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Fat skis

Tom Boyd

If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth a look. In the latest Warren Miller flick, called “Impact,” local skier Chris Anthony is shown hiking, then skiing, the steep face of a remote Montana mountain, leaving a long rooster tail of snow in his wake.But, next time you see Anthony up on the hill (especially on a powder day), stop and take a look at his skis chances are, they won’t look like anything you’ve ever seen before.And sure enough, in the Montana skiing clip, Anthony isn’t riding anything you (or probably anyone you know) has in their ski quiver.He’s riding a pair of Solomon AK Rockets a version that’s almost impossible to find in a store much longer, wider, and beefier than just about every ski on the market. The 195-centimeter-long ski is also shaped like a missile: with a wide shovel at the tip and comparatively narrow tails.On the one hand, big, fat skis could be the ski of the future.On the other, they might be the ski of RIGHT NOW.While many ski pundits will shy away from a fat ski, and tell you that it’s too much to handle, there are a growing number of people riding fat boards even on powder days.Granted, it’s still optimal to have at least two pairs of skis in your quiver. But don’t think of your two-pair quiver as having one pair of “regular” skis and one pair of “powder” skis. Instead, locals and pros are starting to think of their powder skis as their all-mountain skis and their other, skinny skis as rock-and-bump skis.Anthony admits that his AK Rocket is too much ski for a once-a-year Front Ranger to handle but he also anticipates a general movement toward longer, larger, bigger skis.”The general trend is way too short,” Anthony says. “They need to start making them bigger. Just give us longer and fatter, because we can do so much more so much more speed and it opens up so many more doors.”Anthony says he’s among many pro skiers who are lusty for fatter, longer boards.”The audience is expecting so much out of us now,” says Anthony, who has starred in the past 15 Warren Miller films. “To really bring it out on film, the air has got to be bigger, descents have got to be bigger, and the types of lines that the audience needs to be thrilled by we need a tool to be able to keep up with that.”And local hot-shots agree, he says. More and more people are pushing the limits of what a ski can do, and Anthony wants to see ski companies deliver the tools to get it done.Don’t cut the fatThe tools of Anthony’s trade have definitely changed to meet the need. Fifteen years ago, in his first appearance in a Warren Miller film (as an adult, anyway), Anthony skied a pair of 205 slalom race skis that were straight as an arrow and, he estimates, around 70 millimeters wide.Even if the average skier can’t get a hold of a set of AK Rockets, they can still pick from an array of fat boards available on the market (see break-out box).Anything that’s 85 millimeters or more underfoot qualifies as a fat ski and many are as much as 115 or more millimeters underfoot. Skiers like Anthony, or even those who aspire to ski like Anthony, are willing to push the fat-ski revolution to its limit.And fat skis aren’t just coming out of the quiver on powder days. Skis like the K2 Seth Pistol, the Atomic Big Daddy, the Rossignol B3 or the Volkl Gotama are easy to find on the mountain on any given day not just powder days.” You can go out on Vail Mountain and see instructors skiing (Rossignol) B3s and all that even where there’s not so much snow,” says Toby Dawson, another Warren Miller movie star who also doubles as one of the nation’s top U.S. Freestyle Ski Team members. Dawson, in fact, recently won a World Cup moguls event in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. “They’re making the sidecut so good that you can carve a fat ski and it’s not just limited to being a powder ski.”When Dawson is shooting film, skiing backcountry, or generally immersing himself in powder, he says he’ll ski the Rossignol B3s or the Rossignol Scratch BC (a twin-tip version of the popular park-and-play ski). But Dawson didn’t win his World Cup on a fat ski he did it on a Rossignol 182 Sratch FS mogul ski, designed specifically to weave quickly through a World Cup or Olympic moguls course.”These are fairly narrow skis still,” he says. “But everything’s going to a more aggressive sidecut for moguls.”Which, he says, means fatter tips. With new technology advances, he says, skis can have a fat “shovel” and remain narrow underfoot, giving mogul skiers a curved carving surface that still allows fast feet and quick transitions.”The bigger a ski gets, the harder it becomes to get through moguls,” Dawson says. “There’s just so much surface area on (a fat) ski, and you want to keep it more narrow so you can stay between the moguls.”Skis are still wider than they were when freestyle skiing took off in the 1970s, but the biggest difference is in their shape. Dawson’s competition skis come in at a hefty, but not unmanageable, 80 millimeters underfoot but the tips come in at 122 millimeters (or more) a shape unheard of even five years ago.Dawson says that expert skiers can still manage moguls on a fat ski, but don’t expect him to take a 100 millimeter-underfoot ski into a bump competition anytime soon. Leave those skis, he says, for freeskiing.Renting the right skiAs part of a rebel group that called themselves the Ravinos, local skier Phil Horsman rode powder and pulled inverted air in a time when that kind of skiing was illegal at most ski areas (he and the Ravinos, in fact, were once banned from Vail Mountain).The group, which featured in the November issue of Powder Magazine, made its cutting-edge mark on the skiing world wearing long, skinny skis. Horseman, for example, was on a pair of Hanson split-tail 207s.”Back then everybody was on long, straight skis,” Horsman says. “As for sidecut, you couldn’t see sidecut. I think, if you needed to, you could have used those skis as a straight-edge on a construction site.”Horsman is now riding the Atomic Metron B5, which is being hailed as the ultimate “all-mountain” ski by the manufacturer. With an ultra-wide tip (over 120 millimeters) and a thin waist, the B5 attempts to unify the carving power of a slalom ski with the surface area of a powder ski. Sidecut is clearly visible on this ski.Now that his Ravino days are over, Horsman works in the ski rental business, operating All Mountain Sports. His company delivers equipment to the home, hotel, or condo where skiers are staying, and put paramount importance on putting the right person on the right ski.Not everybody, he says, is ready for a fat ski.”At the entry level, if you’re too wide that’s going to inhibit you because you’re going to end up making skidding turns instead of carving turns,” he says. “The standard entry level is about 72 millimeters, that’s where you’re stable without feeling uncomfortable underfoot.”Once you become comfortable with your abilities, Horseman, Anthony, and Dawson all recommend picking up a pair of fat skis to add to your ski closet. You may not ride them every day, they say, but you’ll love the days you do.”You need a couple of skis in your quiver one to be able to cruise and one for powder days,” Anthony says. “The great thing about a powder ski is that you’re not going to wear it out. You buy it, it’ll last for a long time unless you’re a heli-guide in Alaska or a pro out there in powder every single day. A good powder ski is timeless.”East Coast skiers who never see a day of powder will beg to differ. Where icy conditions prevail, skinnier shaped skis will also prevail. But for anyone who skis Colorado, California, or places where powder is a way of life, fat boards are there to elevate the experience. With a fat ski, good snow days become great, and great snow days become unforgettable. VTThey’re big, they’re bulky, and they usually have funky names like “Big Daddy,” “Seth Pistols,” or “Hippy Stinx,” but don’t be afraid. Fat skis are commonly thought of as “powder only,” but many expert skiers are using them for all but the harshest of conditions. We’re not saying you should ride a pair if you live on the East Coast but, hey, that’s the East Coast. This is the Rocky Mountain West and softer snow and big powder days means bigger boards are the way to go on many days. Here’s a list of some of the alpine skis people are riding on snow days and beyond.AtomicBig DaddySugar DaddySugar Daddy (Pimp Edition)RossignolBandit B2BanditScratch BCFischerBig Stix 10.6DynastarLegend 8000BlizzardSigma Titan XL and XXLElanM 02HeadMonster i.M 103 ProMonster i.M 85K2Apache ReconApache ChiefPhat LuvSeth PistolSolomonPocket RocketScream LimitedVolklGotamaTom Boyd can be reached at tboyd@vailtrail.com .


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