I cannot count how many times it has been posted here, there, and everywhere: You must DEMO DEMO DEMO DEMO before you buy. So, what can you learn from demoing a ski? Well, let's talk about what it takes to demo skis properly.

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there” —Lewis Carroll

First of all, you need a baseline or point of reference. Since you are demoing, it can be assumed that you need skis because what you have isn’t working for you. The question becomes, Do you know why what you have is not working for you? If the answer is yes, great, we are on the right track; if not, you need help before you even enter a high-performance rental department or demo center. The other reason you might be demoing is that you are looking to fill a need with an additional ski; it still circles back to the fact that what you have is not working for you. If you have read anything we have written over the past two decades, you know that we have said umpteen times, When you are demoing a ski, you are demoing three four things, which I will address individually.

Thing 1: The Snow
The first thing you are demoing is the snow. If you are testing more than one pair of skis, ideally you want to do it the same day in the same conditions on the same trail or terrain. Yes, conditions can change from morning to afternoon, but they change more from day to day and week to week, and if you can't test the skis back to back, it is very difficult to compare each one fairly. And yes, I added terrain to the equation. Are you testing on the same terrain, ideally the same run? Are you testing on the type of terrain that you plan on skiing it on? If it is to be a hard-snow specialty ski, test it on the groomers. If it is to be a powder ski, wait for a powder day to demo. A one-ski quiver? Then test it all over the mountain.

Thing 2: The Tune
The next thing you are testing is the tune, and in some (or many) cases, the lack of a tune. If you were considering a new car, would you test drive a rental with bald tires and a bad alignment? No. I mentioned earlier high-performance rental departments and demo centers, because there is a difference. A high-performance rental center is just that, a rental center under the façade of being a demo shop. It turns out glorified rental skis that are usually treated as such. The skis go out on snow nearly every day and tend not to be tuned or cared for as well as skis in a true demo center, where they are intended to be sales tools and go out only with prospective buyers. If you are serious about the reason you are demoing skis, don’t waste your time with the former because you have a better chance with the latter for the last thing you are demoing: the ski!

While we have talked about the three things you need to take account of, the snow, the tune and the ski, I have updated the chacklist to add a fourth think you need to take into consideration and that is The Binding.

"New" Thing 3: The Binding
We doubt you will find any place on the interwebz that is more obsessed with bindings. Our readers and followers will lament over fore/aft postion, stack height, and ramp angle of every single option. Well all of those aspects of a binding also come into play when you are demoing a ski. Most "system skis" that are demo'ed will usually have the same (adjustable) binding that your will be getting when you purchase the ski, so that leaves little variables. Where bindings come into play is when you are demoing a flat ski and the retailer/rep has installed a "demo" binding. You need to take this into consideration when demoing a ski. Skis that are set up with Markers will have a negative delta, meaning, the toe of the binding is higher than the heel also Marker's demo binding stack height (how high you are from the top of the ski) is very close to the retail versions. Salomon's Warden demo bindings, like the Markers ski very close to their retail counterparts, which is very good. Tyrolia Attack and Look Konect demos will ski different than the retail versions because you are significantly higher off of the ski so this also needs to be taken into consideration.

Thing 4: The Ski
Yes, now we get to talk about demoing the ski, which is why you are reading this anyway, right? So, how do you demo? Ideally, you want to take a run first on your own skis so you can get a feel for the conditions. Next, if you plan on testing multiple pairs of skis that day, don’t start with your first choice; save it for your second or third ski. Why? Well, chances are, you are testing either a new improved version of what you have or you are trying a whole new segment or category of ski and you will need to adjust to the design. If you jump right in, you might not get a full appreciation right away. If you have the luxury of getting on three or four pairs in a day, don’t hesitate to go back and try the first selection at the end of the day; the snow might be a bit different and the ski might surprise you.

So, at this point, what do you do with the information? First off, can you remember it all? As @Tricia says, a short pencil is better than a long memory. So, take notes. If paper and pencil work for you, great, but you have a voice recorder and camera in your phone. Take some recordings of your impressions. It seems pretty simple to remember what model and size were you on, but we all have memory lapses.

[The following is a true reenactment of a failed sales transaction, but brand and model names have been changed to protect the innocent.]

: "I demoed the Atomic Vantage and would like to buy it."
Salesman: "Okay, great, I would love to take your money. Now, the Atomic Vantage is a series or collection of skis; which Vantage?"
Customer: "Uhhhh. The 90?"
Salesman: "Are you asking me or telling me?"
Customer: "Telling you."
Salesman: "The CA or the Ti? Even better, do you remember what color it was? Did it look like this?" [showing them the current model]
: "I'm not sure."
Salesman: "Ok, where and when did you demo it?"
Customer: "I forget where but last year."
Salesman: "When last year? At the beginning or toward the end?"
Customer: "Why does it matter?"
Salesman: "Well, Atomic changed the Vantage for this season, I just want to make sure you get what you demoed. If you demoed at the end of the season last year, you might have tried this year's model. Did you take a picture of it by chance?"
Customer: "YES! Let me pull it up."
Salesman: :Great, let's take a look."
[Turns out it was not the Atomic Vantage 90 but the Armada Invictus 89Ti.]
Customer: "This one."
Salesman: "Oh, that's an Armada Invictus."
Customer: "Are you sure?"
Salesman: "Yeah, I'm sure."
Customer: "Oh, I really wanted the Atomic Vantage. Now I have to research the Armada."
[... there is no need to go on at this point....]


Go by your gut -- and your feet. If something stood out for the application you want, go with it. Don’t overthink it. Remember, there is no one perfect ski. If there were, it would be the only one on the ski wall. There is no one best ski, which we addressed in “What Is the Best Ski?” So what does this all mean? Demoing is still a crapshoot, and chances are, you will come away with more questions than answers. Most skiers are better off coming to sites like Pugski.com and asking questions. Our experienced testers have been on dozens of skis and can discern the nuances of different skis and explain who would benefit from them.