The US Ski Team men have recently returned from their annual on-snow camp in New Zealand. It’s a long trip, but New Zealand provides true mid-winter conditions and a great training environment, and the guys have found the camp to be very valuable. It also provides a great opportunity for testing new skis prior to the start of the northern hemisphere racing season. While it’s possible to test wet snow skis on snow-fields and glaciers, or cold skis in tunnels, it’s a rare thing to have true mid-season cold snow conditions available.
It takes some organization to make good use of the testing opportunity. The camp is a training camp first, and this year there was only one coach, and no service staff there to help. So the athletes do their own ski service and testing. But with a little advance planning we were able to set-up some basic tests of new cold skis for Noah, using his established best skis as a standard to compare to the new materials that I selected in Norway in June. We sent along three new pairs of skate skis – including two of a new prototype construction – to compare with his best cold ski from last year. We also sent along one new pair of classic skis to compare with his best ski from late last season (a pair of 102 model skis that he got from Hakon in Sjusjoen before World Champs). The skate skis all had a new S1-0X grind, and the classic skis both had an S2-1. In addition, Noah carried one pair of klister skis and a pair of wet snow skate skis, just in case he needed them for training and racing.
For me, this testing is a great opportunity to test my work, and the quality of the ski selections that I’ve made. I selected Noah’s new skis at the same time and from the same inventory as our Caldwell Sport inventory of skis. So, if they’re competitive with the skis Noah was using in World Cups and World Championships last year, I have high confidence in the quality of the inventory. It’s also a great opportunity to test the direction that Madshus is headed with their new production. Of course, it’s interesting to see how the new prototype constructions look. But it’s also good to check on the more subtle adjustments to the existing models that are an ongoing process. It’s also good for me to check on my own ski selecting criteria and methodology. Ideally, we should see incremental improvements from year to year. However, when you’re starting with known good skis as a basis for comparison, that can be more challenging than you might guess!
So – how’d the new materials fare? In short – very well! Noah’s best pair of cold skate skis from last year was the slowest pair in every single head to head test that he ran. The new 118 model ski that I selected was slightly better in all conditions. This construction has been changed slightly since last year, with the removal of one layer of carbon laminate from a section of the ski to make it more supple. The exciting news for the future is that the new prototype skis appeared to be quite excellent in a wide range of conditions. The normal inventory skis were better in slightly wet hard-pack glaze on one day. But aside from that, the new prototypes were better in a wide range of conditions. The two pairs that we sent down were nearly identical, from the same production. The reason for taking two pairs is to make sure that test results aren’t a total fluke. The two pairs performed more or less identically – Noah couldn’t tell a difference between them.
The classic skis also fared well. They have a slightly different pocket shape than the pair that Noah used a lot toward the end of last season, and they were a bit faster with less sure kick than last year’s skis. Noah ended up selecting them for the FIS race down there, which was on klister covered. They were faster and better kicking than his klister skis, and among the best skis in mass start 15K classic by his report.
The information from New Zealand gets added to the information that Pete Vordenberg and Eric Pepper (SSCV) gleaned from testing wet skate skis in Bend this Spring. Now we get to bring everything back together and make a plan for the Fall. The good news is that we’ve got some great materials to work with, and the new stuff looks better than ever. Madshus has made good adjustments to their existing product line-up, and has some great direction for the development of new skis for the future. Noah will have a great line-up of skis again this year. The bad news? Well, the bad news is that he may need to leave some great skis at home, since we’ve got to make an effort to keep the fleet size manageable.