SKI TESTING - SELECTING THE 2013/2014 RANGE
SKI TESTING - SELECTING THE 2013/2014 RANGE
The first part of our ski test programme each season is concentrated on range selection. These trips are focused on learning about the latest kit that will be coming for the next season, trying the skis in a range of conditions and terrain, and comparing to existing models.
This year we sent experienced testers out on a couple of early season ski tests, taking trips to Italy to try Salomon and France to try K2, Line and Volkl skis. These kind of early trips are really useful in gaining knowledge on new product, and often fall before the main Europe trade show in Munich, so give us a good head start in planning. Then spending 4 days at the ISPO trade show in Germany helped us put together an impressive long list of skis to try on snow.
After many presentations, trade shows and meetings with factory representatives came the big UK ski test, The Ski Industries of Great Britain Ski Test. This took place at Kuhtai, in the Austrian Tirol during late February. With over eight hundred skis from twenty-two different brands it was pretty obvious we were going to be busy, but it was going to be a brilliant job to tackle.
There was an excellent base of snow, and cold temperatures had kept it in good condition - maybe not the fresh powder we would have wished for, but there was plenty of accessible off-piste for all levels of skier. Kuhtai really is the ideal test location. Wide open, well groomed pistes with no lift queues and a big choice of terrain from steep to easy. The off-piste has something for everyone, with tourers especially spoilt for choice; whilst the park is maintained to a high standard with a decent kicker line and nice selection of features.
With so many skis to choose from it's important to have a plan, so we set each tester their own targets and categories. This means having a range of skiers both in terms of ability and also style, and just as importantly making sure the testers understand what makes a good ski. Our team consisted of seven to include instructors, ex-racers, tourers, committed improvers, male and female, with over 50 previous tests attended between them. Dan worked through all the freestyle options in the park and surrounding terrain; Eddie joined him on twins when he wasn't putting wider models through their paces whilst keeping up with Marcin who was on the all-mountain and freeride skis. Steve concentrated on piste and all-mountain and tried to keep up with Robin who was skiing a big range of product and always looking for the fresh tracks or bumped-up off-piste. The girls, Justyna and Katie, were lucky enough to try all categories and got to know every inch of our test area.
When testing the skis, it's easy to fall in the trap of skiing the same place in the same style, so it's important to keep thinking and asking questions about the ski. How does it work in its usual terrain, will it handle other conditions and speeds, does it exceed expectations? The individual characteristics need to be broken down and considered: grip, energy, ease-of-use, handling, initiation, completion, balance, the list goes on but this is why it takes more than one tester and one type of terrain to really get a rounded answer.
Every ski is taken on a range of terrain and used at a variety of speeds, always including its intended usage but always pushing what is expected of it. Every ski is trialled by at least two skiers, the results are then discussed on lifts as the day goes on, but also in the evening as the days findings are reviewed. This throws up questions as well as shortening the long list. Every day puts skis into the range and gives us a clearer opinion on the winners. This is when it is crucial to remember we're picking more than just the 'favourite skis' as each tester sees it, we're selecting a complete range that has something for every ability and type of skier. We're searching for the winners in each category.
By the end of the five days we'd settled on a mix of old favourites, new models, and a few surprises too. There was hardly a bad ski on the test, but there were skis that stood out and we're confident that is what our 13/14 range will represent. We have award-winning new models, well thought-out updates, existing favourites and innovative skis. It's a range that includes big brands, small brands, established ones and fast evolving young ones. Every ski has earned its place and deserves to be matched up with the right skier. If you pushed us and asked what we think are the really special ones... well... you'd have to wait till August when we publish our test winners! But in the mean time we can tell you that we were very impressed.
Once the range selection was complete and the orders submitted it was time to re-focus the testing and prepare to get staff from all around the company out to Austria to test the skis in preparation for next season. The next ski testing blog will focus on this training element.