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So you want to buy new skis. Maybe you’ve been renting and think it’s time you had a pair of your own. Maybe you want to replace a pair that has too much wear or doesn’t feature the latest technology. Or maybe you just want to add a special type of ski to your quiver, such as a ski for powder or one for the park.

Whatever the case, buying new skis can be daunting. There are hundreds of skis to choose from, produced by dozens of manufacturers. And they’re not all the same: this one features a special type of construction. That one has certain proportions, This one has lots of rocker, the other, not so much. It’s enough to make your head spin. What’s more, skis aren’t cheap. You could end up investing hundreds of dollars and then decide the ski you bought just isn’t right for you.

So what do you do? How do you know which ski to choose? And more importantly, how do you know you’re going to love the one you pick out?

Luckily, it’s perfectly okay to try before you buy. Just as you take a car for a test drive before you plunk down your hard-earned cash, you can also take a pair of skis out for a spin. Ski shops and manufacturers frequently hold on-snow demo days where you can try skis from a variety of manufacturers, either at no cost or for a nominal fee (check with your local resort to see if they have any demo days on the schedule). Or if you’re interested in a particular ski, you may be able to try a pair from a local shop. Often they’ll let you take a pair out for a small amount. Even better, they may even put that amount toward the purchase price, should you decide to buy.

So how to approach a demo day? There are a few things you should do, before you even hit the slopes:

Do Some Research

This could be as simple as talking to your friends who ski or reading gear reviews in ski magazines. Maybe you want to frequent a ski forum or two to learn what people have tried and liked. It helps to narrow your search down before you hit the demo tent.

Decide What You Want in a Ski

Do you want something that’s good on hardpack or in powder? Something that will take you all over the mountain, or do you plan to stay on the groomers? Do you want something stable or a bit more playful? Give some thought to the things you like in a ski, and be realistic about both your abilities and what you plan to use it for.

Talk to Shop Personnel or Manufacturers Reps

This is your time to ask questions, to learn what makes one ski different than another. Maybe you only thought you wanted a rockered ski, when one with camber will do you lots better. Maybe the ski you thought you wanted really isn’t right for you. A bit of expert assistance can go a long way.

Helm of Sun Valley – San Mateo

Find Out If There Are Any Restrictions on Your Demo Time.

Some demo days have strict rules; you may only be allowed to have the ski for a run or two. This is only fair, since there may be others who want to try the skis, too. Paying to demo a pair of skis from a shop can be a different experience. You’ll probably be able to keep the skis for an entire day, or trade them for another pair whenever you want. Consider the sort of experience you want, and plan accordingly.

So the big day is here, and you’re ready to roll. Here’s what to expect when you show up to demo:

Bring What You Need

Obviously, you’ll need your boots and poles. You’ll likely need a photo ID. And you may need a charge card, too.

Know Your Boot Sole Length

Demo skis are outfitted with demo bindings, which can be adjusted to accommodate a wide range of boot sizes. Know your boot sole length; it’s the number in millimeters (MM) on the outer shell of your boot — usually on the side, just behind the arch. Also, be sure to know the DIN setting of your binding. All this will help the ski tech adjust your bindings correctly adjusted.

Use the Same Terrain to Test Each Ski

Choose a route down the mountain that gets you through as many conditions that you normally ski, then take each ski down the same route. It’s a great way to compare. Don’t be afraid to return a ski you don’t like right away in exchange for something else. Life is short; why waste your demo time on a ski you absolutely hate?

Pay Attention to How the Skis Feel

Are they sluggish? Energetic? Do they chatter at speed? How are they at edging? In the bumps? In short and long turns? If you’re looking for a ski that does well on hard pack, see how it performs on that. If you want a powder ski, go for the stashes.

Try the Same Ski in a Variety of Lengths.

Strangely enough, you may hate a ski in one length and love it in another. So if it’s possible, try out the same pair in more than one length. If it feels sluggish or overbearing, try a shorter length. If it seems inconsistent, flighty, or unstable, go longer.

Don’t be Afraid to Take Out Skis That Weren’t on Your List.

You never know what you might end up liking that wasn’t on your radar.

Take Notes

Try a lot of skis, and it’s easy to get confused. So whether you take notes on your phone or with a pad and pencil, try to keep a record of each ski you try and what you liked or didn’t like about it. That way you don’t risk getting them mixed up or forgetting the specifics of the ski you really loved.

When You’re Done

Remember, the only opinion that really matters is your own. So if you find yourself liking a particular ski, don’t worry if your best friend’s sister couldn’t make it work. Picking out a ski is a pretty personal process, so if you’re lucky enough to find a pair that makes you smile, you may have found the one for you. If you find two, even better. How do you choose? Go with the one you get a better deal on. And congratulations!

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