Your ego didn't need this. It took you years to master the carved turn, and now any 6-year-old can do it. At least there's solace in knowing it's your 6-year-old.
Just as super-sidecuts made clean carved turns possible for the masses, now they're making them possible for the littlest skiers. After a few false starts, manufacturers have successfully rendered super-sidecut technology in miniature, which means skiing tots can progress beyond the snow playground and onto the slopes more quickly, using turning skills they won't have to later unlearn.
We put the newest crop of junior shaped skis to the test again last spring in a variety of terrain and snow conditions at Winter Park Resort, Colo., paying particular attention to how well they worked for 4- to 8-year-olds. Our crew of test coaches-who were disappointed by the results of last year's test-were delighted this time around. Even the young testers themselves, who tend to be far less critical of their equipment as long as it doesn't prevent them from getting maximum air time, were pleased.
Credit goes to the manufacturers, who have made their shaped skis lighter and softer-flexing this year. Whereas the old stuff required the size and strength of an average 9-year-old to make it work, the new shapes yield their benefits for much younger and much lighter children. Testers no taller than Kermit the Frog were tipping their skis on edge, decambering them and letting the sidecut pull them into the turn. They were making smooth carved arcs and getting out of the fall line more-a far cry from the usual tot skiing style of bombing in a straight line and making a snow-spraying hockey stop.
The coaches did see potential pitfalls. As good as these skis are, they don't work if hobbled by the wrong boot or binding. With boots, rear-entry designs should be avoided. The coaches agree that an overlap construction (buckles across the front) is superior because it's stiffer rearward, counteracting a child's tendency to lean back, and softer forward, promoting easy flex. In the more aggressive stance that results, tots are centered over the ski, where they can pivot it more easily and better take advantage of its sidecut to initiate turns. The trouble is, many manufacturers go to a rear-entry design in these small sizes, so that kids can get in and out of boots on their own.
The other potential fun-killer is an overweight binding. Beware of the easy-to-adjust demo bindings that sometimes come in package deals. The heel and toe slide on long metal tracks, which add weight and stiffen flex, robbing the skis of their carving ability. Sadly, the coaches note, many rental operations and ski schools use these bindings.
Proper sizing is especially important, and, contrary to conventional technique, the length of the ski should correspond to a child's weight, not height. Children-especially girls-can grow tall quickly yet still not possess the weight and strength to maneuver a ski that comes up to his or her forehead (the current sizing standard). On the flip side, a child who doesn't weigh a lot but is a skilled, aggressive skier can use speed and momentum to bend a ski into its sidecut. Ski manufacturer Elan has emerged as a leader in this new way of thinking, developing a sizing system that matches weight and ability to ski length. If you're looking at other brands, the same rule applies: Your child must be able to flex the ski. If you have to, take a couple of 2-by-4 blocks to the shop, place one under the tip and tail of the ski, and have your child stand on it. He or she should be able to flex it to-or close to-the floor without bouncing.
Full-on super-sidecuts aren't for every little kid. Coaches found a cutoff point in the 40- to 50-pound range, where a shaped ski doesn't offer its benefits because the child is simply too light to flex it. Some of the new designs feature aggressive tips with relatively narrow tails-often referred to as "Y" designs. The narrower tails engage thee snow less aggressively and are therefore easier to skid, so children can snowplow more easily or herring-bone up an incline. Meanwhile, the fatter tips are still good for turn initiation.
The upshot of all this is that you'll see more and more midget skiers carving better turns than you. No, it isn't fair. But at least you get to stay up past 8.
And The Winners Are...
Not all models tested made the grade, and because kids' skis are often the last ones off the production line, several brands were not available. Of the 11 models that were, here are our recommendations on which work best for the 4- to 8-year-old crowd.
Dynastar Team 4X4, 120-160 cm, $225
The 4X4 worked at all skill levels and in a variety of terrain and snow conditions. Coach Scott Woods saw it as a particularly good learning tool for building confidence and carved turns. More important, Jamie Urbana decided it was the ski that might help him catch up to his older brother.
Elan SCX Stiletto Jr., 93-143 cm, $165
Testers sized down, per Elan's instructions, and while the shorter skis took some getting used to, they paid off with smooth, skidless arcs in the GS gates. Coach Christi Northrop noted that Devin Oderwald skied better than he had all year, which greatly boosted his confidence.
Fischer RC4 RS World Cup Jr., 128-178 cm, $350
This one does not have an aggressive sidecut, and it wasn't a favorite among the coaches. But it was with the children, who found it lightweight and highly maneuverable. The RC4 RS is a good choice for the littlest/lightest kids (less than 40 pounds), but with bigger kids, the coaches worried that it would soon be outgrown.
Hart Gremlin, 90-150 cm, $129
It's not a high-end race ski, but Mike Stefanski and Trevor Corbin were able to make clean turns and get excellent air time thanks to its light weight. The Gremlin will take entry-level learners from gentle terrain to the steeper stuff, but they'll need something more when they get bigger and more serious.
Head Radial Carve, 80-160 cm, $170
The kids loved these moderate shapes, which seemed to work well everywhere. Coach Jeff Burrows watched his featherweight daughter Kyla link strong arcs on the groomed runs, then scurry through the bumps with ease. Trevor said he was amazed at how well the skis initiated a variety of turn shapes.
Kneissl Ergolino, 80-140 cm, $199
This ski needed no redesign: It worked well last year, thanks to its soft flex and light weight. Testers got immediate results. They had no trouble bending it into its sidecut and making it arc.
Rossignol Cut Super Jr., 80-170 cm, $139
Coach Woods saw noticeable improvement in several developing young skiers on this ski. Molly Leonard and Trevor Wert were especially excited by their progress in linking carved turns. The Cut Super Jr. worked well for both the lower-level learner and the budding racer.