Season Recap #2 – Report Card on New Ski Models

2013-14 was an exciting season for new products. Last Spring we wrote a series of previews of the Speedmax model from Fischer and the REDline model from Madshus. We’ve now had a full season of feedback from our own testing, and from customers to feed into the grading calculator. Here’s the report card, including our impression of the Salomon 569 model skate ski – a World Cup ski that we brought into our line-up last season:

Fischer skis continue to be quite popular among world class athletes!
Fischer skis continue to be quite popular among world class athletes!

Fischer Speedmax

Anytime a company introduces a new price-point it raises questions about the viability of the previous top of the line model. Is the Carbonlite still a top-of-the-line ski, or is the Speedmax just plain better? We had some inkling of the answer on this score based on several years of experience with HM skis on the World Cup, and our best guess was that the Carbonlite would remain an important and very viable part of the race line-up. We were right.

Speedmax Skate

As expected, the Speedmax skate offered a very elastic and responsive feel, and in many circumstances it offered tremendous speed. Our experience and feedback was best in moderate to warm temperatures. Perhaps I should say that the skis performed best at the warm-end of the range of conditions which they were selected for. Our blue-range speedmax skis were best toward the warm end of the blue range. Feedback in the red range (moisture starting to break free, temps either side of freezing) was generally outstanding. I don’t believe we selected any Speedmax model skis for bitter cold green-range conditions, but we did get feedback from people who ran all-around cold Speedmax skis in single-digits and below zero-F cold with poor results. This was a good year to isolate ski performance in extreme cold, as much of the country saw extended periods of bitter cold.

I believe that the overall warm skewing of the performance trends of the skis is related to the effect of the adjusted thickness profile on the action at the ends of the structure bridge in the mid-body of the ski. Compared with the Carbonlite geometry, I think the Speedmax will continue to struggle in the type of dry, cold continental airmass that is typical of the upper Midwest and almost anyplace caught in the grip of yet another outbreak of the “polar vortex”.

For next year we’ll recommend the Speedmax for Red range conditions, where it seems to simply outclass the Carbonlite. In the blue range we’ve got a hung-jury – in places where blue-range conditions are predictably consistent and moderate the Speedmax is an excellent option – particularly with the A5 (cold) base paired with our new TG-series grinds. But as an all-round cold ski that will need to perform in temps down near zero-F, we’ll strongly recommend the Carbonlite.

One final note – some skiers noticed that the speedmax is heavier. I’ve never been terribly hung-up on the weight of skis, and the slightly greater weight of the speedmax core (which is the same as the RCS core) doesn’t register on my radar, but it is something that some people mentioned.

Speedmax Classic

Going into last season we had much less experience with the Speedmax classic models than we had with the Speedmax skate, since the HM skate skis had been on the World Cup since 2010. We were excited by what we found picking Speedmax classic skis – the elastic response of the core had a really good feeling in the hands, and that positive sensation really seemed to carry well onto the snow. We had excellent feedback on Speedmax

"8Q2" - coming soon to you.
“8Q2” – coming soon to you.

classic skis in a wide variety of conditions, including normal drywax. The 902 shape remains as versatile as ever, and we found skis with a wide variety of pocket characteristics. I believe that Speedmax classic skis will take over a pretty heavy share of our classic inventory for next season based on our experience from this season.

At the Olympics we saw some HM construction “802” model skis – a Speedmax version of the 812. We heard from the racing staff that this model is coming soon, though they weren’t certain of the production schedule, and we’ve been told by Fischer US that a Speedmax cold classic ski will be coming. We’ll see what gets produced soon enough, but our experience working with the skis in Sochi was positive enough to be very encouraging. The Speedmax skis seem to have very accessible and predictable kick, and we had good feelings for speed on them as well.

Madshus REDline

Randy Gibbs, packing Noah's skis for Sochi
Randy Gibbs, packing Noah’s skis for Sochi

We had a solid year’s worth of experience with the REDline design heading into this past season through our work with Noah Hoffman and his World Cup fleet, so we had a strong feeling that the REDline skis would deliver very well all dressed up in their white cosmetic. They lived up to every expectation, and have really solidified the position of Madshus as a market leader in design. Madshus sales were up this year for us in spite of a price-hike over the previous Nanosonic model. The sales boost was based in part on the REDline hype, but also on increasing momentum in customer feedback on the skis that we’ve been selling. It was another good season of feedback for us, and I expect we’ll see another step forward in sales as the brand earns increasing loyalty with a series of sure-footed moves in both product development and marketing.

Scott Johnston waxing some REDline classic skis on the sprint day at US Nationals
Scott Johnston waxing some REDline classic skis on the sprint day at US Nationals

Some of the strongest feedback we got was on the plus model classic skis that we selected for all-around use, including klister. Some of those skis were quite outstanding for their versatility through a broad range of tricky conditions. We had at least one series of skis where several customers who bought klister skis ended up using them in all conditions because they were their easiest kicking and fastest skis in hardwax as well. For the record, that’s an uncommon piece of feedback!

Cautionary note – We did hear feedback, mostly from outside of our customer base, that the classic skis were difficult to kick when hills got steep. Our experience has been that there is a fair amount of variability in the resting camber of the classic skis from one production series to another. I believe this is something that Madshus has continued to work to refine – it’s really a question of dialing in what they want , and not a question of quality control in production. We pay a lot of attention to the resting camber height, and we’ve had really good success utilizing appropriate cambers for appropriate conditions.

Salomon 569

569While Salomon didn’t introduce a whole new product line this year, they did give us access to a product that had previously been reserved for World Cup racing – the 569 model skate ski. The standard Equipe 10 skate model is a 562 construction in the internal parlance at Salomon. The 569 is one of two Racing Department models that have been used on the World Cup for the past several years, and the 569 has been the one that has seen the most use. The big difference between the normal model and the 569 is the position of the camber. The high point of the 569 is considerably further forward, which pushes the forebody pressure zone further forward as well, and lightens the load on the front end of the ski – making it more of a surf-board and less of a spring-board. The 569 was conceived as a hard-snow ski, but it gets used in a wide range of conditions on the World Cup, and has become a real favorite in a wide range of conditions.

It is clear that performance characteristics depend on more than just a broad design concept. For instance, the forward bridge position, and low stiff camber of the 569 “hard snow” ski are characteristics found in the “soft snow” ski of some other companies. It would be a mistake to draw the conclusion that the camber profile design elements of one brand would apply equally well to materials from another brand. Salomon has nailed a combination of materials and design in the 569 that provide great hard-snow stability and edge control with very supple glide

Jason Cork likes the Salomon 569 model.
Jason Cork likes the Salomon 569 model.

surfaces and low tension in the running surfaces. It is literally the only ski model we’ve seen that reliably combines excellent hard snow control with the extremely “slippery” glide characteristics of very supple materials and low cambers.

So what’s the downside? Well, there isn’t much of one. The 569 is clearly not as active in its camber response as some other models – it’s not a very “springy” feeling ski. And it has strong front-end bridge integrity which helps to ensure that the wheel-base is long and remains stable, but also detracts from performance in extreme cold conditions. We found the 569 series that we were working with this season to be outstanding in a broad range of normal moderate cold, and we’ve seen it do quite well in very high moisture with appropriate wet grids. But it hasn’t been great in bitter cold “green” conditions, and we don’t expect that the design would ever excel in that range.