Madshus 2018 Review – Preview

Selecting new dagger-tip skis.
Selecting new dagger-tip skis.

Last September I wrote about an ambitious development project that Madshus had undertaken, in which they put most of the variables in their ski design on the table for review and revision. Our experience with the new ski designs through last spring was limited to a few outings in sub-optimal conditions. But when we went back to select skis in October, there was a whole bunch of new material (built for the World Cup) to look at, and we took home a big pile of stuff to test. The past season was very much a continuation of the testing and refinement process that really gained traction at the very end of the 2017 winter. Even now, in April, the Madshus team is busy at their Natrudstilen test center, continuing to test the latest refinements to the molds.

Thomas Alsgaard provided a sneak-peak at the new cosmetic on his instagram page. We don't know if this is a final design for Redline 2.0
Thomas Alsgaard provided a sneak-peak at the new cosmetic on his instagram page. We don’t know if this is a final design for Redline 2.0

It is now clear that the new models from Madshus will be released in a very limited distribution next season as Redline 2.0 models. Madshus is confident in their process and the result; Per Wiik has stated that this has been the best work they have ever done in development and testing. And our experience with the new models back home this past winter has left us excited to share the new skis with all of you.

Classic Models

The project has been less ambitious on the classic side than the skate side. The basic kick and glide function of classic skis leaves less opportunity for disruptive change, and the Madshus team had a clear idea of the incremental adjustments they wanted to make. In short, they changed the sidecut profile, widening the material under the foot in the pocket, and bringing the wide-point of the shovel back (closer to the foot) than it had been. This creates a straighter profile with a less interactive forebody. At the same time they redistributed the thickness profile to add a bit of material to the very thin tip and tail of the previous model. This lengthens the bending radius of those materials, and makes a smoother transition in and out of the contact areas in the glide zones. Overall the ski is designed to float higher in soft snow, and to provide similarly easy access to kick as their previous models.

The office-supply industry will take a hit as Madshus moves away from using these dots to identify special camber modifications in their world cup skis.
The office-supply industry will take a hit as Madshus moves away from using these dots to identify special camber modifications in their world cup skis.

Madshus has also taken pains to clarify their product offering with three different models. Three models instead of two models doesn’t exactly sound like a clarification, but hear me out! Like all companies, Madshus has always offered more than two models within their racing designations. In the past few years these have been designated with little colored office-depot dots on the top-sheet, which the Madshus guys use for internal identification, but which end up becoming de-facto model designations. “I’m on the blue-dot skis.” “Oh, yeah? I liked my red-dots…”

Now the skis are clearly labeled as K1 (long and low pocket for cold hardwax conditions), K2 (long and higher pocket for thicker hardwax or hard-track klisters conditions), and K3 (shorter and much higher pocket for softer klisters conditions). In theory, each of these models could be offered in either cold base or plus base configurations, and that would be designated by the “cold” or “plus” on the cosmetic. In practice I don’t see much need for a plus-model K1, or for a cold-model K3, and I fully expect to see both plus and cold K2 universal skis.

While they added models to the line-up, compared with the old “cold” and “plus” designations, they also changed up the length configuration, and reduced the number of lengths on offer. Where they used to offer 195, 200, 205, and 210cm skis, they now offer 197, 202, and 207. In fact, the 202 is purely hypothetical as far as I know. So far they’ve only produced a 197 model, and a 207 model. I’m really hoping for a 202 since that’s what I would like to be on. I spent most of the winter skiing on 197s, and felt that I could handle more.

Our experience this past season has been almost entirely with the K1 and K2 models. The day we left Norway at the end of our ski selection trip, Per showed us the first of a new series of K3 skis that included some camber revisions that we had discussed a couple of days before. We’ve had plenty of time on a range of the K1 and K2 materials, and we’ve taken the opportunity to put some of our skis into races with customers. I think we can mention guys like Ben Ogden and Will Koch without risking their NCAA eligibility – both are junior skiers who pay for their skis. We select their stuff, and grind their stuff, and occasionally loan them skis from our demo inventory when it suits us and them. Ben had outstanding success on a pair of strong 207 K1 skis that we sent out to US Nationals with him. After skiing exceptionally well in Anchorage, he took the skis to World Juniors where he was 7th in the classic, and was a strong contributor to the medal-winning relay effort. Meanwhile, Will had found himself stuck between the too-soft 200cm skis we picked for him last year, and the too-strong 205s that we picked to replace them. So we sent him out to JOs with a pair of 197s, which he cleaned-up on. Both guys found the skis easy to work with, and extremely fast. That’s pretty much our feeling on them as well.


Skate Models

The skate project has been more disruptive to the status quo than what we’ve seen on the classic side. When the Madshus team decided to revisit their long-term assumptions about skate ski construction, they really opened the door to some big possibilities. Skate skis have always involved some sort of trade-off between stability and speed. In recent years all of the brands have managed to really push process along and achieve an ever increasing balance of great speed and great stability. In their latest project, Madshus has set their goal incredibly high, and in a wide range of conditions they seem to have nailed it.

The dagger tip. These things look lethal, but in a full season of skiing them, we never managed to impale anybody.
The dagger tip. These things look lethal, but in a full season of skiing them, we never managed to impale anybody.

The material changes to the new skate skis are very evident. While the construction method remains the same, there is no mistaking these new skis for the old ones. Most striking is the dangerous looking dagger tip, which is so notable that it obscures the more critical shape of the forebody dagger and placement of the wide point of the sidecut profile. They probably could have made the tip a bit less of a poker without compromising the performance of the ski, but it does look striking.

The new ski also features an extensively reworked thickness profile. Like the classic ski, it has more material at the tip and tail, and a longer bending radius in those thin materials. But the bridge thickness has also been extensively reworked. Madshus has always had an incredibly responsive material feel. We have done quite a lot of measurements of the dynamic action of various different brands and models, and one of the metrics we’ve found a way to measure is the dynamic rebound of the skis during the unloading phase. Madshus has always scored high on this measurement, and the new skis are the highest scoring skis we’ve seen in terms of elastic response. To be clear, high isn’t necessarily good. It comes down to a matter of personal preference. But these skis certainly have plenty of “snap” in their material composition and camber expression.

On the snow the new skis have had a little bit of a multiple personality thing going on. They are always incredibly edge-secure and really easy to push off. That is to say, they roll onto the edge easily, are extremely secure on edge, and provide a very powerful and direct interface for the push, with that elastic material response that I described above. They chew up variations in track surface and make challenging conditions for stability and security almost a non-factor. Counter-intuitively, they also float extremely well in soft and sugary snow. Where we would normally expect a strong-feeling and edge-secure ski to be a bit of a plow in soft snow, these skis seem to float on top of the mess, and carry you with them. Sometimes in soft snow I have felt that you need to have supple skis, and you need to cock your ankle and allow the ski to “swim” a bit in the snow. If you don’t fight the conditions, then you can maintain great glide and not move too much snow under foot (which is inefficient). These new ski beg you just to ski straight into the mush – to hit the soft climb as though it were a hard-track flat section. You can be belligerent on them, and they carry you through – or more specifically, over – the mess. It’s kind of incredible to have a ski that excels both in hard tracks, and in deep sugar.

The stated goal that Madshus had was to make the skis good in a much broader range than the old models, and they’ve certainly done that. But as good as all this sounds, the new ski is not an automatic knock-out. The downside is that in a wide range of cold new snow conditions, it just doesn’t seem to run fast enough. Amy has pointed out that it seems to go faster than it feels, but the bottom line is that it too often feels a bit draggy.

We had close to twenty pairs of these skis on the snow this winter, and they were selected to represent a wide range of end-flex values and camber characteristics. When we assess the performance of any product we need to be careful not to let one pair color our findings on an entire design concept. What I can say is that the material and cambers that we tested this winter offer absolutely exceptional performance in a wide range of cold older snow, mild cold new snow, and all kinds of transformed and wet snow. As the season went on, they became better and better, to the point where by late February it was rare for them to have a bad day. And by April they were just unbelievably good. But in the dark cold of December and January, with aggressive new snow and temperatures near zero F, we just couldn’t make them go.

Noah - on a good rip in the skate portion of the Lillehammer skiathlon - on a new pair of F2s.
Noah – on a good rip in the skate portion of the Lillehammer skiathlon – on a new pair of F2s.

Like the classic skis, the new skate skis are being built in three camber configurations. In basic terms, the F1 model is designed to have a high camber and soft finish, the F2 is designed to have a medium camber and a snappy and stronger finish, and the F3 is designed to have a low camber and a stiff finish. We have worked almost entirely with the F2 model, and a bit with the F3. The F1 has been a work in progress, which hasn’t been entirely satisfactory to the design team. That F1 model is, in my mind, the “missing link” in our experience to date. When I was in Lillehammer for the period one World Cup races I got to ski on a brand-new F1 camber that Svein Ivar was excited about, and it had far more of the feel that I wanted for the cold new snow conditions.

New models are identified with these snazzy stickers
New models are identified with these snazzy stickers

But the conditions in Lillehammer at the time were quite good for the F2 model – Noah had some of the best skis in the field during the second half of the skiathlon there. So I didn’t have a chance to really challenge those new F1 skis in the conditions where I felt they needed to shine. Since then I know that Madshus has made another revision to the molds, and is back to testing. The final configuration of models may include different geometry (shape and thickness profile) for the different models, or it may not. We will find out a lot more on that front when we go back to check things out in May.

Like the classic skis, the skate models lengths have been reduced in the racing department to 182, 187 and 192cm instead of 180, 185, 190 and 195. In general, the new skis have the material strength of the next larger size in the old sizes – so the 192 has the strength of an old 195. But almost across the board, skiers have migrated upward from 190 to 192 instead of 187, for example. This puts the vast majority of the World Cup men’s field onto 192 length ski, while previously they were fairly closely split between 190 and 195. However, both Amy (at 130 lbs) and myself (at 145 lbs) spent most of this season testing the 187s, and found that they were plenty of ski and offered no less support than our customary 190 length.

For now, I can say the following with absolute assurance. The new Redline 2.0 skate skis offer control, stability, and skiability at a level beyond anything I’ve seen. If you’re interested in addressing anything from moderate temperatures and natural snow, to manmade snow, to a wide range of wet conditions, we can promise a very high level of satisfaction. What is missing is the cold, new snow, “American Birkebeiner Ski”. Of course, that’s an easy thing to grab from normal Redline materials, and that is why we’ll be working with both normal Redline and Redline 2.0 skis for the next season. In the meantime, given the work that has been done, and the work that is ongoing, I fully expect that next year at this time we’ll only be talking about Redline 2.0. Knowing what I know now about the process, and the rate of progress, if I were to pick myself a cold “birkebeiner” ski for next year, it would come from the Redline 2.0 pile. I’m confident enough to take a chance, and the ability to have both perfect edge control and fantastic floatation is… enticing.

Our biggest on-snow demo opportunity of the season each year comes in early December in Craftsbury. It’s usually run on at least a mix of manmade and new snow, and this year was no exception. The new Madshus skis generated a lot of enthusiasm, and quite a few folks were sorry to find that they weren’t available to buy. By arrangement with Per, we’ve also put these skis into the hands of some of our best customers and collaborators from around the country, and we have enthusiastic feedback from all sides. We’re very excited to be able to bring these skis to our customers for next year.