I'm going to pick and choose the questions I want to answer ;-)
Originally Posted by dbostedo
Wow... great responses so far... as I was reading through them, a bunch of question came to mind. This from the POV of someone who's a) an intermediate, 2) never demo'ed, and 3) bought their first pair of skis last season without skiing them. I guess the extent I've demo'ed is trying all of the rentals at several different places.
Anyway, this is a bit of "stream of consciousness" style, so my apologies if any of this seems contradictory or redundant :
- Is demo'ing more useful for advanced and up?
- How do I tell if it's useful? Should I bother doing it before I'm ready to buy my next pair (assuming my skills and preferences will probably change before I buy another pair)?
- Will all skis appropriate to a beginner or intermediate will seem very good compared to rentals (east coast standard fleet rentals - not a high end demo rental)?
- As long as the ski is appropriate for your level, is that good enough for learning?
- How do I understand the difference anyway between skis? I.e. how do I know my bad technique isn't making a ski seem artificially good or bad?
- Is it possible to like skis that will be a problem for advancing/improving skills?
- Should you get skis that aren't your favorite because you'll "grow into them"?
- Is something that seems easier to turn the most important thing for beginner/intermediate?
- Is heavier/stiffer (stable) or lighter/flexible (turnier) better to try depending on conditions and level?
- Does heavier and stiffer always mean more stable (and vice-versa)?
- Is length more a matter of what you're used to when learning? Or should you get different lengths until you figure out how they respond?
- Is it worth trying skis not exactly appropriate for the conditions you're demo'ing in? How do you demo a powder ski without powder?
- Is it worthwhile to try different lengths of the same ski, rather than swapping to different brands or models?
- Do differences between skis become more apparent the better skier you are?
I suspect since I already bought skis without demo'ing, you can probably figure out what I'd guess some of the answers above are. But I'm curious what some of the answers may be from others.
I should admit it: I haven't demo'd much at all, and I think I've only done one demo day. But I do think there's a lot of benefit there - I am just lazy and obstinate and would rather ski than mess with going back to the base (or wherever) and swapping out skis during the day. Because of this, I've bought a lot of skis on spec, and some of them have been great for me, and some of them have been fine, and some of them have gotten rave reviews, but they didn't do a whole lot for me. By far the most rational thing to do is to demo. Humans are not always rational. None of the skis I've ever bought were unskiable or led to a miserable experience. Some of the skis I bought were skis I adored and loved and would happily have gone to bed with, but in retrospect there was probably a better ski for me out there. All of which is to say, a demo day is about finding that one ski (or, if you're lucky, more than one) that makes you feel like a superhero. If you don't demo, though, you'll probably be just fine as long as you stick to general rules of thumb about the target audience for the ski + appropriate length.
It is possible for you to like skis that will not necessarily be your favorite as your skills grow, but unless you're racing, they probably won't hold you back. I would not recommend getting skis to "grow into" - I doubt you can tell the difference between "I don't like to ski this type of ski" and "I will grow into this type of ski." Not as a beginner/intermediate. That being said, every ski will be a little different and will teach you something. You also have to ask yourself, is it a bad thing if the ski is making skiing easier? If it were, everyone would ski 145mm fatties on ice and 68mm wasp-waists in powder, just to improve their skiing. Most people don't do that.
Stable is not necessarily the opposite of turny. Heavier and stiffer often translate to more stable (or "damp"), but they may be so damn stable that you can't turn them. A lot of these terms are also relative to your weight, leg strength, and technique. I, for example, weigh a lot more than one of my friends and am slightly taller, but she prefers longer, stiffer skis than I do. She's a more active and aggressive skier. I tend to prefer skis that are easy to ski and are more forgiving, especially when I'm tired. It's important, I've found, to be honest with yourself about how you actually ski, rather than how you like to think you ski, or "how I ski in my head." This is something I'm still working on. At my point in ski progression, my ski style is not likely to change overnight - but I suspect that is also true of skiers at all stages of development. I bet that an experienced ski instructor could watch someone who's skied 10 days and make a reasonable prognosis of what that skier will struggle with 3 years from now.
How do you demo powder skis without powder? Not very well! You can't get a feel for float. You can do smeary turns and pivot slips to get sort of an idea, though. If you're a beginner (that's the location of this thread), though, you shouldn't be looking at fat skis. They really will do more harm than good to your technique, because it's harder to transfer from one edge to the other on fatter skis. So if you aren't solid with edge control before you go fat, you will resort to all sorts of shenanigans forcing your skis to turn. This is a good reason, perhaps, for non-beginners to test fat skis on hardpack - if you have trouble getting it on edge (after a few runs - it does take some adjustment), you probably shouldn't buy them.
How do you understand the difference and how do you know it's not your own bad technique? Oof, this is a hard one. It also depends on where you are on the learning curve. I'm still growing as a skier, but the issues I have with my technique are not likely to completely disappear in the next year or three, so I might as well get skis that I enjoy. I think maybe this is an area where knowing a ski instructor / genuinely expert skier with some technical knowledge would help - or, of course, coming to Epic with an MA (video for movement analysis), and then combining it with questions about particular skis. There are plenty of people here who could comment on how a particular skier's bad habits interact with certain skis.
Also, @dbostedo, you may be more improvement-minded than a lot of people, who just want to have fun and not think about it so much. Then again, I'm not sure those people are going to attend demos ...