Behind the Scenes of Our 2020 Ski Test

Four days. Eighteen testers. More than 150 pairs of skis.

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Photo: Lee Cohen

In February, our team of 18 testers headed to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to try out new skis from every major brand in the industry. Over four days, each tester rode roughly 80 skis—about 22 per day. Here’s a look behind the scenes. 

Photo: Lee Cohen

We posted up at the base of Steamboat’s Thunderhead Express high-speed quad. Reps from upward of 30 manufacturers hauled more than 350 pairs of skis to and from our test corral each day. They arrived at 8 A.M. to set up before first chair and wouldn’t schlep out the last plank until the final tester made their final turns.  

Photo: Lee Cohen

When you’re skiing as many as 22 laps a day in midwinter temperatures, you need to pound calories at breakfast. That’s also the time that I (with the long beard), as test director, hand out test cards to reviewers, like Gabe Glosband (with the short beard). I also let everyone know whether they’ll be on, say, all-mountain powder or all-mountain frontside skis (although everyone rotates categories throughout the test). The cards easily let testers rate skis on characteristics like floatation, edge hold, turn shape, and “hard-snow pleasure,” while also allowing for short narrative analyses.

Photo: Lee Cohen

We hire ski techs from local shops to adjust the demo bindings and keep testers moving. That’s Mark Martinez in the ditch. We don’t know what big Brady Newton is doing to that ski, but don’t do it in shops—that practice ended in the nineties. 

Photo: Lee Cohen

We recruited two women from Steamboat’s professional patrol squad to help with testing. Here, Makensie Forsyth shreds shin-deep chunder. We asked her to show us the hidden goods, but like any local, she declined. 

Photo: Lee Cohen

Newton, who hails from Utah, blows up some of Steamboat’s classic champagne powder. The aspen trees in the grove behind him look like separate organisms, but in fact they are one. The largest living organism by mass in the world is a grove of aspens in Utah called Pando. Newton, contrariwise, is a single organism, not accounting for his microbiome and mites and whatnot. Henceforth, we’ll call him Pando.

Photo: Lee Cohen

Steamboat’s trademarked powder typically comes courtesy of a northern track straight out of Utah. An orographic lift cools that humid air, and tiny stellar dendrites fall, blanketing Storm Peak. Unlike much of the Colorado skiing at higher elevations, Steamboat avoids the winds and jet-stream events that hammer the state’s alpine terrain. But it’s high and shady enough for snow to stay cold and chalky between refresher dumps.

Photo: Lee Cohen

To move even faster through their transitions, some testers adjust their own skis. This is wholly unsanctioned and reckless but, hey, they signed the waiver at breakfast. From left: Dan Withey, Glosband, and Andrew McCloskey.

Photo: Lee Cohen

The late, great pro skier Billy Poole used to test skis with us. He once dropped a day’s worth of test cards from a lift as he was overscoring for “hard-snow pleasure.” We heckled him. He took it well. Here, from left, Kim Beekman, Dana Antonio, Heather Schultz, and David Currier fill out review cards.

Photo: Lee Cohen

Outside art director Petra Zeiler tips and rips—in backcountry freeride boots no less. To test the skinny-ski categories, we need perfect corduroy. Also hardpack. But we don’t take pictures of that. 

Photo: Lee Cohen

For the synchronized-skiing category, testers must smile at the camera and frolic down the slope like Sea World dolphins. Wait, there is no synchronized-skiing category. Fire that damn photographer, Lee Cohen! Pictured are skiers Chad Jacob (left) and Zeiler.