that you can handle easily. Testing/demoing is all about the ski giving you information.

Three. For each pair of skis, do the same type of turns on the same slope. I start with a “wedge wedel” which is nothing more than using my knee to crank the skis (which are in a slight wedge) on an edge to see how they react. Next comes a series of round, carved turns that slowly decrease in radius until I am rapidly linking turns back and force across the fall line as if I was running a slalom. From there, I let the skis run on a traverse and then flat down the fall line to what I call GS speeds. Most would call this “really fast.”

Four. The first run on the new skis is the most important. After 1,000 feet of vertical, you’re starting to adapt your technique to the ski’s quirks. The ski is an inanimate object and will not change. By the end of the second run, you’re adjusting to how the ski skis.

Five. If the ski is forcing you to change your technique, get a different pair. The only exception is that if the new ski forces you to learn how to carve a turn. Does the ski “swim or snake” when your knees are pressed forward and the ski is flat on the snow? Or, when on edge, does one or both skis dart or try to “hook” uphill. Or, when you go fast, either on edge or with a flat ski, is the ski making you uncomfortable? If any of the above are true, go find another ski.



  1. Bruce Boeder says:

    My wife and I used to rent demoes on every trip, changing them daily or more often. There was a wonderful demo tent at the bottom of Lake Louise resort that allowed demoes to be used for free for a run or three. I purchased a pair of skis based on several runs one day
    On the other hand, we stopped demoing after having had a bad experience at Vail with demo skis that were very poorly maintained and a shop employee’s “so what” attitude. We’d rather schlep our own skis through airports now with the knowledge that they are properly tuned with bindings properly set.
    But occasionally when hauling ski equipment I do wonder if demoing makes more sense

  2. Normand L. Reynolds says:

    I try to buy new skis late in the season, when they’re on sale. Demoing at that time of year usually presents you with hard, still frozen bumps early in the AM, and I feel if the skis work well in those conditions they should be OK elsewhere. One year I tried skis with lots of rocker, both front and rear, and the tails washed out in the icy bumps. Next was a pair with front rocker and very little tail rocker, which were much better. It was a little later, and the bumps had softened a bit, but they were still pretty hard. Both skis had enough width to work well in powder, and were stable at speed on groomers. Widths were approximately the same, around 130-100-120.

  3. Doug Werner says:

    Ro’cker is the term for a ski that in addition to the usual camber under the foot has reverse camber at the the tip and/or tail. In reverse camber, the ski’s tip or tail is curved upward away from the snow. AMong the claims for “rocker” it lets the ski act “shorter” than its length in hard snow thereby resulting in a smaller turn radius. The ski provides more contact with the snow in soft conditions and when pressured hard. There are other claimed benefits too.. (No doubt we will see some of them here.)

    While we have opened the discussion about waist dimension and turn radius. The waist dimension is only part of what determines a ski’s turning radius. The other important dimensions are the length between the contact snow contact at the front and rear of the unpressurized ski, and the width of the ski at these contact locations. Note that with rocker, the distance between the contact locations is shorter than the ski’s nominal length. Interestingly, my skis with a 80mm waist have a 17.5 meter turn radius while my skis with a 90mm waist have a 15 meter turn radius because the width of 90mm skis at the contact areas are much larger. The turn radius discussed here is based solely on the unpressured ski. The actual turn radius while skiing also depends on the edge angle (tilt) and the bending of the ski in the turn.

    • Marc Liebman says:

      I just never heard the term rocker before. I’ve skied a lot of reverse camber skis – the last ones two years ago – and the few runs on them re-confirmed my dislike for them. I found them to be unstable when rolled on edge in a carved turn.

      And, without getting into a discussion of short vs. wide and long vs. short, my conversations with several ski engineers two years ago leads me to believe that we are beginning to nearing the edges of the performance envelop of the current designs. The skis can only get so short for any given skier’s weight or they will become really unstable. And, increasing the width is a way to make the ski easier to turn for those who don’t carve (which is the majority of skiers), make them more stable in lumpy snow, and regain some of the contact patch area lost by shorter skis. Net net, we are beginning to run into some immutable laws of physics. Within a year or two, I think material science will help ski designers work their way out of the these limitations.

  4. I learned the hard way about tail rocker…you just can’t stand those suckers up. Also never liked the way they skied, tho that’s probably just personal preference. Thanks for the detailed suggestions of how to demo. VERY helpful. Sadly, I also quit doing demos a bit back for the same reason as Bruce…can’t now remember where…but had a nasty accident. But might try again.

    • Marc Liebman says:

      Sorry you had a bad experience. Mine have been generally positive, but then again, I vet the shops in advance, know what brand and size I want and won’t accept substitutions. I’ve also brought back skis that are poorly tuned.

  5. Patti Farkas says:

    We had a wonderful demoing experience at the Canyons in Park City, UT (pre-Vail takeover) several years ago. A tent was set up near the top of the mid-mountain terminus of their gondola which held a vast array of skis of different makes, models, and sizes. You could just point to the brand you’d like to try and the very friendly staff would get your size and fit them to your boots, and then off you would go to the nearest lift (about 50 feet away) and ski down a very varied run for a while which would ultimately take you right back to the tent. I’d never skied on so many different skis before, and even I (an intermediate skier) could tell the many differences in performance. Unfortunately, that was the last time we saw anything like that demo arrangement anywhere; it was ideal!! And yes, we did buy skis at the shop at the resort and skied on them happily for years.

  6. Geoff M Prescott says:

    I presently have three pairs of skis, all from 2016. This season I demoed four new models from Rossignol and Salomon. Sad to report that I found nothing I liked more than the skis I already own. The ski industry seems to have decided that we all need flat, stiff tails on our skis. The easygoing, forgiving ski seems to be a thing of the past. So rather than try to decide what new ski to get, I am shopping for older skis in good shape.

  7. John J Nonenmacher says:

    I have to agree with Geoff. Newer skis tend to be stiff. Camber has disappeared reducing the skis ability to absorb terrain. One thing to consider is the tuning the demo ski has. I have demo’d skis with gouged bottoms and no edges, typically from on mountain shops. On the other hand off mountain shops take very good care of their demos. However, I have had “all mountain” skis tuned with the same sharp side edge angles used for racing. I have returned more than a few pairs of skis where I couldn’t help wondering how good they might be with more appropriate tuning.

  8. Mike Courts says:

    I am a 62 year old ski instructor at Summit Central in Washington State. I have settled in to using 4 pairs of skis, 2 pair of “teach skis” and 2 pair of “play skis”. I am supported by a ski rep who provides equipment at wholesale. I keep 1 pair of basic carving/GS cut skis for the groomers and a wider pair with more rocker for the occasional powder or slush days. Once a ski gets to around 150ish days of skiing I retire it from the “teach” role and graduate the “play ski” to the “teach role” I teach 4 days a week and free ski once each week, around 80 days per season. Because I have stayed on the same brand for over 25 years, I am generally able to just select the newest version of either a carving or wider ski when it comes time to upgrade. This has served me well for many years.

  9. Thanks for this timely article about demoing skis. The last time I demoed was decades ago. One pair that ski reviewers raved about I found very uncomfortable. Another pair was effortless, turned when I thought “turn”. That’s the pair I purchased and have been skiing since.

    This coming season I’ll hopefully demo and find my next pair… using your five tips above.

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