Fatter is Better
I'm overwhelmed by the variety of skis I see in shops. I'm an advanced skier, but I can't afford to buy a whole quiver of skis. Any advice?
New Canaan, CT
A ski sales rack can be intimidating. For sure, skis are becoming more specialized, with the shortest, narrowest slalom skis at one extreme, and the fattest powder skis at the other.
That said, there are some astonishingly versatile skis out there. Take a look. This group goes by the unofficial name "low-fats" and many of them can be found in the Freerider section of the Buyers Guide. They include Salomon's X-Screams, Rossignol's Bandits, Dynastar's 4X4s and other models in this category.
Until recently we thought a ski couldn't be more than 61-63 mm wide at its waist (the narrowest point beneath your foot's arch) to perform well on hard snow. But with the advent of shaped skis, designers learned that a ski can be wider, up to 70-75 mm, and still perform well on packed snow and "off-road." In our tests, these skis were great in cut-up powder, crud and all kinds of junky snow, but also turned and held well on the groomed. Testers started thinking, "Hmm, I'd be comfortable on this ski a lot of the time."
Many skiers find this extra width more comfortable to balance on without sacrificing much edge-to-edge quickness. What's more, skiers can drop down to shorter lengths, turn more easily and still enjoy rock-solid stability.
It's a shame that a lot of consumers, and even many retailers, don't get it yet, and still insist these fat models are "Western" skis¿good only in soft snow. Not so at all! When I'm taking a trip and want to schlep just one pair of skis, I invariably grab a low-fat. I'm confident I'm going to be OK¿whatever the conditions.
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I know the bases of my skis are plastic. My friend says they're graphite. Who's right?
Both of you, and neither of you. Your bases are plastic (actually, a high-tech form of polyurethane). But most ski bases are also infused with graphite powder, which reduces static electricity that builds up when your ski glides over snow and helps you motor.
There are two types of base material. The cheap kind is extruded¿molten plastic squeezed through a slot into sheets. The good stuff is sintered, or shaved from the edges of huge discs. Sintered material is denser and harder, so snow crystals have a tough time digging in and slowing you down. Race skis get the densest material. Here's the voodoo: Even on the same wheel of polyurethane there are fast and slow patches. So when a company finds fast skis, they go to its best racer. But we're talking hundredths of seconds. Far more important is how well you maintain your bases. If you do nothing else, hot-wax your boards regularly¿after every time out, even. This not only makes them ski better, but protects them, too.
¿The Gear Geek
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Skate for Success
I inline skate about 24 miles a week to strengthen my skiing. Does this help, and am I doing all I can with this cross-training?
The more ski-specific you can be in your cross-training, the more your hard work will pay off. Inline skating is a great way to train, as it uses many of the same muscles and motions as skiing. Incorporate intervals¿short bursts of speed¿into at least one workout each week. For example, warm up for about 10 minutes, then alternate two minutes at an easy, comfortable pace with one to two minutes of fast skating. Continue for about 15 minutes, increasing your time slowly. Sprints and hill workouts also will help a bunch. Set up cones to simulate a course. Using ski poles, imitate proper edging control as closely as you can. (The technique of skiing on shape skis is similar to in-line skating.) This will whip key muscles into shape and keep your workouts from becoming stale. Warning: Snow is more forgiving than pavement.
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Write Kellee Katagi at email@example.com.