No news is good news?
With lots of news of new models from other brands, Fischer has been pretty quiet, and this is nothing new. In spite of rolling out a major change in their material with the introduction of the Speedmax models, followed by a substantive in-line adjustment to their geometry in 2015, their overall message has been one of continuity. And it’s not only a message; Fischer has a great series of design concepts, and has managed to maintain their status as undisputed industry leader with an ongoing series of relatively minor and conservative adjustments. Even if the Speedmax release amounted to an entirely new material assembly, the change was in service of a material and quality control improvement to an existing and proven set of designs.
This year is no exception. Since the introduction of the Speedmax models in 2013 Fischer has been working out the kinks. The early skis were good, but they’ve really found the sweet-spot in the last couple of seasons, and at this point there are no weaknesses in the line.
Fischer’s Speedmax skate models are all built in the 61Q mold. This has been the standard for Fischer skate skis for the past 30 years, and while the skis have evolved immensely, the basic configuration of the camber has remained relatively consistent. When they introduced their Carbonlite models back around 2006, Fischer released those skis from the 115 mold. The 115 camber bridge stays open from the high point forward, and resolves in quite a steep approach to the forebody contact point. The 61Q has a long and even taper to the forebody contact, all the way from the high point. As a result of these different cambers, the 61Q skis have more relaxed and low tension material under load, and the 115 skis have a longer and more decisive bridge, with more tension in the materials in front of the foot. The 115 construction has been quite good in older snow and icier conditions, while the 61Q has been a broadly universal ski for a wide range of conditions – arguably the most tolerant and universal skate ski design of all time.
Overall, Fischer’s skate skis have material characteristics and camber that give them a very “damp” response. This makes them very predictable, and provides a distinctly direct snow-touch. You tend to feel a 1:1 interaction with the snow, and not a lot of active “translation” from your push to the snow. At the same time, the bridge response is snappy and elastic, and skiers who look for a feeling of response from impulsive overload (loads above full body weight) tend to report these skis as feeling lively. Skiers who are looking for more dynamic action on and off the snow (half weight to full weight) tend to feel that Fischer skiers are over-damped, and a bit dead feeling. But while personal preference reigns, all skiers seem to be able to produce good speed on Fischer skis. They are reliable in their delivery of representative performances.
Speedmax Cold skis are differentiated by their cold “A5” base material, a cold factory grind (which we usually replace with our own grind), and a camber optimized for cold conditions, with longer contact areas and low release angles. The cold model skis from Fischer have always been hit and miss. In the past few years we’ve found some productions that looked absolutely amazing, and have ended up being relatively narrow range specialty skis, and somewhat unpredictable. Last season the cold model skis turned out to be really excellent. For all of our experience with cambers, we’ve struggled to predict which cold model skate skis will be good, and which will be mediocre. Part of this comes down to very fine tolerances in the salient camber characteristics of cold construction skis. But another part of the issue appears to be some inconsistency in the A5 base material. The A5 base is quite hard, and is much easier to damage with the iron than the standard “28” plus base. But potential damage aside, it also seems to range from providing great all-around performance to very limited performance at the periphery of the normal range of conditions. Curiously, at it’s “worst”, the A5 base material is best in extreme cold, and extreme wet conditions! While it really shouldn’t be the case at all, we have sometimes found excellent wet snow performance in cold model skis. If you have a “dud” of a cold model ski, it might be worth giving it a spin in the wet!
In general we focus on selecting colder cambers from the plus model production for our customers looking for good cold skis. The 28 base is very flexible and suitable for cold conditions, and the plus model skis seem to be much more predictable.
This is it – the gold standard skate ski. As noted, the 28 base is incredibly versatile, and the 61Q camber is the most tolerant and versatile ever developed. If you’re looking for a single “all-around” ski, this remains the best option. In general we have had the best luck finding success when we center the target range of conditions somewhere in the blue-red spectrum. Finding true specialty cold or specialty wet skis from the 61Q Plus production has been hit or miss. The skis produced specifically for the world cup include some camber variations that target these outlying conditions with reliable success, but the regular production is clearly aimed closer to the middle of the target. For a one or two pair fleet, you can’t do better than plus model skis. By the time you’re interested in adding specialty skis for the extreme ends of the temperature spectrum, you probably want to roll the dice on Cold or C-special models.
Fischer’s yellow-colored clear-base model gets a lot of air-time because normally the “podium skis” that get handed to the top-three finishers at the end of the World Cup event are the C-Special model. This is for the simple reason that the clear-base skis have a very well branded base, and it’s impossible to miss them from any camera angle. But we’ve spoken to a lot of customers who have seen podium skis and assumed that they were used in the race, which is not always the case.
In fact, Fischer’s clear base material is not among the most versatile and tolerant on the market. It is a tremendous asset when it is good; predominantly in transformed and dull crystals that aren’t too moisture-saturated. The C-Special base material seems to be best when it is not selected with what we would normally consider a “wet” camber configuration. C-Special skis are better with a more universal camber; and moderately long contact areas, as opposed to the very short contact areas that we normally look for to break suction in wet conditions.
We don’t sell a lot of C-Special skis. In general we prefer to look for good wet-snow cambers in the regular Plus model production. But there is a place for these skis once the other boxes have been ticked, and we’ve seen them produce big advantages when the conditions are right.
Fischer’s classic skis are legendary, and have maintained a distinct “Fischer” feeling for as long as I’ve been aware enough to experience it. That distinct Fischer feeling and its continuity can be traced to continuity in material design. Fischer still uses the same basic materials that they introduced with the first RCS air core skis back in the mid 80s. They have the ability to change to different core materials, and to remove the wood from their construction. But when they do that, the skis don’t feel like Fischers.
8Q2 Cold and Plus
The 8Q2 is the designation given to the Speedmax version of the traditional 812 camber, which was introduced nearly 20 years ago. While the tip of the skis is stamped “8Q2” the topsheet still makes reference to “812”, and that is how we think of them.
812 skis are characterized by long contact areas in the glide zones, and a progressive camber with a long and relatively flat-finishing wax pocket. What do I mean by a “progressive” camber? That’s a good question, and I’m glad you asked. Most of the strength in a classic ski comes from the material behind the foot – this is because of the geometry of the pocket. The back of the pocket is much closer to the load than the front of the pocket, so it bears the brunt of the load. The camber behind the foot closes continually as load is increased, and so that contact behind the foot moves from behind the foot, to a point up under the heel. As that contact point moves, the bridge length shortens, and by virtue of the shortening level length, and pocket gets stiffer. This is what makes the camber “progressive”. It’s a classic leaf-spring configuration with a shortening and stiffening bridge as load is applied.
This means that finding the kick on these skis is a bit like bouncing on a trampoline – you load into the pocket and find the kick with a combination of position and down-force.
When Fischer first introduced the Speedmax version of their 812 camber we struggled to find fast-enough skis. The Speedmax material seems to welcome higher flex values than the old Carbonlite models, and in combination with a very flat pocket configuration, the early renditions tended to be draggy. In the last two years the Speedmax 812 skis have been through some really good adjustments, and the result has been a reliably excellent ski for cold conditions. Some skiers really like and prefer the 812 camber in these conditions, while others do better on the 902 camber which I’ll address below. We can help you figure out which model might be best for you in which conditions.
The 902 camber was introduced in racing around the same time as the 812, and really took hold at the 2003 World Championships, where a young Kris Freeman rode a pair to fourth place in the 15K classic, and tagged off in the lead after the scramble leg of the relay. The Fischer guys say that they started producing the 902 skis for the Finns, who had been clamping the skis with tips and tails popped apart and cooking them in their saunas. I don’t know if this is the real story or not, but indeed, the main characteristic of the 902 camber is a considerable amount of tip and tail “splay”.
When they were first introduced to the market, these skis were offered as a soft-track model. This was somewhat logical since the floppy tip and tail look like they would float really well in soft and mushy snow. But the bigger story has always been in the material behind the foot, and the way the pocket is supported.
While the 812 has a gradual compression through the material behind the foot, resulting in a gradual shortening and stiffening of the pocket, the 902 handles load in a very different way. The shape of the camber in the 902 has a distinct inflection point behind the foot which means that the ski “sits down” to the pocket very quickly under load. While the 812 has some action outside the pocket, the 902 pocket resolves early, and stiffens sooner. And then, as you move your weight forward on the foot, you “roll” forward over the inflection point in the read camber, and the relatively stiff pocket closes rapidly and easily. If the 812 camber is like bouncing on a trampoline, the 902 is like falling off a log. The kick feels almost digital and pretty easy. In spite of the early stiffness as the pocket resolves, the pocket doesn’t shorten much during the kick, and so it also doesn’t stiffen much.
The 902 ski is designed to carry thicker wax jobs, but we have had lots of experience and luck selecting 902 skis for hardwax. During the years when the 812 skis felt slow to us, we picked 902s almost exclusively, but now we’re about 50/50 on our use of 902 versus 812 for hardwax conditions. Many skiers find the “digital” kick feeling of the 902 to be better than the 812.
Of course, when we select the 902 for hardwax we need to pay attention to the height and shape of the pocket, but also to the shape of the contact areas in the glide zones. While we have found 902 skis for extreme cold conditions, they really come into their own in extra blue conditions or warmer. In the really cold snow, the long contact areas and low angles of the 812 are a better bet.