by Alan Brown
If You're in the Market for New Skis, Read On
Clive Grainger from Ellis Brigham talked to us in November about the latest offerings from the major manufacturers. He was well qualified to - Brigham's stock more brands than most, and Clive had had experience of this season's models in Portes du Soleil at the end of last season. And to keep everyone interested, he punctuated his talk with little gems.
He started by showing us the new concept from Salomon - a ski with an integral binding mounted on the sides rather than the top - the Salomon Scream 10 Pilot. This has the advantage of transferring all the turning forces that the skier applies directly to the edges, and allows the ski to flex naturally along its entire length - the binding doesn't restrict that all important flex in the middle of the ski. Features apart, he described it as very strong and an all-mountain free ride ski. Despite all these features, Clive thought the ski was unnecessary for most of us. It'd be too hard work and we'd save money further down the range. He'd go for the Scream 8 Pilot, which has the same integrated binding, but is more forgiving. Personally, I was a little disappointed that the production model of the 10 wasn't the lovely moss green of the test version I'd tried in St Moritz. No apologies for name dropping - I'd found them similar to the Series ( more later ), but it was a soft-snow day where they're supposed to shine, and they are expensive!
Gem One : each manufacturer is using different strategies for dampening vibrations. Salomon have developed Softex and added it to the laminate of the surface of the ski, whereas Head have a sort of pump / piston system and K2 convert the energy of the unwanted vibrations to flashing lights as used in advanced aircraft technologies. And cynical me just thought it was all gimmicks! Apparently it is these developments that have enabled all the manufacturers to reduce lengths. With carvers, Clive skis 20cms down (as I do ) and finds the shorter skis just as stable and there is improved edge hold because the edge of all the ski is now working whilst previously, the tip was just an enormous dampening device.
At the other end of the Salomon range is the Verse 9, which is a good stable piste-based ski though its wide platform allows relative newcomers to try the powder.
Gem Two : carving skies in general and free-riders in particular are actively encouraged by resorts. They enable all skiers to get away from the piste - because they are easier to handle in powder - and this has the effect of spreading skiers more thinly over the mountain. As a result resorts can accommodate more people and generate more income! Less commercially, carvers do help newer skiers get off the intermediate plateau although they need a subtly different style - less weighting and more working of the edges. Or is this all just more work for the ski schools as we all learn how to ski again ? ...
When he started covering Rossignols, Clive added that a 9 stone lady should be looking for skis no longer than 140 ... The Bandit X is aimed at skiing 70 % on and 30 off piste. It pulls into turns very effectively on piste, is versatile, quiet and easy to use. The Bandit XX has similar characteristics but floats better being aimed at 50 on 50 off skiers.
Clive quickly covered ski boarding ( skis which you use in terrain parks having fun with the real boarders with jumps and other death-attracting tricks ). If you must, buy a Salomon 720 : the 1080 of last year is top of the range, but not as forgiving. I skied with someone on 1080s last year, and they seemed to work very well as a conventional ski - even in hard icy conditions - though it was probably the skier's skill rather than the skis' performance which made it all look easy.
Gem Three : buy a ski you can develop into, but don't overbuy - you may never get there! And do buy boots : they're the most important part of our kit. Trust a good boot fitter and never buy a boot which is too big. And wear your boots for up to 4 hours a day before you go, so your feet don't have too great a shock on Day 1!
Mid-range, Clive liked the Head Cyber X-60. Although it's ok all mountain, it is piste oriented. Good all round and very forgiving. Fine if you want to spend most of the time on groomed pistes where it is very light, easy to use and confidence building. The DRS 102 Ice is the Fischer equivalent.
Gem Four : the next step up in ski technology will be the move away from solid cores and torsion boxes to hollow plastic skis ...
Then Clive showed us his favourite. He was quick to point out that although he's sponsored by K2, this had not influenced his choice ... He loved K2's Mod X. It suited his penchant for off-piste, but with the flashing lights, it stayed glued to the snow whatever the conditions. He found that the Mod X made initiating turns a little easier than the long-running standard setter from Salomon, the X-Scream Series. Mmm.
Despite all the detail, many of us still felt unsure about what would be right for us as individuals. Clive had described each ski and its characteristics as well as he could, but I for one was never really sure at what level he was directing his advice. The old adages still appear to hold true - "You get what you pay for" and "Try before you buy". Good hunting and don't forget to ask for Club discounts in the right shops!