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Demo days more than a free ride

Having a strategy will enhance test drives

By Marty Basch
Globe Correspondent / December 15, 2011
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LUDLOW, Vt. - Jim Rockett is quick with advice on what a skier should not do on a demo day.

“Last season, a lady took out a pair of skis at 9 o’clock and brought them back at a quarter to 4,’’ said the long-time Atomic tech rep from Intervale, N.H., at an Okemo demo day put on by Ski Magazine. “That wasn’t a demo. That was a day-long free rental.’’

Demo days are ski area staples, a chance for skiers and snowboarders to test drive the latest gear. As soon as areas open, small colorful tent strip malls spring up near lifts and at base areas loaded with boards and other equipment for consumers to size up and try.

In exchange for filling out registration forms, showing a driver’s license and credit card, and sometimes paying a small fee, manufacturers put the public on their latest creations, hoping they end up buying the product.

Not only is the gear fresh, but skiers and riders can try a new brand, a wider ski or another mode of skiing such as backcountry.

Upcoming on-snow demo days include scheduled events Saturday at Mount Snow in West Dover, Vt., Cranmore in North Conway, N.H., and Loon in Lincoln, N.H. Jiminy Peak in Hancock, Mass., holds one Sunday, and many are slated at various areas during the holiday week.

Once there, honesty is the best policy.

“Be honest,’’ says Nordica rep Mike Martini. “Be sure to communicate. If you are a five-day-a-year skier, say so, instead of saying you’re a Type III [aggressive]. Saying you’re an expert when you’re not can lead to a poor experience.’’

In the ski industry for 16 years, Martini says the more forthcoming skiers and snowboarders are about their ability and the terrain they ski, the easier it is to put them on the right equipment.

Martini, who skis out of Quechee, Vt., says to stick to the same trails when you test different skis and snowboards.

“This is just like any other test,’’ he says. “Keep the conditions constant and change only one parameter, the ski. Ski the same run at the same speed.’’

Marblehead’s Ken MacDonald has been selling skis for more than 30 years. He’s a New England sales rep for Salomon USA, and his advice is to do your homework.

“Seek out information before you go to the demo,’’ he says. “Spend time at a local retailer and boil it down to three max that you want to get on and try. A lot of people try the shotgun approach and are more confused at the end of the day.’’

MacDonald says you don’t need to spend all day on the skis, two or three quality runs should be enough.

“Come with a plan by knowing the models you want to test, category you want to test, and put the skis through varying paces, short turns, long turns, and snow conditions,’’ he says.

MacDonald acknowledges this season’s lack of snow - most resorts are relying on snowmaking - influences the experience.

“Early season has its challenges and sometimes you can’t get the ski to do what it’s supposed to do,’’ he said. “There are so many people with limited terrain.’’

New Hampshire-raised Suzanne Anderson, Eastern demo coordinator for start-up ski and snowboard manufacturer RAMP, will be spending every weekend through mid-April, and daily during holiday weeks, doing on-snow demo days.

”Demos are a chance for a first impression,’’ she said. “This is one of the best ways we can interact with the consumer. We don’t have retail shops pushing for us.’’

Her advice is to ask questions, and don’t be shy.

“For me, I want to find a product for them that gives them the best experience,’’ she said. “From a consumer’s standpoint, if you are paying money and taking the time to do a demo, just be really honest about it. We can make recommendations.’’

Doing a demo day on terrain you know can also be a plus.

“You want your full attention on the product and not anticipating where the next turn or knoll is,’’ she says. “The more you know the terrain the more attention you pay to the product.’’

Patience is also stressed.

“The etiquette of a demo is that you take the ski out for a couple of runs,’’ says Rockett. “Just check back with us and ask if you can take it for another run or two. Just let us know how the ski is.’’

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