Fischer 902

902Tip

A brief history of the Fischer 902, and why it appears to be taking over the world…

Last winter Lukas Bauer signed up to race some of the Ski Classics marathons with Team Coop. Our friend Erik Nilsson has been working for Team Coop on various projects, including ski service. Late in the season Erik contacted us wanting to know whether it was normal to find only 902 construction skis in a World Cup fleet, because that’s all Lukas had. The answer is, no, it’s not exactly normal, but I’m not surprised. Kris Freeman has a couple of pairs of 812 skis, but the rest are 902s. At World Championships Fischer brought mostly 902s because they had been so successful at the venue in the past.

The 902 construction is better known to consumers as the Soft Track model. It has been used in racing since at least as early as the late ’90s, and it first showed up in large quantities on the World Cup during the 2003 season, where it enjoyed big success at the last World Championships in Val di Fiemme. Kris Freeman was among the skiers who used the “new” skis to good effect, as he won the U23 World Championship 30K pursuit, and was 4th a couple of weeks later in the 15K in Val di Fiemme on the same pair.

The 902 is characterized by a distinct “splay” or opening of both the tip and tail running surfaces when the ski is loaded. This creates extremely low tension and soft tip characteristics, and a focused pressure distribution in the gliding surfaces. When I was young(er), I saw a college coach hold up a pair of skis with a bunch of tip-splay and declare “now that is what I call a terrible pair of skis”. All evidence to the contrary, conventional wisdom in the US seems to have indicated that an “optimal” pressure distribution is one that spreads the pressure evenly over a long running surface. The story I heard about the origins of the 902 is that it was requested by Finns, who had been clamping and remolding skis in their saunas for a long time. Maybe it’s apocryphal, but I like Finns and I like saunas, so we’re going with that origin myth.

The 902 was released to the general market sometime around 2006 as the Soft Track model. The US market gave it a luke-warm reception, and after a couple of years Fischer stopped bringing the Soft Track model in as a standard inventory item. Perhaps part of the problem was the “Soft Track” moniker. It’s more appropriate to think of the 902 as a versatile klister ski than a ski for specific soft track conditions. While the design has evolved over the past decade, the 902 has always featured a relatively compact and high wax pocket in addition to its tip and tail splay. The version on the market in the early years had quite a high pocket without a lot of residual camber. With those productions we often found really accessible kick in drywax conditions simply by going with a soft enough flex. Over time the high-point  has moved forward, creating a more pronounced residual camber, and commensurate speed in conditions demanding soft drywax and klister.

In the last several years we’ve found that a single pair of 812 (normal plus or cold model) skis can cover an extremely broad range of temperatures at the cold end of things – including all green and blue wax conditions. Maybe this is due to the same factors that make Swix extra blue, Rode super blue, or Vauhti carrot good in such an extraordinarily broad range of temperatures. But once the kick wax gets up into the violet range and softer, things change fast. In this range of moist, wetting and glazing conditions the 902 is incredibly fast. The wide variation in conditions as things start to get warm means that more ski options are necessary to cover all conditions optimally. This is why a skier like Kris might carry two pairs of 812s, and 12 or 15 pairs of 902s. And what we continue to see is that a good pair of 902 skis picked for drywax can cover colder conditions as well. Just ask Lukas Bauer.

Sophie Caldwell racing the U23 World Championship Sprint.

Sophie Caldwell racing the U23 World Championship Sprint on Amy’s 902 drywax skis.

So, while the retail market hasn’t gone crazy for the Soft Track model, the World Cup field certainly has. The 902 is now the single most-used classic ski on the World Cup, and it’s used in all conditions. In general, the 902 gets picked because it’s faster, not because it’s easier to kick. As always, the position and height of the high point vary from one production to the next, and even within a production series. Higher levels of residual camber and more pronounced tip and tail splay make for more of a dedicated wet snow klister-type ski, while more moderate residual camber and smoother transitions in the running surface make for more of a drywax ski.

Outside of pure klister conditions where a 902 is pretty much necessary, we’ve had great luck with what we think of as “red” conditions 902s – aimed at soft drywax. This past winter Sophie Caldwell borrowed some of Amy’s skis, including a soft pair of 902s that I got from Chris Hall (Fischer US race service director). Those skis have always been drywax skis – they don’t have enough carrying capacity for klister. But in soft drywax they’re great, and Sophie raced on them a bunch this year. I waxed for Sophie at World Championships where those skis put her in the race on a very tough waxing day for the classic sprint. When conditions are glazing or mealy any thick wax application is likely to cause skis to run very slow. In those conditions running a soft ski with thin but really soft wax can be a great solution. After Sophie’s successful 20th place in the sprint, I went to Fischer and found a pair of soft 902s for Kris, which he raced in the pursuit (where he had great classic skis, but bad skating legs!). This range of “red” conditions is something we see often, and my feeling is that a dedicated pair of red conditions classic skis is a good third ski for any classic ski, after a go-to drywax ski and an all-around klister ski. In the Fischer lineup the 902 is the perfect construction for a “red” ski.

For next year Fischer is releasing the 902 as a Speedmax model, utilizing their new cold base bonding construction, and a revised thickness profile. We haven’t seen the new production yet, so we can’t say much about where the top of the bell-curve will lie on the spectrum of conditions. But since the only Speedmax model will be the 902, we’re anticipating that there will be more of these skis on the snow next season than ever before. Be careful in your shopping that you don’t go out looking for a drywax ski and come home with a klister ski, and be prepared for some serious speed – especially when the moisture content starts to sneak up.

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