Updated: Mar 24, 2021
Demoing skis can be hugely helpful to the buying process. But which skis should you try and what should you look for during the demo? With so many different skis and new manufacturers entering the market regularly, this can be a daunting task. Fortunately, we have all of the key details to ace the initial testing process and uncover the best ski for you.
Key Factors for Ski Performance
1) Desirable ski width depends on the snow conditions. A ski’s waist width—the lateral measurement across the middle of a ski—should vary based on the depth of the snow. It’s pretty simple; you want wider skis for powder (110mm+) and narrower skis (<95mm) for packed snow and ice.
2) Weight impacts maneuverability. Lightweight skis are more maneuverable; however, they are often challenged to hold their line on the snow. Small bumps and varying conditions are more likely to push them around. Heavy skis may require the skier to use more effort to change directions, but tend to hold their line through chopped snow more effectively. Remember, heavy skis do not have to be carried much once you’ve made it to the snow.
3) You may not need as long a ski as you think you do. A general rule is to choose your ski length relative to your height. Beginners want skis to reach their mouth or nose, intermediates should try around eye height, advanced should look around the upper forehead, and experts should try their height or slightly above. However, ski construction has improved dramatically over the last 20-30 years and shorter skis often outperform the longer ones of the past.
4) Boot fitting is high priority. Professionally fitted boots are a worthwhile investment because they will last for years and can significantly improve your skiing ability and comfort level. Custom boots are expensive, but can be great for people with different foot shapes.
5) Stiffness alone doesn’t mean much. Many people believe a stiff ski is for advanced skiers, but that’s not always true. A ski’s stiffness is highly dependent on other factors. Hand-flexing a ski inside a shop will tell you very little about it’s on-snow performance. Just because it's a “soft” ski doesn't mean it's not ok for advanced skiers too! Often, a ski will be made easy enough to use for some, but high performing for others. Stiffness is very important to test before buying.
6 Steps to Demoing Skis
Understand your shop’s demo purchase policy. Many places will allow you to allocate your demo fees to the purchase of new skis.
Once you’re on the snow, hit a groomer to get comfortable. Make short turns, every second or so, and feel the response from the skis as you transition from left to right.
Next, make some longer turns every two to three seconds. Notice how well your edges hold into the snow, creating a clean, consistent track behind you.
Allow the skis to slide sideways, to slow down or stop, and see how much effort it takes.
For mogul skiing, consider a shorter, softer ski for an easier run down, or an average length, stiffer ski that will help you create the fastest possible zipper line. Which feels better?
For powder skiing, I know you’ll be smiling the whole time, but try to see which ski made you show the MOST teeth. In deep snow, you won’t always feel the nuances between skis, but some will be more fun than others.
The goal is to find what’s comfortable for you. Keep an open mind and don't be shy about swapping your skis out to try multiple pairs in the same day!
Our Favorite Skis by Categories
The Conditions. There's a big difference in quality and performance when you step up from rental skis to owning your own. Don't overwhelm yourself with every dimension and statistic. Focus on getting down the mountain and seeing what you find most comfortable.
The Ask: Ease of use and length are going to be the biggest factors for you. All demo skis will be a step up from your basic rental skis, but make sure you communicate that you’re transitioning to better skis. You’ll likely be sized for basic rentals at the lower end of your potential range, but don’t be afraid to increase the length by a few centimeters. Slight size changes (< ~10cm) won’t make a big difference, but go ahead and try different options to see what feels best.
East Coast All Mountain
The Conditions. Groomers, moguls, and just a bit of ice (that's why skiers raised on the east coast are the best). Typically something on the narrow side of “all mountain” is more helpful in the Northeast because it provides more leverage for your skis to bite into the firm snow.
The Ask: Make sure you understand the current snow conditions. Odds are someone around has been on the mountain and can help inform your view. In the east, you are likely looking for something around 80-90mm underfoot (“waist width”), but don't become overly focused on this number, a few millimeters will not make a huge difference. You’ll want a ski that can carve a turn, so finding something stable on the snow will be important. Lastly, ask about the ski’s turning radius. Are you looking for quick, short slalom turns, or longer, high speed GS turns?
East Coast Powder
The Conditions. Yes, the east does get powder! It may not be as often or deep as some other places, but those days still come around. You want to find a ski that will perform in the soft stuff, but still allows you to make it back to the lift once things get tracked out.
The Ask: Skis with a waist width in the 100mm to 110mm range. While you could go wider, the Eastern US isn’t known for endlessly deep powder and you’re better off with some control once the snow gets tracked out. On soft snow, a softer ski can be advantageous for maneuvering your turns, as it will be more forgiving if your skis get caught in a particular line. Most powder skis will have a pretty long turning radius, and this is fine, since we’re not expecting to carve turns on groomed runs here.
West Coast All Mountain
The Conditions. All mountain skis in western North America have a demanding job. Some days it's groomers and moguls, others have powder and crud, and eventually in springtime you'll need to surf the slush! The skis tend to run slightly wider in this category to stay afloat in softer chopped conditions, though there is more variability.
The Ask: Width should be in the 95-105mm range. This will help in some of the softer off-piste terrain, characteristic of the western US. There will still be a range of turn radii and stiffnesses. This will come down to feel, so let your rental tech know your preferred style of skiing and be ready to try a few different skis.
West Coast Powder
The Conditions. In the deeper powder, you'll want something wide enough to help you float. With enough speed and proper form (leaning back), any ski will make its way to the top. We want you to have the most fun possible! The right powder skis will allow you to relax and ski deep powder, even without perfect form.
The Ask. Wider is better, right? This may have been the idea for a few years, but most manufacturers have gone away from the waterski dimensions in the last few years, looking instead at creating a wide but versatile ski. You'll be able to float, but still have skis nimble enough to navigate the trees and rocks. You’re looking for something over 110mm at the waist, and typically with a lot of “rocker” or early-rise at the tip.