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Choosing Skis

As most of you know, there is a myriad of skis out there to choose from.  How do you make an intelligent choice these days?  For big mountain free skiing like most of the skiers in the SST program aspire to do, you are generally looking for an “All Mountain Carving Ski” or, an “All Mountain Free-Ride” ski with enhanced floating characteristics; when your goal is to ski more off-piste.  There are hybrids out there as well that attempt to blend these two worlds together and, the beat goes on. Having said all this, if you are the type of skier who spends most or all your time skiing on groomers, there's only one way to go and they've always known this in the European resorts where you ski almost exclusively on piste, and that is to choose a shaped ski also known as a carver or a ski built to make carved turns.

Skis for 2023

Over the past decade, it's become abundantly clear how the ski marketing machine has favored fat skis selling us all with exhilarating images of seniors jumping off cliffs on to pillows of snow and skiing off into the sunset.  Just kidding of course about seniors landing on snow pillows from dizzying heights but you see so many people these days on wide to extra wide skis trying to navigate on piste slopes that are more and more busy with people on skis meant to be used in the outback. 


The reality is it's difficult to even find a ski in a ski shop these days with the kind of dimensions required to give you an advantage on the kind of slopes you likely ski 95% of the time; even here in Western Canada. 

Here's a link to a discussion on this very topic.

And here's Harald Harb's comment on the discussion.

"There is much more hidden in this wide ski issue than these people are discussing. First, the wide skis may be enjoyable for some skiers in powder and off-piste. However, the days in the season that this happens where the skis are a benefit are limited. They are terrible on groomers and they create a manner of skiing that is dangerous to the recreational skiers on the slopes. These kids between 20 and 30 years old, think they can ski and they ski at speeds way over their heads. On groomers where I see most of these skiers, the skis will wear out your knees. Secondly, wide skis have little or no shape.


So what's the point, we have shaped skis that make skiing easier yet the industry and the shops have basically ignored them. Why? Because the ski schools don't teach you how to use and learn to ski properly. It's much easier to learn on a shaped ski and you progress much faster, this isn't mentioned in the discussion. We see it at our camps, people who were sold wide skis at their home ski shops trying to ski them at our camps. They struggle, but as soon as we put them on a demo ski of 68mm underfoot, instantly progress happens.


They talk about Europeans, and it's valid they ski on mostly slalom skis or 14-meter skis even on the glaciers. The ski manufacturers, the ski schools, and the ski shops have promoted these wide skis because they follow the hype and fringe trends that you see in the movies. This video is a start to giving people some insight into why wide skis aren't the answer to their skiing enjoyment or progress, but much more needs to be done.

On the cutting edge of the off-pisters, look for the reversed and neutral cambered skis with “rockered” tips and/or tails.  The concept behind these skis is to make the skis respond sensibly and with predictability in powder and particularly in the chopped powder, often known colloquially around here as skiing in the crud or junk.  A “normal” ski is cambered, whose sole purpose is to make the ski "rebound" and we all know what happens when you get too much pressure on a ski in the soft snow and it rebounds you as it is designed to do!

Modern day skiing at the highest level requires that the skier needs to become proficient at carving turns no matter what the snow conditions happen to be.  Carving is usually learned as a refinement of the "slid or skidded turn."  A carved turn can be loosely described as when the tail of the ski follows the tip along the path made by the body of the ski as it passes through an arc.  When the tail of the ski starts to slide off the arc, the ski starts to skid and tends to destabilize the skier.  Because we generally ski in a heavier consistency of snow at Whistler/Blackcomb, the conditions make it difficult and tiring to skid turns and therefore the emphasis here is to perfect and use the carved turn as soon as humanly possible. 


In powder snow, a change in direction can be achieved by skidding the skis, a skidded turn is more closely associated with disruptive forces, akin to the effort to stop or slow the skier down, than the effort to connect one achieved change in direction with another.  Good skiing therefore connects one change in direction with the other as expeditiously as possible.  This effort is also referred to as a series of linked arced turns.  Skidding has its place though as a legitimate means to control and dump speed as required; preferably as you enter the turn.  In the powder, this effort is referred to as "buttering the turn."  The new skis with rockered tips and tails makes this a lot easier to do.


So choosing a single ski for Whistler then, can be a bit difficult.  There are times where we will have miles and miles of brilliantly buffed slopes that are ideal for the carving ski.  When these conditions prevail, the off piste can be anywhere from rough to unsuitable for the carver even for the broader all mountain varieties known as mid fats or all-mountain skis.


Then there are the times when it snows and snows.  Even the pistes are covered in snow because the groomers can’t keep up with the snowfall.  At this point, you might want to leave the carvers at home and bring out the Free Riders.  On piste is likely snow packed in the morning followed by soft bumps and ruts by the afternoon.  Off piste will start as virgin powder in the AM followed by tracked powder in the PM and it is likely a challenge to feel the bottom especially in the trees and chutes on the upper part of the mountain.  This is where the fat boards will come into their own; these conditions can be pretty close to heli or cat skiing right off the lifts!

Most of the time, it might be fair to say, Whistler skiing conditions fall somewhere in between these two solitudes; where you could use a ski that can float well, and still capable of carving like the dickens.  This is where the mid fats, 80 – 100 mm at the waist, start to make sense.


Please go to Choosing Your Ski Length next.

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