A technical primer for the rest of us

By Polly Lynn

Jason Mikula enjoys a day on the slope at Killington Resort earlier this season. “It was man-made but glorious,” he said.

By Karen D. Lorentz

If you’re an expert, you may not need to read this. On the other hand, if you are in the market for demo-ing or purchasing new skis or even thinking about taking lessons and learning, this “A-B-C” info might be helpful—at least the shop person I spoke with recently thought so.

So, ladies and gents, read on.

All skis are designed with some shape or sidecut to them. If you set a “straight” or conventional ski (read: old ski with parallel sides) on its edge on the snow, the ski would “carve” a gradual curve in the snow. If you did this without pressuring or flexing the ski, it would have a turn radius of approximately 50 meters (roughly 150 feet). If you pressured or flexed the ski, the turn would carve a shorter radius turn (you increase the curve).

Because most skiers lack the strength and/or technique to carve all the way through the turn, most skiers skid their turns to one degree or another. The shaped super-sidecut skis, which came along in the 1990s, with the most radical sidecut (like Elan’s SCX or the Rossignol 10.4) could inscribe a 15-meter turn when placed on edge. When flexed, they could carve a turn with an even shorter radius.

Since most skiers don’t take lessons, the vast majority out on the slopes aren’t actually using the shaped ski to its fullest potential and are still skidding turns. This isn’t a big deal for recreational skiers because they just have to put the ski on edge to have it turn fairly effortlessly and have fun. It’s like having the bigger sweet spot on the oversized tennis racquets or the new, bigger heads on golf clubs.

For those who want to get into true carving, lessons are helpful, as instructors show how to finish the turns, and once the skill is picked up, it makes a difference as the skier carves the whole turn.

Getting the “feel of the carve” is just the first step in the use of the new ski shape. Bill Irwin, who introduced the shaped ski to America, likened it to “learning to crawl before one walks.” Once one gets the feel of the pure carve, instructors go on to teach how to feather (or guide) the ski throughout the carve to control the radius of the carve.

Gaining that skill puts the user of the shaped skis into a position of control and finesse for a graceful elegance with the wow! factor.

Today, there is a huge difference in shapes, widths, and flex patterns with a ski for every terrain and type of skier. Additionally, recent developments in camber and rocker and combinations of the two complicate the choice of new skis.

Bottom line: lessons can be a good idea for anyone who aspires to become a better skier. And if purchasing new skis, be sure to talk with a knowledgeable salesperson!

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