February 17, 2016

To demo or not to demo, it’s not really a question

By Karen D. Lorentz

There’s been a huge sea change in skis since I learned on my dad’s 1930 hickories with the bear trap bindings on a golf course in the 1950s.

From my first wood Vostra skis with edges to metal Head Master’s, Rossi Strato 102’s, a Rossi Sport in the 1980s, and then on to women’s shaped skis.

I demoed for two seasons before switching to the 1990s’ new technology of shaped skis. I wanted to be sure they weren’t just a fad.

I demoed enough to locate three models I loved. All were great skis. After telling the salesman where I skied, my then sore back, and what I aspired to, he suggested I purchase the women’s K-2.

When I asked why he wasn’t trying to sell me the more expensive skis, he replied, “Because you’ll have more fun on these.”

I loved those skis.

Then in 2004 when shopping the October ski sales with a sister who had taken up skiing again, the salesperson found two models that would be good for her. With both great skis at bargain prices, I got carried away and purchased the ones she didn’t.

Although I hadn’t been on Salomon X-Wing Blasts before, I had tried other Salomons and figured I couldn’t go wrong. I still recall zipping down Pico one spring day and thinking the corny thought “they’re really a blast.”

Try-before-you-buy dilemma

So why try before you buy?

What if you locate a great deal on a great ski (per reviews), or if you have skied on that brand (as I had) and feel confident that the salesperson knows you and is suggesting a model you will enjoy?

You probably can’t go too wrong purchasing that model without having demoed it as skis/boards are so much better than 10 years ago, almost regardless of what you buy.

However, ski technology is ever-developing, and the differences matter. There are so many choices available that to be certain you are purchasing the perfect ski/snowboard for you, test ride a few.

“There’s no substitute for demoing,” states Lee Quaglia, owner of Aspen East and Surf the Earth in Killington.

That’s because there are so many different models designed specifically for learners, racers, freeriders, women, powder, parks, moguls, groomers, backcountry, all-terrain, etcetera. Additionally, skis and boards come in a variety of flex patterns, camber/rocker blends, or pure rocker or camber only, which make some more versatile and others more specific to a type of terrain, Quaglia noted.

Tips from pros

“Demoing from a respected shop is key because knowledgeable staff can help you pick the best skis or snowboard for you,” observes Sean Meszkat, director of retail at Okemo.

“Our staff tests equipment at several on-snow trade shows before we order so we really know how the equipment performs,” Quaglia adds.

Dave Struthers, who handles hard goods sales and demos at Mountain Outfitters at Jackson Gore Village, recommends trying three models and doing an even comparison, noting that means picking your favorite trails and skiing them in similar conditions but not when you are tired.

It’s important to tell a shop person where you ski/ride, what trails, how often, how many years experience you have, your current ski, what type of skier you are, and your goals, he said, noting it is better to “get a ski you can grow into” rather than one you’ll soon outgrow.

“The idea of the shop interview is to find out about your likes and dislikes so staff can guide you,” and it’s important to tell the person if you didn’t like a particular ski and why and what you do like, Quaglia added.

The array of equipment available has grown and the improvements can make skiing and riding easier, but the choices are so great that choosing can be confusing. That’s where guidance from the knowledgeable shop person can help you and good communication is key, all agree.

Discovering more fun through technology

Beyond being in the market to purchase new equipment, Meszkat also 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,” he said.

The latest technology for skis and snowboards is rocker, which features upward rise at tips and/or tails. “Skis with early rise are beneficial for most ability levels as they will make it easier to turn and enhance your performance,” Quaglia noted.

“With traditional camber, full rocker, and various combinations of rocker and camber now featured in snowboards, the “boards have never ridden better,” noted Bill Langlands, proprietor of Darkside in Killington.

Another recent development was wider ski waists underfoot for better stability in variable snow conditions, especially powder. But currently manufacturers are trending toward narrow again because the on-trail/frontside skier is making more turns and a narrower waist allows a quicker edge-to-edge turn, Quaglia explained.

Why demo now

The sales are on so if you are looking to purchase new equipment now is a good time while the shops still have a variety of choices left. Plus, the snow is the best of the season, and shops will deduct the demo cost off your purchase (inquire as to specific policy).

If you are on older models, you owe it to yourself to try the new technology. “My new skis make skiing so easy,” raved a woman I recently met.

So I am demoing once again, knowing that the older, slower me will find a woman’s ski that is lighter and will make carving easier and skiing more fun.

But being the type to “overthink” things, I’m going to follow one other tip I heard: “When you find a model that puts a smile on your face, stop demoing and get it.”

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