For soft bags, look for durable material; not necessarily to protect your skis, but to survive the rigors of airline handling. No matter how durable the fabric, there is still a good chance the case will be ripped during the packing/handling process. A roll of duct tape is a good investment.
Personally, I would spend my money elsewhere than buying the "cadillac" of ski bags.
If you pack ski clothes in your bag, you shouldn't have to worry about damage to your skis. I pack things such as thermal underwear, ski pants, socks, gloves, t-shirts, etc. in my ski bag. Don't overstuff the bag, but make sure you have enough clothing at the ends of the bag, around the ski edges and around the bindings. Packing the ends of the bag is very important; I've seen baggage handlers toss ski bags in the air with the bags landing on their ends. I pack at least 4-5 inches of socks and t-shirts at the ends.
Wrap your skis in plastic garbage bags prior to packing so your edges don't rip your clothes. Likewise, wrap aluminum foil or place plastic roller blade tips on your pole bottoms so they don't damage your clothes.
If you have a reasonable amount of clothing around your skis, they can take a lot of punishment. Your skis will probably take more punishment on the slopes.
The bag was easier to work & pack, but I did once get my skiis back hanging out the end of the bag. Since I packed clothes around them - I was also missing several pieces of clothes. It was a decent bag - but not the best.
I ABSOLUTELY LOVE the plastic ski tote. It can be a pain to use the first time till you figure out the tricks of loading it - but it's all worth it. The wheels on the bottom are absolutely awsome. Finding a lock to fit into the small diameter whole can be interesting - but I found some. Best of all - I've never had anything damaged that was inside the case. You don't have to worry about padding your gear with your theremals - use your suitcase for that.
Do what you want - but I'll never own a soft ski bag again.
I've traveled extensively with a SportsTube and fave found it to be a royal hassle. You have to take it part to get your skis on a cab. External ski racks on busses rarely can accomodate a SportsTube. Also, it's heavy as you know what. The bag is much lighter.
The best solution to traveling with skis, however, that I have discovered is to leave your skis at home and just take your boots. In Europe, where I just returned, the ski rental stores have this year's models in the rental program: top of the line Head, Volkl, and Atomic skis. Whatever you want. Renting costs a little more money but it gives you an opportunity to demo new skis and spares you huge hassles in traveling--especially on public transportation.
[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 02-19-2004).]
I just did Italy w/skis and snowboard. Bought a box of bubble wrap at Office Depot for like $10. Wrapped equipment up tight (w/ extra on ends and bindings). Loaded in bags. Came through perfect. Bubble wrap rocks. Plus can sit around popping it afterward and amuse self and annoy others.
QUESTION - PLEASE, PLEASE HELP!!
Has anyone encountered a wheeled bag to accomodate 181cm skis AND snowboard? (it's 151cm if that makes sense)
Schlepping all that gear around without wheels in Europe really sucked. One wheeled big bag would have been easier on the back.
Also, for anyone going there, train stations have bag checks to dump gear for a few days if touring pre or after ski. Charges can mount -- about $8/day per bag... another reason to want skis and board in single bag.