This can never be stressed highly enough. Demo skis before you buy. Demo different brands and then buy what you feel is right.
I have been following these forums for a couple of years now and have heard some repeated comments and repeated themes. One is that not everyone can find demo skis. The other is that people pay a lot (read as too much) attention to reviews in magazines and forums. The only good review is your own experience when you try out a ski.
Skis are expensive. They are bought with discretionary money that most people would rather not spend. Skis are an extravagance and unlike a car can not usually be justified - especially when you have pair that is 3 or 4 years old. Would you buy a car with out a test drive? Then why a ski?
So really why demo when there are so many reviews and opinions? Quite simply it is because what your friend likes is not what always works for you. Doesn't mean the friend or reviewer is wrong - just that skis are a very personal choice.
Don't buy a ski til you try one that you have to have so badly you would think about skipping a mortgage payment. If you try a ski and it does not feel that good then it is not the ski for you. Try some more and you will know when you find the right one. It gives you the beg, borrow or steal to buy it feeling.
Ok so then how do we find these demos?
1. Look at web sites and events at local ski areas. Many will advertise when demo days are happening. these are great because you can test out your short list on a single day.
2. Visit the shops in your area and ask. Most shops have a few pair of demo skis on hand and will arrange for you to try them. Typically these are the higher end skis but not always.
3. If not available at the shops ask if they can get a pair to try. The answer is quite often yes. The shops are the customer of the ski reps so have a lot of pull in getting demos and samples if asked.
4. Try multiple shops in multiple areas. One might carry different brands then the others or deal with a different rep.
Now for my fun talk too much part.
How do I know what to demo? It depends on where and what you ski. Determine a class or type of ski you want to try and then find the ski in various brands. Try as many as you can. You will be stuck with whatever you buy for quite a while so make the right choice.
This past season a friend who is sponsored by Head has returned to our area after a few seasons teaching at Whistler. He is CSIA 3 CSCF 2 and a very good skier. He loves the Supershape Speed and says it is preferred out West because it doesn't have as much "kick" as the Supershape Magnum. On the other hand I (CSIA 3 CSCF1) loved the Magnum at first go precisely because it has that kick (I call it rebound). This just illustrates that different people of similar abilities prefer different qualities in a ski.
A number of years ago when "shaped" skis were even more of a trend and rage than the fatties are now I decided to ditch my Atomic 203 SL in favour of the "new" skis. I tried the Salomon Exendo 9 in a 190 (I think that was length) and I was converted to the new skis. Then I tried Head cybers (26 and 28 I believe) and some Rossis. I had read that the K2 Four was a great ski but could not find one to try. I asked at various shops and found out who the rep was and the rep sent a pair for me to try. I loved them and bought them.
Next ski was Volkl P40 RC. Beautiful ski. After 4 years of trying other skis I had not found any ski that made me wish to replace these. They were getting long for the time (183) and I needed something turnier to keep up with changes in ski technique (was told at a PDP to get new skis one day). I had tried a pair of head TI100 (the black ones) and liked them and a Head WC GS and liked that. The following season I tried some Atomic SL and Rossi 9S and while both excelled at short turns that was all they did. I decided that since the Volkl and the Heads I had tried were GS I must like GS skis - I tried the Rossi 9X. Nope. I just did not like any of these skis enough to replace my Volkls. The next season I had a chance to try the Head iSL Chip ski and the new Head XRC. I liked both but the Chip SL wowed me so much that I became a Head fan. Ended up on XRC since the Chip SL was sold out but that ski converted me to Head. From there I started working with the Rep and now I am a demo rep (whatever that means).
Other skis I liked or didn't like recently.
Atomic Race SL vs head WC iSL RD. I like the Atomic more. The Head is close 2nd.
Atomic Cross Ski (the green ones from 4 years ago) vs Head XRC. Atomic skied like a 2x4 and the Head was great.
Rossi 9S vs Head Chip SL (2004) - loved the Head
In each case above these are skis in same category but one I liked clearkly better than the other. All review well and all are good skis. Another skier would have different thoughts than me so TRY THEM!
My final comment. Peole ask me about things like Liquid Metal and the Torque whatever in the new Head skis. I just say - who cares what it does - ski the ski and buy it if you like it! If you would rather a Rossi after trying both then buy a Rossi. I only care that people try my demo skis - and that they buy ones they absolutely love!
Head Demo Rep