Last spring, I had a skiing epiphany. It was the final day of the 2002 Nastar National Championships in Park City, Utah, and race organizers had set a full-on GS that began on a steep, icy slope. There were 910 racers in all, ranging in age from 2 to 82. The three-day event was billed as the largest alpine competition ever, but I was most interested in the elite group of forerunners for this final heat.
The list began with a parade of U.S. ski champions, led off by the incomparable Phil Mahre, the most decorated U.S. skier of all time and the dominant force on the World Cup in the early 1980s. Then came AJ Kitt, who won World Cup downhills (and had most of them taken away) in the early 1990s. AJ was one of the first speed skiers to combine great gliding skills with technical mastery. Up next was Tommy Moe, the two-time Olympic medalist, with incredible power and touch on snow. Ten to 20 years after their greatest accomplishments, the trio still looked unbeatable.
But then came the new school, a group of teenage U.S. development team members who grew up on short, radically shaped skis. With apologies to Phil, AJ and Tommy, the difference was night and day. These still-maturing athletes—who weren't born when Phil won Sarajevo gold in 1984—skied straight at the gates, their edges carving all the way down, leaving mini-arcs that were half the radius of those scribed by the legends who preceded them.
I've followed this evolution for five years, but I was still astounded by the contrast. This type of skiing has gone from a series of up-and-down movements and a feathering of the edges to an always on-edge, forward-pressure attack that leaves a seamless, winding railroad track in its wake.
In "Don't Be a Technique Dork" (click the link below) SKI Instruction Director Stu Campbell takes to the hill in a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration of the old technique. In doing so, he drives home how skiing has evolved by demonstrating some of the bad habits of old. Meanwhile, SKI Associate Editor Krista Crabtree and PSIA Demo Team member Mike Rogan show some of the new ways to get down the hill.
In general, skis have shrunk by 15 to 25 percent in the last four years, while sidecuts have deepened drama-tically. This combination allows for turn shapes that were unimaginable in the mid-1990s. That makes a lot of people happy, but it's certainly not for everyone. In Forum, John Fry argues that long skis allow for a freedom and style that suits him (while I respectfully disagree). And in an interview with Glen Plake (click the link below), the man with the Mohawk and piercing cackle of a laugh presents the case for sticking with 212s. One glance at what Glen does on a mountain and it's hard to quibble.
In the end, it really doesn't matter how long your skis are or how you choose to make them go left, right or straight. As long as you're having fun and smiling, it's all good.