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Unlike this ski test, the author masks the ski’s identity. Credit: FreeSkier

Seven Ways To Make Ski Tests More Objective.

Way back in the late 20th Century, while running the SKIpp Testing program for SKI Magazine, John Perryman and I learned the most difficult problem to solve and the biggest variable was the ski tester. In conversations with almost every manufacturer, they said the same thing. So the goal of SKIpp (way back in the 1970s before engineering modeling software was available), was objectivity and processes that minimized tester bias. John created a bench test and then tested the ski on the snow so we could compare the results.

Amazingly, we were successful. We were invited as “consultants” by several manufacturers, to compare SKIpp’s results with theirs. Again, SKIpp was very accurate, more so than some manufacturers would admit.

Most ski testers are really good skiers and as such, they unconsciously adapt their technique to the ski, terrain and conditions and the brand’s design philosophy. This makes objective comparisons very difficult. In the SKipp program on-snow methodology, seven steps were incorporated to reduce the human variable.

One, we did blind testing. The tops and tip logos of each ski were covered with shelf paper before numbering each pair. The tester was not allowed to pick up the ski until he/she “tested” the ski to minimize identification.

Two, we skied the same trail every day that gave us about 1,000 feet of vertical and a chair lift that made yo-yoing possible. The ski area spread fertilizer on a long marked off segment to simulate frozen granular and give us a consistent snow surface to reduce the “snow condition variable.”

Three, each skier filled out a test card which graded a list of mandatory maneuvers/turns. At the beginning of the year’s session, we conducted a clinic on the required maneuvers and how the ski should react.

Four, each tester was allowed only two runs on the ski before grading. We wanted first impressions and found that after two runs, most testers adapted to the ski’s idiosyncrasies.

Ski tester range from racers to intermediates. Controlling tester bias is key.

Five, the testers’ skills ranged from certified ski instructors who either had been racers or coaches to intermediate skiers. Our youngest testers were in their mid-20s (we did have a few teenagers one year) to older skiers in their 50s.

Six, the “racing” models were skied down a 20 gate GS course that had been “fertilized” so the surface was rock hard.

Seven, only 10 skis were tested each day. After 10, the testers had a hard time determining the differences.

We let the testers pick which skis they wanted to ski in the afternoon. Again, the choice and why was recorded. Only then did we allow the ski to be identified. Results were tabulated each evening by hand because Excel, laptops, etc. didn’t exist in the 1970s.

Even with all these precautions, most of us could, after a few weeks of on the snow testing, tell one brand from another. To this day, I can tell a Rossignol from a Dynastar from an Atomic from a Head or K2.

So, when I read the current ski reports filled with jargon such as “edge gripping power” or “discover the amazing effect of (name of manufacturer) new Energy Management Circuit,” my reaction is %$^@*&, and I stop reading. Whatever credibility just evaporated. I’ve been there and writing facts about the ski’s performance instead of hype is, well, boring. But, experience tells me that the reports are more believable. So now you know why I don’t read ski test reports and prefer to “on snow test” them myself.

 

11 Comments

  1. This is all well and good for a ski testing expert. But for the rest of us who might want to buy a pair skis, and may not have access to the opportunity to demo different models, ski test reports can be very helpful. I don’t even mind that they are somewhat subjective. If I read reports on the same skis from different testers, and know something about those different sources, I can get a good picture of a ski’s performance. I understand, for example, that a report from a 23 year old expert freeskier might be differ from a report made by a 50 year old who prefers groomed snow and take that into account when reading reviews. Where I live (SW PA) the ski market is just not large enough for shops to support fleets of demos, so ski reviews are essential.

  2. Ok I understand your reluctance. But what do you do when you want to buy new skis? Is there anywhere a skier can go to find real reviews?

  3. Rick Glesner says:

    Personally I really miss real ski tests. Not today’s passing estimation of how a particular ski performs. Back in the day you got data covering the physical parameters of a ski, flex, flex balance, torsional stiffness, camber and so on. You could even find cross sections of how and what a ski was made of. I do have to give a moment to the late great John Howell who noted that temperature of the equipment affected the outcome, but personally knowing that was so, still made the data relevant to me because it seemed that all the skis were tested in the same environment. So you might ask how does this data help you select a ski to demo? You just look at the data of the ski you know you like, compare it to the other skis in the report and you’ll have a starting place. Today sites like PugSki/Ski Talk, or Real Skiers to a better job than the ski magazine(s?) do. But still only try to label a ski as “powerful” or such leaving me to wonder what does that mean. Heck while I’m at it what about the old ski binding test and reviews? Gordon Lipe, John Perryman, Carl Etlinger did such outstanding work and I do miss those. I do a lot of 3D solid models of vintage ski binding and skis correct to the year they were sold. You can see my work on my YouTube Channel, HRG3Design please check it out, and if you have suggestions for a binding you’d like to see my efforts highlight I’d love to hear those thoughts.

  4. Interesting article! I read the ski reviews, but it helps to know what the characteristics of skis are, to begin with. The main difficulty is trying to quantify the skis characteristics, and then transcribe that into rhetoric to describe how they’ll perform; it leads to your accurately critical quote, “edge gripping power,” and so forth. These characterizations are imprecise, to say the least. They’re worse than, “Tastes great! Less filling!”

    The best way to do it is just go to your friendly mountain resort and try a bunch of skis (whatever the collective noun for skis is). I did this at Crested Butte two years ago and was pleased with *all* of the six pair I demoed. They were all close in performance; some turned quicker than others. It’s their salient characteristics that you can notice: For example, some were quicker in the bumps than others, but all did the bumps just fine.

    And, ultimately, you’re comparing against your current skis. Mine were 15 year-old K2 Mod 7/8’s and Axis’s. These were a lot longer than the demo skis, and, in addition to the new ski’s characteristics, I realized that you didn’t need long skis anymore. Demoing is also a learning experience.

  5. I think the guys at RealSkiers.com do a pretty good job of not pushing BS into their tests.

  6. I no longer read ski test, as they never quantify what snow condition the ski performs best on. My quiver is about 8 pairs; I have a pair that are the best on corduroy, another does best in hero snow, another does best on frozen granular, another does best in about 18″ freshly fallen powder, another does best in packed powder trail skiing, another in bottomless powder, another that short swings the easiest for narrow trails, another that are so predictable they are my glade ski. I’m not looking for 1 pair that does all just OK. I really don’t care what model year they are. For example, I bought a new 2012 K2 Rolling Stones Sideshow (Mick’s lips) 3 years ago and find them the best ski to use when skiing within a group of skiers that like to ski slower speeds than my normal. So, its trial and error (demo) to find your best ride for the conditions you want them to be best in.

  7. Patti Farkas says:

    At 80, I’ve probably bought my last pair of skis (hope not!), but I have relied on the tests shown on the website Skis.com for my last 3 pairs and have been pleased with the skis I purchased after reading those tests. My criticism of ski tests is – no testers of “a certain age”. C’mon guys, I’m sure there are not a few Senior Skiers out there who would jump at the chance to test a bunch of new skis!

  8. I have purchased my share of skis and what I try to do is match the ski with the conditions that I ski the most. Being from northern Vermont that would be machine groomed hard pack.

  9. Deborah McCay says:

    Marc,
    This is Debbie Perryman McCay, John Perryman’s daughter. I would like to contact you. Please send me a note at my email.
    Thanks
    Debbie

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