Traveling from Westbrook to Loon is a pleasant scenic drive, as long as the road is bare.

Anyone who has driven the Kancamagus Highway, which connects Conway with Lincoln, New Hampshire, knows that this 32-mile stretch that tops out at 2,800 feet of elevation, almost as high as the highest point of Sunday River, is not a place to be in the snow.

That’s why my visit to Loon last Tuesday was brief. The snow was forecast to hit by late afternoon in Maine, but it easily could have been a few hours earlier on the other side of the mountains. So I wasted little time gathering catalogs featuring next year’s equipment and headed back over the Kanc at lunch time.

The scene was as usual. There must have been 30 tents set up in the base area at the Governors Lodge, busy with reps setting up skis and snowboards for shop folks.

Unlike the early season demos for recreational skiers, this demo is strictly for ski shop owners and their employees, and a few ski writers, such as yours truly.

Some shops go to the big national show in Denver to get a more extensive look at what they want to order for the next season, but most attend demos such as this and some other shows featuring ski wear and accessories.

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The Loon demo had some accessories, mostly goggles, along with glove and boot heating systems, but most of the indoor space was taken up by boot displays.

When I arrived there was a long line of people getting their credentials to try the new gear. The usual release forms had to be filled out and each tester had to have his or her boot sole length and DIN setting on their name tag.

One of the best advances in bindings is being able to simply turn a screw to move the heel and toe units to the desired boot sole length. Another screw sets the DIN and after a couple of minutes the skier is headed for the lift.

It’s the same at consumer demos. This is what allows us to check out as many as 15 models in a full day of testing. I no longer take three days each year for this, relying instead on checking a few of the newer models and talking with the reps on what hasn’t changed.

What I learned on this trip was exactly what I had expected. Already-good skis are getting better. The changes aren’t radical, mostly small changes in ski construction that improve performance.

An example is Atomic. This brand has always been well-known for its race skis, and its recreational models inherit some of the race-ski characteristics.

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A few years ago, Atomic introduced the Redster series. I liked the first editions, and as the line has expanded, they are still among my favorites. This is natural as I have always preferred race skis. The company’s race skis are now part of the Redster lineup and they carve and hold as racers demand. There are recreational Redsters ranging in price from $600 to $1,000 with bindings. You will see MSRP (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price) prices at $150-200 higher, but the prices you’ll see in most ski shops will be those listed.

For lower-level skiers, either new or returning, the Savor series is designed to make skiing easier, and there is a boot to match. They are tagged as the “easiest entry boot on the market.”

Years ago we had the Salomon rear-entry boots and these single buckle models resemble them. A lot of us tried those Salomons and returned to four-buckle models. I don’t know how these will work, but given the way technology has improved everything else, they may work. I’ll find out from some of my shop friends once they hit the market.

My favorite Rossignols haven’t changed. The race skis are labeled HERO and they range from true race skis down to recreational racers. If you ski mostly groomed runs, one of these could be your ski. If you like going off-piste, check out the Experience series. The 94 TI is a good powder choice, the number being the waist width. They go down to 74 mm with the narrower waist better for groomed runs.

The hot ski this year from Volkl is the Deacon series, which has been expanded for 2020. These replace the discontinued RTM (Ride the Mountain) models.

The Deacons range in waist widths from 74 mm up to 84 mm, all except the XT with tip and tail rockers. The XT has tip rocker. For powder the Kendo and Mantras are good choices.

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The race lineup includes a mix of GS and SLs, most with tip rocker. There are two SL models with full camber which is my choice when it comes to SLs. I tried a pair of 165 cm SLs with tip rocker and I should have had a 170 to get the same edge hold I got with the full camber 165. Be sure to keep this in mind when trying any ski with rockering.

These are just a small sampling of what’s coming for 2019-2020. Some of next year’s models will start showing up in shops, and you might even get a chance to try some.

Once the vacation is over, we’ll see plenty of sales. The shop owners I have talked with all have had good seasons to date but there are always some leftovers. There are always some models that change cosmetics while the ski is the same. Often these are marked down and provide an opportunity to get a top ski at a good price. You might find yourself in line with someone who has the very same ski with a different top skin, but he paid a lot more.

If you’re thinking of new skis, this is a great time of year to try some out.

See you on the slopes.


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