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Vail Daily letter: Use the right tools

Otto Wiest
Vail, CO Colorado
letters@vaildaily.com

Thanks to Epic Mix, I found out that I have skied until now over 70 days and almost 1 million vertical feet. For only $590, nice Mr Katz has moved me up as high as to the “ionosphere.” That means right into space.

From up there, I have skied down all winter with an average steepness of 10 to 20 percent on our Vail Mountain. This seems to be, if my calculation is right, a distance of about 1,500 to 2,000 miles. Can you imagine? I skied a distance from Vail to Chicago or halfway across the U.S. from one coast to the other.

Never before has skiing been so easy – and might be also so enjoyable. I guess 50 percent of those 1,500 miles I have skied powder, slush, tracked-up snow, crust or even “mashed potatoes.”



Yesterday, we had 12 inches of powder, and I skied the new Chair 5 and High Noon ridge 14 times. For run No. 15, I was really too tired, and when you get tired, I learned, skiing gets dangerous.

Ten years ago, when I was 10 years younger, I couldn’t have done that. The new equipment has improved so much, that I now ski ungroomed runs better then ever before.



Poor guys who have only one pair of skis all winter long. I know some people who haved skied the same skis for many years. I don’t know why. Might be they don’t have the money, might be they are afraid to use something new because they think they can’t turn any longer, or might be they are just too stubborn to change old habits’ for new tools.

Most of the inventions and innovations in alpine skiing seem to come from U.S., like plastic boots from Lange, metal skis from Head, Snowboards from Burton, super-light ski poles from Scott and Head, and so on. Even the new rocker skis and the extreme fat skis seem to be more part of U.S. then European skiing evolution.

Whenever there is anything new on the market, I like to try it because it’s fun. No, I definitely am not fooled by colors or the way those new things look. But I like function.



Long skis are for going fast because they are stable. Short skis make turning easy, but they are squirrelly. Straight skis without a sidecut don’t carve easy, but they slide well, especially in powder. Skis with lots of sidecut carve nice, but have disadvantages when it’s icy and steep. Narrow Skis are easy to put on edge on hard packed snow, especial at steep terrain but they are poor in powder. Fat skis and rocker make a big surface and help to turn in powder but they are difficult to hold on edge on groomed slopes.

Skis are tools, not more and not less. Using the right tools is important. The better your, tools the better your skiing!

Did you ever see a slalom racer on a long and fat rocker ski? So, are rocker skis good or bad? What a silly question! They are outstanding in soft snow and they are horrible in slalom gates. When I watched the ski races last fall at Birds of Prey, there was not a single racer on fat skis. There, I learned to get a reasonable pair of GS skis that fit my abilities and recognized that they are better than any other ski when I want to ski fast on groomed slopes.

In opposite, yesterday afternoon at 2:30 p.m., with warm sun and wet powder – well known by the name “mashed potatoes” – I skied Forever, Genghis and Rasputin on huge rocker skis – 195 centimeters long, what I call “the green monsters.” And I enjoyed it a lot. Some people would have called this “slush” just to cover their own inability. There is no bad snow – there is only the bad skier who is not able to adapt to nature.

The possibilities we have today are unbelievable. When I started skiing at the age of 5, all we had was a pair of wooden skis without any steel edges and the binding was leather with free heels. Can you imagine what changes I have experienced in 70 seasons of skiing? I remember well those early days when I was a ski instructor in Austria and I tried hard to make turns in deep, and sticky “European powder” with stiff, narrow, black 215 Kästles. In those days we were convinced that it’s not the ski, it is the skier that makes the turns. I am afraid there are still today a lot of people around who think the same way. What poor skiing would it be if we would ski still the same equipment. But skiers are stubborn. they remind me often of somebody who likes to go jogging with hiking boots. We do have tennis shoes, running shoes, mountaineering boots and so on. Why not also skis for the different needs?

About 15 years ago, I was one of the first people in Vail who used those funny looking “parabolic skis.” I can prove this because all my friends thought I was a little crazy. I bought those Elan SCX 15 from Buzz’s as prototypes and after that I had to answer all kinds of silly questions for three seasons. But four years later, they suddenly sold like mad and in February of this year, Rossignol and Elan sold out, but old Europe, like usual, took two years longer to find it out.

Why does it take many skiers so long to try out new and better equipment? When I am not sure how my skis might perform, I take the skis to Golden Peak for a ski test. On one leg, I take ski No. 1 and one the other leg I take ski No. 2. Why not? The differences are most of the time not as big as expected.

Today, we have all kind of possibilities and the biggest problem seems to be to find out what works well. In the early days, we had lots of powder, and the narrow skis really didn’t work easily in powder. Today, we have almost no powder any longer compared to the ’60s, but we have a lot of people now who try to ski groomed slopes, with fat powder skis. How funny – times have really changed!

You can just as well try to put a small nail in a board with a very big hammer – it’s the wrong tool, but it will make do.

To recognize how much fun it is to have the right equipment seems to be still unknown for many. It would increase their performance and safety a lot and also save their energy. Yes, it is really well worth the money, if you look at the hours and distances we ski. To always ski the same slopes, or even to stay at home because the snow is not convenient – all of this is not necessary.

Out of my 70 days, and after more then 70 seasons of skiing, I would say there was not a single day this winter when it was not well worth it to be on the mountain. But, just as I am carefully dressing according to the weather, I also select my skis very thoughtfully according to the conditions where I want to go.


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