How to find a ski that matches your skill set and budget.
Thinking about a new ski but worried that spending $1,200 on a stick and bindings would leave you with no gas money for the summer? Not to worry. We talked to two experts who helped us break down the difference between price and performance, so you can not only get a new ski but also still afford to ride it.
• Don't rule out the low end.
Looking at a ski catalog, it is easy to get sticker shock. Top-of-the-line skis can cost $800 or more — and that's just for the blank. However, unless you are a hard-core competitor, you probably don't need that much ski. In fact, buying a ski that is beyond your ability can do more harm than good. For most skiers, a ski in the $300 to $600 range will handle everything you can throw at it and then some. April Coble-Eller, Mastercraft team skier and head coach at Coble Ski School in Lillington, North Carolina, says, “With fin adjustments, you can make an average ski into a phenomenal ski, and vice versa.”
• Know your skiing.
Are you a longline or shortline skier? Do you ski 32 or 36 mph? These are critical points in picking your next weapon of choice. Ski coach and Radar design-team member Matt Rini says, “As you move down the line, we add small attributes that allow the ski to work better at longer lines and slower speeds.” So if you run 15-22 off at 32 mph, an intermediate ski is designed and will perform better for you than a ski designed for 391/2 off at 36 mph.
• Understand the design.
Rini points out that today's skis are usually designed from the top down. To illustrate this, he gives the example of the mid-level Radar Senate and high-end Radar MPD. “The Senate (roughly $440) is the exact same ski as the MPD ($799),” he says. “It just has a different core in it. You can save a couple hundred dollars and get the same ski shape.” The difference in the core will determine some of the characteristics of the ski. “The Senate is a damper ski, meaning the MPD is designed for someone running into shortline at 36 mph, while the Senate will be a bit more forgiving,” says Rini.
• Ride before you buy.
Once you narrow down your choices, make sure to ride them before you buy them. Most ski shops have a demo program, and it's important to get the feel before you drop the cash. To see if the ski is right for you, look for consistency. “If you can free ski, and it doesn't seem weird, it doesn't dump you in the turn and it doesn't throw you out the front, you are okay,” says Coble-Eller. “If you take unexpected falls, it's not set up right, or it's the wrong ski for you.”
The bottom line is this: While it might be tempting to break the bank or max out the old Visa, unless you are a top-of-the-line competitor, you probably don't need a top-of-the-line ski. Buying the less-expensive ski that matches your real needs could be the difference between just buying a new ski and buying a new ski, a new rope, new gloves and a tank of gas.