Testing skis sounds like a dream job, right?
Wonder what it takes to be a ski and boot tester for SKI Magazine?
I sat down with Bob Gleason, fresh from the SKI Magazine gear test. CLICK HERE TO READ ALL THE REVIEWS IN SKI MAGAZINE ON-LINE.
How did you get involved in tests?
Its been a journey of a lifetime!
All my life I have been passionate about skiing, following in my parents’ footsteps (ski tracks) into a lifestyle that merged my passion with my career.
After working as tech services manager at Hanson ski boot and Hexcel Ski company in Boulder I started doing clinics in conjunction with the SKIING Mechanics and Managers Workshops about Hanson boots in 1977.
Then in 1982 I joined the faculty of the Skiing Mechanics and Managers Workshops which were sponsored by Skiing Magazine.
In these workshops we taught ski industry personnel boot fitting, mounting and adjusting ski bindings, and information on ski design and performance.
How did that evolve into the gear tests?
Around that same time I started writing technical articles about boots, skis, and other ski business topics for Skiing Trade News (Skiing Magazine’s trade magazine).
Through the articles and workshops I came to the attention of Rick Kahl, then editor of SKIING Magazine.
I started doing boot testing for SKIING Magazine in 1987.
Then around 1990 SKI & SKIING magazines were bought and joined forces.
In 1996 I was asked to join the SKI Magazine Ski Test as well.
What does it take to be a ski tester?
Good knowledge of product, ability to feel differences, and skills to write succinct and colorful information about products.
Have you ever tried a ski product that put fear in you?
Yes! Skis that were totally unpredictable…occasionally you find yourself fighting to survive the run. And then there was a time when we were asked to try the new ski skates. The conditions were less than ideal with wind blown drifts between polished icy blue patches. Part way down I wasn’t sure if that smell was the clutch was going out but I realized that was my thighs burning!
Are there different skills for boot testing?
Boots are much harder to test than skis. Substantially more difficult because one has to understand different functions and mechanisms and objectively tolerate variations in fit.
Luckily I do have one physical attribute that helps me test boots – I have a thin foot! So I can try many different lasts. Wide feet have far less tolerance.
How many boots do you test in a day?
6-8. Some people find putting just a single pair if ski boots on their feet a challenge.
How does it feel to put your feet into different boots over and over again?
It’s a challenge but boots have gotten a lot better over the years.
In the 80s we had to make alterations before even heading to the slopes for a test run. Definitely we don’t want to injure our feet. There’s been testers who have had to stop because a boot caused injury to their feet.
My ankle bones have sometimes gotten hammered. But, the core testers power on!
The boot test is much more of a working man’s test than the ski test. More coaches, ski shop folks, and ski guides and instructors participate while the ski test tends to be more of a test by elite skiers. More former racers and ski stars show up.
What changes in boots have you seen over the years?
Fit systems have really improved. The geometry is much more consistent.
Boots are far more comfortable. Ease of use has greatly improved with new buckle systems plus ease of entry makes trying boots off the shelf much friendlier.
You must have seen some “flash in the pan designs.”
Dachstein had a design to heel that rotated. That came and went quickly. One year, the boot testers were relegated to test “ski skates”.
What are some of the coolest inventions you have seen in ski boots?
Heat moldable materials allow customization that is way more efficient. We often test boots without molding then then again after molding and evaluate the difference.
Remember the rear entry boots?
When I first started there were a number of rear entry boots. Rear entry were easy to put on and takeoff but had serious functional issues that hampered performance.
With modern injection molding they can inject plastics that have different hardness in various areas of the boot shell. So they can be softer in forward direction while stronger side to side. This aspect combined with more efficient closures have made front entry boots more compliant and easy to use.
What innovations have you seen in skis over the years?
Straight became curved; became fat; cambered skis became rockered. In the last few years rocker or early tip rise have been added into almost all skis. These changes make skis easier to initiate turns, move over changes in terrain more easily, more forgiving, easier to pivot and change directions.
Snowboarding influenced ski design resulting in the onset of shaped skis in the mid 90s.In recent times, wider skis have allowed more float over variations in terrain.
What’s new for 2017?
As rocker has developed we are seeing skis start to get slightly skinnier again. There has been move to slightly narrower skis waist. For a while the western ski was 95-135 mm in waist width. Now we’re seeing skis in the lower 90s up to 115 as the norm for the west.
The NORDICA ENFORCER 93 is this year’s mixed eastern top pick. (Skis that can bridge between eastern and western ski conditions).
I see you have quotes on all the top skis in this year’s gear test. Do you just know how to pick’em?
Nordica Enforcer 100 was chosen as #1 Mixed Western ski (the biggest category) by all but one tester. They seem to like my efficient yet expressive description.
The Top skis are smooth, predictable, perform at a variety of speed levels, can ski all types of terrain and types of skiing.
So gear testing sounds like all work and no fun?
There’s lots of fun involved. Any time you’re skiing and working its fun. When you’re skiing a great new ski and ripping down the slopes with an amazing group of skiers, you’re ecstatic!
Do you expect to keep doing this?
Sure! If I didn’t do this I’d have to get a real job.
Bob Gleason does have “a real job” as co-owner/operator of the BootDoctors stores in Taos, NM & Telluride, CO. Don’t feel bad for him though…he skied 132 days last season. About 32 of those days were testing gear.