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.
Of course, we couldn't help snickering a little when we first saw the bright yellow Atomic Beta Race 9.16 Hyper Carbon SL ($695, 160-180, 106-62-95). Why? The 9.16 starts at 160 cm. But "short" here meant quick and ultra-stable. "It's really just a short carver with world-class slalom energy," Lewis said. "Ski it strong and two-footed, right over the middle, and it flies like the wind," said David Merriam. Bigford agreed: "The most solid platform in the test. Unflappable. Huge energy."
And Atomic's slithery, versatile shorty wasn't the only big surprise in the test. At a mere 162 cm, the Dynastar Speed STc Deviator ($725, 162-182, 103-63-91), with its tip deflectors and vertical sidewalls, was a top performer in both gates and freeskiing. "A blast," said Thys. "A new slalom machine that responds to old slalom technique, but with incredible rebound." Bigford called the supple, versatile STc "a souped-up pogo stick." McGrath said, simply, "Fun, fun, fun! Great slalom race ski and a great freeskiing ski."
The Elan SLX World Cup ($725, 163-173, 100-62-86) also thrived in and out of the course. "Don't hit this subtle ski too hard," Cutts said, "but if you can stay light on your feet, it's a lively, all-mountain ski that has surprising stability and grip in the course." Best for lighter, "touch" skiers, the SLX "even arcs longer turns like a dream," Campbell said, "and lets you adjust your arc in progress."
In many ways, the Accelerator-plate-enhanced Fischer Worldcup SC ($750, 161-181, 102-63-90) was the opposite—demanding big energy and "a working of the ski from tip to tail," as Pfosi-Merriam said. "But if you can hold on, you can let it buck you from turn to turn," she added. Campbell especially liked the way the SC, which starts at 161 cm, "stays damp and strong in a rough rut. But it's primarily for racing, not freeskiing."
Head's Slalom WC Ti ($690, 160-180, 109-62-97) is "great to freeski," id Lewis, "but its amazing energy is wasted on low-level skiers." The key: Its wood core and "Full Metal Jacket" (a core-enveloping layer of titanium) allow it to "hook up readily and predictably on longer turns," Cutts said. The Slalom was one of the most forgiving in the test, though not one of the quickest. It's an excellent cruiser, best in more open slaloms.
That brings us to the edgy, born-ready slalom specialist, the K2 M6 SSL ($700, 160-174, 99-65-88). "Sneaky strong," Campbell said. "A great, nearly pure race ski that loves short, snappy turns," said Pfosi-Merriam. Strongest in the course, the lively M6 provides unfiltered slalom thrills. "Best in the gates," McGrath said, "because it's fun and easy. But not for big-mountain cruising." Thys agreed: "In big, wide arcs, it can be a ski on the verge of a nervous breakdown."
But not the incredibly versatile Rossignol T-Power 9S Deviator ($769, 150-174, 102-65-92), which starts at 150 cm (Lilliput, mon amour!) and only goes up to 174 cm. This ski cooks with gas in any size arc. "It's super quick and powerful in short turns," Bigford said. "But also in long ones. A great ice ski that if you prepare properly, it rewards you with incredible energy." Others loved the 9S's versatility. "Does all you'd expect from a race ski, but it's a pleasure to freeski, too," Campbell said.
And then there's the smooth Salomon Equipe 10 3V Poweraxe ($725, 168-176, 103-62-90), the shorty slalom with the long name. And the technology (Prolink dampening arms, double-walled titanium-reinforced monocoque body) that keeps on giving. "A quiet, solidfinesse slalom ski," Merriam said. "Not a ton of pop, but precise," said Campbell. Perfect for Masters racers: "Incredibly forgiving, and quick without feeling hyper," Thys said.
Last, but certainly not least, is Völkl's SL Carver energY ($695, 163-177, 105-65-93), which starts as short as 163 cm but skis "solidly and reassuringly, even at top speed," said Morgan. "This is for the full-on slalom junkie, because it's so solid underfoot you can do anything and still feel secure." Delliquadri was left asking, "Where was this ski when I was racing?" All testers thought the Völkl was as good as any in the test at making slalom turns, both in and out of the course.
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.r>
SPECIAL THANKS to Stowe Mountain Resort and Today's Edge ski shop in Stowe.