Spring is the time of the season that we begin testing skis and boots for the following season. Here are some key reasons why we stress testing now opposed to the summer time:
Snow: When testing products you should test it on a condition that is most similar to what you will be racing on during the season. This all revolves around the feel of the ski or boot. Depending on the condition you will find that there can be differences that will/can eventually add up to a time difference in the course and that can be the separation between you winning or losing.
Tune: Having the ability to test multiple different brands of products with the exact same Start Haus tune. This will result in you being eliminate the tune as being a variable in the test and making it easier for you to feel exactly how the ski feels.
Product: Ultimately you are testing skis or boots to see if you are faster than other brands. When you have the ability to test multiple different skis or boots in one day you are easily able to determine the differences between brands. This is easy because the snow conditions are the same, tune is the same and now the only differences will be product.
These three key elements are all necessary components to an effective test and deciding which brand is the best performing ski or boot for the athlete.
Ski camps will be taking place over the next few weekends through the Squaw Valley Race Program and Sugar Bow Ski Team; both camps will be open to all other programs as well. If you have any inquiries regarding these camps please contact Start Haus at 530.582.5781 or comment here and we will be happy to assist you the best we can.
As some folks may recall, I was on board with the Rossi S7 pretty early. I got a sample pair in the spring before the ski was in general release and then kept it in my quiver for the next two seasons. Initially, I was stunned by the quickness and maneuverability and I found it to be stupid easy to ski in trees and tight spots. Eventually, I skied it a bit more in wider, more open areas and in heavier snow and started to discover a few limitations. The S7 tends to get knocked around a bit in rough conditions and the narrow tail can tend to “wheelie” out from under the skier in a sharp downhill to flat transition. At first, I attributed those issues to the soft tip and tail and the rather abrupt rocker profile. The S7 also skis very short and I suspected that I was slightly undergunned on the 188. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the tapered tip and tail profile also played a part. For all that, the S7 was and is a remarkable tool in untracked snow and in tight areas. As a benefit, the shape and stiff center allows the ski (at least the center potion of it) to rail fairly well on moderately firm packed conditions. During this time period, I also had a conventional cambered Huge Trouble and later the minimally rockered version of the Huge. On many powder days, I found myself starting the day on the S7 but eventually, going back to the car for the less nimble, but more stable Dynastars.
All along, I wanted to combine the attributes of the two skis but never really found the exact answer I was looking for. When the Rossignol Super 7 came out, I tried that and it was a little more stable but really wasn’t the whole answer. I liked all these skis a lot and had a great time on them but was always wondering about tip deflection in crud and that “wheelie” thing. I have heard others complain about tip flappage at higher speeds on packed conditions and it’s true enough that these various S7 models can give you a fair bit of that. Honestly, that never bothered me a whole lot as I don’t care a ton about that within the context of what these skis are really for.
Eventually, I decided to replace the S7 but this is a ski category that I personally don’t use all that often and hence, I don’t replace them at the drop of the hat. As time went on, I tested a lot of other 110+ skis, had a great time on most of them and never felt deprived when I went out on a deep snow day. Nevertheless, I really never found one that I wanted to buy for myself until the latter part of the spring 2011 testing season. That was when I first tested the Nordica Patron and Unleashed Hell.
The 2011-12 Nordicas:
For the 2011-12 season, Nordica introduced these two powder skis that were made with the same dimensions but different constructions and graphics. The Patron is the flagship for the freeride market and is built with a conventional wood core and “scary Gaucho” graphics. The Unleashed is billed as a sidecountry /alpine model and has a light isocore stringer down the center of the core and a more adult oriented graphic. Both skis share the same shape and rocker profile which is a conventional low cambered center section with moderate tip and tail rocker sections and a moderate amount of rise at both extremities. The flex is very similar between the two versions and is relatively soft in the tip and tail with a firmer center section. The flex seems somewhat firmer in the 193 length vs. the 185.
When I first got on the Patron it was at Mammoth last year the conditions were not ideal for powder ski testing. There was a little wind blown new snow that had filled in over an older base that created pockets of soft snow between 8-12” interspersed with areas of wind packed powder and the older, rough base. Some of the groomers had good firm winter conditions. I skied a lot of new models of bigger skis that day and the S7 was still as good as any although there were some that minimized the tip deflection issue to an extent. Unfortunately some of those had no cambered section at all and that just doesn’t fit my preferences. The first of the Nordicas that took out was the Patron in 193 and as I made a long high speed traverse to get to my first off trail pass I noticed that it didn’t have the “greasy” feel underfoot of the non cambered skis. When I cut into the moderately steep face under chair 1 the tip of the Patron felt more solid than expected given the softish flex. Rolling into the first set of short to medium turns in the heavily mixed snow, the tip felt engaged and positive and the ski was very nimble for a 193. Near the bottom of the first pitch, I cut hard left into a long traverse that gave me some more vert as the hill fell away to the left. The second pass on this face was made in longer faster turns and the area was a little more scratchy in between the pockets of soft. The Patron again felt very stable and comfortable but was playful enough for me to bank it off of a sidehill at speed and back into the choppy stuff. When the terrain spit me back out onto the groomers I stopped for a moment to reflect. On this sidehill of rough snow mixed with soft pockets, the Patron had felt more seamless than the skis with abrupt rocker profiles and more solid underfoot than the skis with no camber. I was very danged impressed. On the run back to the bottom of chair 1 and then back across the area to the bottom of chair 2, I was able to test the Patron’s manners on the groomers. In all kinds of turn shapes, the Patron felt “longer” than the S7 and I attribute this to the wider tip and tail profiles. On a tip shape like the Patron, you can get enough engagement to quiet the ski down and minimize the flappage and that’s just not something you generally get with a ski that carries a lot of reverse taper at the extremeties.
There weren’t a lot of these skis available for long term testing last year and the few times that I had one at hand, the conditions weren’t right. I finally had a ski on hand at the right time for some deep snow late in the Epic 2011 season. This time around, I happened to have a 185 Unleashed at hand on a snowy day in March with 18” down overnight at Alpine Meadows. My typical test route at Alpine is to ride the Summit chair and hit the various shots off of peril ridge then traverse into the lower half of Sympathy face, followed by a long traverse out to Gunner’s knob near the bottom. This path usually gives me a variety of pitches and exposures and usually holds good snow a bit longer than the more popular routes off the top. The Unleashed in 185 was really nimble and light feeling and felt just as floaty in the deeper snow and just as quick in tight spots as my 188 S7’s had. The difference was that the Unleashed felt more solid in the tip in the choppy spots and in abrupt transitions, the “wheelie” tendency was gone. This day sort of coalesced my supposition that the radically tapered tail of the Rossi was one of the bigger factors in the wheelie issue. The Unleashed/Patron don’t have that taper and while they really aren’t any stiffer, the tail is more stable. This day was the deciding factor that caused me to go for an Unleashed for the 2012 season as I had finally found a ski that was as much fun as the S7 but was more versatile on soft groomers and less prone to the tip deflection and wheelie issues. Since the Unleashed and Patron had felt nearly identical, I chose the Unleashed due to the more sedate Graphics.
Enter the 2012 season……………and no snow.
So along comes late November and the 2012 ski season. The gear corner in my place has a fresh pair of Bonafides, a Hell and Back and my new Unleashed Hell in 185. And there they stayed. There was so little snow that the 98-113mm skis were just not getting any use at all and the Unleashed wasn’t even mounted. Then came Christmas and then New Years……and my own skis sat. Off I went to SIA at the end of January and I was testing 2013’s……and my skis were sitting gathering dust. I’d gotten the chance to see the 2013 Nordica collection in early fall and among other things, they were showing another new powder ski. This new model was to be called the Helldorado and it took the Enforcer build (wood/metal) and put it in the Patron/Unleashed mold. When we got to SIA, we got to get the whole story and see finished skis. The first thing I noticed was that the Helldorado was not as stiff nor as heavy as I thought it would be. The final graphic which is a semi matte black with sublimated tone on tone was very cool and pretty bad-azz looking. During our meetings in Denver Willy, Booker, (les grandes Fromagge at Nordica) arranged to send us a couple of pairs of Helldorados for a long term test as soon as possible.
The Helldorado shows it’s stuff:
Welllllllso…………….we got back from SIA and immediately jumped into ski testing mode. Given the conditions, we were sorta distracted by the new FA 84 EDT and skis of that ilk and we forgot about the Helldo for a while. When they showed up, we immediately mounted up the 185 and 193 and got them prepped so that we could get them out as soon as conditions permitted. And then finally it snowed, and snowed, and then snowed some more. All through this miracle March and into early April, I’ve been able to back to back with the Nordica Helldorado and the Unleashed in 185 as well as some other skis in this range. I still liked the Unleashed better than I had my S7’s but I found that in some cases, I liked the Helldo even better. The differences are subtle but the Helldorado is simply more damp and stable than the Patron/Unleashed without sacrificing much in the maneuverability capability. In really tight spots, the Unleashed is quicker and more nimble especially at slower speeds. On the other hand, once the snow gets heavied out, the Helldo plows through the crud and feels more stable in rough stuff like slide debris. The Unleashed/Patron are more in the realm of “powder” skis while the Helldorado edges into the “Big Mountain” category. This distinction bears on the stability factor and the ability of the Helldorado to hammer rough conditions that would bounce lesser skis around.
Nordica does a remarkable job with this wood metal layup in skis like the Enforcer and this new Helldorado. While many metal bearing skis are really too stiff to be truly versatile in mixed snow, the Nordicas tend to hit that balance that I always talk about. Both the Helldo and our long favored Enforcer have the benefits of dampening and stability without being so planky that they just don’t flex in deep snow. They also seem to have hit a great mix of rocker and cambered sections giving the skier a solid feel underfoot along with the ease that you’d hope for. One other factor that seems to bear on the stability of the Helldorado is the rocker profile in the tip. The rise on the rockered section is subtley lower than on the Patron/Unleashed which in turn are both lower than the S7 (see the pic above). I think this allows the Nordicas to stay engaged better and hence have more stability while not giving up much of that ultra-short feel that some other skis exhibit. For the tight tree slicer and dicer, or the skier looking for a medium speed powder ski, I’d still pick the Patron/Unleashed. For the skier that wanted that light feel but a higher stability factor, I’d suggest those two in the 193 length. For the higher powered skier, and/or heavier snow in the west, the Helldorado gets the nod.
Several years ago, a couple reps, company execs, and sponsored skiers were sitting around a dinner table celebrating the success of a new prototype that would revolutionize the way they made skis. The idea was born out of a frustration with rocker technology, which makes skis playful, but also instable and nervous. Ever the tinkering skier, Arne Backstrom proposed a solution that was simple, yet so profound, it should be written down in the ski book of Zen: Build the ski upside down.
Blizzard-Tecnica unveiled their upcoming 2012/2013 lineup for the first time in California and Nevada before an audience of Tahoe skiers and ski industry leaders at a launch party in Squaw Valley. Like last year’s line of Blizzard skis, next year’s models all embrace Flip Core technology, which was inspired by Backstrom and flips the ski’s wood core upside down so it naturally takes on a rocker shape. Incorporated in the Cochise to the Bodacious to an entire new line of woman’s big mountain skis and beyond — thirteen models in total for 2013 — the genius of Backstrom’s idea is that it can be applied to an entire line of skis, not just one pair. And on Tuesday night, there were many converts in the crowd who now believe in Flip Core.
“If I’m going to sell a product to a friend, I have to believe in it,” said Robb Gaffney, who first skied the Cochise prototype three years ago at Kirkwood, and now skis them nearly every time he goes out. “The first run, I believed it. The second run, I believed it more … He [Backstrom] knew what he was talking about.”
Ski writer Jackson Hogen noted that Blizzard isn’t just on the map, it’s leading the charge with its new technology. “They made it [Blizzard] the most important brand in skiing now, because it’s the reference brand,” Hogan said. “It’s all deserved because it’s product … These things aren’t pixie dust. There’s math involved.” Not just math, there was a curious person who was in tune with his equipment.
“A lot of it came down to this drive to understand how things worked,” said Ralph Backstrom, Arne’s younger brother.
Arne Backstrom was at the top of his skiing career when this idea came forward. And at that dinner table on that fortuitous night, the Blizzard-Tecnica crew was not only celebrating the success of the prototype, but also Backstrom’s skiing career. He had just won the first McConkey Cup and was filming with Matchstick and Warren Miller. It was that night that Stefano Mantegazza, Blizzard-Tecnica product director, proposed that the Bodacious become Backstrom’s signature pro model ski.
“It’s not a tribute,” said Clem Smith, sales rep for Blizzard-Tecnica, about the Bodacious. “This was always his deal. It wasn’t an afterthought.”
Backstrom passed away just as the first line of Flip Core skis went into production. Right before he left for Peru to ski the Cordillera Blanca, Backstrom signed his name five times — a true perfectionist — on a piece of paper that he left with Smith. That signature is now on every pair of Bodacious skis.
“Arne was a man of few words,” Smith said. “But when he spoke, everyone listened.”
New this year from Blizzard is a women’s big mountain line of Flip Core skis, including the aggressive Blizzard Dakota ski, which is the female version of the Cochise. Tecnica is also coming forward with another line of boots inspired by Backstrom’s infamous Frankenboot. The 2012/13 free mountain boots feature interchangeable soles, a walk mode, and can be skied aggressively in bounds or in the backcountry.
“It’s rare to see an athlete have this much inspiration in a global brand,” said Dana Greenwood, sales rep for Blizzard-Tecnica. “It’s got Squaw DNA … [Backstrom] knew it was a good idea, but he never would believe the impact worldwide that he would have.”
The entirely new Volkl RTM 84 is the successor to the long running line of AC 4/AC 40/AC 50 skis that date back several years. Those past models were pretty stiff at the start and got continually stiffer as the years passed. Recent skis like the AC 50 may have been dubbed “All Conditions” but they were not much good outside of firm, packed slopes. The RTM 84 changes all that and does so in a big way, this is not just an incremental change to an existing model. At first glance, the raised shoulders and top deck geography look fairly similar to past skis of the AC group but when you pick one up and flex it, it feels very different. The flex of the RTM 84 is still pretty firm but it is much more balanced and somewhat softer than in the past. In addition, the RTM 84 uses Volkls’ ELP full length rocker. This is a continuous tip to tail rocker profile and is one of the very few skis in the narrower widths that uses rocker like this.
I first skied the RTM 84 at Winter Park on very hard snow. Given the past history of the AC 50, I had placed the RTM into the hard snow biased group for testing. The first few turns on the flat part of the trail were a little disconcerting. At lower speeds and with low edge angles, the lack of a cambered section made the RTM feel a little indecisive. It didn’t really turn out to be detrimental, it just felt odd at first. As speeds picked up, so did the edge angles and the more angle that was applied the more stable the ski felt and the more positive the engagement became. As the trail dropped lower, the pitch got steeper and the snow got harder. The RTM displayed plenty of grip and tended to blend turn shapes very well. In the transition between turns, the ski released very easily with a modicum of energy. The older AC models were favorites of some skiers but personally, I always found them to a little too stiff and a bit too much work for my own liking. At the bottom of the test run at Winter Park, I reflected that I personally liked this new ski far better than I had the older versions.
Later in the season, when the Demo events moved west, I had the chance to try the RTM again. Here, the ski was thrown in with some mostly softer, mixed snow skis models in similar widths. While the RTM 84 was not as good in bumps and softer snow as the more soft snow biased skis, it was manageable, stable and predictable. Probably most important of all it did not require a lot of energy from the skier to get the ski to flex. The RTM 84 did its best in crud at medium or higher speeds where the firmer flex allowed it to push through choppy conditions with ease. The Volkl RTM 84 is still a ski with a slight bias toward hard snow but it is vastly better at a wide range of mixed conditions than the older models that it is replacing.
Seasoned ski racers and ski professionals understand the importance of finding skis that bring out the best of their individual style while mitigating some of the potentially unproductive aspects of their skiing and racing. Ski testing is necessary in order to identify which ski most enhances performance, and Mt. Hood, Oregon is a great place to figure out which race skis to purchase for next season. Below are some key considerations to ensure a productive and accurate ski test.
When is the best time to test 2012 race skis?
In a perfect world, ski testing would be done on winter snow and in winter temperatures. The reality is that next season’s race skis are not typically available to test until April or May. As a result it is difficult for the Eastern and Midwestern skiers to test on home turf. In the West you have greater opportunity to test. For example, in California there is still very good snow at Squaw Valley and Mammoth Mountain. For summer skiing, Mt. Hood and Whistler will be your best choices.
How do I get 2012 race skis for testing?
In the spring, some ski shops like the Start Haus has test skis available from suppliers like Atomic, Blizzard, Fischer, Head, Nordica, Rossignol, and Volkl, in stock so you can test them before the regular season ends. If you are going to Mt. Hood during the summer for training, most of the equipment suppliers have “Test Centers” where you can go and try skis of interest while training on the snow field.
What is the best way to test 2012 race skis?
The best method for testing new race skis is to control the test environment so you can figure out which skis suit your style and technique the best. I recommend that you use your existing skis as the comparison reference. For this to work well it is important to have your current skis in good shape. Make sure that your edges are clean and sharp, and use appropriate wax for the conditions. When you pick up the test skis, check the preparation before you get on the mountain. You want to be able to compare the skis, not the tunes. So be sure that the skis you are comparing are tuned to the same bevel.
How should I be skiing to test skis?
Freeskiing on the skis is one way to help decide which ski works best for you. The best results will be achieved if you further control the test. Testing in the race course is the ideal way to make the proper ski choice. Whenever possible, test when the snow is the hardest. This means making your test runs back to back with as little time in between runs as possible. That way changes in the course conditions will not be as extreme. It is also important for the test course to be challenging in terms of terrain and rhythm changes. You will need to trust your instincts in terms of the feedback you are getting from the skis on the hill. There are other elements that can be very helpful to determine which ski is working best for you. Take video of your test runs, so you can go back and review what you are seeing against what you were feeling. Video helps you to see where there may be some problems. For example the video will show if the ski you are testing is allowing you to stay on the fastest line in all parts of the turn. The other key to making a good choice is the use of timing during the test, the clock does not lie. If you compare solid runs with no mistakes, and are consistently faster on one ski versus another, that is the best feedback you can get.
Are there summer camps that are designed to provide ski testing for 2012 race skis?
There are camps like the Start Haus/Danielle Nichols/Sugar Bowl Camp at Mt. Hood that have incorporated ski testing by having 2012 race skis from all the major suppliers on-site. One of the goals of this camp is for athletes to successfully determine all of their equipment needs for next season by the time camp concludes. This camp will have timing and video everyday for the best possible ski test. In addition to the variety of skis, the condition and prep of those skis will be very tightly controlled.
Remember to bring your best attitude, motivation and effort out on the hill when ski testing. You have to “bring it” every run to find the differential in the skis you are trying.
The following tips will help you end up with the best race skis for your style and ability as a ski racer:
Select the proper size ski for your age, size, strength, skiing skills, FIS compliance, and price. Use the resources available to make the best selection. It is helpful to discuss with your coach the correct size ski to test. Make sure that you understand the FIS rules for your age and where you will be competing.
Use your current ski as the base-line or reference point and test the new skis against your existing ski.
Use video whenever possible to help you make comparisons. Being able to see differences in your line and turn shape will help you to see which skis are really helping your skiing.
Use timing whenever possible. For J3s and younger this is not as critical. For FIS level racers, it is strongly recommended that you use timing and video before you choose to switch skis.
On salted glacier snow, new skis that are well prepared can give the impression of better performance because of the prep. Make sure that your skis, as well as the test skis, are sharp and waxed.
Good luck with your camps, ski testing and races this summer!
The Blizzard Bonafide comes in at 98mm at the waist and features the “Flipcore” construction of the Freemountain line. The Bonafide has conventional camber in the center section of the ski with modest tip and tail rise and 2 ½ sheets of metal. This construction with layered metal laminates allows Blizzard to build a ski with a thin profile. This thin profile along with a lightweight center stringer in the core allows the Bonafide to be much lighter than expected for a ski with this much metal.
My first experience on the Bonafide was at Squaw Valley in early January on very hard snow. The layered metal gave the Bonafide near ice-pick grip in the conventional cambered section and the ski was remarkably damp on the near bulletproof conditions. Rolling in and out of varied turn shapes, it was easy to see that that the Bonafide changed turn shapes easily and would finish turns smoothly regardless of the radius. The even flex blends the rockered sections into the overall construction so well that even on the hardest snow conditions, the tip feels connected and the tail felt grippy and basically conventional.
I was so impressed by the Bonafide that I ordered a pair in 180cm for the rest of the season and spent much of the remainder of this heavy snow year on it. The Bonafide handles soft crud or heavy crud remarkably well and deep powder exceptionally well for a 98mm ski. In one instance at Mammoth, I got the Bonafide into some chalky refrozen crud that had a little skiff of chalky windblown snow over the top of it. The Bonafide initiated easily in this very rough snow and released without getting hung up on the coral heads. I even tried the 187 length in those conditions and found that it felt very nimble and maneuverable considering the length. The Bonafide grips as well in the cambered section as any conventionally cambered ski in this width range and yet rolls in and out of crud, junk and powder with the ease that you’d expect from a ski with tip and tail rocker. The fact that the Blizzard Bonafide does all these somewhat contradictory things so well is a tribute to the effectiveness of the “Flipcore”design. This truly remarkable blend of characteristics makes the Bonafide one of the most versatile skis that I have ever skied on and makes it a huge winner in the very competitive 98mm width range.
When Blizzard built the new Freemountain series for 2012, they really threw out the rule book on ski construction. Most skis have their camber and especially their rocker shaped via heat and pressure in the molding process. This creates the shape, but it also creates stress in the core which translates to uneven pressure distribution when the ski flexes. The Blizzard “Flipcore” skis take the opposite approach by using a core that is basically built upside down. The molding process then does not have to place stress into the core when the rocker is shaped. The effect is a more even pressure distribution from tip to tail. The result of the Flipcore technology is a group of skis with remarkably even flex characteristics and a flex pattern that marries perfectly with the sidecut and the rocker profiles. The Flipcore models from Blizzard were the skis most universally accepted by our staff as personal favorites. When we select our personal winners each season, it is seldom that there are several models from the same brand and even more seldom that the appeal is so universal.