Shop Talk: Pulling Back the Curtain on Gear Testing (Ep.172)

Shop Talk: Pulling Back the Curtain on Gear Testing (Ep.172), BLISTER
Matt Berkowitz on the Fischer RC4 The Curv

Today we’re pulling back the curtain on ski testing, and to provide their wealth of experience in this arena are The Ski Monster co-founder & CEO, George Michaelsen, and Matt Berkowitz, who is now the brand director of The Ski Monster and who has participated in too many ski tests to count. We discuss good ways and bad ways to conduct gear tests; how and why The Ski Monster has been able to ramp up the amount of gear testing they’re doing; and why not all gear tests are created equal.


  • George Michaelsen’s questionable life decision (6:21)
  • Matt Berkowitz’s ski industry background (10:28)
  • Ski Monster update (17:05)
  • How industry ski tests work (19:06)
  • Ski tuning & ski testing (42:00)
  • Different reviewers & reviewing (53:58)
  • What We’re Celebrating (1:10:00)


Shop Talk: Pulling Back the Curtain on Gear Testing (Ep.172), BLISTER
George Michaelsen on the Elan Ripstick 96 Black Edition

15 comments on “Shop Talk: Pulling Back the Curtain on Gear Testing (Ep.172)”

  1. Spot on conversations, Jonathan. Thanks. I have had the same issues with testing over the years right down to the clever little cliches that the testers come up. I seem to notice how many skis that get the good reviews seem to be the ones that are most prevalent in their magazines. Finding good ( and honest) testers is difficult to find. I love the comment, “Oh, they skied great! That really helps me design a better ski!

  2. For years I have noticed this at trade show test ! I also really respect the testers that do do an honest job of testing and asking great questions . But there are quite a few companies that reward the sales people for selling there products , a lot of sales people are not overly compensated and this is a real benefit for them with trips and equipment and sometimes cash . I would like to believe that these benefits don’t reflect there sales work ? But this is another pod cast in it self and I would like to see proper pay for all of us ! Jonathon what do you think ?

  3. Great conversation. Out of curiosity, has Blister ever toyed with the idea of trying to blind ski reviews? I’m always fascinated by how unconscious bias might influence perspective (not implying that Blister is outstandingly guilty of this – I think it’s just a built in human factor and Blister has done a great job of mitigating other sources of bias). It’d probably be a huge pain and very impractical, but would just be interesting if every ski looked like a Season ski, with an entirely black or white topsheet that only allowed reviewers to review based on weight/profile/feel, then be unblinded later on. Again, probably unrealistic, and I probably have had too much whiskey, but an interesting thought.

  4. I’d love to hear a Podcast about the sales perks run by manufacturers. Anything that can help people understand what/why a salesperson in a shop might recommend something. Not cynical, just something honest–from Employee-Purchase programs with their perks and shortfalls, to a ski company offering a free pair after you sell four, etc…

    Or something hinted at in this last podcast–some skis are made to sell to a lot of people, and that might lead to certain design trade-offs. Or even the something about tradeoffs in ski design, so as to help understand that certain features in a ski might help one thing while hurting something else.

  5. Why isn’t there a industry standard for boot flex? I’m sure it’s possible to put a boot on a engineering type machine and flex it and measure the force needed to flex the boot???

  6. It was funny to hear the statement “Boots. That’s a different podcast.” Yeah, seven at least, it seems.

    Blister is the only ski review source. There should be another voice out there, but there just isn’t. It’s easier to sell than tell. But rather than trash other sites, I’d like add a suggestion for Blister to be better. Last year, I inarticulately asked for Blister to try skis at other resorts (not in Colorado). Yes, snow is snow. Crested Butte has it all in one mountain. However, one context is not another. It obviously isn’t feasible to test all, or even a moderate fraction of the skis you review at other resorts. It logistically isn’t possible. But it would be interesting to take some favorites like a FR 102 to Baker, Mad River Glen, Sugarloaf or Alta and give it go. Maybe you come up with the same results, and you say, see Good Zamboni, snow is snow. But as a reader, I’d like to hear about a resort other than Crested Butte. Make a mini summit. Or take it as a PR stunt. A show of force. Make a video of Jonathan Ellsworth, the heavy ski guy, meeting some locals, or telling random people in a lift line with QST’s they’re going to have good day. Have a tent outside the lodge, or a van in the lot, serving up “Luke’s Plain Noodle Bowls”. Psychology counts as much as Philosophy. Mix it up. Inject some random if you can.

    On a separate note, I bet that riding snow blades makes you think differently about skiing. Same as Telemarking if you ever get to it. It may not be your thing, but it is an interesting thing.

  7. Have you considered testing the ski before you weigh it? Isn’t the ski’s measured weight likely to affect your objectivity? I’m mostly kidding, but it’s an interesting question.

    • Good question.

      1) I won’t speak for all of our reviewers, but I’ll speak for myself: no. Again, when we’re out there, all I’m doing is paying attention to how the ski is interacting with the particular snow I’m on, noting how stable or unstable it is, how easy it is to initiate a turn, how a ski wants to initiate a turn, if the tails are feeling punishing, and if so, when, etc, etc, etc, etc.

      Sometimes lighter skis produce surprises. Sometimes heavier skis produce surprises.

      2) Also interesting: the way things are currently set up at Blister, I actually now almost *never* know the weight of a ski before I take it out. Dylan or Luke are handling the weights, and I tell them not to tell me. I’ve been doing it this way for several years now.

  8. Great conversations! Two things jump out: (1) testing skis over multiple days in varied conditions is spot on and (2) having reviewers of different ski levels but who know how to sense what’s happening with pair of skis – for them – and providing candid impressions. I remember reading a ton of magazine reviews and having a “top five” list of skis over two scheduled demo days. I eliminated 3 of my top 5 all-mountain candidates pretty quickly after skiing them and then tried to ski as many as I could on day one. Me and my buddies talked over our thoughts that night over one (or more) Spaaten Optimators and then went back to a several of our favorites. Some of them skied differently (worse) because the conditions changed quite a bit overnight. I remember wondering if I had enough data to make a purchase decision even though I tried more skis over those two days than any other time in my skiing life. Love Gear 30!

  9. Section of the Pod on tuning brings up an area where Blister can improve. Throwing another straw on the pile, comments should be made about the tune of skis coming off the production line. Mostly about those notably better or worse than average. The section to put these comments in would be to bury them with the pictures that show camber. Most important at least in my book would be how concave (or flat) the grinding process delivers the ski to the customer.

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