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Powder Skis: Cheaters Win

Powder Skis: Cheaters Win

Gear
By Joe Cutts
posted: 03/05/2001

They were cheater skis for rich fat guys¿great big corpulent water skis that no self-respecting expert powder hound would be caught dead on at Jackson Hole or Alpine Meadows.

That's how much respect "fat-boy" powder skis, as they were invariably called, got from the die-hard skiing community in their early days. But they had their place. For by clicking into a pair of these portly planks, out-of-shape heli-skiing vacationers could manage a few turns in the pow without too much wheezing and flailing before their guides steered them back to the chalet for more red meat and cognac.

The guides knew that the more runs their clients could make, the greater their customers' egos, satisfaction and, most important, daily vertical. And the greater their daily vertical, of course, the more you could charge them. Now that's cheating.

But then a paradigm shift occurred in the course of a single winter. Picture yourself on a 45-degree face in Alaska, five years ago. You're linking jump turns on your trusty all-mountain expert skis, controlling speed nicely, managing your slough and generally thinking you're looking pretty rad out there, when suddenly ... whoosh. There goes Jeremy Nobis, the former U.S. team racer, linking super G arcs atop the bottomless powder, skimming along at 50 mph like it's just another wide-open groomer at Vail. In seconds, he's a speck, straight-lining the runout a thousand feet below you.

How does he do it? In a word: width. Using those same skis designed as training wheels for powder babies, athletes like Nobis and Shane McConkey took big-mountain powder skiing to a new level, hitting speeds unheard of before then. Naturally, these guys were possessed of uncommon natural ability (and in both cases, a great deal of race training), but clearly, the right equipment was enabling them to do things never done before on a big-mountain face.

What makes a good powder ski? Waist widths range all the way to 106 mm. "Some degree of sidecut is OK," says Dynastar's Tait Wardlaw, "but in the more radical big-mountain applications, too much just becomes hooky." And that's the last thing a skier wants in a tight couloir, where an overly shapely ski will be reluctant to skid off speed or obediently straight-line.

A soft forebody keeps the tip from plunging, though today's powder skis possess enough torsional and longitudinal stiffness to handle gnarly windblown and ice. Most have two sheets of metal, for quiet, supple flex and edge-bite when it's needed.

"You're basically looking for the same skiing characteristics that you'd want in a ski on firm snow, but you want those characteristics translated to powder skiing," says Volkl's Geoff Curtis. "You want the ski to be lively, to be fun. You want nice progressive flex in and out of the turn, nice rebeound, all that. You want some additional level of comfort in deep snow, but you want it to ski like a ski, not a plank."

Cheater skis? You'd better believe it. And if you don't want to hold up the group on your next trip to the Chugach, you'd better get a pair.Here's a look at what's available for 2001-02.

ATOMIC

Beta Ride 10.EX
118-84-110
168, 177, 184, 191, 198 cm
$795
With an 84-mm waist, the 10.EX qualifies as a fairly narrow powder ski. Atomic ensures that it will perform on the hard-pack as well, giving it a fairly tight 23-meter radius and all the super-damp edge grip the Austrian ski-maker is famous for.

Powder Ride
130-104-120 (At 190)
160, 170, 180,190
$525
For years, Atomic owned this category (partly, it must be said, because no one else really wanted it). Year after year, it conquered the Powder 8 championships¿the Super Bowl equivalent for competitive powder skiers. The Powder Ride inherits the tradition, with a full-fat waist. (There's actually an even wider version, the Heli Star, not offered in this country, thgh a dealer might be able to special order it.) Construction: wood core, horizontal laminates with cap on top. Note: Atomic modifies tip and tail widths to keep radii constant at about 23 m from length to length.

DYNASTAR

Intuitiv Big
115-85-107 (at 194 cm)
178, 188, 194 cm
$700
How big is the Big? The shop guys have taken to calling it "the Rhino Chaser," if that gives you any idea. Wood-core, laminate construction, with two sheets of metal. Notched "swallowtail" makes tail section more manageable. Another nice touch: Dynastar modifies tip-waist-tail dimensions for different lengths, in order to maintain a consistent sidecut radius as well as to offer an appropriate size for larger and smaller skiers. At 178 cm, the dimensions are 110-78-100; at 188, they're 112-80-102.

FISCHER

Big Stix 106
135-106-123
160, 170, 180,190 cm
$750
Who knows deep-powder skiing better than heli-guides? No one, which is why Fischer enlisted employees of Mike Wiegele's outfit in the development of its wide offerings, especially this one, the super wide Big Stix. The Big Stix is a new offering from Fischer. For such a huge ski, the radius is quite tight: 25 meters in the 180 length. And because there's no metal in the layup, the feel is light and lively, as opposed to damp and stable. Construction: wood core laminate, with fiberglass layers.

Big Stix 84
116-84-103
181, 186, 191 cm
$675
The 84, now a year old, was the first big-mountain ski for Fischer¿a welcome break away from the company's racing/hard-snow excellence of the past. Also developed with help from the Wiegele guides, it trades off ultra-deep-snow performance for the realities of everyday skiing. With an 84-mm waist, it is a more credible offering for someone planning to own just one pair of skis that goes everywhere. Construction: wood-core laminate with fiberglass layers.

HEAD

Monster Cross
117-85-107
180, 193 cm
$700
"Ideal for beating your boarding buddies to the bottom," says Head of its widest offering, the Monster. X-Frame technology channels the skiers weight to the edges, and a 23-meter sidecut radius, ensures this ski carves the hard-pack as well as any 85-mm waist ever will. The result feels like classic Austrian ski engineering, stable and damp, ready to take on the biggest mountains and the deepest snow. Construction: Wood-core laminate with two sheets of titanium.

K2

AK Launcher
119-88-105
165, 180, 190, 195 cm
$675
With a sidecut depth of just 12 mm (a 25-meter radius in the 181 cm length), the Launcher is K2's straightest offering, a reflection of the thinking that big-mountain adventurers don't need or want a great deal of sidecut. Better to have a ski that won't hook up too suddenly when the pilot is surfing high-speed arcs down a steep powder face, or when he or she is attempting to skid off speed in a narrow chute. Like most K2s, the metal-free torsion-box layup favors quickness and liveliness over stability and dampness. It's a matter of preference. Construction: wood-core torsion box with fiberglass laminates.

AK Enemy
118-90-108
188 cm
$750
Essentially the same ski as the Launcher, with different graphics and twin-tips. In deep powder, the turned-up tail releases more readily at the end of the turn and smoothing the transition to the next. Of course, it also ably serves the true daredevil entertaining thoughts of launching cornices fakey. Construction: wood-core torsion box with fiberglass laminates.

NORDICA

W 105
125-105-115
170, 180 cm
$749
Yikes: What a beast. With a 105 waist, the W 105 won't be winning any new-school slalom carving competitions any time soon, but what it trades off on hard-pack, it more than makes up for with deep snow flotation and big-ski stability. Note that the sidecut radius is a super-straight 37 meters in the 170 cm length¿similar to the GS skis of 10 years ago. Again, it's evidence that ski designers are hearing from the big-mountain riders that too much sidecut is of no use in a steep-and-deep situation, especially at high speeds or in tight spots. Construction: wood-core laminate with two sheets of titanium.

W 80
112-80-102
178, 188, 198 cm
$699
Here's Nordica's offering for real people (as opposed to Alaska heli-guides). With a sensible 80 mm waist, the W 80 is a credible everyday ski for skiers who spend most of their days on relatively soft (ie. Western) snow. The Gel Driver vibration dampener and a pretty tight sidecut radius (22 at 178) ensure as much edge-grip and carvability as can be expected in a 80-mm waist width. It still has plenty of float for the big-dump days, though. Especially in that monstrous 198 length. Construction: wood core cap.

ROSSIGNOL

Bandit XXX
123-90-110
178, 185, 195 cm
$739
Rossi's biggest big-mountain ski got even bigger this year. The XXX is wider from tip to tail, with an extra 5 mm at the waist (old dimensions: 115-85-104). The sidecut radius remains about the same, though more ski means enhanced flotation in deep snow. Also new this year: a turned up tail for smoother turn release. Construction: Integral Dualtec (a combination of laminate with vertical sidewalls on the bottom and cap on top) with two sheets of metal.

SALOMON

Pocket Rocket
122-90-115
165, 175, 180 cm
$775
In its trendy blue Pocket Rocket, Salomon attempts to meld two key qualities into what it calls a "new-school backcountry" category. With its prodigious waist width, the Rocket obviously will excel in deep snow. But in designing it, the company also wanted a ski possessed of the traits that make going huge as easy as possible. Note that the 180 is the maximum length. If you care to huck backwards, you can do that too, thanks to the turned up tail. The sidecut is fairly aggressive for such a big ski, at 18 meters. Construction: Cap with metal laminates.

VOLANT

Machete Huckster
110-92-102
183, 193 cm
$749
As far as fat skis for deep powder, Volant got with the program early on with the Chubb (below), but the new Huckster takes fat to new levels. Designed with input from Volant athlete Shane McConkey, it's wide enough to skim in the deepest pow, with a very straight sidecut (48-meter radius) that wants to go down the hill, not across it. Add to that its twin-tip design and you're ready land big airs fakey. OK, Shane is; but you can dream. Construction: Volant's unique steel cap with wood core.

Gravity Chubb
112-87-104
168, 178, 188 cm
$599
One of the originals, the Chubb made its reputation long ago, as the first powder ski (introduced in 1994) aimed at skiers who are more likely to ride a ski lift than a helicopter to get to the goods. Volant, wisely, has toyed with it little over the ensuing years. Like the heli-oriented Huckster, it gets a new tailbar (the cap at the very end that holds it all together) made of rugged aluminum, for durability. And, of course, a new look. But by and large, it's the same made-in-the-USA Chubb that's been surfing deep pow since fat was a dirty word. Construction: Steel cap with wood core.

VOLKL

V Exlposive
120-95-112
165, 180, 190 cm
$695
Volkl was an early adopter of the fat ski concept. The Explosive debuted in the 1994-95 season, and was strictly regarded as a cheater ski. Following a brief hiatus, when it was not brought into the U.S., it's back in the lineup¿virtually uncht what it trades off on hard-pack, it more than makes up for with deep snow flotation and big-ski stability. Note that the sidecut radius is a super-straight 37 meters in the 170 cm length¿similar to the GS skis of 10 years ago. Again, it's evidence that ski designers are hearing from the big-mountain riders that too much sidecut is of no use in a steep-and-deep situation, especially at high speeds or in tight spots. Construction: wood-core laminate with two sheets of titanium.

W 80
112-80-102
178, 188, 198 cm
$699
Here's Nordica's offering for real people (as opposed to Alaska heli-guides). With a sensible 80 mm waist, the W 80 is a credible everyday ski for skiers who spend most of their days on relatively soft (ie. Western) snow. The Gel Driver vibration dampener and a pretty tight sidecut radius (22 at 178) ensure as much edge-grip and carvability as can be expected in a 80-mm waist width. It still has plenty of float for the big-dump days, though. Especially in that monstrous 198 length. Construction: wood core cap.

ROSSIGNOL

Bandit XXX
123-90-110
178, 185, 195 cm
$739
Rossi's biggest big-mountain ski got even bigger this year. The XXX is wider from tip to tail, with an extra 5 mm at the waist (old dimensions: 115-85-104). The sidecut radius remains about the same, though more ski means enhanced flotation in deep snow. Also new this year: a turned up tail for smoother turn release. Construction: Integral Dualtec (a combination of laminate with vertical sidewalls on the bottom and cap on top) with two sheets of metal.

SALOMON

Pocket Rocket
122-90-115
165, 175, 180 cm
$775
In its trendy blue Pocket Rocket, Salomon attempts to meld two key qualities into what it calls a "new-school backcountry" category. With its prodigious waist width, the Rocket obviously will excel in deep snow. But in designing it, the company also wanted a ski possessed of the traits that make going huge as easy as possible. Note that the 180 is the maximum length. If you care to huck backwards, you can do that too, thanks to the turned up tail. The sidecut is fairly aggressive for such a big ski, at 18 meters. Construction: Cap with metal laminates.

VOLANT

Machete Huckster
110-92-102
183, 193 cm
$749
As far as fat skis for deep powder, Volant got with the program early on with the Chubb (below), but the new Huckster takes fat to new levels. Designed with input from Volant athlete Shane McConkey, it's wide enough to skim in the deepest pow, with a very straight sidecut (48-meter radius) that wants to go down the hill, not across it. Add to that its twin-tip design and you're ready land big airs fakey. OK, Shane is; but you can dream. Construction: Volant's unique steel cap with wood core.

Gravity Chubb
112-87-104
168, 178, 188 cm
$599
One of the originals, the Chubb made its reputation long ago, as the first powder ski (introduced in 1994) aimed at skiers who are more likely to ride a ski lift than a helicopter to get to the goods. Volant, wisely, has toyed with it little over the ensuing years. Like the heli-oriented Huckster, it gets a new tailbar (the cap at the very end that holds it all together) made of rugged aluminum, for durability. And, of course, a new look. But by and large, it's the same made-in-the-USA Chubb that's been surfing deep pow since fat was a dirty word. Construction: Steel cap with wood core.

VOLKL

V Exlposive
120-95-112
165, 180, 190 cm
$695
Volkl was an early adopter of the fat ski concept. The Explosive debuted in the 1994-95 season, and was strictly regarded as a cheater ski. Following a brief hiatus, when it was not brought into the U.S., it's back in the lineup¿virtually unchanged from early iterations. Construction: Wood core torsion-box with two sheets of metal.unchanged from early iterations. Construction: Wood core torsion-box with two sheets of metal.

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