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One of the first and most common questions I get when someone walks up to the ski wall is, "What's the best ski?" I know when I get that question, an education process is coming up. I also know I am dealing with a person who wants information but has no real clue where to start. Chances are this person either hasn’t bought skis since the Bush Administration or really just wants a decision made for him -- so how does someone whose current skis are legally old enough to drive even figure out what the best ski is? In reality, all of them could be the "best ski." But which one is right for that particular skier?

This is where the salesperson has two choices. He can validate his own buying decisions by regurgitating every spec and review his rep told him, or he can actually ask the skier what he or she needs and expects out of the ski. If a salesperson talks more than listens, say, "Thank you very much" and leave; he has his eyes on himself and you could end up on his ski or perhaps the one with the biggest spiff. But if the salesperson spends the time asking questions rather than stating facts, you have someone with your interests at heart.

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So, what should you be asked?

About you:
  • How long have been skiing?
  • Where do you ski? (Not only which resort, but which trails and terrain.)
  • What don’t you like to ski? And, most importantly, why? Is it desire, ability, or maybe your gear is holding you back?
  • How often do you ski, and for how long?
  • Do you ski just the morning or afternoon, or do you go bell to bell?
  • How aggressively do you ski? Do you like to drive the ski or ride it?
About the gear:
  • What were some of your favorite skis, and what did you like most about them?
  • How often did you have them tuned?
  • Are you replacing or adding to your current ski (or skis)?
  • How long have you had your current gear?
  • What are you looking for the new ski to do that your current one is not doing?
And of course:
  • Are you set with boots?
If a salesperson starts talking about skis before asking any of these questions, he might be more interested in getting a free pass or discounts on his own gear. If a salesperson asks any or all of these questions -- and actually listens to your answers -- you should get two to four solid options that all could be very good.

Then, how do you finally choose? I know it is tough. But you need to take some responsibility for your own decision. And you can. Even though the skis look pretty similar, once you look closely, you will see the differences. All this happens after you get past the "numbers" like dimensions and sidecut. In some segments, the differences are more subtle, and that's where there are fewer wrong choices. This usually means skis under 75 mm wide: all of the high-performance skis in this range do eight out of 10 things exceptionally well, and the other two, they do very well. Now, you just need to figure which of those 10 things you want the ski to do exceptionally and which you are willing to compromise on.

Let's look a couple of skis with distinct similarities and dramatic differences in the 88-90mm range. Four popular skis in this class are the Armada Invictus 89Ti, Blizzard Brahma, K2 Pinnacle 88, and Rossignol Experience 88 HD. Look at the tip shape and profile, camber profile, tail shape, and flex. With these four attributes, you too can be a ski detective.

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What does the tip of the Rossi tell you? It wants to bite into a turn. What does the tip of the K2 tell you? It wants to just rise out of the snow, kind of like how its tail wants to release easily compared to the tail of the Rossi or even the Armada, both of which are a little more flared. The Blizzard's shape is a bit of a hybrid of all of these skis, a compromise. Is that good? Well, it depends what you want. Both the Brahma and E88HD are on the stiffer end and are more powerful, where the Invictus and Pinnacle have more medium flexes that a lighter or more finesse skier will appreciate.

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Are any of the skis I just described the "best ski"? They could be, but they could just as easily be the wrong ski. Three to four of these examples are in most reputable shops; next time you are in a shop, look at some of these or others and compare them and then think about how these shapes and designs will react on snow. Then think about how and where you ski and what you want in a ski. What it comes down to is that, depending on how you look at it, every ski is a best ski. Each has a distinct purpose and is in search of a skier.

Article originally published December 2016
About author
I started skiing in the mid-70s in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania; from then on, I found myself entrenched in the industry. I have worked in various ski shops from suburban to ski town to resort, giving me a well-rounded perspective on what skiers want from their gear. That experience was parlayed into my time as a Gear Review Editor and also consulting with manufacturers as a product tester. Along with being a Masterfit-trained bootfitter I am a fully certified self proclaimed Gear Guru. Not only do I keep up with the cutting edge of ski gear technology, but I am an avid gear collector and have an extensive array of bindings as well as many vintage skis.


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