Well the 2016 Ski magazine buyers guide is out. Every year lots of skiers await the arrival of this edition to get their winter stoke started. Many skiers also rely on this issue to help decide what to buy. Over the years that mainly meant skis. Now they review boots too. And in between all the gear reviews are the ads. There are ads from all the major players. The review issues are to ski advertisers what the Super Bowl is to beer company's. Everything looks cool and inviting. So the products are beckoning to the consumers. We know what this means and it is somewhat important to us as a retail shop. We know that highly rated skis will sell well for just that reason. We typically look through the issue as a group and scoff at what we consider the inaccuracies. To our mind, they always seem to get some things right and some things wrong. But we know that customers will not always ask for our opinion compared to the printed word. And why should they? Ski magazines help sell skis- period. They are one of the many influencers the consumer is exposed to. It is a fact of our lives.
This year I perused the issue by myself for a number of visits before we all looked together. I probably read every review once and those of ski's I know well a number of times. I analyzed the comparison tables. I looked at all the ads. Here are my thoughts- right, wrong, or indifferent, about this years issue.
First of all I would like to say that one ad stood out from all the rest. Volkl? No. Marker? No. It turns out that Deer Valley is the Budweiser Clydesdales of Ski Magazine marketing. I agree that Deer Valley is magical, but the 36 page ad (yes 36 pages!) was more than I needed to send that home. Pointing out that Deer Valley was rated one of the top three ski resorts in North America for the past 10 years in a row by the readers of SKI Magazine (including five consecutive #1 awards),would do the trick don't you think? I will say that I enjoyed the ad though. It really made me feel the experience of a ski vacation and got me thinking about how I love to ski and that I would like to ski at Deer Valley some this year. The food, the lodging, the grooming- all first class for sure. There is probably no more civilized place to slide down hills on sticks than Deer Valley Utah!
Next up was the short but important Trends section.A few highlights:
-Lighter skis are hot. Yes light is definitely still a trend in skis. What is light done right however? Too light can be a problem and weight has its advantages. I agree with all this.
-Revenge of the nerds? Are bootfitters Nerds? We always thought bootfitters were cool!
-Best in test winners by brand. We agree that blizzard deserves to be on top overall. We have carried them for years and know their excellence. Volkl and Rossi are both traditionally strong as well. They are deserving of the next two spots.We actually added both brands this season with their best scoring models in this test being the main reasons why. We came to the same conclusions during our own testing. Actually Volkl had the top scoreing models in the issue based on points for both Men and Women. We are carrying those two skis (and those two skis only) from Volkl this year.
Next came the ski test results by category. Skis are tested by test skiers and given "report cards" of a sort. Scores are compiled and averages given. Results are based on scores and a written review of the skis is provided talking about the skis character and feel. You know- basic ski reviews. Overall the writing is good. This year the reviews seemed to be pretty accurate to me.
There are things I have a problem with however. I must state that I feel (once again) that both Head and especially Fischer were under rated or simply did not send skis (or the right skis?) to the test. Our shop test scores follow along with ski magazines on many models but those two brands are glaringly absent. I am simply at a loss as to why these two brands seem to fail at winning gold medals with Ski Magazine. On the other hand, it was great to finally see Stockli really participate in the test. Surprisingly they did not seem to enter the Stormrider 95 which we think is a fantastic ski. Overall though this year's scoring seemed to be lined up pretty well with our testing impressions and scores. Better than most years results from Ski Magazine do.
Why do our results vary from the test? The magazine testers are certainly qualified for these tests if skiing excellence is the criteria. However most of our customers are not level 10 skiers and we feel they may find they get different outcomes. We still feel that Realskiers.com (which we contribute to) is the most accurate testing and reviews for consumers. Like our staff, the testers have a broader range of experience and skill. We think this mirrors our customer base more closely. I would also guess that we are simply a bit partial to our brands and have a bit of unintentional bias? Who knows, as we all do the best we can.
Things in the ski test that made me smile:
Four out of five stockli models tested win "stability at speed" in their category. Most of them by A LOT. The fifth gets second place. We have known this for years. Nice to find others getting a chance to experience the Swiss Ski that we love here so much. They are not for everyone...but you know who you are!
Head women's skis have been embraced by the magazines female testers. While I just noted that both Head and Fischer did not show as well as expected in the men's categories, at least Head did well on the ladies side. While we loved the older head women's skis, this new direction is certainly exciting for us. We are glad the magazine thinks so too.
We think it is hard to test boots. The criteria has to be based on performance with some fit notes thrown in. Since as bootfitters we know that "comfort is king" to about 98% of our customers, we don't focus on performance as much as on fit issues when choosing our lineup of boot models. That being said we were happy to see that the top two performing boots in men's technical models are ones we chose as well. The top performance boot was the Head Raptor 140 which is a staff favorite. The magazine quote about the boot was even from our own Eric Kipp who was one of the boot testers. Eric said "...quick, stiff, precise, with an amazing feel for the snow..." How fun for Eric to be recognized for his thoughts in a big review like this!
The Fischer vacuum boots also got a mention about how "the stance is awesome". This is important, because it is awesome for everyone due to the molding. And the molding is why it is awesome. Other boots do not do this. Other boots are set in their angles to factory settings. There is a small amount of cuff adjustment on most boots but it is difficult to get a boot aligned perfectly without paying for a lot of labor. The Vacuum models becomes correctly aligned for whomever they are fit to (provided the fitter is well trained). It is a magic feeling when you are aligned perfectly. We feel this makes more difference than any other boot feature. Great skiers spend hundreds of dollars extra to get aligned well in their boots. Vacuum models do it for free.
One thing the boot tests are disappointing on is the seeming bias against 3 piece construction. Dalbello Krypton models were absent entirely. We feel they ski great and offer comfort that is first rate. If the testers all had free ride backgrounds instead of carving and race backgrounds, we think it would be different. Maybe it's just us?
On an interesting tangent, the Dale boot from Salt Lake City was tested and highly reviewed. We have sold these custom built boots for about ten years now (I love my personal pair). We agree with their assessment of the boot and would like to point out that the Dale is basically a three piece boot too!
Overall it is good to see boots reviewed. Boot reviews are tough. That is why they have just started doing them in a rigorous fashion the last few years. The folks from Masterfit University are definitely the best crowd to take on this task. We felt it was important to have has a tester there. Eric got the call because he is the right size and shape to test a lot of different boots. I think it was a value to the shop and Eric felt that he learned a lot. He got the scoop on the testing protocol, and skied more boots over four days than he had in his whole life. One take away of Eric's is that he needs to spend as much time necessary to get himself in a legitimate World Cup race boot. After feeling the power they posses he has decided he needs to go there for himself. I found that to be an interesting and telling take away!