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.
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!
Many of these new breeds of skis are making compelling arguments for you to own them. They are changing the rules as to what makes a ski work in the off-piste and at the same time, some of them are winning the battle with the purists by making the ski capable of carving as you need it to do to return to the lifts or the bottom of the mountain on the groomed runs. For those who need a more technical definition of "rockered skis," goggle "rocker skis 101" and you'll get the jest of the product in a hurry.
Modern day skiing at the highest level requires that the skier has 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.
Although a change in direction is 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 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.
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, carve like the dickens. This is where the mid fats, 80 – 100 mm and beyond at the waist, start to make sense.
Please go to Choosing Your Ski Length next.