Reviews & Previews – Madshus for 2016-17

Gunnar loves his REDline JR skis. This picture is from a 54km day in Sjusjoen in March.

Gunnar loves his REDline JR skis. This picture is from a 54km day in Sjusjoen in March.

We make every attempt to remain neutral in our brand preferences, and we have good relationships with all of the brands we work with. But I’ll admit that we’ve got a bit of a family bias toward Madshus, and find ourselves spending a lot of time on REDline skis. Part of that is because Gunnar is a total Madshus snob and the REDline junior skis are awesome. He wouldn’t ski on anything else. But Amy and I have a huge selection of personal skis and demo skis to choose from anytime we go skiing, and we spend the majority of our time on Madshus. I think there are a couple of reasons for this.

Open Access and Great Relationship
CaldwellInspection
We don’t have any bad relationships in the industry, but of all the companies we work with, Madshus has consistently been the most open with us about their design process, the direction they’re going, and the reasons behind it. We’ve got a lot of opportunity to test new ideas before they come to market, and the Madshus guys are receptive to our feedback. When we’re testing skis, simply understanding the concept and thought process behind a new design predisposes us to find the best qualities on offer. We’ve got access to work with prototype materials for long enough to get to know what to expect of them, and by the time they’re in production, we’re really familiar with, and confident in, their performance.

It’s an important lesson for us in business – we are favorably disposed toward the brand because we are well supported with good information and good material. We try to create the same kind of relationship with our customers – provide information, context, and material to support the needs of our customers. It goes a long way toward ensuring a positive experience.

Material Feel

Madshus materials make it rewarding to lift the tempo and energy in skate techniques. I think that's what keeps us coming back for more.

Madshus materials make it rewarding to lift the tempo and energy in skate techniques. I think that’s what keeps us coming back for more.

Conventional Wisdom suggests that “all companies make great skis”, and yet there are clearly lots of strong opinions and brand preferences out there. A big part of this has to do with the material feel of the product. Mercedes, BMW, and Audi all make awesome high performance luxury cars in Germany. But they all feel different, and every high end German-car driver will have their opinions and preferences. Perhaps it begins with understanding the design and being predisposed to like the product, but it doesn’t take long skiing on Madshus to develop a strong preference for the feel of the material. It doesn’t really matter what adjectives we throw at the skis – smooth, elastic, supple, snappy – all the same words apply to all good skis. But Madshus are Madshus, and we love them.

Familiarity and Performance
Skiing isn’t all about the skier telling the ski what to do. There is a constant stream of feedback and information from the ski to the skier, and in time the skier will modify their technique and timing to take best advantage of their material. When we test skis, we usually rely on lap testing over two to three km to give us average speed – this way we’re testing the speed that we can produce on the ski, rather than more passive qualities. Maybe it’s because we spend a lot of time on Madshus, and are familiar with them, but the Madshus materials always seem to rise to the top of our testing. Familiarity and performance certainly do go hand in hand, and I think that Madshus enjoys that advantage in our testing.

Recent Experience and Future Expectations
After the Falun World Championships in 2015 Amy and Gunnar flew to Norway to meet me for a week of skiing in the mountains above Lillehammer, and visiting the Madshus factory. We had such a great time, we decided to make the trip again this year, even though I wasn’t already over in Europe. It’s a fantastic time of year to visit because the skiing is phenomenal, and the air tickets are cheap. Once again, we spent some time at the Madshus factory, and had a chance to look at (and ski on) some prototype materials for the future. It was great to top-up our understanding of the way the Madshus team is working, and the direction they’re going with their product development.

This last year our experience with Madshus was excellent; we had very happy customers in all categories, and good performance from the skis. We sell more universal cold skis than anything else, and the inventory we took this year was pretty similar to what we had carried in the past. We found some softer skate skis, which performed very well in the softer and more extreme cold range (which we didn’t see too much of this year!). The cold classic skis had just a bit more resting camber than the previous generation, and seemed to have a great balance of characteristics for drywax conditions.

Bob Gray tried a pair of our prototype low-camber skate skis at the December demo in Craftsbury, and immediately declared that "THESE are skis I can go fast on". He was right - two medals in skate events at the Masters World Cup in Vuokatti!

Bob Gray tried a pair of our prototype low-camber skate skis at the December demo in Craftsbury, and immediately declared that “THESE are skis I can go fast on”. He was right – two medals in skate events at the Masters World Cup in Vuokatti!

We had some new stuff from Madshus last year as well – and the biggest splash was made by a small production of prototype skate skis with very low camber and short bridge length. These skis were outstanding in transformed snow at more or less all temperatures, and offered really good stability under foot in a wide range of track conditions. Some skiers really loved those – Brian Gregg made a lot of use of them in racing, and Bob Gray won some medals at the Masters World Cup on them as well. But the low camber stole a bit of the active and lively feeling that many of our dedicated Madshus customers have come to love. We also had some shorter camber klister skis, and had outstanding results with those – especially after dialing in the klister application in the front of the pocket.

The new stuff we saw and skied on during our March trip made us really excited for the future. On the skate side of things, Madshus has been working really hard on some new ideas. Those short-bridge and low camber skis that we tried last year offered some really good performance characteristics, but also some compromise in the feeling of the material. Since then, Madshus has worked with some revised geometry to try to accomplish some of what last year’s prototypes did with added laminations and extreme cambers, but build it into the starting shape of the ski, allowing them to operate in a more traditional range of cambers. The early production series in this new production series presented some challenges. There were some excellent skis in the shorter lengths – Ida Sargent has a pair that she got around New Years that has been outstanding. In the longer lengths things were more hit and miss – Noah Hoffman has one pair of cold 190s that has been a race ski in the World Cup – but on balance the 190s and 195s didn’t work out well. So by the time we got over there in March they had already scrapped the molds from the early season production, and were onto a new set of molds with revised geometry. These ones hit the ground running, and started winning medals at Biathlon World Championships right away. Our testing in March was really encouraging as well – great speed and similar characteristics to the low-camber skis from last year (we had a favorite pair along with us for context), but more lively and active response.

Ever since the introduction of the REDline models Madshus has been noted for their very thin material profile in the tips and tails of their skis. This makes for extremely supple feeling materials and smooth interface with the snow, along with really light feeling underfoot. But the Madshus guys felt that their skis were operating in too narrow a range of track conditions – particularly when the snow got softer. In order to address this they have started adding some thin laminations in the tip and tail of the skis to lengthen the bending radius of the material when those materials encounter resistance (soft or slushy snow). As a result the build to the pressure zone happens more gradually, allowing the skis to “float” a bit higher. This has also allowed them to draw the splay of the tips out over a longer distance, keeping a long “ramp” in the forebody and ensuring that they can run a short and contained pressure zone for wet conditions, without having a “sinking” ski.

Testing - we call this work. Amy and I are on new prototype geometries for this nice 56km cruise through the mountains above Lillehammer.

Testing – we call this work. Amy and I are on new prototype geometries for this nice 56km cruise through the mountains above Lillehammer.

The combination of the geometry adjustment and the material adjustment in the tip and tail has pushed Madshus toward broader-range solutions without losing any of the characteristics that have made them favorites. I also feel that the skis we’ve seen from the plus construction have great all-around application instead of being dedicated wet skis, and that a more even split between plus and cold models will result. In the past we’ve been extremely confident putting customers on Madshus as long as they understand that it will require several pairs of skis to cover a range of conditions. With these adjustments coming along, I think we’ll see more truly all-around skis available both in plus and cold models.

We also saw the same tip and tail laminations applied to some classic skis, which I think will also broaden their range in soft snow conditions. As I mentioned, the new klister skis were outstanding last year, but we needed to keep the front of the pocket pretty thin, and ensure kick with softer klister up front. The new tip profile should ensure that the whole front of the ski rides higher, and without any pocket adjustment, I think it’ll result in more tolerant pocket performance as well.

We’ll be back in Norway to pick skis starting May 23rd. They’re producing a ton of skis now, and it will be really interesting to see what they’ve done with these new ideas since March. Since Madshus is the first company that we wrap-up ski selection with, it’s a good idea to get orders in place before we travel, to ensure that we’re able to work with the best possible selection. So you Madshus people out there might want to get in touch with questions!

zc@caldwellsport.com

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