As the season winds down back here, and the doldrums set in, time to joust a bit. On the fight card for tonight: Reviews.
IMO the change in format that Phil developed has helped reviews in a number of ways. It's nice to actually know something about the reviewer now, and the conditions of the review. OTOH, I think in some respects our reviews are worse than ever before. Why?
First, because the more compact format, with the comments sandwiched between conditions and skier data, tends to discourage nuanced reviews that deal with both pros and cons.
Second, because no ski is perfect, reviews that essentially say, “This ski f***ing rules!” are worthless. Many of last season’s MX88 reviews, and all of the current Bonafide reviews fall into this genre. Now I assume that no ski made by human minds can ever be perfect, and I know that that any ski I’ve ever skied represented tradeoffs. The tradeoffs are increasingly more informative to me than the high points. Most skis today are good, many are superb. I pay disproportionate attention to the drawbacks so I can decide if they’re significant to the way I ski. I have stated, for instance, that the MX88 is the best single ski on the planet. But I have always been careful to note that it’s not for everyone, or for every condition. I don't even think it's the best 88-something at every single task. If you cannot detect shortfalls in a ski’s performance, even the MX88, you either are not good enough, or you’re not trying, or you’re hampered by conflicts of interest (you just bought them, or you sell them, or you’ve drunk the pink stuff and are getting sleepy).
Third, the emphasis on “best overall ski,” or “best in this class,” which seems to echo Ski Magazine’s deeply sophisticated approach, are essentially the same as saying “This ski f***ing rules!” We do not seriously evaluate fine cars, to use Phil’s favorite example, as: “M5's are better than 911's.” (OK, maybe we do in bars, but we also think we’re way cool after we’ve had enough to drink.) Rather, we discuss the ways in which one model performs differently than another. We may have favorites, but that doesn’t mean we think it’s universally superior. I love Porsche’s gearboxes, for instance, but M5’s have superior suspensions. I care more about lateral acceleration and slalom scores than straightline acceleration. Get the idea?
Fourth, if we see reviews as having an educational component, with which we are getting each other to think about ever more nuanced aspects of a ski’s parameters, and if we see Epic as different because we worry about traditional parameters like skiing well, we owe it to ourselves and newcomers to really think about a ski’s performance critically. If I want cute, I can go read quips and one-sentence aphorisms over at most other sites.
Fifth, you retailers should consider that if you sell out of the ski you’ve virally anointed as best of the bunch, what do you say about the rest? “Uh, this is the second best ski we carry. Why don’t you spend your money on it even though we said you could do better?” Seriously. If you emphasize tradeoffs and qualifications, you have more maneuvering room to move the rest of your stock without putting it on sale. My wife has a successful small business and she’d never, ever, say that a particular product is better than the rest. She doesn’t see things that way, and even if she did, it’d kill sales. Maybe ski retail is different.
So what do I actually like? Here's a link to the best multiple ski review I've ever read. On (gasp) TGR of all places. Notice that the reviewer, who appears to be a pro or close to it, goes so far as to list the places each ski basically fails, and later he provides pics: http://www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php/213792-Review-and-Comparison-XXL-dps-120-Lhasa-S7-Rocker-Czar-Mantra
Now for the deluge, as Mugabe said...
Edited by beyond - 4/5/11 at 10:46pm