Test Time!

By: Jackson Hogen

Published: February 4, 2020

Now is the winter of my content.

This twisted turn on a famous line contains two meanings. Now is the moment when my ski season switches from warm-up sessions and anecdotal skiing adventures to its second phase, full-on devotion to ski testing. Nothing makes my day like walking into a huge corral of new skis, all lovingly prepared and ready to hit the snow. As the calendar turns to February, I am the very soul of contentment, knowing that a long string of demo days lies ahead.

The reason I’m so blissed out over the arrival of my “second winter” – a kindred concept to Hobbit second breakfasts – is that ski testing, evaluating and rating provide the backbone of Realskiers.com’s content. It’s difficult to be a credible guru of ski selection if you’ve never sampled the product. Gathering test data – otherwise known as “skiing” – is the first step in a several-month process of content generation.

The Realskiers’ test card as it appeared back in the now quaint Paper Age.

Actually, that last sentence isn’t entirely true. Skiing and ski testing, while closely related, are not the same enterprise. In an ideal world, a ski tester would take the same run, line for line and turn for turn, on every ski, every run. But as Heraclitus so sagely observed, one cannot cross the same river twice. This is my typically oblique way of saying the mountain and the snow are constantly changing, so you can never really take the same run twice, much less every time. But in spirit, that’s the goal.

And what does one do so faithfully do on every run? Foremost on the tester’s mind is how the ski behaves as it moves through three phases of the turn: top, middle and finish. How early does it hook up at the first hint of tipping? How well does it hold through the belly of the turn and does it stay on line as one turn finishes and the next begins? When pressured, does it respond with forward acceleration or with a lively lift off the snow, or does it fold like a cheap suit?

During the test descent, the tester must make short, athletic, slalom-style turns as well as long, languid arcs. Somewhere along the route, the path has to head off-piste. If there’s no powder to be found and the trees are cursed with thin cover, at least a foray into bumps will help assess a ski’s non-carving skills.

The Realskiers’ test card as it appears in the Digital Age.

Finally, a tester should evaluate how easy the ski is to handle. Is it finicky about stance, turn shape or skier style? Is it relaxing to ski? Does it allow the skier to throw it into a sideways drift without tossing him or her over the handlebars? Would an average skier feel comfortable on it, or is best reserved for those with a complete skill set?

On a Realskiers test card, the last of its ten criteria asks the tester to rate the model under review for its balance of Finesse versus Power properties. All skiers – and concomitantly, all skis – belong somewhere along the Power/Finesse spectrum. To earn a top score for this concluding criterion, a ski has to be both mindlessly simple to ski and possess a bottomless power reserve.

Numbers can never tell the whole story for an experience as nuanced as skiing, so every test card ought to include a narrative that illuminates a ski’s special qualities. People tend to believe numbers because they impart the aroma of certainty, forgetting that said numbers were generated by a fallible human. Statistics help to sort the best skis from the field, but capturing a ski’s essence is best done in words.

For the past few seasons, I’ve been collecting all Realskiers test data via the Realskiers app. This year, one of Apple’s convenient 3,000 IOS upgrades apparently neutered the Realskiers app, sometime during the summer, according to several forensic specialists in app recovery. For reasons I will go to my Great Reward without comprehending, damage so casually done is not so casually undone.

As I write these words, I pray to the Internet Angels to release my app from Web Purgatory and restore to it the life that was so needlessly lost. By the next paragraph, we should know if the app will be automatically updated in time for next week’s trade fairs. Wait for it….

Hallelujah! The Apple version of the Realskiers test card app has been revived and should be accessible to all by tomorrow at the latest! It’s currently categorized as “Waiting for Review,” which casts the pall of procrastination over the process, but my IT angels are optimistic. The Android iteration is still in the shop but is expected to activate soon.

If you haven’t already installed the Realskiers app on your iPhone, it’s quick, it’s free and instructions for how to use it can be viewed here.

To all the shops and testers who contribute to the Realskiers ski test endeavor, allow me to express my eternal thanks. Your time, effort and skill are what make this site possible. If they could, I’m sure my worldwide readership would add their thanks to mine. May your test runs be abundant, joyous and above all, recorded!

Happy Testing,

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