Ski Testing with Mark Jones

I’ve been privileged enough to enjoy the role of running the annual ski tests for Ski and Board magazine for many years now. The way we run the testing has really changed over time, for the first few years it was a steep learning curve!
 
One of the biggest changes has been the sheer number of skis available to test, with the increase of women’s specific skis and more recently the boom in ski touring it can be pretty daunting looking at the list of skis to get through. For the last couple of years, every test has had over a thousand pairs of individual skis ready to go….. With the best will in the world, for that number you could make yourself a full-time job of testing! However, the reality is that the tests are only run for one week.
 
This means a lot of preparation has to go into making a clear selection before going in with the team, normally we visit the manufacturers at the annual trade shows and pick out the latest technical innovations, and really get led by them on what skis they would like us to test. We also have to narrow down the categories of ski that we will test. Once we have an example from each manufacturer for every category, the final list can be compiled and the team can be rolled into action.
 
THE TEAM:
Getting the right testers is absolutely crucial to delivering an accurate test. In the early days, I used to try and get a wide selection of skiers, from different backgrounds that would be more closely related to the skills of the buying public. This proved to be not a great decision! It’s only when you start looking at feedback from skiers that you realize many of them can be more adversely affected by outside factors, other than the skis themselves. Deteriorating snow conditions, fatigue, bad tuning and many other factors can lead to an unfair assessment of a ski’s performance. This is when you need professional skiers who are much more adept at focusing on the ski itself and have the ability to filter out other factors out of their control. Once you get a strong, pro test team everything becomes easy and the skis will start to get consistent feedback, which allows me to write up an accurate review of how the ski performs.
 
HOW WE TEST:
It can be tempting to go mad and blast through as many pairs of skis as possible in the day. This is a balance that each test team has to get right, with the sheer numbers of skis available, there will always be a push to try and get through a lot of skis. This again can lead to inaccurate results; one quick run is just not enough time on a ski to give it an honest, realistic test. Each ski needs to be given the time and respect it deserves. The first part of the process is to have a conversation with the manufacturer about the ski that is about to be tested; Who is it designed for? What sort of qualities should you expect? What new technologies or designs are being incorporated? This can give the tester a much-needed overview of the ski before putting it through its paces.

For each category, the tester will have a test card that guides them through what aspects of the ski they will need to assess. For example on a pure piste ski the tester will fully commit to making short carved turns, more progressive steered turns as well as making big carved arcs. They will look at factors like stability, edge grip, dampening, be ease of use on groomed runs. However, with an all mountain ski it needs to be more of a broader picture, with a good test of piste performance while also taking some time to get some backside skiing and seeing how the ski performs in crud, powder and variable conditions. Each ski needs to be tested specifically for the category it is aimed at.
 
HOW TO GET IT RIGHT: 
From my experience, it works really well when you can have a pro team that can work well together as a team. I really promote those essential ‘chairlift chats’ between the testers, sometimes it’s difficult to put your finger on exactly what part of skis performance that is either a strength or weakness. An ability to bounce your thoughts off your teammates can often focus the mind and allow some great feedback to be written out on the test card. The other strong factor in a great team is that they love skiing! This may sound obvious, but the reality is that a pro team will comprise of race coaches, instructors or full-time athletes who rarely get the opportunity to ski for themselves. Falling back in love with their sport after a long, hard season of coaching can really a great experience and can revitalize energy and passion in a test week. - Mark Jones.
 
 


Posted: 04/03/2019