I don’t like to think of myself as one easily taken by gimmicks. As director of Skiing’s gear-testing program, I see a lot of products that claim to revolutionize this or that aspect of skiing—products that, when field-tested, simply don’t stand up to the claims made by their marketing alchemists.
So it was with a healthy dose of skepticism that I approached my first run on a robotic-looking ski called the Anton UFOria XA. I have to admit, the real reason I initially responded to a request that I take these skis out for a spin was that the request came from none other than the legendary Wayne Wong—one of the godfathers of freestyle skiing and, with his trademark windswept black coiffure and white-framed shades, certainly the most recognizable of those progenitors. Wong told me he gave the skis a try at the urging of a friend, was awed by their performance, and is now helping designer Anton Wilson market the skis. Wilson was a retired engineer when he dreamed up this elaborate design. He says he did it for himself—chasing the holy grail of the perfect carve—with no initial intention of selling or marketing the skis. As he let friends try them and positive feedback began rolling in, his inner entrepreneur began scheming about bringing the design to market.
I met Wong a few weeks ago at the snow-sports trade show in Denver. A couple of days later, at the show’s on-snow demo at Winter Park, I boarded the lift with him and Skiing’s photography editor Niall Bouzon. Wong explained that the ski’s elaborate suspension system is akin to a leaf spring on an automobile. Picture a car going over a bump on a road. After the wheels travel over the bump, the leaf springs push the wheels back downward to maintain contact with the road even if the car’s body is still slightly airborne from having gone over the bump. The ski’s suspension system, Wong said, is designed to function the same way; the mechanism provides constant pressure to the ski’s tip and tail no matter where the skier’s body weight happens to be. When the ski crosses an undulation in the snow, the mechanism forces the tips down the backside of the undulation rather than allowing them to pop off of the bump, as a conventional ski would do.
How the Skis Performed
Here’s where I’ll do some gushing. Like I said, I was a serious skeptic coming into this experience. Even with the likes of Wayne Wong selling me on this product, I was ready to be disappointed. But then I pushed off and tilted the skis ever so slightly on edge. I could feel that pressure distribution right away. Every centimeter of the skis felt firmly glued to the snow. I gained speed and leaned the skis over more and more with each turn, working into some aggressive two-footed carves. That glued-to-the-snow sensation only increased as I turned up the volume. The edges simply could not be bucked off their arcs. The ride was smooth, mellow, and easy—very easy. Right away, I was making clean, effortless arcs.
The sensation was most noticeable in two situations: (1) At the end of the turn—when a conventional ski tends to pop out of the carve and become slightly airborne before entering the transition and then being forced by the skier down into the next turn—the skis didn’t suddenly de-camber and pull their edges off the snow; they stayed glued until I rolled them over and then immediately reengaged themselves in the next turn. (2) Like Wong said they would, the tips of these skis literally dove down the backside of any bump or whoop-de-doo I encountered. It took a little getting used to not having that momentary feeling of disengagement after hitting an irregularity in the snow’s surface.
Niall, our photo editor, seemed equally enthused. “I think these skis do for carving what rocker has done for powder skiing,” he said. “I could put my mom on these and she’d be carving right away.”
Just before the next run, Wong informed me that I had been skiing the skis in “soft” mode. He had me take them off and performed a quick adjustment, turning one dial in front of the binding’s toepiece and one behind the heelpiece. The dials each lowered a rubber-like cylinder down from that red metal beam on which the binding is mounted (see picture). The cylinders pressed against the skis’ topsheets, effectively stiffening the flex. When I skied the skis in “hard” mode they felt stiffer and slightly more responsive, but they took a bit more effort to bend. So on the next run, I lowered them halfway down—a happy medium. At 190 pounds, I felt like the middle setting was perfect.
I even tried following Wong through moguls. I’ve never been a great mogul skier, but Wayne—even at age 60, having skied for 49 years of his life—still rips in the bumps. Not just in the bumps, either. As I followed him down the groomers, watching him scribe fast arcs and trying hard to stay on his tails (I’m 34 and struggled to keep up), I had a surreal feeling that I was synchro-skiing sometime back in the mid-70s. Skiing with this guy was one of the greatest pleasures of my skiing life. He’s still as passionate as I imagine he was as an 11-year-old first discovering a fun new sport.
I was very impressed by the Anton UFOria XAs, and I came away from my experience on them smiling broadly. The design is no gimmick. It does what it’s alleged to do, and it got me more excited about ripping down groomers than I have been in a long time. The design has the potential to be an awesome teaching tool for beginners through advanced intermediates seeking that perfect carve, but experts will love tearing down groomers and bumps on these marvels of engineering. Engineering like this doesn't come cheap—the skis retail at $1,990. But as production increases and manufacturing adjusts to demand, Anton Wilson expects that the price of his skis will drop. As I noticed while visiting the booths of several ski manufacturers during the trade show, there’s a new trend afoot—a budding resurgence in excitement surrounding the groomed-snow experience. Anton Dynamics, maker of the Anton UFOria XA, seems to have come into being at the perfect time. For more information, visit www.antongliders.com —Sam Bass