EDEN -- Take 50 expert ski testers, give them 400 pairs of skis, 100 pairs of boots and 20 different bindings and you have the largest ski test in North America.
Those elements were all present last week at Powder Mountain ski resort.
Testers score all the skis in such categories as responsiveness, dampness, turn size and performance in various snow conditions. The scores will be tabulated, and results of the tests will be published in Backcountry magazine's September 2012 Gear Guide and the Outside Magazine 2012 Buyer's Guide.
"Our main objective with our two buyer's guides is simple: test the hell out of the gear and then tell the reader what we found," Sam Moulton, editor of Outside Magazine's Buyer's Guides, said in a news release. "And the guys over at Backcountry are just as serious about the test process. That's why our joint ski, boot, and binding test is such a success. It's without a doubt the largest, most comprehensive test out there."
In a far-less-than-average snow year for Powder Mountain, testers were faced with conditions changing from fresh powder in the middle of the week to icy crud and spring slush by the weekend. This was in contrast to last year's conditions of fresh powder every day.
Many of the testers said this year was less fun but possibly better for testing some of the skis. In variable conditions, specialty skis that aren't designed for the deep powder that the Wasatch Mountains are known for could get a fair test without sinking in the fluff.
The Backcountry magazine test format is somewhat unusual in that any ski company, large or small, can drop off whatever they want tested with the understanding that the testers are allowed to say whatever they think about the performance of the skis, boots and bindings. Other ski industry magazines combine advertising sales with the test.
The explosive growth of the backcountry ski market has been led by more and more skiers using lifts and then hiking or sliding out of ski area boundaries to harvest the untracked powder snow in what is called the side country.
As a result, many of the new skis, boots and bindings are designed to cross over from in-bounds to out-of-bounds skiing and then back again.
Many of the products ski and look just like regular alpine gear, but are usually lighter and include the ability to transform for uphill travel.
Several new models of stiff alpine boots now include a walk-mode switch to allow for easier hiking or just walking across the parking lot.
The offerings of bindings that crossover have also increased, such as the new Atomic Tracker 16 and identical Salomon Guardian 16. The bindings sit low on the ski for stability while skiing downhill but can quickly release at the heel with the push of a ski pole and morph into an uphill touring binding.
New technologies, such as using carbon fiber inside the ski core, have helped produce skis with a large surface area to float in deep snow but that are still light enough to hike uphill with.
Goode Skis, based in Ogden, had several offerings using the carbon fiber construction that they are known for. New models from Salt Lake City-based Black Diamond were also offered in lighter-weight carbon versions, such as the carbon Megawatt.