Tag Archives: Groomer skis

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Race Ski Testing 101

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.

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Build it Upside Down

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.”

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Kastle MX88 the Porsche 911 of the ski world

The MX 88 is the ski that single handedly built the formidable reputation of the Kastle brand. Some brands may have a ski model that become a hot seller for one year, but almost invariably, they feel the need to tinker with it and change success. Fortunately for all concerned,  Kastle does not work that way. The Kastle MX 88 has been the flagship of the collection since its inception, has not really changed at all and yet it still sells out early every year. There are some very good reasons for this with the primary one being the construction and feel that sets Kastle apart from other brands.

Most ski companies tout their technology and construction and of course they should. A lot of times the new “whiz bang” tech that is “going to change everything” is just smoke and mirrors. With Kastle it is a different program. Kastle utilizes design and construction techniques that give their skis a unique and highly desirable feel, they tune the build and flex for the target customer, put on a fairly simple elegant graphic and then……they leave it alone. It is a plan that works pretty well for them since the skis sell out early every year despite being some of the higher priced models on the market.

The MX 88 falls right in the middle of the width range for today’s all mountain skis. There are a lot of skis in this range of course with some being biased toward soft snow and some biased toward hard snow. Then again, there are some that have about an evenly weighted conditions bias and these tend to be the most versatile in our opinion. The Kastle MX 88 is among the very best in this width range on hard snow and yet, I tend to rank it with only a slight bias on the hard snow side. The reason that I give it only a slight bias toward hard snow is because despite being a fairly stiff ski, it is quite good in other conditions as well. Kastle manages this by producing a ski that is stiff enough torsionally and has such good dampening that it will hold on anything short of a watered down racecourse.  Yet for a ski with all that power it feels lighter and more nimble than one would expect and it is even reasonable in soft, mixed conditions. A combination that is grippy and powerful yet light and nimble at the same time has been one of those unobtanium deals in the ski industry but Kastle has managed it. The Kastle MX 88 will have many differing applications depending on where and how you ski. This is a ski that would make an awesome one ski quiver for any Eastern or Midwestern skier and could still be great fit for a Western guy that skis off trail a bit but doesn’t live there. This is a ski for someone with developed skills, and does require some strength and or speed to generate turn initiation. The MX 88 is not a ski that I would normally recommend for an intermediate skier.

Chris Davenport and the MX88 in action

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Looking for hard snow edge grip???

Dynastar has been a major player in the race world with many Olympic and World Championship medals as well as World Cup titles in their long history. This racing pedigree really shows in the Dynastar Speed Course TI. The Course TI wears race graphics, carries a racing binding plate, and shares the wood/metal construction characteristics of the World Cup skis. Despite this, it is in fact a pretty different animal than a pure race ski.  A wider waist width and rounded tail are the first visual clues that this is not just another race ski. The Course TI has a tight 15m turn radius in the 171 size and it is available in sizes as short as a 159 and as long as 183. This is a very good dual event race ski for non-FIS level competitors and also makes a great “cheater” GS ski for Masters racers. The Speed Course TI is even more than this though. This is a very good ski for someone that doesn’t race at all and is looking for a hard snow biased ski for everyday use.

The first runs I took on the Dynastar Course TI was at Winter Park during the annual SIA intro. The main test run there is an FIS homologated GS trail and has very hard snow most of the time. The upper part of the run is relatively narrow and has a moderate pitch. I used this part of the trail to vary turn shapes between short medium and long radius and then back again. The tapered tail released much more easily than the grippy, squared off tails that you find on real race skis these days. Through this exercise the Course felt amazingly comfortable and compliant through changing turn shapes and the turn release was energetic but manageable. As the trail got steeper it also gets wider and in this section of the trail, I opened up the turn radius and picked up the speeds. While the Course TI is easy enough at slower speeds, it really stands out when skied aggressively. The grip was like a razor even on the spots that were scraped off and shiny and the dampening was on par with a World Cup GS ski. The tighter turn radius kept the ski from running out at the turn finish the way a GS race ski would and when I took it out to the edges of the trail it managed the soft crud very well. For the skier or instructor/coach looking for a hard snow specialty ski, it doesn’t get much better or more versatile than the Speed Course Ti.

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The new 2012 Volkl RTM 84

Click Here to see the updated Volkl RTM 84 Review

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.

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A Revolution; The 2012 Salomon BBR

***UPDATE: See our blog with a new Salomon BBR 10.0 Review***

Every few years, something comes along in ski design that captures the imagination of the skiing public so completely, that it revolutionizes the market.  This doesn’t happen very often but when it has happened in the past, the concept has often been the brainchild of Salomon’s Bernard Bertrand. Bernard who is often known as Beber is not just a ski engineer or a marketing guy.  Rather he is an imaginative designer with roots that deeply embedded in both surfing and skiing.  Beber has always strived for ways to make skiing easier and more accessible to the market and some famous designs of his include Salomon’s X-Scream and Pocket Rocket.  Both of which dramatically altered the landscape of ski design.

Beber’s newest creation is the new Salomon BBR model for 2012. This ski model looks so radically different from other ski designs that it warrants double takes in the lift line.  The most noticeable difference in the BBR is that the tip is amazingly wide and is shaped like a surfboard while the rest of the ski tapers dramatically to a very narrow tail.  The effect of a large amount of taper has been known for years but the BBR takes it to an unheard of level.  The BBR comes in two versions with roughly similar capabilities and so, I am reviewing both together.  The 8.9 is wider and stiffer, comes in longer lengths, and is generally suited for men or very strong women.   The BBR 7.9 is softer, a little narrower And comes in shorter sizes.  Some of our women testers skied both versions and which one they preferred was relative to their level of aggressiveness.

The BBR looks so different from other ski designs that when a skier first sees it, the question is invariably the same……“what does it do?” The answer to that is…….. “everything” I found that the major effect of the huge tip is that the BBR engages at the tip with the barest thought of an ankle roll.  The huge taper angle allows the tail to skid easily at the finish of the turn.  This gives the skier the ability to either tighten up the turn radius or open up the turn radius just by ankle movements. While this can be done on other skis too, it is dramatically easier and more effective on the BBR.

The extremely wide tip and narrow tail gives much more flotation in powder than the waist width would otherwise suggest and the tip stays up without having to sit back on the tails of the skis.  The narrow tail can skid or slide around in the powder and this combination makes the BBR the best powder ski in its width class.  The BBR can also make varying turn shapes with ease on groomed snow or in shallower mixed soft snow conditions.  Even the skier that likes to lay the ski way up on edge for big GS type carves will find that the BBR can even do that reasonably well.

The BBR is not the ski for the gnar eater or the cliff jumper.  Rather, it is a ski that can make new terrain available to mid to high level skiers that have maybe been stuck in a groomer rut.  This skier may want to sample some off trail conditions and maybe ski a little powder but he does not want to give up a comfortable feel on groomers.  The BBR is way more comfortable on typical everyday terrain than the uber-wide rockered powder skis.  Some skiers are a little over analytical about ski characteristics and how it relates to performance.  The BBR is best appreciated by skiers that are not so analytical but rather are just motivated by the experience.  One of our women testers is the epitome of this kind of skier.  She joked about her testing analysis by saying….. “All you’re gonna get from me is a smiley face or a frowny face on my test card.  I probably won’t know why I’m scoring the ski the way I do, all I care about is whether it is fun or not and the BBR got the biggest smiley of the day”

BBR skiing pow!!

Groomers anyone?? The BBR rips!!!