With its impossibly short turning radius-12 meters-and impossibly brief choice of lengths-from 140 cm to 170 cm-the ATOMIC BETA RACE 9.12 might sound like a lightweight shortie. But there should be no question about the rock-solid, lifter-clad 9.12's stature in the course, where it was No. 2 in both Hard-Snow Grip and Race-Course Performance. "While you'd have to be strong technically to freeski this model," said Bigford, "it delivers true World Cup race-ski performance in the gates." Best technique for the thigh-burning 9.12? "Squat thrusts," Livran said. "It's an athletic, speed-hungry ski."
Then there's the lighter-than-air BLIZZARD SLR, a new entry from a venerable name in the sport. Those who follow the World Cup know that the Austrian women have dominated on Blizzards. The SLR, though, is not built for the hard-charging folks from St. Anton but rather for "the lighter-skiing Nastar racer or the more catlike skier," Payne said.
"A very friendly feel," Livran said, "for a slalom ski; perhaps not ready for full combat if you have a heavy technique."
Speaking of skis for racers with a light touch, one returning medallist from last year-the DYNASTAR SPEED STC -continues to wow testers with its easy transition from softer, gentler freeskiing turns to the take-no-prisoner arcs it lays down in gates. "A great combination of full-on race ski and freeski," said Forland. McGrath loved the way it rewarded "the best of both old and new techniques.
Really flawless." One of the sweetest-turning slalom skis in the test (and No. 3 in Forgiveness), the Speed STC's 63-mm waist and Titanal-reinforced wood core give it "turn-on-a-dime quickness," Kristi Brown said.
Unlike the Dynastar, the ELAN SLX WORLD CUP -which, as tested, matches identically the skis you'd find under the feet of racers like Mitja Kunc-benefited from a modern technique only. "These are spunky, sensitive thoroughbreds that like to be laid over on edge," said Lyons about this vertical-sidewall ski. "It has a nice, light feel with a heavy bite up by the tip," agreed Livran, "as long as you stand over the middle and ride the edge."
A more versatile on-course/off-course slalom ski is the lightning-quick FISCHER WORLD CUP SC, which scored third in the test in both Long Turns and Forgiveness. Delliquadri found it "smooth and easy." Remarkable? Yes: Fischer has made a name for itself among SKI Magazine testers recently for its race-ready solidity underfoot. The SC surprised us. "I stayed forward in tight sections of the course," Payne said, "but I didn't need to; I could also be loose and comfortable in a neutral stance."
The HEAD SLALOM WORLD CUP Ti is another thoroughbred with multiple talents: If you have a fire in your belly for racing but a budget for badminton, consider the Head, which, for the right skier, doubles as a GS ski. "If there were a race that combined super G, GS and slalom, this ski would rock everybody's world," said Lyons. She called it "a GS ski in a slalom ski's body."
You want stability and all-mountain thrills? Consider the K2 MACH S, an ultra-short but very high-tech dual-core ski with K2's Mod technology-finally, an answer to all those experts who complained that there's no all-mountain slalom ski. This is it, in spades. "Stay balanced over the center of the foot," Forland said, "and you can take this ski anywhere." It hugs the snow, but also "gives back consistent energy all over the hill," said Payne, "not just in the course."
In many ways, the KNEISSL S1X is like the American ski above: "You have to ski new-school arcs and not those quick-hit J-turns," said Delliquadri. The Kneissl is more of "a course-only sled," said Bigford. "Can really jet on you if you get back, and it won't put up with mistakes." Long, fast turns are its strong suit.
Not a few racers lament the passing of the Kastle brand-particularly for that company's support of velocity junkies; but never fear,, Nordica's here. Tied for No. 2 in Stability at Speed, the NORDICA K11 SL "felt nicely damp," said Forland. "There might not be tons of pop here, but it's very forgiving." Lyons noted that "heavier, beefcake types who love to really drive a ski will like its slinky, snaky arcs." One warning from Livran, though: "There's no bailing on a turn early without consequences."
The ski with the No. 1 Overall score in the test was the ROSSIGNOL T-POWER 9S. Rossi was at the forefront of the shaped slalom ski revolution-with the 9S Pro. That pedigree is obvious in this thrilling scalpel of a race ski. "A natural winner," said Payne. "Versatile but powerful, and fast." McGrath agreed: "It's a purebred slalom ski, but forgiving enough for a ton more."
Megan Brown noted that this ski-armed with an integrated lifter-has an amazing range: "When did slalom skis become effortless?" Delliquadri called the 9S, which was No. 1 in almost every category, a "slalom ace."
Want similar performance in a calmer package? Consider the razor-sharp and exotically shaped SALOMON EQUIPE 10 3V SL. It's smoother than its French counterpart, above, and also shapelier, for more tenacious turn finishes. Prolink vibration-dampeners fore and aft force tip and tail down on the snow, and a beefy, titanium-reinforced cap construction makes it "smooth and powerful for almost any kind of racer," said Forland, "including a GS skier, from Nastar to World Cup." In fact, the 3V was No. 1 in the test in Long Turns, yet tied for No. 3 in Short Turns. It might be the best all-events ski in the test.
Finally, the VÖlkl P50 SL CARVER ENERGY is perhaps the most conventional-feeling slalom ski in the test and therefore the most familiar and reassuring for many racers. "Best and most fun on grippy, Western snow," Delliquadri said, "where you could just lay into the edge and work it the way you always did. A nice, solid platform. No surprises." Völkl's "energY Frame," which comprises dual-molded chambers under a titanium-reinforced cap, made it "nicely versatile," said Forland.
Race Ski Testers:
Andy Bigford, Kristi Brown, Megan Brown, Mike Brown, David Currier, Terry Delliquandri, Toril Forland, Amy Livran, Noel Lyons, Erica Macconnell, Felix McGrath, Chan Morgan, Terry Palmer, Carter Payne, Nicole Pelletier