By Karen D. Lorentz
Last year, I happened to ride a chairlift with a man demoing skis that I had read about. But when I asked him how he liked them, he answered, “I guess they’re ok, but I really don’t know what to look for.”
With a huge and constantly changing array of skis and snowboards models today, to say nothing of the new technology, choosing new equipment can be confusing and even overwhelming for some, experts agree.
“Demoing from a respected shop is key because knowledgeable staff can help you pick the best skis or snowboard for you,” Sean Meszkat, director of retail at Okemo, stated. They do this by getting a feel for your ability and goals, he said.
Mitch LeClair, who works at Black Dog Sports, concurred, noting that “the type of skier you are, how aggressive, skill level, and what you want to do,” are among the factors that guide owner Dave Manning as he selects models for customers to try. LeClair added that he’s watched Manning assess customers and recommend three models and only once seen a person not like one of the three recommendations.
Nitty gritty basics
How does demoing differ from renting skis or boards?
“Demo skis are skis that are available for sale at retail. Demo skis are meant to offer the customer the option to ‘try before you buy’,” explained Tracy Wilson, buyer and manager at Peak Performance Ski Shop in Killington. “After skiing, you could walk into a store and purchase the same exact ski you just skied if you liked it. A rental ski is designed specifically for a rental program. It is usually a pretty standard base model ski that skis groomers, crud, moguls and powder with relative efficiency, but doesn’t excel at any one particular thing. The graphics are usually on the ‘generic’ side and it cannot be purchased at a retail store.”
Asked “who should demo,” Wilson replied, “Anyone who is looking to purchase a new pair of skis, regardless of ability level or price of ski. Reputable retail ski shops usually offer every single ski they sell as a demo.”
Who doesn’t need to demo? “Someone who is not looking to purchase a new pair of skis. If someone is not ready to purchase skis but is looking for a higher performance ski than a standard rental ski, high performance rentals are available from most specialty ski shops. Most shops have a fleet of high performance rentals that includes one male- and one female-specific ski in every size it’s made. This ski is typically a best selling retail ski,” Wilson noted.
But Meszkat thinks “Everyone should demo!” He sees demoing as a way to “keep up on the latest technology. Skis and boards change yearly, with companies coming out with new models and shapes,” so it benefits people to “get out and try the new stuff.” As technology has changed, the array of equipment available has grown and “the improvements make skiing and riding easier. There are different models for parks, pipes, powder, moguls, backcountry, et cetera so you need to consider your needs or whether an all-mountain model is most appropriate for you,” he added.
“The best place to demo a ski is from a ski specialty retailer in the area where you plan to use this ski the most It is best to demo a ski at the mountain you ski the most so conditions will be most like those you ski on a regular basis, unless of course you are looking to buy a ski for conditions that are not ‘normal’ in your area, i.e., fat skis or powder skis might be best to demo on your trip out West unless you are able to demo them on an East Coast snow day,” Wilson noted.
Bill Langlands, proprietor of Darkside, a core snowboard shop, noted that “Because there have been so many technology changes with camber, full rocker, and various combinations of rocker and camber, boards have never ridden better.”
The new technology is a good reason to demo if someone is on older equipment or wants to add another board to his or her quiver, staffer Mickey Zingarelli adds. Darkside carries 25 different boards for men and women from five different manufacturers, and the boards vary from model to model, so questions are asked to help recommend boards someone should try, he said.
Questions shop staff ask include: What area(s) do you ski/ride usually? What trails? How often? What was the last ski/board you bought? What do you like/dislike about it? What type of skier/rider are you? What are your goals? When was the last time you demoed? What you are looking for in new equipment?
On the hill
Manning notes he wouldn’t buy a car without trying it first and feels the same principle applies to buying new skis. That’s why he likes to see a customer spend a whole day on a pair of demo skis so they can “get a real feel for the ski when legs are fresh in the morning as well as later in the day when they might be tired. But if their schedule doesn’t allow that, we’ll accommodate the customer,” he added.
It’s important to have time to ski all the terrain someone usually enjoys, Manning stressed, calling a test drive “a process of discovery to make best purchase possible.”
Zingarelli said Darkside Snowboard Shop also likes to have a customer demo one board a day so they can put it through its paces and get an idea of how they like it.
Wilson added, “Ski it just like you ski every day. Put it through the paces to make sure it will perform as you want it to perform if/when you own it. But remember, as you stare down the edge of the trail into the woods, that you do not own this ski yet and will be responsible for any damage you might do to it . . . or you might have to buy it (whether you like it or not)!”
All agreed that you will return to the shop smiling when you’ve found the right ski.
“The right ski for you is not the ski your best friend just bought, or the ski the cool shop guy likes, or the most popular ski on the market right now. The best ski for you is the one that truly works best for you. The right ski for you will do everything you want it to do without making you feel like you have to work to do it. When you have found the ski that works the best for you, buy it,” Wilson notes.
That’s advice that goes for snowboards also, Zingarelli noted. By asking the right questions, a good shop will make your decision easy and save you time. Answer the questions well, and most should be able to narrow your search to three models to try.