In a few weeks I’ll be at Stratton Mountain in Vermont. It’s an annual trek that I’ve taken for more years than I wish to count. I know it started with so-called straight skis, in the traditional lengths (male slalom and giant slalom models were 200-210 cms — a 210 is about 7 feet) and, aside from the race models, there were a few combis and a handful of recreational models. This year, there will be more than 300 models from the top 10 or so ski companies. In two days, I will do well to get on 10 percent of them.

This annual routine was brought to mind when I reread an article on SKI Magazine’s annual ski tests. As usual in my first reading, I had skipped ahead to see how their ratings compared with mine. Naturally, I was interested in my favorite skis. They weren’t there! That should come as no surprise, as my favorite skis are all race skis. Does that mean I’m a racer? No. While I occasionally get in some gates and enjoy the challenge, most of my skiing is cruising down groomed runs. I like the solid feel of a slalom or giant-slalom ski carving turns down the fall line. Race skis are designed to be skied the way I like to ski. And they hold on ice.

But in recent seasons they are becoming increasingly harder to find.

The reasons are as many as there are models. But perhaps this test tells us one reason.

The piece started with a quiz of sorts to help you find “the ski you need.” There were 16 true or false questions. A score of 15-16 would make you a “high expert.” 8-14 expert and 0-7 an intermediate. I hope no skiers go by these results. The first question on this true or false quiz was, “You enjoy fresh corduroy”. Who doesn’t? The second question, “When you tackle legit blacks it’s not just survival skiing”. That certainly separates intermediates from advanced skiers. Notice I didn’t use the term expert. An ex is a has been and a spurt is a drip under pressure (Webster). Who wants to admit to being a has been drip under pressure?

The one that really got to me was “You drop at least one toe nail each season”. I know a lot of expert skiers, many of them professionals. They have such carefully fitted boots that such things would never occur. As I went through the quiz and the various categories I realized that the results would be unlikely to fit my choice of skis and I was right.

The category of ski that most suited my type of skiing according to the SKI ratings were the speed skis. That made sense as I already noted my preference for race skis, so I turned to the pages with the speed skis. Their recommendations were “wasp-waisted (70-80 mm). What? The narrowest ski listed was 72 mm at the waist. My slalom skis are 65 mm, my GS models are 68 and my combis (GS flex, SL sidecut) 67.

Digging further into the categories and skis listed, I found that these were indeed the narrowest skis. The Freeride skis ranged from 84 mm to 97 mm, Cruisers 78-82 with the exception of the Dynastar Contact Cross TI, Intermediates, 74-82 and no surprise, Powder Wide 94-102. We might as well face it. Skis are getting wider. The difference between a GS at 68 mm and a recreational ski at 72-74 is not that great, but when they are 80 mm plus the difference is easily felt.

To adjust for the difference, Marker has the Wide Ride binding which allows the skier to pressure the edges of a wider ski. While I have skied with this binding, it has never been for several days to feel out different conditions and terrain. This will happen this month on a pair of 80 mm waisted skis. At the same time, I will be switching back and forth to my regular race models to get a good comparison.

There are a number of skis in the 70-80 mm waist sizes that do hold very well on hard pack and carve nicely on fresh corduroy. They are not as quick, edge to edge, as the race skis which is not surprising.

What does all this mean to you? If you’re ready for new skis, it’s more important than ever to demo. If you do most of your skiing on groomed runs, you don’t need wider skis. If you ski on ungroomed runs or in the trees, consider the wider models, but not more than 80 mm here in the East. Having skied the fat skis in deep powder, I wouldn’t go heli or cat skiing without them, but I do 90 percent of my skiing in the Northeast and I can ski any powder we get with GS skis.

My advice is to find a way to try some skis in more traditional widths and some wider models on the kind of snow you ski most of the time. If it’s groomed snow, pick that day. If you ski more in the trees or ungroomed runs, ski there. Find the ski that works best where you ski most of the time. And don’t be afraid of race skis. A number of companies have skis with race ski dimensions that are more forgiving than the more aggressive full race models. When I get to Stratton in a few weeks I’ll be looking for models made for skiing groomed runs that hold on the hard stuff, the kind of skis most of us need here in Maine.


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