We’ve all heard the saying, “The difference between men and boys is the cost of the toys.”
That might also hold true for ski equipment. Each year I travel to Stratton, Vt., for an event called the On-Snow Expo. It’s a three-day super demo with all of the major manufacturers displaying the 2014-15 gear for ski shop owners and employees. And a handful of press types take advantage of an opportunity to play with all the new toys, justifying this indulgence with the idea that it’s our job to pass along the information on the new stuff to you, our loyal readers.
Stratton Mountain has the ideal setup for this event, especially for those of us whose goal is to sample as many skis as possible in two and half days. The area immediately in front of the base lodge is big enough and flat enough to accommodate the tents and vans of all the ski and snowboard companies. A six-passenger, high-speed chair rises directly up from this area and takes us 3,000 feet to the top of three or four novice to intermediate runs. We could take a gondola to the summit, but that would make the run too long, and we wouldn’t be able to get on as many skis. My goal each day is 15 pair and the fast lift and short runs, combined with the rapid change bindings, it’s easily attainable. Each pair of skis gets a single run.
My quest this trip was to locate a bunch of moderately priced skis that give high performance. Now I’m not talking the kind of performance we expect from the high-end race skis or the top of the line models, but in recent years new materials and construction techniques have worked their way down to lower priced models. Before getting into the various brands it’s important to know about ski pricing. Basically, there are two prices, MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) and MAP (Minimum Advertised Price). The first is what you might see in the ski magazines and on the price tags in shops at Vail, Aspen and Deer Valley. I use MAP because it’s closest to the price you’ll see in local shops.
I can use Volkl as an example and a good place to start because each year they have a separate demo at Mt. Snow on the Monday before the big show. This gives us a look at their skis and allows more time for the other brands once we get to Stratton. My focus this year was on the RTM (Ride the Mountain) series where the popular RTM 84 now has a slightly narrower partner, the RTM 81. This is a better choice for more groomed run skiing and performed well in 176 cms. It’s not on the low price list at $899, but drop down to the 75 at $599 or the 73 at $499 all with Marker Bindings and you find a lot of ski for the money. The MSRP vs MAP example is the RTM, MSRP $1065 and MAP $899.
For my own preference and fun, I also took a run each on the new Racetiger Speedwall, UVO GS (180) and SL (165), $999 with binding. If you like race skis, you’ll like these.
My next stop was Fischer where I skied the Motive 76 at 168 cms. At $649 with binding, this is a ski that would suit most intermediate skiers and many advanced skiers. Obviously no advanced skier will have trouble initiating a turn on a 168 cm ski, but turn the speed up a little and the ski is a solid carver. Drop down to the 74 and it comes with a binding at $499. Both are rockered at the tip for ease of initiation and more forgiveness in powder. Naturally I had to take a run on the RC4 GS, and as expected, I found a ski with a speed limit considerably higher than mine.
Atomic didn’t bring along any race skis so I had to stick to the task of identifying low to mid priced skis with strong performance. In the Nomad series, I skied the Smoke in a 171 ($399 with binding) and the Blackeye in a 174 ($499 with binding). Both skied easily with the Blackeye offering more stability at speed. All but aggressive recreational skiers could be happy on the Atomic Blackeye.
Dynastar’s entry in this category is the Powertrack 79 Fluid X, $499 with bindng. Rossignol’s Experience series has a range from $500 to $750 with the 75 coming in at $500 and the 77 at $600. This is MSRP so you can probably find them for less. Blizzard’s X Power series ranges from the 720 at $399.99, with binding up to the 810 at $899.99 with binding and three models in between at prices and performance for $500, $600 and $700. This is an example of how companies offer a series of skis with graduated performance and pricing.
There were more, but with about 20 ski companies offering over 300 models, we can only check out and list specifically a few, but if you pick a series within a brand you can demo a few and find a ski that will perform at your level and your budget. One general trend was evident. The ski companies are no longer pushing the wider skis here in the East. Most of the skis I tried were less than 80 mms at the waist. The wider models are still there for those who ski off piste, but if you ski the groomed runs, narrower is better.
Day two was fresh snow and impossible to get the feedback from the skis, so after a few runs I checked out boots inside and gathered catalogs. I also stopped by the Scott tent where business was really good. The falling snow was great for trying out new goggles. We’ll get to those and boots at a later date. See you on the slopes.