George C. Lichtenberg wrote that “Nothing is more conducive to peace of mind than not having any opinion at all.” But, while that’s a nice thought, Dr. Lichtenberg obviously never had to deal with a buddy asking for advice on what skis they should buy for next season. (Of course he didn’t, Lichtenberg is best known for being the guy that found out that if you run an electric current through a piece of wood it makes cool branching, tree-shaped burn marks.)
The ski world is full of opinions on what makes a good ski and what doesn’t, and who should buy what sort of skis. And in this internet age, it’s easier than ever to share your own opinions on the gear you use. Heck, anyone with a Newschoolers account can upload their opinions about their gear from their phone on the chairlift.
And that’s great. Democratizing the review process is good for the ski industry, but it can be challenging to write a useful review, or to sort through the piles of opinions on the internet to find ones that are actually useful to you.
So here are a few things I’ve learned in my last eight years of reviewing everything from restaurants, to cars, to skis. And of course, a huge thanks goes to Jonathan at Blister Review for helping shape my reviewing process. Go read their reviews, they do a great job!
“Good” is a relative term
This is the number one stumbling block of new reviewers. They set out to determine if a piece of gear is “good” or “bad” and they shape their whole review around that concept. A ski is “good” if they like it, and “bad” if they don’t. That leads to reviews that provide very little useful information to readers, and instead read as either sucking up to, or unfairly dissing the piece of gear in question. What makes a ski “good” is different for every skier. There is no “Best Ski” out there, there is only the “best ski for you.”
So a good review will address how a ski’s characteristics suit it to different types of skiers, in different types of terrain. A good reviewer will recognize that traits that make them dislike a ski might be exactly the things others are looking for in a ski. And beyond that, a review will address how a ski stacks up to the claims the manufacturer makes about it.
It can be challenging to disconnect your own personal bias from your review of a piece of gear, but it’s helpful to run through a review and look for any unqualified statements that read as fact. The goal of reviewing gear is not to come up with a list of perceived facts about the gear. Instead it’s to chronicle your experiences and relationship with that piece of equipment in a way that helps potential buyers understand what they’re getting.
Performance is relative but context is essential
That context carries through into every aspect of a review. Saying a ski “carves well” isn’t very useful. Saying a ski carves “notably better than these three similar skis” is. Context is king. Saying “this ski is really poppy” doesn’t really give us anything. Saying “I found myself overshooting landings consistently on side hits, because it’s very easy to load the tails on this ski and it rewards that with a lot of extra pop” is.
Give us context. Explain how a piece of gear compares to your status quo. It’s easy to try to appear objective and to make useless statements about things like a ski’s flex. The 1-10 flex scale that gets thrown around a lot in the ski industry is pretty useless without context. When somebody on the internet tells me that a ski’s tips are a “7” without any other info, I always roll my eyes. What’s a “1” in your book? What’s a “10”? How calibrated are your arms? Do you always flex your skis in the same way? When in doubt, leave quantified flex patterns to the engineers. Instead, compare the flex to other skis, and explain how they feel on snow. I couldn’t care less what arbitrary number you attach to the tails of the ski, but I am interested in hearing if they fold or support you if you land backseat.
Don’t fall prey to pretty marketing talk
Read the pretty little marketing blurbs attached to the gear you’re reviewing. Do your best to cut through the jargon and understand them. But please, please don’t write your review based on them. The whole point of reviewing equipment is to provide new and independent information from what the manufacturer is using to market the gear. So it’s a good idea to address the claims made in the marketing blurb, but don’t let them shape your review.
If we wanted to read a regurgitated rewrite of the marketing blurb, the Powder “Gear Issue” would still exist.
Think through your strengths and weaknesses as a skier. Think through the characteristics of skis you’ve liked and disliked in the past. And be upfront with those biases. For a review to be useful, the audience needs to understand the reviewer’s priorities. If you don’t know what you like in a ski, you might not be ready to review skis.
It’s totally fine to be a beginner to intermediate skier and write reviews of skis. But you need to be upfront about your skill level, and how it affects your preferences. Similarly, if you’re a 210 lb Type 3+ skier who hates turning and prefers to attack the mountain on every lap, we, the readers, need to know that to determine if your opinions are going to be relevant to our experiences. We don’t need your life story, this isn’t an invitation to tell us how badass you are, but we do need to know what you’re looking for in a piece of gear.
Know your audience
Similarly, know who you’re writing for, and be explicit about it. Think through what sort of people might be interested in the ski you’re reviewing, what their terrain is like, and what other skis they might be shopping for. And then shape your review around that. Feel free to be specific, tell people how a ski will work for their style or terrain. That’s some of the most useful information you can give.
This is especially important when you’re reviewing a genre-bending piece of gear. Something like a fun, playful ski from a brand that typically makes dad skis, or a ski that’s light enough to be a great touring ski, even though it’s being marketed as an inbounds ski. Think about what sort of people should know about a ski, and write your review for them.
The “what” is more important than the “why”
One of the hardest things to do as a ski reviewer is to accept your limitations. And one of the biggest ones is that we’re much better at figuring out what a ski does than why it does it. It’s so tempting to speculate, say things like “this ski is poppy because of the carbon stringers.” But is it? Really? Are you sure? Have you skied versions with and without said stringers? This sort of assumptive writing leads to readers forming widespread biases that might not be based in fact: “All skis with carbon in them are pingy and undamped” “Full rocker skis can’t carve” “Pow skis without boat hull tech don’t float well.”
It’s not your job to figure out why a ski rides the way it does. That’s the designer’s job. Instead, a reviewer’s goal is to determine how that ski actually performs, and who will get along with it.
This one should go without saying. Do great pow skis “rail groomers too?” No. They don’t. Can a ski be “super light on the up, but damp, chargy, and composed on the down.” No, it can be impressively stable for its weight, but something has to give somewhere. The only exception, obviously, is any ski that can make the whole mountain your playground.
Make sure your comparisons are relevant
Good comparisons make your review wildly more useful. Irrelevant ones make you sound like an idiot. When you are comparing two skis, ask yourself two questions:
How many people shopping for the ski you’re reviewing have actually skied the ski you’re comparing it to?
Are these two skis comparable enough that somebody might be trying to decide between the two?
If you don’t answer “yes” to at least one of those questions, your comparison might not be that useful. The two most common types of people reading reviews are those who are shopping for a new ski that’s similar to their current skis, and folks trying to decide between a few similar skis. Recognize that, and give them explicit information that will help them on their path to new ski bliss.
Nobody cares that the Whitewalker 121 floats in pow better than your Vishnus. That’s assumed. How does it compare to the Bent 120? That’s useful information.
There are few things more satisfying than writing a review that helps someone get onto a piece of gear that they love and that transforms their relationship with skiing. It’s incredibly gratifying to help people avoid wasting their money on gear they will hate. But there’s a lot that goes into writing a useful review, and I hope this piece can help you articulate your thoughts on equipment.