Many ski tests are conducted by turning hot laps, with testers grabbing a different ski and skiing it on a designated groomer, the same run all day long. There’s no communication between the skier and the ski maker. They do this to keep it anonymous, and say it is the fairest way to conduct a “test.”

We disagree, and we do it differently.

Read more: The 16 Skis of the Year

At Powder Week, each of the 33 skiers on the Powder Union are paired with a different ski brand for the morning and another in the afternoon. They click in to several of the brand’s skis on all types of terrain, which is why Big Sky is the perfect place to host Powder Week. Its varied slopes span rolling groomers, sheets of wind buff, butt-clinching exposure, and rock-lined couloirs full of chalk. The chairlift rides back up are an opportunity for ski makers to share their knowledge with people who are experiencing their craft firsthand. On one day, we give the Powder Union the freedom to get on as many skis from as many brands as they want. At the end of each day, the POWDER editors sat down at a roundtable with the Union to discuss the skis. Out of those conversations, we determined the skis that would be included in the 2018 Buyer’s Guide. You can read those reviews here.

Sure, Powder Week is the foundation of our annual Buyer’s Guide. It is four days of skiing bell-to-bell on hundreds of different skis to determine which ones are the best of the year’s crop, and which ones should be recommended to you, the reader.

But Powder Week is a lot of other things, too. It’s the root of a strong community of skiers. It’s a gathering of people from across the country under a common passion. It’s the best week of skiing of the year.