If this Revelation’s italicized title sounds strident in tone, it’s meant to. I hope to rouse the attention of two vital constituencies: America’s specialty ski shop management and staff, traditionally the backbone of Realskiers.com’s annual ski testing efforts, and the population of avid skiers who form the foundation of Realskiers.com’s readership. Both communities are accustomed to trying a selection of skis before they buy, or at least they were, pre-pandemic. This world may prove as hard to return to as Eden.
Let’s first deal with why the retail community will find their pre-buy testing options limited. Supply chain disruption has pushed preseason order deadlines into early February, which in most cases means making a commitment before there’s the slightest chance of trial. Even if order deadlines were pushed back, creating a window in the calendar (as in days of yore) for on-snow evaluation, who would be able to go? Rampant under-staffing has obliged every owner and his/her nearest family members to work the front lines since the season began; by now, they’re fried to a crisp and still under-staffed.
Allow me to take a moment to underscore my appeal to America’s specialty shop community to take advantage of every demo opportunity, if only to get out of the store and remind yourself why you got started in this loopy business in the first place. If you can’t muster the will power to do it for your own benefit, think of the good it will do for others, like, for example, myself and my Dear Readers and Listeners, who depend on you.
In order for your munificence to register with a grateful public, you’ll need to fill out a digital Realskiers test card. Links to the Realskiers.com Test Card app for Apple and Android devices are embedded in the middle of the Realskiers.com home page. I strongly encourage you download the test card app and familiarize yourself with its operation, as explained in this brief video on realskiers.tv, before you head out to demo.
I’ll get to the constraints the current season will impose on the skiing public in the next paragraph, but first I want to point out that we’re not really “testing” the skis we essay this time of year. If they’re on our feet in February, they’ve already been tested, in most cases many, many times before us, by their creators and their cohort. While feedback is welcomed and graciously received, the models being “tested” are often already in production.
Consumers aren’t usually privy to mid-winter model introductions, but they do expect to be able to try out a couple of current skis once there’s snow on the ground and the holiday madness is over. That was before skiers descended on our nation’s ski shops like locusts on a cornfield.
The most popular models in the most popular sizes are gone, which renders the outcome of the demo process moot. Despite the long odds, should a particular ski make it to the shop’s demo fleet, you probably won’t be able to buy it, either: an establishment that is making bank renting the same pair of high-end demos over and over isn’t likely to part with its moneymaker during its brief lifespan, particularly when there isn’t a ski left in the rack of its ilk. If you do get a chance to demo a new ski, make it count: follow these simple tips for how to demo on realskiers.tv.
But while the chances for a consumer to demo 2022 models are waning, the opportunities for shop owners and staff to try 2023 models are just kicking into gear. After a year during which every owner/operator has had to man the barricades for weeks on end, will they even be able to take the time to ski when the floodgates of future products finally swing open?
I certainly hope so, if only because skiing is cathartic, and those tethered to the ski trade could stand to open a primal release valve right about now. Of course, my motives are tainted. I need test data and commentaries from experienced ski testers, and America’s ski shops are a motherlode of testing talent. The pandemic has taught me how to be resourceful when it comes to capturing data, but I much prefer the prior arrangement, when shops and suppliers could gather en masse on snow. The return of trade fairs augers well for the season that’s upon us, but only if shops can carve out the time to attend.
A completed test “card” – not so long ago, they were made from paper instead of bytes – from an experienced, competent tester is the elemental building block of Realskiers.com’s annual ski reviews. The numeric scores for ten performance criteria allow us organize the field in any given category into Power and Finesse camps and to filter out the best from the rest.
But while data gives us structure and a foundation for comparison, in the end, it is merely a tool that helps us arrive at the desired destination: an accurate description of the ski’s behavioral envelope. Numbers are instructive, but they are hard to distill into a feeling and lack the nuance of language. In the final analysis, how the ski scores is less important than how the ski feels; hence the primacy of narrative over data.
So, please remember, Dear Testers, that while your scores are important, your comments are gold. If you record your comments, please check your text before you submit your test card; Siri knows nothing about skiing and has never heard of any ski brands, and she gets wildly creative trying to interpret the spoken word. (I first reported this phenomenon in Lessons in Humility. If you could use a laugh about now, I suggest you give it a quick gander.)
Allow me to close this week’s Revelation with a cautionary note: an inordinate percentage of new skis for the 2023 season are wide-bodies intended for deep snow. As I write this, New England is enduring winter in all its wrath, but many of the slopes out West remain as brittle as aged concrete. There are a host of reasons why we all should pray for more snow, and needing to evaluate Big Mountain skis is probably not in the top three, but if you’re a real skier, ideal powder-ski test conditions certainly belongs somewhere on the list of life’s necessities.