Here We Go Again – Salomon Excitement

Summer inevitably ends in a mad acceleration of fun, squeezed into an ever-tightening timeframe, and terminating in the long grind of the fall season. We’re in it now – just home from Colorado, where Amy had a great day in the Leadville 100 MTB race. We’re cramming in a bunch of bike riding, cousin Lucy’s wedding, our anniversary (more riding), a trip to Montreal to send Gunnar off to Nova Scotia, and finally a flight to Munch on the 26th for another ski picking trip. This one should be fun – we’ve left ourselves a handful of weekend days, including Amy’s birthday on the 3rd, and we’ll be sure to pass along some good vibes from the Alps.

At risk of sounding jaded, and in spite of all the pictures we post of fun stuff, these ski picking trips tend to involve quite a lot of time that’s just “work”. Visits to ski factories are really cool, and we always learn a lot, but everything turns into “work” if you do enough of it. So, it’s notable that we’re quite excited about our upcoming visit to the Salomon factory. Salomon has been on a tear in the past couple of seasons with the introduction of their Carbon LAB skate ski, followed by a total revamp of their classic line, which has made them a serious contender for the title of “best”. This year there are no revolutionary changes to construction coming, but there are three new products that we’re really excited to see.

Blue Model Skate Ski

Betsy Youngman - on her way to gold in Klosters.
Betsy Youngman – on her way to gold in Klosters.

The Carbon LAB ski was released two years ago, and it changed everything for Salomon. Their Equipe 10 skis had been good for a number of years, but they were the heaviest skis on the market, and being “good” wasn’t good enough to give them a lot of market penetration. The Carbon LAB model was visually arresting, extremely light, and most importantly, really good. They followed the original Carbon LAB ski with a “red” clear-based model for wet conditions, and that was another immediate success. The one area where we had hit-or-miss success was in cold new snow. The original Carbon LAB model was based on the camber profile of the old 569 model ski, with an aggressive forward bridge position, and a set of characteristics best suited to harder and more transformed snow. The fact that some of the skis were outstanding in new and cold snow was a testament to the excellence of the finished product, and not to the original design.

Last year, in our second full season of working with the Carbon LAB skis, we ran into some frustrations in colder and newer snow. We knew what we wanted in terms of camber and flex characteristics, but about half of the skis we selected to target the green and blue range conditions just weren’t very good in their intended range. We were able to find the skis we needed, but it’s always frustrating when the skis that should be good don’t behave the way we expect them to, and it’s usually a case of trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.

So we’re excited to see the new blue model Carbon Lab skate ski. This will complete the line-up, giving Salomon three flagship models. Blue for cold new snow, yellow (the original Carbon Lab) for universal conditions, and red (clear base) for wet snow. It’s the same model line-up that the offer in classic. The only problem is that we’ve only seen the ski a couple of times, and have never skied on it. Salomon got the ski on the snow with some World Cup racers, but they didn’t get us, or any of the racers we work with domestically, any of the new skis to test last winter. Normally I want to have part of a season to work with new material before we start throwing around endorsements and recommendations.

So where does that leave us? Well, we’re excited, because we’ve got really high confidence in what Salomon has been doing. We have every reason to think that the new blue model skis will be excellent. We have more reason to think they’ll be good in cold new snow than we had with the Carbon LAB skis of the past two seasons, because these ones are designed for those conditions. But we’ve never skied on them, and we’ll be learning them this year.

Zero Classic Ski

The new Zero model ski is another one that we’ve never been on, and will be learning this year. However, we’re not operating quite as blind in this case. Let me explain.

Last year, when we were at the factory, I looked for some really soft red model skis. Recall that the red model has the clear base, and is built in a camber designed for klisters conditions. It’s probably the best purpose-built klisters ski ever to be delivered direct to consumers. But it holds even more promise than that.

John Lazenby sent us this portrait of Tad in Lahti last winter.
John Lazenby sent us this portrait of Tad in Lahti last winter.

Salomon’s clear base is notable, because it works really well in high moisture new snow as well as in transformed snow. This was apparent at the World Championships in Falun, where the brand-new clear base skis had great success, including Jessie Diggins’ silver medal, in difficult conditions involving enough new snow to screw up some other companies and skiers. In general we have only used the red model classic ski in transformed klisters conditions, but we have every reason to think that the base material will work well in a wider range of high moisture conditions.

The other interesting thing about the red model classic skis is that they have a relatively conservative klister construction. They’re definitely a klister ski, but they have a really nice elastic pocket, and a pocket shape that offers more flexibility than klisters-only use. The reason we’ve only used them in klister conditions is that we’ve only seen them in klister flexes (strength and carrying capacity). As I discovered when I was looking around for some soft one, the reason we’ve only seen them in klister flexes is that that’s all they’ve been building.

The reason I wanted soft ones was to test them as zero ski. I had already played with making “hairies” on the clear base on some of Tad’s skis, and the base material supported the process really well. Since I couldn’t find any to play with, I asked Fabio Ghisafi whether they’d ever done anything like that on the World Cup. “As a matter of fact…,” it turns out that they had found amazing success with skis like that in the Lahti skiathlon, where Manificat and Gaillard shattered a train of Norwegians and Russians in the classic portion. Fabio told me that the skis were so good, they would be introducing them as a separate model for this year, and I’ve had confirmation since then that the skis are available in flexes suited to use as zeros.

The reason this new product isn’t quite as big a mystery for us is that we’re already familiar with the component parts. The base material and the construction and camber are known quantities, so our confidence is extremely high. I could use more words to try to make you as excited as I am about these skis, but instead I’ll just drop this link right here:

New Skin Ski

The world has gone crazy for skin skis. Our contacts in Norway have confirmed that skin skis have started to dominate the classic market there, and wax companies are selling dedicated skin-ski products. We haven’t talked too much about skin skis, or sold too many of them, because we’re still not super excited about them. Actually, Amy has a pair that she uses a lot, and really enjoys. But she’s quick to point out that she’s satisfied to ski on less than great skis in exchange for the ease of not waxing in tricky conditions. Actually, when she’s pointing it out, she also likes to point out how often I’m skiing on less than great skis with wax on them, having spent a lot of time and energy to get no kick. Leave it to Amy to make me look dumb.

For this season Salomon is introducing a true race level skin ski, using the exact same construction as their S-Lab classic skis, and a Pomoca race skin. I don’t know much about different skins, but these pink Pomoca skins make Amy excited because she has them for her alpine touring skis, and they’re supposed to be the fastest skins out there. My excitement comes from my confidence that the Salomon material provides a great combination of carrying capacity and elastic response to work with skins.

For the sake of argument I will continue to wear my skeptics hat on the entire subject of skin skis. But we’re going to test these skis, for sure. Whichever company can bring to market a skin ski that provides true race level sensation (we don’t even need the skis to be fast enough for racing – we just want to be able to plausibly pretend) is going to sell a lot of skis. We’ll try to be there when it happens, and this is looking like one of the best options we’ve seen so far.

As usual, we encourage you to order ski before we go pick them. In the next month we’ll be back to visit all of our suppliers – Austria next week, and Norway later in September. That means that now is the time to get in touch. If you have questions, just send an email, and we’ll get back to you shortly.