The early season is demo time, and a check of ski area calendars will give you the dates and times of these important events. Especially if this is the year to replace those old skis.

I’m well aware that most skiers will simply boot up, grab their poles and head for the demo tents where the new skis are on display. Many simply want to play on some new toys. And I will admit that I titled a piece on the big annual on-snow demo at Stratton Mountain in Vermont, “Three days in Toyland.”

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

I also should say that the title worked well with pictures of the tents and tall banners with names of all the major ski manufacturers along with endless racks of skis. And these weren’t simply a display of current models. These were the skis that skiers would see on display the following year.

Except for ski writers who cover such things, the attendees represented ski shops and were ordering next year’s equipment. It was easy to spot the ski writers at these mega demos. We were the ones making notes as we rode the lift between runs.

I should mention that Stratton was ideal for such testing. A 3,000-foot detachable lift headed up right out of the base area where all the tents were set up, so taking a single run on each pair of skis, it was possible to get on as many as 30 pairs a day.

It has been many years since I traveled to Stratton for this event, opting instead to go over to Loon for a mini version put on by New England ski reps, which I could do in a single day rather than a four-day trip to Vermont.


I also have to admit that playing with new skis is fun, but getting the most out of a demo day takes some preparation and the place to start is at your local ski shop. Discuss what you’re looking for with the person who takes care of your skis. He or she should know how you ski, what your present skis are, and what would be an appropriate upgrade. Have them give you a list of models to try out.

It’s also important to take a couple of runs on your present skis to feel out the conditions. And be sure to try new skis with your own familiar boots. Discuss your list with the rep, who can help you select the first pair to try. Once you have chosen skis and have the bindings adjusted, it’s time to demo the skis.

Remember, you’re looking for a ski that will make you happy as an everyday ski. The idea is not to see how many runs you can take on the demos; some other skier may be waiting to try them. Your goal is to see how the ski skis, not to play on a new toy.

I look for a relatively flat place near the top of the lift and make slow turns down to the trail. I make a point to make deliberate turns, fully weighting each ski to get the feel of how the ski carves at slow speeds. As I progress down the trail, I gradually increase speed so I can feel the ski carving turns and judge its stability.

I have the benefit of having tested hundreds of skis in this fashion, and I can usually judge a ski before I get very far down the hill. With the quality of today’s race skis, I’m sure that there are many that after a few days on them I could be happy the rest of the season. But I have the luxury of skiing top-of-the-line skis and I keep mine well-tuned, so I always have top-performing skis.

The next time you demo skis, do a little preparation and follow my method. It will help you find the right ski for you and get the most for the bucks you lay out for your next skis. Also, if your shop has a demo program, you might work something out so you can take some skis for a day and really get the full experience of the skis.


Most shops have demos, and any demo fee can often be subtracted from the price if you buy.

Now, what will I be looking for the next time I demo some skis? I could use a full camber slalom ski. We are skiing today’s SLs in 165 cm, and I find that mine with rockered tips could be a bit longer, maybe a 170. In a 165, they need to be full camber for stability.

Follow these simple rules and you can get the most out of any demo session.

See you on the slopes.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer and columnist from Westbrook. He has been contributing to the Sun Journal for many years and is among the most respected ski writers in the Northeast. He also is a member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. Write to him at

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