Ski testing closely resembles skiing, but it’s not the same.

Ski testing requires discipline. The ski tester has to reign in the natural impulse to ski the mountain as an ever-changing amusement park, instead taking the same path over and over. On a free ski run, the same skier might drop the reins and let the skis find the fall line; when testing, low speeds and short turns also must be given their due.

What the Snow Country ski test crew looked like, circa 1994. Test criteria – and outerwear – were both a lot different then.

The ten performance criteria used by have been refined over editor Jackson Hogen’s 30-year career in product development and ski journalism. The criteria are biased in favor of technical skills are applicable only to directional Alpine skiing. The criteria ought to be different for Pipe & Park models and Alpine Touring skis, which this collection of data doesn’t attempt to measure.

Anyone can enter data using the Realskiers digital test card. Links to both Apple and Android apps can be found in the lower right corner of the home page. Testers who aren’t affiliated with a specialty shop should enter a lower-case “c” when prompted to provide shop name.

As a refresher for veterans and a primer for testing novices, here are capsule definitions of the 10 test criteria. The same data serves as the foundation for reviews and the America’s Best & Powered by Masterfit Buyer’s Guide, coming soon to a url near you.

Early to the Edge How soon does the edge engage at the top of the turn?

Continuous carve/accurate Does ski follow a continuous, connected arc?

Rebound/turn finish How strong are edge grip and energy at turn exit?

Stability/accuracy @ speed Does the edge rattle loose at high speed?

Short-radius turns Can ski follow a tight-radius or does it fight it?

Off-piste performance How does it handle in crud, bumps, trees & powder?

Low-speed turning Is it easy to load and redirect at low speeds?

Forgiveness/ease How big is the sweetspot underfoot? Can skier be imprecise?

Drift/scrub How easy is it to throw ski sideways to alter radius or scrub speed?

Finesse/Power balance Is it both easy to ski and super powerful? Could just about anyone ski it, or does it favor one skier type over the other?

A bonus shot for ski test history buffs.

This may seem like a lot of data to collect in a very brief relationship, but it’s really not so difficult. Consider every turn to have a top, middle and bottom. How does the ski perform in each phase? You make some short turns and some long ones, going slow and going fast. You find a patch of bumps or trees or whatever ungroomed terrain you can fit in your routine. When off trail, throw ‘em sideways in some crud. When on-trail, see if you can shift your balance with impunity. When all is said and done, what type of skier would be happiest on this ski? Skis with the biggest performance envelope serving the largest population of skiers should earn your highest marks for Finesse/Power balance.

If you prefer to digest your information in video format, here’s 60 seconds of Jackson expounding on the subject of how to test a ski.

The consumer analog to trade-driven ski testing is renting a demo model to see if it suits your fancy. Whether or not you apply a rigorous approach to your demo experience is entirely up to you. But the closer you hew to a disciplined testing protocol, the more likely you are to find your perfect ski.