Realskiers.com is ready for the 2021 season, with new reviews and stunning Revelations packaged in a brand new look. 

When the ski world skidded to a stop last March, the Realskiers.com database had already logged hundreds of digital test cards, a very promising start to what turned out to be a dismal season.  There was just enough data to separate wheat from chaff, a winnowing process that revealed the top 70 unisex models spread across the four most popular genres: Frontside, All-Mountain East, All-Mountain West and Big Mountain.

It seems like ages ago, but it was only Friday, March 13 that I skied Mt. Rose for the last time. I left the mountain that day brimming with blind optimism. My plans to recruit veteran instructors to rotate through some twenty-five 2021 women’s models were taking shape. I took a few test laps under sunny skies and headed back to Reno confident that I had my bases covered.

There are many colorful, single-word expressions that could be used to summarize my sentiments about the sudden cessation of all lift-assisted skiing, but none suitable for the family-friendly pages of Realskiers.

Coronavirus Casualties

 While the accumulated scores and comments I was able to corral are illuminating, they don’t cast a bright enough light to be classified as conclusive. In the interest of fairness, Realskiers.com has dispensed with numeric scores, letter grades and ratings, leaving it to the narrative to expose the nuances of each Recommended model.  To assist in model selection – the objective of this entire exercise – the Recommended field is still split into Power and Finesse sub-sets. 

Given the absence of scores, the Value Ratings instituted only last year can’t be calculated, so this shopper’s aid won’t be in play this season.

A far greater loss than the shelving of Value Ratings is the gaping hole where women’s test results used to be.  The rescue of our women’s coverage is a saga of opportunity lost and found that will be revealed in all its rich complexity in next week’s Revelation.

The carnage wrought by the coronavirus didn’t end with the skewering of our women’s test; it also laid waste to any catch-up testing intended to capture what’s new in the Non-FIS Race, Technical and Powder genres. There are a couple of fresh faces in the Technical category we were able to review, but the majority of the models in these outlying genres return unchanged, as does our coverage.  

While from a sales standpoint, none of the three peripheral categories contribute much in the U.S. market, their constituents are undoubtedly the most fun to ski for experts. The foot-to-the-floorboards speed of race skis, the precision of dual-track carving and the sheer elation of ripping powder to bits make these underappreciated genres a delight to essay.  We’ll reprise our reviews in each of these categories as the season unfolds. 

 

The pandemic played havoc with my testing plans, but thanks to a lot of help I was able to find a unique way to review women’s skis.

Technology Bites Me in the App

We switched from traditional paper test cards to a digital format a couple of seasons ago.  The biggest problem we faced the inaugural season was that Siri didn’t comprehend a single word I said, substituting hilarious alternatives that were far more entertaining than the usual tired prose. (See Lessons in Humility.) The Android version of the Realskiers Test Card App never got off the ground, an annoyance we were powerless to rectify.

Due to a programming gaffe, the entire app veered into sudden obsolescence last summer. Upon resuscitation, all sorts of heretofore unknown bugs materialized just in time for most important demo events of the winter: cross-wired registrations, lost passwords, white-on-white type on the log-in page, each an insoluble riddle. We don’t know how many testers weren‘t able to record their runs because they were never able to log on, but it was somewhere between a lot and oodles.

By the time our precious app was functional, the 2020 season was over. The all-fixed-up app has yet to record its first results. And we still don’t know if the Android version works.

The Bright Side

I’m either an eternal optimist or wildly unpragmatic, but I tend to look at the upside during fiascos such as the precipitous meltdown that wiped out our plans for a women’s test. When the intended test site, Mt. Rose, announced an immediate end to operations, I mulled over how best to present this hot mess to our readership.

We could adopt a tone of high-minded resignation, pointing out that for one man to assume he was capable of overcoming all the obstacles presented by a pandemic of Biblical proportions would be at a minimum pretentious and at worst blasphemous. Catastrophic events oblige us to accept the judgment of Fate in the hope our followers will forgive us for shelving the entire project.

This sounds to me like a poor excuse for doing nothing, so I considered the next option, which I’ll call The Bucket of Swill, my affectionate term for brochure copy.  I knew how all these women’s skis were made, I’d skied their unisex versions and I’d composed 100’s of women’s reviews over the years. Surely, I could cook up copy for a few dozen more.

This choice sounded even more ill-considered than the first. My coverage would consist of a guy’s perspective on gear made for women, a non-starter in the #MeToo era. The only acceptable solution was a test by women for women, and the only women I could be sure had already skied 2021 models were members of the test squads for the various brands.

I’ll save further details on how Realskiers.com’s 2021 women’s test transpired for next week’s Revelation. For now, suffice it to say that an all-star cast stepped up with first-person testing tales that reveal both the character of the ski under review and the process that helped create it.

The Rich Get Richer

Looking at the big picture, model turnover among men’s (aka unisex) models is relatively modest.  Bucking this trend are major collection introductions at Rossignol and Dynastar, where popular series – 7 and Cham, respectively – have been supplanted by all-new designs.  Blizzard, Nordica, Head and Kästle have introduced significant product modifications to key models with well-established followings.  Völkl boosts the performance profile of its second-price-point models, the Kanjo 84 for men and the Yumi 84 for women, and adds a value tier to its freeride (and BC) collections with the Blaze 94 and 106 in both men’s and women’s versions. Head has reinforced its market-leading position in carving tools with a revamped Supershape series.

In the women’s market, most of the new model action is in the overcrowded All-Mountain East category (waists 85-94mm), where almost every major brand has at least one new and/or improved model.  Because the All-Mountain East category is a crossroads of in-resort and off-trail designs, most brands offer at least two models in this battleground genre.  The struggle for the hearts, minds and credit cards of American women will be fiercely contested in what will remain the go-to genre in the women’s market for years to come.

What a snapshot of the 2021 market reveals is a trend for the entrenched category leaders to hold or enhance their positions. Once the severity of the coronavirus pandemic became evident, the ski trade was bound to get shaky as conservative buying, if any, became the order of the day. The specialty shop community isn’t interested in assuming any greater risks than its already facing.

As of this writing, no one has a clue exactly what the 20/21 ski season will look like, so predictions about market direction aren’t tethered to a stable reality. If we make the unwarranted assumption that access to resort skiing will be quasi-normal, and therefore orders for new models aren’t cancelled en masse, the American skiing public will continue to be overserved by an enormous breadth of selection.

 No Scores, No Worries

For twenty years, Realskiers.com has provided our membership with a detailed view of the scores underpinning our ratings, so the decision to suppress this feature for the 20/21 season wasn’t taken lightly.  The value of a Realskiers Recommended medallion depends on the authenticity, credibility and transparency of the methods that generate it.  Given the paucity of data retrieved last winter, statistics were as likely to misrepresent relative strengths and weaknesses as reveal them.

While the absence of numeric validation is regrettable, it won’t even be missed on Realskiers.com’s free site as we’ve never posted performance criteria scores on our public pages.  To help compensate our paid membership for its loss, we’ve extended the length of the narrative wherever possible on members’ reviews. And members always have access to Realskiers’ extensive review archives, dating back to the dawn of the millennium.

 Jackson on Demand

While there seems to be an oversupply online of self-anointed experts with no actual background in equipment design and marketing, there is only one Jackson Hogen. Realskiers’ members have direct access to Jackson to help them sort out their best options. [For a peek at Jackson’s qualifications, click here.] Most queries are answered within 48 hours and every one is tailored to the matter at hand by the Pontiff of Powder himself.

And that’s a claim no other site, however grandiose its pretensions, can make.

 

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