How to Evaluate Equipment – Newschoolers.com

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George C. Lichtenberg wrote that “Nothing is more conducive to peace of mind than having no opinion at all.” But, while it’s a good idea, Dr Lichtenberg obviously never had to deal with a buddy asking him for advice on which skis he should buy for next season. (Of course he didn’t, Lichtenberg is best known for being the guy who discovered that if you run an electric current through a piece of wood, it creates cool, branching burn marks in the shape of tree.)

The skiing world is full of opinions on what makes good skiing and what doesn’t, and who should buy what kind of skis. And in the age of the internet, it’s easier than ever to share your own opinions about the gear you use. Heck, anyone with a Newschoolers account can upload their opinions on 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 difficult to write a helpful review or sift through the piles of opinions on the internet to find the ones that are actually helpful to you.

So here are a few things I’ve learned in my last eight years reviewing everything from restaurants to cars to skis. And of course, a big thank you to Jonathan from Blister Review for helping shape my review process. Go read their reviews, they do a great job!

“Good” is a relative term

This is the main stumbling block for new examiners. They have sought to determine whether a piece of equipment is “good” or “bad” and they shape their entire review around this concept. A ski is “good” if he likes it and “bad” if he doesn’t like it. This leads to reviews that provide very little useful information to readers, and instead read as aspiring or unfairly dissenting from the gear in question. What makes a ski “good” is different for every skier. There is no “best ski”, there is only the “best ski for you”.

So a good review will focus on how the characteristics of a ski make it suitable for different types of skiers, on different types of terrain. A good reviewer will recognize that the traits that make them dislike a ski might be exactly what others are looking for in a ski. And beyond that, a review will explain how a ski compares to the manufacturer’s claims about it.

It can be difficult to disconnect your own personal biases from your review of a piece of equipment, but it’s helpful to skim through a review and look for any unqualified statements that read as fact. The objective of the equipment review is not to compile a list of perceived facts about the equipment. Instead, it’s about chronicling your experiences and relationship with that gear in a way that helps potential buyers understand what they’re getting.

Performance is relative but context matters

This context pervades all aspects of a review. To say that a ski “carves well” is not very helpful. To say that a ski carves “significantly 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 constantly overshooting landings on side hits because it’s very easy to load tails on this ski and it rewards it with lots of extra pop”.

Give us the context. Explain how a piece of equipment compares to your status quo. It’s easy to try to appear objective and make unnecessary claims about things like a ski’s flex. The flexible 1-10 scale that is often used in the ski industry is pretty useless without context. When someone on the internet tells me that the tips of a ski are a “7” without any other information, I always roll my eyes. What is a “1” in your book? What is a “10”? How calibrated are your arms? Do you always flex your skis the same way? If in doubt, leave the quantified flex patterns to the engineers. Instead, compare the flex to other skis and explain how they feel on snow. I don’t care what arbitrary number you attach to the tails of the ski, but I’m interested in whether they bend or support you if you land in the backseat.

Don’t fall prey to pretty marketing talk

Read the nice little marketing blurbs attached to the gear you’re looking at. Do your best to cut through the jargon and understand them. But please, please don’t write your review based on them. The point of reviewing equipment is to provide new and independent information from what the manufacturer uses to market the equipment. So it’s a good idea to respond to claims made in the marketing blurb, but don’t let them shape your opinion.

If we were to read a regurgitated rewrite of the marketing blurb, the Powder “Gear Issue” would still exist.

Be aware of yourself

Think about your strengths and weaknesses as a skier. Think about the characteristics of the skis you have loved and hated in the past. And be frank with those biases. For a review to be useful, the public must understand the priorities of the reviewer. If you don’t know what you like about a ski, you may not be ready to review skis.

It’s totally fine to be a beginner to intermediate skier and write ski reviews. But you need to be upfront about your skill level and how that affects your preferences. Likewise, if you’re a 210lb Type 3+ skier who hates turning and prefers to attack the mountain with every turn, we the readers need to know that to determine whether your opinions will be relevant to our experiments. We don’t need your life story, it’s not an invitation to tell us how badass you are, but we do need to know what you’re looking for in a gear.

Know your audience

Likewise, know who you are writing for and be explicit about it. Think about the type of people who might be interested in the ski you’re reviewing, what their terrain is like, and what other skis they might buy. And then shape your review around that. Don’t be afraid to be specific, tell people how a ski will work for their style or terrain. This is some of the most useful information you can give.

This is especially important when looking at gender gear. Something like a fun and playful ski from a brand that usually makes skis for dad, or a ski that’s light enough to be a great touring ski, even if it’s marketed as an inbounds ski. Think about what 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 about being a ski reviewer is accepting your limitations. And one of the most important is that we are much better at understanding what a ski does than why it does it. It’s so tempting to speculate, to say things like “this ski is poppy because of the carbon spars”. But is it? Oh good? Are you sure? Have you skied versions with and without these stringers? This type of hypothetical writing leads readers to form widespread biases that might not be based on fact: “All skis containing carbon are pingy and undamped” “Full rocker skis can’t carve” “The Pow skis without boat hull technology don’t float well.

It’s not your job to figure out why a ski rolls the way it does. This is the designer’s job. Instead, a reviewer’s goal is to figure out how this ski actually performs and who will get along with it.

Avoid clichés

This one should go without saying. Are super powder skis “rail groomers too?” No. They don’t. Can a ski be “super light on the way up, but wet, loaded and calm on the way down”. No, it can be incredibly stable for its weight, but something has to give somewhere. The only exception, of course, is any ski that can make the whole mountain your playground.

Make sure your comparisons are relevant

Good comparisons make your review much more useful. Irrelevant ones make you look like an idiot. When comparing two skis, ask yourself two questions:

How many people who buy the ski you are reviewing have actually skied the ski you are comparing it to?

And

Are these two skis comparable enough that someone can try to decide between the two?

If you don’t answer “yes” to at least one of these questions, your comparison might not be very helpful. The two most common types of people who read reviews are those buying a new ski similar to their current skis and those trying to decide between a few similar skis. Acknowledge this and give them explicit information that will help them on their way to a new happiness of skiing.

No one cares that the Whitewalker 121 floats better in powder than your Vishnus. It’s assumed. How does it compare to the Bent 120? This is useful information.

Conclusion

There are few things more satisfying than writing a review that helps someone get gear they love and transforms their relationship with skiing. It’s incredibly rewarding to help people avoid wasting their money on gear they’ll hate. But there’s a lot that goes into writing a useful review, and I hope this article can help articulate your gear thoughts.

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