Is equipment too expensive?
Manufacturers do little to dispel that perception, often hyping only their high-end skis and pricing them to shock at $700 and up. That leaves it up to us to talk about the great skis and boots that are offered at prices that don't dampen the fun.
Yes, high-performance bargains do exist. In fact, thanks to the sidecut revolution in skis, gear has never been better. Manufacturers are making terrific product at reasonable prices¿some of it better than anything you could buy at any price five years ago.
Identifying the best deals was simple: For each gold-medal-wining model we tested (check newsstands in November and December, when the SKI Buyer's Guide 2000 is reissued), we divided its performance score by its suggested retail price. The results uncovered what we believe to be the best gear you can buy at a modest price. And, if you shop around, you'll likely find this equipment at 10 percent to 25 percent off MSRP.
K2 Black Magic
$480, 99-65-88, 168-193 cm
Super-sidecuts are still fairly new, but this shape is already a classic. Built on the same chassis as the legendary K2 Four, the Black Magic only lacks K2's electronic vibration dampener. That makes it less expensive and livelier. The Black Magic led our Player category in quickness and rebound energy, making it a natural for bumps and slalom turns, while its shape and generous waist make carving the corduroy a breeze, too. Magic? At this price, yes.
$459, 104-67-93, 160-191 cm
The Rebel works on two levels. On soft groomers, it's solid, stable and forgiving, and its deep sidecut begs to carve. But when you're ready for the plunge, it will lead you confidently off-trail¿and stay there happily all day¿thanks to its big footprint. Now, here's the real beauty: While the Rebel was a performance leader in its Player category, it sells for $15 to $115 less than any other medal winner.
Atomic Pro Race 6.20 Jr.
$149, 88-66-81, 90-110 cm or $179, 91-66-84, 120-150 cm
Hats off to Atomic for giving families a break. Not only was this kids' ski the highest-rated in its category, it was the lowest priced among all medal-winners. The Pro Race 6.20 is extremely versatile, with a stable waist, manageable flex and just enough sidecut to carve a turn without locking in. No wonder our kid testers were arguing over who got to try it next.
Dolomite FX 1 Race $450
This one was predictable. Under new management, Dolomite cut prices right down the line. The result: a great value for demanding experts. The Race didn't dominate its tough All-Mountain Expert/ Freerider category. But consider this: It retails for $450 (down from $595 last year); the average price of all other medal winners was $560. Testers found it "strong, snappy and explosive," with terrific rearward support and a forward-lean angle that positions you to succeed.
Raichle F1 RC/Rev $499
Perhaps no construction better suits a skier-type than the Raichle shell-tongue suits the All-Mountain Cruiser. In a Raichle, the tongue is an integral part of the shell and thus of the boot's performance. Its flex is unique and unmistakable, loading up smoothly as the skier enters the belly of the turn, then springing back between turns. The F1 was the runaway winner of its category (admired even by experts), with a middle-of-the-pack price. It's a smooth boot at a very cool cost.
Tecnica Duo 90 $325
The Tecnica folks, normally a sharp bunch, blew it with this one: The Duo is underpriced. Their loss is your gain. Positioned as a low-end boot, the brand-new Duo ranked No. 3 in our Aspiring Carver/Player category, where all but two of the medal winners cost $400 or more. Styling, fit annd finish are all first-rate, and the Duo is loaded with features¿adjustable cant, ski-walk, vibration filter¿that normally jack up the cost. Then again, maybe those guys aren't so dumb.