Next week we will go on our third ski selection trip of the year – this time to Norway.
Wait. What? Three trips?
Yes. Three trips. We used to go on only one trip to Europe each year, but then we figured out a couple of important things. One important thing is that, by making two trips, and continuing to work with customers on ski orders during the summer, we’re able to model our inventory needs more accurately, and we can run a leaner and more precise inventory in-season. That’s important because left-over inventory at the end of the year is what puts a small business under. The other important thing is that we figured out that we could have a ton of fun on these trips, and still call them “work”.
But three trips? Well, this year Madshus is a bit late producing some of the World Cup skis, and we needed to time this trip in order to make selections for Noah Hoffman, Ida Sargent, Liz Stephen, the Greggs, and others. Ever since our dear friend Peter Hale first got sick with cancer, we’ve been helping out with ski selections for the American Madshus athletes. So, because air tickets to Norway this time of year are absurdly inexpensive, we figured the easiest thing would be to go back for another brief visit in October.
What does this mean in practical terms?
Well, they’re about to start putting out the saved snow in Sjusjoen, so maybe a little bit of early skiing if we’re lucky. But even more practical than that; this is our last chance to build-out our inventory for the season. Which means that late is better than never when it comes to reviewing the current crop of Madshus skis.
We’ve already written about the ongoing Madshus development project, which has put some new designs into the pipeline for testing on the World Cup. We often grab some material from productions that feature some prototype modifications – an added layer of carbon or some other modification. The refinement of ski design is continual, so we’re accustomed to seeing slightly different skis every year from Madshus. In general, we won’t be picking any unproven designs this year – we want to stick with what we know and trust. The material we’re working with this year is the least changed from last year’s skis that we’ve seen in many years. The good news is that last year’s skis were a high-water mark in our experience.
Madshus has always produced outstanding cold skis, and last year was no exception. The cold skate model remains a moderate resting camber ski with silky feel on and off the snow, and an energetic response from half to full weight. For hard, manmade and transformed snow we can grab stronger flexes, and the energy response carries right through to an outstanding elastic overload response. The cold classic model is a benchmark for hardwax skis. The resting camber is moderate, but the strength is focused in the pocket with supple materials in the glide zones. It’s impossible to find another ski that is so relaxed on the snow, and so energetic in its load response. Occasionally we’ve run into a series where the pocket carries a bit too flat to guarantee good running speed, but we know what we’re looking for, and generally find excellent success. Madshus cold skis – both skate and classic – are pretty much the only cold skis in the industry that have a distinctly rolling camber behind the foot. This means that they gently nudge you forward through the load phase, and you end up feeling that the ski is just begging to be skied with constant forward momentum in the body mass. While the flat gliding speed on Madshus has come up to the standard of every other brand, they remain at their very best under active and forward loading.
The biggest change we saw last year was in the plus skis, where we found some of the most universal skis I’ve encountered. The plus skate models have been great in the past, but a little bit tricky to get to know. A couple of years ago the rule of thumb was that the wetter and softer the conditions, the lower and stiffer we wanted to go with the skis. And this was great, but it resulted in a bunch of pretty specialized skis. Fine for a World Cup fleet, or even a well managed SuperTour fleet, but not as easy to support for a broader customer base where the average fleet size is two to four pairs.
Last year’s plus skate skis looked a lot more like what we would have considered the more “universal” plus skis from previous years. They had a slightly higher resting camber (though still lower than the cold skis), and more moderate camber shape. Fine, as far as it went – by our previous standards we would have expected the skis to be plus “universal” or hard track skis. But what we found is that they were winning in soft snow as well. And perhaps more important, we found that softer flexes were better in softer conditions, and harder flexes were better in harder conditions. That’s kind of the opposite of our older expectations with some of the Madshus materials, but it makes for a logical and easy to understand system. It’s a double-win when they’re also winning tests and races.
Our experience with the plus model classic skis last year was similar. Again, we saw a moderate gain in resting camber. This time it was accompanied with a moderation of the “wet” shape of the camber, and an improvement in the flotation of the skis. This made them faster in soft conditions, since it meant that the wax was riding higher off the snow, but it also made the skis much more universal. I took a pair of plus skis with me to the Masters World Cup, where Rick Powell used them on his leg of the medal-winning relay in Rossa Special klisters conditions. Rick is about 160lbs, and he had great speed on my (145lb) soft 200cm skis. Mind you – I grabbed that pair for myself to have easy kick with my broken leg – normally I ski on a 205. From Switzerland we went up to Sjusjoen for a week of family vacation and skiing, and we immediately found hardwax conditions. And my 200cm plus skis were awesome – really fast, and easy kicking. We rarely run into a design that we feel can carry softer hardwaxes and normal klisters applications without some serious compromise. The Madshus plus skis are by far the best we’ve found at striking that balance with really high level performance throughout the range.
I wrote about the changes to the plus skis back in the spring of 2016, and it’s gratifying to look back at the season and see the promise of our early testing fulfilled in results and our experience on the snow last winter. That is always good for confidence going forward, and it’s an important part of our relationship with Madshus. This year I’ll be in Lillehammer for the World Cups in December, supporting Noah with wax service. With visits already in March and May, and another coming next week, that will make four different visits to the factory this calendar year. Every time we go back, they Madshus team shows us the results of their constant work. I’m excited to find more to share in another week! In the meantime, get in touch if there’s anything we can keep an eye out for on your behalf.