What do you do when there’s not a flake to be found on a steep-as-hell mountain with fat skis to test? No snow? No problem. Here’s why: Our Ski Testers know Snowbird well, and show us how it’s done when you’re weather challenged* as we just so happened to be during the 2016/2017 OnTheSnow Ski Test the first week of March.
*Weather challenged is a relative observation, and most definitely not a complaint. Were we hoping for a repeat of last year’s insanely powderful test? Sure. Was it a make or break? No way! Ask almost any skier what their favorite conditions to shred are, and spring skiing is likely to appear in their top two. Plus, spring snow at its finest can pass for powder—trust us, skiing is believing.
Here’s how we made the most of it in order to get 18 amazing skiers testing more than 120 skis from close to 20 brands in just three days…
Enjoy Fast Groomers on Frontside Carvers
Ripping the ‘roy on hard snow and skinny skis with waists that top out at 84 mm is a thrill in its own right, and one that manufacturers are increasingly emphasizing for good reason. Why fight a fatter, snow-seeking ski when one that’s born to carve will be so much more fun and less work on a groomer day? It’s the type of ski day that realistically makes up the majority of our time on the mountain, after all, and there’s no shame in that.
On such a day, our superhuman Ski Testers kept time like a metronome, not missing a beat as they made it their hot-lapping mission to get on as many of these ripping skis as physically possible. This equates to about 20 chair rides or 36,600 vertical feet… per day. Each ski is given roughly one run to make an impression across test criteria, and for the frontside, carve is the keyword.
Testers mix up their turn shapes and speeds, evaluating how well these skis can lay it over, hold the carve and enter/exit the turn.
Claire getting her carve on.
Copyright: Liam Doran
When the Snow Softens, Mix it Up
Fast groomers transitioned to trees and steeper, shady slopes plus those aspects that had a chance to soften up in the sun. On bigger mountains, a freeze/melt ski strategy is a must. If you’re not a local, talk to one or patrol about which slope aspects to ski at what time of the day. There’s nothing worse than getting atop a steep and seemingly buttery line only to get rocked by what actually turned out to be sunbaked breakable crust.
If any ski could handle that condition, though, it’d be those in All-Mountain Front and All-Mountain Back categories, which measure in at 85–95 mm and 90–106 mm underfoot, respectively. Equipped to take on whatever the terrain throws at them, many of these ski chameleons can carve and float with the best of ‘em without specializing in those areas.
Testers took full advantage of Snowbird’s gnarly Gad Valley on these bad boys, adding onto their Frontside test repertoire with a mix of steeps, chutes, trees, bowls, moguls and groomers, all just one quick lift and a slip through the gate away.
Get it, Tim! We tell time by how many skis this guy gets on. A Tim lapse, if you will.
Copyright: Liam Doran
Hike For it or Wait a Little Longer
When the spring skiing temps dial it up another notch, shed a layer and grab a powder ski, seriously. Deep slush can serve as more than just passable powder, a condition that had testers reaching for the float-favorite category with waist widths at 100 mm and up on planks that surf the deep without moisture content discrimination. If fact, we may have even heard a tester or two say that they preferred the wider category on day three.
They also had this overall comment in common: The skis of next season are better than ever. The evidence? Testers were having a hard time picking their top three during each day’s debrief, torn in indecision with five or six skis on their list. In their words, that’s because they’re not detecting as much of a disparity from ski to ski and brand to brand that used to swing from run to run.
Bottom line, each of the big players in the ski industry is elevating the baseline, dialing in the ingredients from core materials and ski makeup, sidecuts, and camber/rocker profiles on down to the lengths and graphics that, when mixed, make for a solid ski recipe in all your favorite flavors. This is not to say that all skis in each respective category taste the same. Far from it. Every manufacturer continues to make its mark with that distinctive and detectable character that comes out of their heritage, R&D and even the personalities behind the brand.
What that means for you? A whole lot of awesome racked at retail on the other side of summer and possibly a harder decision at hand. Fret not. Our OnTheSnow Ski Buyers’ Guide will meet you there to make the process easy and enjoyable.