Labor Day's approaching -- and with it, Labor Day ski sales -- meaning it's time to put down your mai-tai and go ski shopping.
Winter seems like a long way off, but Labor Day signifies slashed prices on last year's stuff and new, winter '11-'12 skis. Even if you never open your wallet, browsing sales lets you be among the first to fondle the fresh produce, like Rossignol's Super7 in the new 188cm length (last year, this beefed-up version only came in 195 cm -- which is waaay too much ski for all but a handful of ski-porn stars.)
Knowing the type of skier you are -- not the skier you wish you were -- is more than some Socratic exercise. It's essential to finding the skis you'll love, says Vail Sports' Alex Dow, who's been matching shoppers with their dream skis for six years.
"The biggest mistake people make is overestimating themselves," he says. "They get sold an expert ski that they end up hating because it's just not a good fit for where and how they ski."
Start by identifying the terrain you spend most of your time on. Then, estimate how aggro you are on that terrain.
Do you gravitate toward groomers 90 percent of the time, with occasional forays into the bumps? You'll want some sidecut, and if going fast and hard is
your m.o., you'll want something pretty stiff so you get a stable ride that doesn't wobble at speed. If you're a cautious corduroy-carver, look for something with a soft flex: Go too stiff, and you'll feel like your skis are taking you for a ride.
If you're primarily an off-piste or sidecountry skier, you're better off with something wider, stiffer, and longer than a groomer plank, since the bigger surface area gives you more flotation in powder and more stability over crud.
Consider how many days you ski each season. Because all skis break down inside over time, you should choose a stiffer, more durable ski if you notch 50 or more days each year. But if you ski only a few days annually, you can get something with a softer core, which intermediateskiers will appreciate for the already "broken in" feeling.
A few more shopping don'ts: Don't get stuck on any one particular company. "Every brand out there makes great skis for a range of ability levels," says Dow.
Don't fixate on length: That old adage about needing a longer ski to go fast no longer applies, thanks to recent advances in ski construction. Says Dow, "It's what's inside the ski, like its core and its sidecut, that really determine whether the ski is right for you."
Do shop early, especially if you're looking for a niche ski. Manufacturers are making a wider spectrum of skis than ever before, which means fewer numbers of each model and length. "By Christmas," Dow says, "The hot skis are sold out."
Which brings us back to the Labor Day ski sales: Early birds, go claim your worm.
-- Kelly Bastone