What's New in Ski Gear
With every new year comes improvements in ski gear. That technology will find new innovations seems almost a
given, and the snow riding industry does not disappoint this season. Exploration of various geometries, cambers,
and flex patterns continues to explode the variety of available models gravitating towards much more rider and
snow specific offerings. The big guys are breaking out the big guns and companies like K2, Volkl, and Head, who
have 30+ different models with several lengths each, are creating a never before seen array of beautiful fat sticks
to get you down the deep stuff on top of their already impressive Piste performance catalog. If it seems the
hardest part is going to be picking what you want from the panoply available at your local ski store, than the
small but growing number of custom shops i.e. Wagner Custom, Igneous and Folsom, may be able to fit a pair of
skis to you like a new suit. And even if your suits are all Armani, new luxury brands are finding a niche as the 50
year Lacroix legacy is backing the new Iridium line. Still, one company has metaphorically 'split the Atom' and for
sheer ingenuity and engineering ka-POW they will go down in history next to the snowboarders that brought us
Atomic has made a quantum leap in Ski technology by introducing the D2 Doubledeck Vario Cut. The mad doctors
over at the Atomic lab have devised a way to vary the sidecut (effectively the turning radius) of the ski based
upon the pressure put into the turn! Their radii range over 6 meters, 11.5m-17.5m on the 172cm length model and
adjust instantly to the energy their given in a carving turn. See for yourself here, but the curious will not be
sated until they at least demo a pair and have an opinion to share as they scope their next well-groomed fall line
from the chair.
To approach the rest of the carving ski market out there, many brands have a particular patented 'dampening
system' or 'flex enhancer' or even a computer chip to optimize the turn characteristics of their skis. When sampled
by the consumer though, it still comes down to personal preference. Volkl for one realized this and has refined its
Power Switch, introduced in '08, to continue to give riders several different stiffness settings with the turn of a
dial. Space age ski tech still, but it means the serious customer will have a lot of demoing to do before settling on
the perfect pair.
Almost all ski producers out there have embraced fully the 21st century spirit of tweaking the geometry of the
ski, and the trend has been fat. A perhaps previously under-represented niche, the move towards wider skis
reflects the desire of the new powder hound to float within and on top of the snowpack while keeping the
requisite length in check to salvage the maneuverability required for the new freeskiing style(not many 200s out
there this year). Another recent deep snow modification has been reverse camber or 'rocker,' and can run the
entire length of the ski or just the part ~30cm from tip and tail, leaving the camber underfoot for better grooming
or touring performance. The ObSETHed from K2 is a solid representation of this concept, at 135/105/125
(tip/waist/tail width in mm) they are fat and have tip and tail rocker to give a nod even further to pow
performance, while still having sidecut enough to turn you down the harder pack to get to those stashes. It has a
cult following of solid riders, and sets the bar high, although not high enough to be unchallenged. That K2 has
nothing wider that 98mm underfoot without tip rocker says quite a bit about the direction and acceptance this
new style is growing towards, and just about every company out there who wants to compete in the freeski
market has rocker available on some models.
As for pushing the envelope though, there seems to be almost no bounds as brands compete for the 'fattest' out
there. Skis with 130mm underfoot are almost commonplace now, and bells and whistles like rocker and taper and
even swallowtails can make it seem like a different sport off in the wild untracked places. There are even the
behemoths from Cristal Sky, weighing in at 211/181/199!!! On the other end of the spectrum, the spritely and
space age Anton Gliders, using injected magnesium suspension to make a small beginner-intermediate level carving
ski of the future.
Now, there might be a couple of problems with this anything goes promiscuity of prototypes. Some can't figure
out what they should get, and others still can't find exactly what they are looking for. Fortunately the market has
realized this and small custom shops have been opening around the world to address your every desire in a ski.
Shops like the guys down at Igneous Skis in Jackson, WO produce several models and lengths and can also
control for stiffness by adding more layers of laminate. The look is beautiful wood with handmade quality and
touch. Folsom Skis out of Boulder, CO is a freeride focused sweet stick shack that sees its model line as starting
points from which to modify specifics to your own whims. Wagner Custom out of Telluride, CO can custom tailor
your dream ski based on a thorough interview process and the power of robotic manufacturing, metaphorically
growing your ski design like a snowflake from a droplet, each pair completely unique. They are not inexpensive,
but neither is demoing the field hoping to find the ones that feel right. Of course if custom artwork is worth
consideration, check out Icelantic Skis, with some of the coolest artwork in the business they have the vision to
push the boundaries of design and the skis to back it up. Props to the Shaman.
In the end, it is all personal preference now, with the spectrum of possible rides getting flushed out (but by no
means covered completely!). Know what kind of skiing you want to do and the design will follow from there. I wish
I knew where the sport will be in 2020, and I can't wait to find out.
Dan LeRoy is a ski engineer with Wagner Custom Skis and Winterstick Snowboards.