With all the different types of ski available, how do you select what’s right for your level, your technique and your style? We asked local ski instructor from Sweet Snowsports and (self confessed) serial ski tester, Mark Birch, to share tips on how to test skis before buying.
In my opinion, the most important piece of kit you can buy to improve your skiing is a pair of custom-fitted ski boots. They will provide you with significant improvements to both your technique and your comfort. That said, a close second to the boots are the skis. Choosing an appropriate ski that is sharp and correctly waxed can make a huge difference to your skiing performance (and therefore your enjoyment!)
1 – Pick your category
Firstly, decide what category of ski you are looking for. Think about where you like to spend most of your ski time: on cruisey, fast pistes, on challenging, bumpy blacks, off piste, in the snowparks… This will lead you to the specific category of ski that fulfils your needs.
2 – Shortlist your options
I would always encourage anyone looking to purchase a ski to shortlist a number of skis and then research each one. Go into the shops and quiz the assistants, ask your skiing peers, check out the online reviews. Once you have narrowed down to 2, 3 or even 4 skis, it’s time to get testing!
3 – Get out there and ski!
Testing skis is really good fun, and back-to-back evaluations really help you to decide which features from each ski you like and dislike. Make notes after each run so that you can remember the feeling of each ski in different conditions.
With this in mind, here are some suggestions, based on my experiences, of how to put a ski to the test.
Bear in mind that you’ll probably end up skiing in some flat light or snowy conditions at some point so don’t be put off by the weather. You don’t necessarily need blue skies.
It’s a good idea to have already skied around the area on your usual skis before the test day, so that you can identify which conditions you want to try.
On the day, start easy and build up: begin on green/blue terrain to get used to the ski, then work up to skiing steeper gradients. Try something challenging as well: bumps, crusty off piste, an icy section.
Where to ski?
Starting in Courchevel Moriond, use the Ariondaz bubble to head up the hill. Directly below the bubble is one of the best pistes I know of for a first run of the day: Ariondaz It’s almost always quiet, the gradients are kind and it’s so wide! A couple of runs on Ariondaz will allow you to develop some understanding of the handling characteristics of the ski. If you are feeling more comfortable then you could head over towards 1850, specifically the Cave des Creux piste which offers an excellent choice of steeper terrain and unbeatable ratio of skiing:uplift time! There are 3 routes to choose from, all offering exactly the sort of testing conditions required to get a good feel of the skis on your feet.
Head up the Tougnète bubble then Tougnète 2 chairlift to make the most of the variety of pistes that take you back to Méribel or to St Martin de Belleville. There are quite a few blue runs to choose from as well as access to the much reviewed and well loved “Jerusalem” piste. The Liberty Ride area is a good place to test the off piste if you’re trying out powder or all-mountain skis.
How to ski?
It’s a good idea to try out a range of moves to put the skis to the test. Mix up your shapes, making smaller and larger radius turns. Try to resist the temptation to ski fast for the duration of the test, it’s always nice to know how your chosen ski performs at slower speeds, particularly in more uneven and variable snow conditions.
Finally, having a ski lesson for some or all of your testing will really help you to understand which ski is right for you. An instructor will be able to analyse which ski is most suited to the way you ski, looking at how well balanced you are and how easily you are able to manoeuvre each ski.