THE NEW SHAPE SKIS? WHAT'S UP????
You’ve walked into your local shop with your old trusty boards and the "dude" behind the counter calls the rest of the employees over exclaiming them relics from a bygone era. He then tells you that the skis that have served you so well are delaminating and your bindings are out of date and can no longer be used. Sound like a familiar scenario? You don’t ski as much as you used to and you weren’t prepared to replace your skis but you decide to look at the new skis. Culture shock, the new skis are all this new "parabolic", "shaped" variety. Houston, we have a problem here! You thank the salesman and retreat from the shop not knowing any more than when you came in.
Fear not…we are going to define some of the changes that have taken place in the last few years and define some of the terms. First, a little history on the shape skis. The shaped skis were started as a teaching aid for beginner skiers. The radical side cut with the wide shovel and tail made it possible for beginners to parallel ski their first time on skis. This eliminated the wedge (snow plow) and got beginners enjoying and more in control. The ski school almost entirely shifted their teaching methods to this format. This created a problem.
The concepts taught worked for these new skis but were different than those taught before and didn’t work for those with older skis. You go in for a brush up lesson with your old skis and what these new lessons teach is totally new and doesn’t work. The up down up down that was taught in the past has been eliminated for a rolling from one edge to the other (yes it is easier). The narrow stance has been widened and the skis are used together as opposed to independently. What in general has happened is that skiing has just been made more user friendly, easier on the body, and more confidence building. What about my old skis??? The new technology has made it so much better than that, like the old 386 computer that was state of the art only a few years ago, it is not worth your struggle.
WHICH TYPE SKIER ARE YOU?
Part of the problem in ski purchase is the terminology that the manufacturers are throwing at us. We used to be beginner, intermediate, expert or racers, done. It was simple, the better you became there was a ski to accommodate your newly acquired ability. Just a year ago they didn't want to keyhole anyone as beginner, nobody wants to relegated with this moniker so they called a beginner a "player". The intermediate was called an aspiring carver, and the advanced skier a freerider or all mountain expert. What the heck is this all about?
Now they have further confused everyone with the dropping of those names and reinventing the categories as freeride, all mountain, and new school.
What the hey???
The All Mountain Expert skis bumps, glades, trees, whatever, where ever. He typically has skied many years, is aggressive or has honed his technique so that he can easily ski all terrain. These were the guys who bought racing skis in the past. The manufacturers have now brought out a new breed of ski that is geared to these advanced skiers. These new skis are more versatile, easier to handle, and able to cover a much broader variety of terrain. (cross mountain) So what’s a Free rider? The expert skier is now looking beyond just going down the groomed slopes, he is looking to "ski the trees", "hike up to that snowfield", "get the deepest powder" just do the extreme skiing that the typical expert would aspire to do. Wait a second, you are no expert but you loved the powder in Alta last trip and you always wanted to go down through the trees. Fear not, they have more forgiving models in this same category that can help you as well. They used to call you and advanced intermediates. Some of the manufacturers are throwing in the term model xyz(fs) or xyz(bs). The FS stands for front side or the groomed more carving part of the mountain and BS stands for back side the ungroomed freeride territory.
Let's define, the freeride category seems to be relegated to big mountains and wider skis, the all mountain skis seem to be narrower wasted and more carving oriented, and the new school is for those looking to jump into the parks and pipe with the snowboarders.
Player = Race or very fast skier
All-Mountain Expert =Those who bought racing skis in the past and want all mountain versatility
Free rider = All mountain experts who want to go extreme, off piste, out of bounds. Those who perhaps are not that expert level but want to experience some powder and more that the groomed slopes.
All Mountain Cruiser = The good skier who considers himself an advance skier, likes fresh groomed slopes, skis a moderate speeds, pushes the envelope only when he feel in control
Ok, we have determined what ability level we fit into but these skis seem so wide, are they all of powder?? We discussed the advent of the shaped skis as initial aids for beginner skiers. What happened was that people discovered that these skis were fun and easier for all levels of skier. Did you know that the racers were recording their best times ever on these new strange skis. The problem initially was that the skis were designed for the beginner and the advanced skiers were enjoying them as well. The manufacturers were caught off guard. The technology has always filtered down from the racers to the beginners. Here the technology is working its way up. The first several years a company named Elan ruled. They were on of the pioneers of this shape ski phenomena. The industry says the merit of this new concept and started to redesign higher and higher performance products until today’s current offerings. The skis today have changed more in the last 5 years than they have change in the last 30 years. We have skis for an entire array of abilities in varying sizes and widths This change leads us into the next question size???
HOW DO I SIZE MY NEW SKIS?
The new shaped skis are not so new anymore. They have been around for 10 years now. The manufacturers have been making design changes to let you ski a shorter and shorter ski. Four years ago you were told to ski the skis 4 inches taller that body height about 10 centimeters shorter than traditional(straight) skis. The manufacturers came out with their new line of skis, based on new slalom skis now in much shorter lengths and had us skiing a ski that was eyebrow height again 4 inches shorter than the shape skis the guy at the shop sold us just a couple years ago. The sizing for all skis is now face height. Beginners mouth to chin, medium ability nose to eyebrow and advanced skiers eyebrow to top of the head. You say you just bought skis and now everyone says they are to long, the answer is that the skis you bought several years ago are not to long for their design, the new skis today have been reworked to be skied shorter. Realize the skis today have been redesigned to be skied shorter That is to not to say that you can ski the “old designed skis” just in shorter lengths. The new skis have differences that make it important that the skis are not just downsized old designs. This is like computer technology, the Pentium III that by todays standards is slow and obsolete still works and in many situations and does the job just fine. The New Pentium xyz+ gig rocket machine works faster and "better" but does not negate the older machines.
WHAT ABOUT WIDTH?
Fat is where it’s at! In skis, not at the beach! The racers in the past were always looking for the narrowest waist ski to get quickness edge to edge. In doing this they gave up stability. The traditional slalom skis (non shaped) were very quick edge to edge but not very forgiving or stable. The early shaped skis were very wide in tip and tail and still very narrow under foot. When the skis were on edge they were very easy to turn and initiated the turns very easily. The problems came when the skis were forced to run flat and straight. The slightest pressure right or left made dramatic movements in that direction. The skis were fine for slower skiers but not for the more aggressive. The ski companies decided that, as in the past, wider under foot meant more stable. The initial offerings had the slower skiers on the widest waist and the most radical the narrowest. The next they discovered that as in the traditional skis by making the tail (back) narrower than the shovel (front) the skis were more forgiving and didn’t throw the skier from side to side. This experimentation has led to what is now available. Skis with a side cut that is more exaggerated than the straight ski design, tails narrower than the shovels, and skis that are wider at the waist for more stability. The wider skis float on the crud in the spring and the powder in mid winter making the skis float higher on top of the snow. The wider skis float higher on the snow base and the narrower sink deeper. So why not have all wider skis? The wider the skis, the harder it is to make very quick turns (weidel). If you read reviews of skis they talk about ease in turning in one breath and how the skis are not great in tight moguls. Here is the width talking. The Johnny Mosley (Olympic mogul gold medal winner) skis are narrow, traditional type skis to make quick quick turns. The downside is the instability at speed. Life is a trade off!!! Here you will find the All Mountain Cruiser type skis wider, the Free rider skis wider, but the All Mountain Expert may be a little narrower.
FLEX, DO I CARE ANYMORE?
DID I EVER?
Realize that skis turn a radius made by the ski as it is bent with your weight. A stiff ski with a very narrow waist will turn easily. A ski with a moderate waist that is flexible will turn easily. What does the flex have to do with how the ski reacts. Picture a ski that is very flexible, as low speeds and for lighter skiers is very easy to turn. Now crank up the speed and add a few pound on that lighter weight skier. The ski if flopping up and down (chattering) the heavier skier overpowers the ski and it becomes unstable. So lets make all the skis stiff with very narrow waist. We have the big advance skier happy his ski isn’t flopping but it is so radical in turning that it can’t be skied at any speed with out an expert to handle it. So we find the manufacturers adding dampening devices to the skis to help keep those more flexible skis from chattering. These dampening devises allow the manufacturers to make skis softer (easier to initiate turns) and yet as chatter free as a stiffer ski. This allows the ski to also be more forgiving (cross mountain). So the ski’s stiffness is important but not to worry about unless you are at an extreme (98lb weakling, or 450lb giant). We need to talk about torsion stiffness (ice holding). Again trade off the stiffer torsionally traditionally the better on the ice. These new shape skis however make it so more edge is utilized and the skis torsion is not as critical as with traditional skis. The skis that were noted for their ice hold in the past will only get better and those who were ok will be better.
THE NEW CONSIDERATION!
THOUGHT WE COVERED THEM ALL.
Skis since their beginning have had “camber”. Camber is the fact that the middle of the ski while resting on level floor is raised, resting on the tip and tail. This distributes the pressure of the skier to the extremities of the ski where technique allows the tip to grab and initiate the turn. It also acts as a spring, inducing energy into the ski to”spring” you into the next turn. As we stated earlier, skiing technique has changed. The skis are rolled on to edge, rather than via an up down motion. Some of the manufacturers are manufacturing skis with no or negative camber(barrel staves). These skis are very “surfy”, they are extremely easy to turn but lack the zing, pop, and edge hold of some of the cambered skis. This negative camber is seen is some powder skis where is allows the tip to be up and out of the snow and makes it easy to turn. The down side is the lack of stability on the groomed trails and total lack of edge hold on anything firm. It seems this will be a trend, especially for skis designed for powder, park and pipe and soft western conditions. The snowboard industry has embraced this technology and has a range of cambers, from traditional to very rockered. Having ridden the rockered boards, they are effortless to transition from edge to edge. Check out the K2 snowboard site...they seem to be leading the charge. The ski industry is following the snowboard industry with K2 leading the charge. The skis are called rockered skis, as with the boards they have various degree of rocker making turning effortless. With this new technology skis can hold in the turns and still be exceptionally easy to turn. It make it so a slightly longer ski can be used.
Hope this helps. Check out our Ski Testing link to get the straight scoop on some of the new models.