Next year’s skis are fatter and better
There are two philosophies when it comes to ski testing. The first is to put tape over the topsheets, demand impeccable tuning and pretend that you can actually have a “scientific” test. The second, of course, is to be enough of a skier to understand that a thousand different variables – from boots to experience and ability to weight to snow conditions to how much you’ve drunk the night before – have a profound impact on if a ski will be right for a specific individual. While the former approach awards “Gold Medals” to manufacturers and embraces the pretense of objectivity, the latter approach has taken center stage at Vail during the past week as the staff of Boulder-based Freeskier Magazine took the best new offerings from today’s top manufacturers for a ride.Graphics countMore of an expression session than a “test” the skis that are put through their paces are freeride skis. And next winter’s crop is poised to be the best yet. Not only are manufacturers getting the performance attributes of their sticks dialed in, but most big ski companies – including those based in Europe – are finally figuring out that when it comes to freeride offerings, graphics count.
“We’ve battled with the guys in Europe,” admits Summit County resident and head freeeride team manager Rex Wehrman. They still want race-style graphics but that won’t work on a freeride ski developed for the North American market.But if Head’s new offerings are any indication, the graphics conundrum has been solved. There’s no doubt that the Austrian crew in the Head factory knows how to build skis that perform – this year’s SuperMojo is a prime example of race technology adapted to a freeride mentality – but they finally are making skis that look cool. Expect next season’s offerings from Head to meld futuristic graphics with world class performance.SalomonBut Head isn’t the only story. Salomon, which pioneered the twin-tip all mountain ski when it introduced the incredibly successful Pocket Rocket, has always been known for cutting edge graphics. This year’s crop of skisblends old and new, with the highlight being the incredibly versatile and, dare we say it, good looking 1080 Lab. Developed as the pro-model ski for Salomon’s team, which has some of the best pro riders in the world, the 1080 Lab certainly was one of the highlights of the week.
Quick and easy to turn the ski still held up exceptionally well at speed and is a poster child for the kind of performance that skiers should expect from next year’s harvest – highly versatile skis that are fast and stable but turn quickly and can handle the funk, including the crazy elephant-snot spring snow that is currently coating Vail’s Back Bowls.In fact, it was the sheer numbers of skis that seem to provide an incredible amount of performance across the board that most impressed Freeskier staffers. “Almost everything is good when it comes to fat all mountain freeride skis,” said the magazine’s art director, Dan Richardson. “Personally, I look for the fatter, stiffer big mountain specific skis. But now you can find park skis that hold up amazingly well when you ski the whole mountain. It’s pretty amazing and something I didn’t expect.”SurprisesSurprises included Elan, which has been trying to break back into the North American market with a quiver of freeride offerings that includes the Mo2.
This park ski wowed testers with its fluid, stable handling in crud and broken snow while also holding its own at speed. Unusual characteristics for a ski designed for the bottom half of Chair 6, but traits that you’ll be seeing plenty of next season when the new crop hits ski shops in the Vail Valley.What’s the best ski you can buy? Or, more importantly, what is the best ski for you? If you are in the market to score some new sticks for next winter the lesson is clear: throw out gold medals and the scientific babble. The reality of skis is that while they perform better than ever and look cooler than last year, there’s really only one way to know exactly what will be the best ride for your next year on snow. And that’s to go out and ski the new stuff yourself. Rest assured that your favorite shop will be stocking some very, very good skis next winter. All you have to do is spend a day or two demoing the latest and greatest. Because, as the guys from Freeskier Magazine will tell you, there’s nothing like being a ski tester yourself to find out exactly what works best for you.Tom Winter is a freelance writer based in Vail.Vail, Colorado