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Unsafe at Any Speed

Unsafe at Any Speed

Gear
By Paul Hochman
posted: 09/14/2005

There is no "goodin the phrase, "seemed likea good idea at the time.Icarus once said it. Edsel did, too. TheTrojan soldier who greenlighted thewooden horse probably didn't get all thewords out, but the thought must havecrossed his mind just before somebodyran a broadsword through him.

And so it was last January in Aspenthat I had the same ugly thought. Specifically: My idea to test a speed ski, a WorldCup downhill race ski and an X Games—style skiercross ski had seemed like a goodidea from the safety of my office twomonths earlier; but on the side of a hill inColorado, an hour before the lifts wouldopen, the bravado was draining out ofme like the air from a cheap pool toy. (Click on the slideshow at the bottom of the page for the ski specs.)

Why? Because at that very moment,I was doing about 70 mph on the samegigantic, red, 22-pound skis that had oncesent Jeff Hamilton to a 150-mph worldspeed record in Vars, France, but thatwere now showing no interest in me whatsoever.None. As this magazine's formerski test director, I'd tested more than1,000 skis over the past 10 years, but I'dnever had a ski forget I was alive.

[NEXT ""]Of course, there was a reason for theAtomic Speed's imperious nonchalance.The ski is heavy, and I'm not. It's 235 cmlong, and, well, you get the idea. When Istomped into the steroidal bindings (minimumDIN setting: infinity), the ski didn'teven flinch. To an observer, I must havelooked like one of those little birds thateats bugs off the backs of grazing rhinos.Assuming the rhinos were doing 80.

Anyway, back to my idea: I'd test twoskis that few consumers could get theirhands on—the Atomic Speed and theNordica Dobermann DH—and one pairthat consumers could find—the VölklSupersport Superspeed—but would neveruse the way I would. And I'd apply thesame criteria to this gear that I'd usedwhen testing the everyday stuff in everydaysituations. How does the ski feel?What does it do best? Worst? How is iton hard snow? In bumps? And can I lift itoff the rack without the aid of hydraulics?

But more on that in a moment. Firstthere was testing to do, and there weresurprises to endure. Including (but notlimited to) the way it feels when yourrubber speed suit fits you like a sausagecasing. Or how the inside of the teardropshapedspeedskiing helmet, borrowed bya hundred out-of-work racers over its lifetime,smells like…fear.

Take moguls. Please. On a scale of 1—5,I'd give the Atomic Speed an "ouch.Unsurprisingly, given the ski's thyroidalexcesses and its more than 95-meter sidecutradius (an average ski's sidecut radiusis around 18 meters), the Speed didn'twant to do anything but go straight, now.

"The Speed is so smooth-feeling at highspeeds on a well-prepared track, says formerspeedskier Bill Miller, who once usedthe pair I was testing, "that you could reada book at 125 mph, assuming the pagesweren't flapping.

And assuming you weren't distractedby the warm stream running down theinside of your leg. Miller, incidentally,co-owns Hamilton Sports in Aspen,where the world record—holding Atomicsare caged, if you want to see them.[NEXT ""]

As I blew by the steel lift towers onButtermilk's sunny flank, I rememberedMiller's advice to "look 100 metersahead—the Atomic is so deceptivelycalm, he said, it would probably trickme into thinking I could turn wheneverI wanted to. Amazingly, with a little planningand a very wide stance, the Speedactually banks very politely, albeit inequator-radius turns.

The recommended technique forattempting a turn at speeds of less than125 mph is a modified stem Christie—riseout of your tuck, place your outside legabout a foot away from you and let the tipgrab. Remembering, of course, that thetip is somewhere in western Kansas.

As for powder and crud, the AtomicSpeed is surprisingly adept and reassuring.I should mention that I hadn'tplanned on testing it in powder. However,unable to turn by the time I hit the bottom,and still doing about 50, I shot insome woods near the Lower Tiehack liftand let the Speed slow down by pointingit into the heavy, crusty bank. After awhile, it got bored, closed its eyes, andwent into hibernation. I snuck away.

The Nordica Dobermann DH is oneof the most powerful, pleasingly meanspiritedrace skis I have ever tried. And itought to be banned. Unless you own yourown ski area, in which case you shouldget five pairs—one for you, the other fourfor your personal medical staff.

According to Nordica, this particularWorld Cup downhill setup, with boltedonMarker Piston race bindings, is theonly way American athletes, includingErik Schlopy, will use it on the WorldCup. The arrangement is similar to theone Kjetil Andre Aamodt used to win thegold medal in the super G at the Salt LakeCity Olympics.[NEXT ""]

And boy, is the Dobermann DH funon rock-hard snow and at speeds in excessof 50 mph, but emphatically not good inpowder. Indeed, in fluff, the ski's 66-mmwaist section, combined with its five tonsof titanium-alloy metal, make it submarinefaster than a leaky dinghy in a TomClancy novel. That said, the cool thingabout the ski's traditional sandwich construction(vertically laminated wood core,with two Titanal metal sheets around it)is that it feels emphatically like a race ski.

Meaning: It's overpowered for thosewho don't know how to tease its throttle,and it's pin-your-ears-back fast. Imaginean expert cruising ski injected with moltenlead and two teaspoons of nitroglycerine.

To enjoy it, gently coax the tip bydoing three years of Pilates and eating alot. Once the tip is flexed, lay the ski onedge. Lie back and think about baseball.Going 75 mph on a Dobermann DH issoothing, almost subconscious. There aresimply no vibrations in the ski, just pure,smooth gushes of power, which areunleashed in gallon drums.

Anyway, thanks (again) to Aspen's skipatrol, there was nobody on the hill tomow down, so I could let the DH seek itsown arc. Nordica claims this arc definesa circle with a radius of about 45 meters.And I'm guessing the ski's top speed isaround 95, although that's based on thefact that I mistimed a prejump going intothe bottom of Tiehack Parkway, flewabout 100 feet and landed on my ass at70, which I'm saying feels like 95.

The only problem I have with this bewundernswert,rugged, nearly perfect skiercrossski is the fact that the ski's name is tooTeutonic. You know: lots of compoundwords and the faint whiff of leather ridingcrops. In fact, for fans of product nameexcess, here's the full moniker: "VölklSupersport Superspeed Motion AT Racingwith PistonControl Oil Suspension.

They had me at "Völkl. Which is tosay that the ski doesn't need lots of namesto convince me it's doing an astoundingjob of making all other skiercross competitorsknow you mean business.[NEXT ""]

Note, however, that while the niceofficials at the X Games skiercross coursepolitely told me to come back later whenI tried to sneak under the course rope("Hey, get out of there!') and so kept mefrom testing the ski in its intended environment,I did take it over to the halfpipefor some skiercross-like action. Wow:Cool. Hefty. Intimidating. Fun.

Specifically, the Superspeed is like aguardrail for your skiing life: No suddenterrain or condition changes will result ina skid or veer. This is perfect when fiveadrenalized maniacs are trying to elbowyou out of a skiercross competition. Or,in my case, when the five sullen teenagersperched at the top of the halfpipe areshooting me the hairy eyeball, wonderingwhen the hell Gramps is going to get outof the way, yo, so they can throw down.

I can confirm, kids, that the Superspeeddevelops huge amounts of power whenflexed in the transition of a superpipe,though staying over its midsection is recommended,since riding the tail too hardwill yield an unplanned (but loudlycheered) fakie to 540 air. Plus, the Superspeedstays steady when you drop fromenormous heights and slap it silly on theflat bottom of a huge gap.

Finally, when you're ripping at highspeeds, you can feel the ski's snowhuggingtendencies come to the fore. TheSuperspeed has a full, vertically laminatedwood core, like most race skis, so there'slots of energy. But the ski's most signifi-cant technical feature is perhaps its simplest:One of its two Titanal metal layersextends all the way from one edge to theother. Lots of metal yields lots of stabilityand vibration absorption. The only otherski in Völkl's line with that constructionis a World Cup downhill ski.

DEBRIEF: At the end of my test weekend,I backed the car up to home base atHamilton Sports to return the gear, andBill Miller came running out onto DurantStreet to greet me. He had the kind ofsmile a dad must have when his son getsback from his first solo trip in the familycar. "How'd you like 'em? he asked, hiseyes looking right past me and taking awalk all over his speed skis.Excellent. Frightening. Cool. I'd givethe day a 5. But one favor. Please, don'ttell those skis where I live.

September 2005at highspeeds, you can feel the ski's snowhuggingtendencies come to the fore. TheSuperspeed has a full, vertically laminatedwood core, like most race skis, so there'slots of energy. But the ski's most signifi-cant technical feature is perhaps its simplest:One of its two Titanal metal layersextends all the way from one edge to theother. Lots of metal yields lots of stabilityand vibration absorption. The only otherski in Völkl's line with that constructionis a World Cup downhill ski.

DEBRIEF: At the end of my test weekend,I backed the car up to home base atHamilton Sports to return the gear, andBill Miller came running out onto DurantStreet to greet me. He had the kind ofsmile a dad must have when his son getsback from his first solo trip in the familycar. "How'd you like 'em? he asked, hiseyes looking right past me and taking awalk all over his speed skis.Excellent. Frightening. Cool. I'd givethe day a 5. But one favor. Please, don'ttell those skis where I live.

September 2005

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