We've noticed a trend: people are getting bigger just as the technology that serves them is getting smaller. For proof, walk through a typical high school lunchroom, and you'll see hulking, ham-fisted über-teenagers clutching dainty Nokias and fingering tiny Gameboys.
The situation is no different on the World Cup tour. Where once slalom aces like Durrance and Eriksen danced elegantly around bamboo, now linebackers named Hermann and Lasse plow through plastic...on really short, high-tech skis. For those of us who grew up comparing lengths in the liftline ("My GS skis are 210s. How about yours?"), this is a big adjustment.
But the fact remains that race skis, which in most cases are no longer made in lengths above 198 cm, are now better when they're shorter. Much better. The moves some racers can now pull at high speed wouldn't have been possible even three years ago.
Ironically, racers have been among the last to embrace shorter skis. "Racing came to them more slowly than consumers did," says Rossignol's George Couperthwait, "partly because elite skiers find it tough to change their technique. Super-short slalom skis on the World Cup didn't really start showing up until the last year or so. But it's happening as we speak."
That didn't diminish our skepticism when we took our new short slalom skis down North Slope at Stowe on a frigid, post-thaw morning, or when we went out to Beaver Creek to test the latest GS skis. Would the pipsqueak skis arrayed before us really be able to handle our strongest testers? And could you actually freeski on them, or were they twitchy, overbred race specialists that were too exacting for everyday use?
We learned this: Shorter is better, and this year's race skis¿all of them¿are extraordinary. Weeding out losers, we realized, was an exercise in pointless subtlety, so we awarded 20 gold medals: nine in slalom, 11 in GS. What follows are descriptions to help you discern the nuances between models as you make your buy. But relax: With so many good skis, the pressure's off.
Want to go longer? There's no better place to start than the Atomic Beta Race 10.22 Titanium RC ($929, 178-198, 99-62-90). Hermann's whip of choice, the 10.22 rewards courage with fast, comfortable, mach schnell turns. "The most powerful carve in the business," Bigford said. "Sets up for violently beautiful turn after turn after turn," Currier added. Be warned: It's a thoroughbred¿not especially forgiving. "Hang on, and buckle up!" Palmer said.
From the sublime to the sensational: The Dynastar Autodrive Speed Carve ($795, 160-186, 104-63-94) is a brand new construction (a blending of cap fore and aft and vertical sidewalls underfoot with a plate connecting the two). The sum is ultra-easy turn initiation andtotal versatility. "For the freeskier with racing tendencies," McKinney said, "or the racer with wandering eyes." Pelletier agreed: "Just a quick flick of the ankles, and this ski flies, in or out of the course." (Note: An amped-up race-specific version will be in stores this season.)
Meanwhile, back on the World Cup, plenty of racers are kicking derriere with the Elan CRX Integra GS ($650, 176-192, 102-65-90). Lots of capital letters, lots of emphatic responses: "A strong ski for a strong skier," said Palmer about a ski that must be driven, not ridden. "Solid at the apex¿something to bound off of," Livran said. "A totally solid race ski," Forland said. "It loved being loaded up."
Speaking of no compromises (including any for your weaknesses), there's the ultra-strong GS truck, the Fischer Worldcup GS ($795, 176-201, 94-62.5-84.5), which comes with built-in lifter. "Best in course," said Morgan. "Gives a true race-GS feel." (Remember, Morgan's thighs are the size of your waist.) "Strictly race skis," said Livran. "Good, old-fashioned steady streamliners." It's big, it's tough and it's race-only. "Once engaged," said Bigford, "this is a rocket ship."
And now r some calm: "So easy, I could do anything," Lewis said of the glass-smooth, titanium-enhanced Head Cyber WC ($650, 175-195, 107-63-96). "Solid, damp and stable at speed, with a tip-to-tail platform," Morgan said. "It positions you in the right place¿always centered," said Thys. "Great for any weather, any conditions and big, big speeds." Give it a little velocity, and enjoy the smooth ride.
What's in a name? Consider the American-made action-thriller, the K2 Patriot GT6 ($775, 174-195, 103-65-91). "It's big, broad-shouldered and powerful," said Currier. "What a platform!" And it fairly "leaps" from turn to turn, said Pelletier. The longer length (188 cm) compensated for the GT6's quick energy with a nice, big feel. It's well-suited to lighter, more active racers who demand plenty of rebound. "Best when skied aggressively," said Forland.
"It's the perfect Eastern GS race ski," Palmer said of the Nordica K 0.0 ($999, 178-198, 97-63-85). "Tenacious edge-hold and power to accelerate across the hill." Delliquadri agreed: "Great turner when large direction changes are called for." The 0.0 is not a freeski, but it's nice if you want to race on "four studded snows," said Morgan.
All right, so Forland called the damp, powerful Rossignol 9X Pro 10.2 ($769, 170-196, 102-64-93) the "Nynex" on her test card, but she may have had a point: You can dial in the turns on this automatic, snow-hugging GS sled. "Strong like bull," said Bigford. "The more you put in, the more it gives back." But remember to "stay on 'em," Livran warned, or they won't pop you into the next turn.
Or, consider one of the smoothest GS skis in the test, the gently explosive, uniquely shaped Salomon Equipe 10 2V Poweraxe ($725, 172-188, 97-66-100). "Easy and spunky," McKinney said, "but still full of energy." The 2V's 66-mm waist is wide and stable, and its tail is actually 3 mm wider than its tip¿great for "milking" the end of the turn for speed. Delliquadri loved its "unique feel¿locked into the snow, but not stuck. And in the course? Wow, automatic." Great even for first-time Masters racers.
And then there's the smoothest ski in the GS race ski test, the Volant T3 Super ($789, 178-193, 100-64.5-90), which inspired lust. "Smooth, calm and hot," said Forland. "It's predictable and sweet, yet with great explosiveness out of the gates." The steel topskin makes the Super ultra-damp, but not slow¿perfect for Masters racers or big-mountain cruisers. "Less aggressive racers will love it," said Thys. Just stand over the middle and let it do the work.
Finally, there's the adrenaline-hopped, classic GS with the new shape, the Völkl P40 F1 energYrail ($825, 168-198, 102-65-88). "Ausgezeignet!" exclaimed Pelletier after a run on thisexplosive, edgy, powerful GS specialist. "Type A," said McKinney. "An intense performer," said Lewis. "It's best in the middle of the turn," said Morgan, "with dynamic energy release off that rail." His wife, Edith, put it more directly: "A racehorse. No pony ride here."
Numbers following model names are: manufacturer's suggested retail price, lengths available (in cm) and tip-waist-tail dimensions (in mm).
SPECIAL THANKS to Stowe Mountain Resort and Today's Edge ski shop in Stowe.-time U.S. downhill champion; World Championship downhill bronze medalist.
SPECIAL THANKS to Stowe Mountain Resort and Today's Edge ski shop in Stowe.