Madshus Redline 2.0 Review Preview

LRG_DSC03689Over the past couple of years we have chronicled the development of the new Madshus Redline 2.0 model through the process of conception, development, prototyping, and testing. We’ve been able to do this because Madshus has been very open with their process, and has welcomed us to test the product at every stage, and write about what we think. This past winter the 2.0 models hit the market with a limited pre-release, and they were very well received. Anytime a brand new design hits the ground we expect to see a bit of an adjustment period as we learn the ins and outs (and ups and downs) of the new materials. This time around has been no exception, but the overall experience has been one of an outstanding base level of quality.

Generally speaking, we only write positive reviews. We focus on the best of what our industry partners have to offer, and if we don’t like something, we omit it from our line-up. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what we like and what we don’t like, and in general it works well to focus on positives. In this case I’m going to take a less nuanced approach and be free with the criticisms that we have. I’m doing that because they’re minor – because we believe in the Madshus process, and we believe that our readers will be best served by a forthright description of limitations as well as strengths. I’ll be critical the way you can be with family, and not with acquaintances.

So, with that as a precursor, I’ll go ahead and say that the new 2.0 model skis were the highlight of our season. They’re excellent, and easy to work with.

Skate Models

fullsizeoutput_eaThe design objective for the skate skis was to provide broad and tolerant solutions – skis that would excel in a wide range of conditions. That’s a common goal in the industry, but it’s something that Madshus had struggled with, particularly in wet, soft, and slow conditions in the past. Overall we give the skis very high marks in this respect. However, it’s worth noting that there are two distinct forebody camber concepts that we’ve seen – one with very smooth and straight camber expression, and one with a distinct bridge transition at the forebody contact area. Both are good, but it’s one of those “in the right conditions” situations that we wish would go away. The smooth front end offers a lower forebody bridge release angle, and a slightly longer contact area, and these skis have been excellent broad range cold and new snow solutions. The camber with more distinct bridge integrity and a quicker and more defined transition is better in higher levels of transformation and at higher speeds, both above and below freezing (yes, in the same pair of skis).

The Putney boys tested Gunnar's fleet of 2.0 skis at the New England BKL Festival. Reviews were positive.

The Putney boys tested Gunnar’s fleet of 2.0 skis at the New England BKL Festival. Reviews were positive.

There are two models available – the F2 (“R”, or Regular Conditions) and F3 (“SC” or Soft Conditions). The tricky thing is that we’ve found lots of examples of both of these camber concepts in both models. In fact, the camber thing is more of a continuum than two distinct different cambers, and while this is a good thing for a broad range of selection, it doesn’t make it easy to recommend a model or design without some qualification.

Over the course of the season the F2 (Regular) model has stood out as the more frequent favorite, and the ski that gets picked most often in colder snow. Amy has a clear preference for the F2 skis because they simply feel faster to her. Gunnar worked with little miniature 172cm versions this year, and he also really liked his F2 skis in cold snow. The F2 has a somewhat higher resting camber, and longer bridge than the F3 model.

David Northcott on his way to third place in the 5-6 boys, on Gunnar's F2s. Amazing skis for the under 90 lb crowd!

David Northcott on his way to third place in the 5-6 boys, on Gunnar’s F2s. Amazing skis for the under 90 lb crowd!

My own feelings were a bit more complex. The F3 has a really “gathered” feeling under foot, and as a platform it’s easy for me to stand on in a really productive and powerful position. Because of my busted-up knee, I struggle more than I used to when it comes to comfort and stability finding a good position for power application. On the F2 I feel like my forefoot carries tension, and I’m sort of clawing along by my toes. It’s not that it’s hard to edge the ski, and it’s plenty fast and active. But I just can’t easily get myself up into the position where I can move forward on a relaxed foot, and utilize my glutes for power development. On the F3, I feel like superman; it’s just really easy and comfortable for me to find the sweet spot on the ski. But, sometimes it’s a bit like superman on less slippery and less active skis.

Over the course of the winter we had chance to try quite a few different iterations, and when I traveled to Norway in December to select additional material (we sold out early), I found some F3 production with really smooth front end cambers, and considerably higher resting camber. These were sort of hybrid skis – the camber height and action of F2, the smooth front end of a cold ski, and the shorter bridge length of the F3. At the same time, we saw some of the F2 production come through with the front end bridge contact point shortened a bit. And these were also quite good. In general, the F2 and F3 models that I liked best were finding some common ground around a real sweet spot. And the performance was among the best we’ve ever seen. So remind me of that when you come looking for great cold skis for next year!

Overall, we have to be pleased with the way things went this year. We put a lot of 2.0 skate skis out into the world, and they’ve been very well received. If we made any mistakes, it was in taking some softer inventory than we needed – in the past we’ve had really good luck with quite soft values in some of the Madshus models, and this year those skis had a more limited range. We’re also not 100% satisfied with the skis in really sucky wet snow. The new base material is very versatile and broad range, but it’s not competitive with the very best dedicated wet clear bases in the industry, and the super wet cambers aren’t making it to the top of the heap for us yet. This is really not an issue at all in faster wet conditions – we can make outstanding skis there. It’s in the really sucky and slow stuff that we’re continuing to struggle a bit.

Other notes – a lot of people made mention of the very, very low tip profile of the 2.0 skis. As it turned out, some of the skis came through with considerably lower than intended tip profiles, due to some issues with the way the material was releasing from the mold (I don’t know the specifics). That has been adjusted moving forward, and the new stuff will all have a bit more up-turn in the tip than the lower tip skis we saw last year.

Summary notes: Great snow-touch, great dynamic action and “Madshus feeling”, great edge security, great skis. And a few things to grumble about, which we’re taking the liberty to describe.

Classic Models

Ida Sargent, celebrating a national championship. These skis are pre-production (old cosmetic) 2.0 materials.

Ida Sargent, celebrating a national championship. These skis are pre-production (old cosmetic) 2.0 materials.

This was a surprise, and it exposed a weakness in our classic testing. The weakness is that we have a lot of really excellent classic skis, and we have a good idea of which ones to use and how to wax them for a given day. And when we head out skiing, we often have multiple pairs for testing, and end up putting in the kms on the skis we like best. What we don’t do is spend the whole season trying to make a single pair of skis work well in a really wide range of conditions.

The 2.0 classic models were finalized earlier than the skate models, and we had a whole extra season of testing on them. We found them to be very good, but perhaps a smaller departure from the previous standard than what we saw in the skate ski development. Excellent skis, but nothing revolutionary.

So the surprise was that the Madshus 2.0 classic skis were the biggest success of our season, eliciting the most effusive customer comments. They’re just really, really good skis.

The funny thing about these classic skis is that they tend to provide really easy access to kick, and for a lot of racers that feels too good to be true – as though the skis must be slow. But they’re not. They provide outstanding speed, both in striding and in double-poling. Double pole speed is a big concern in high level racing, and the 2.0 models have outstanding acceleration in double-pole, combined with really predictable kick access and sensation.

In general I think the K2 “Plus” model is the more versatile ski. The K2 has more residual camber and pocket shape that the K1 (“cold” model). It still provides great access to kick, and because of the pocket shape it can be selected with a very low camber. The K1 has a flatter pocket profile, and needs a bit more carrying capacity to provide assured speed. I would select a K1 for a dedicated cold and hard track ski, but a K2 for softer tracks and/or softer waxes. And for klister – particularly hard-track ice klisters, a somewhat stronger K2 is the ticket. For breaking wet snow and spring klisters conditions, the race department has a K3 model that has also been excellent, but is more specialized, and not stocked in regular inventory.

If I have any complaint about the Madshus classic skis it’s really aimed at high-end racing more than our core customer base. The material strength in the pocket could be a bit higher. This has the potential to create skis that are a bit harder to define in terms of pocket length and action. The world really wants wax pockets that “close flat”, but I don’t think that’s the best thing in most conditions, and I wish the bridge materials were a bit stronger. But mostly just for top level racing. I don’t want them any stronger on my own skis, thank you very much.

I believe that the strength of the design is in the material and geometry – all the cambers offer good versatility, and are easy to work with. That’s the biggest change from the past – we’ve often had great success with Madshus classic skis, but you have to be a bit of a waxing savant to get the best performance out of them in tricky conditions. The 2.0 models are really straight-forward and easy to work with.

Summary notes: Best response we’ve ever had to a classic model. Don’t be afraid to pick a slightly higher end-flex value than you’ve seen in the past on other models and from other brands. These skis are easy to kick. But be sure to select the length with the most appropriate material strength for optimal performance. We can help you with that.

Preview

So that’s it. The new skis for 2019 arrived for us last season, and we’ve just reviewed them. So what do we have to look forward to? Well… since you asked…

The development process never stops. When Madshus brought Svein-Ivar Moen on board to lead the development project, the first objective was to get the 2.0 models defined. That has been a pretty long journey, but the objective there was to define a base level that was really quite good – a platform for refinement and development. And that’s what this whole project has been about so far. We’re seeing the success of that objective in racing. While Madshus isn’t at the forefront of World Cup racing, they’re enjoying tremendous success in domestic competition with the new skis, which shows that they have brought the base level of the 2.0 line directly to a high standard. Over the course of the past season, the R&D and development testing has moved past the process of inventing a new platform, toward getting the most out of that platform. And the results have been promising. At World Champs in Seefeld they had a couple of very notable results. Alexander Bessmertnykh had a silver medal in very tricky klister conditions on very fast skis. And the real triumph was the amazing performance of Hans Christer Holund with is 30km solo effort off the front to win the 50K, holding off a charging Bolshunov over the final ten kilometers. On notably fantastic skis, in wet, transformed snow.

When we visited Madshus in early March, Per Wiik already had this posted in his office window.

When we visited Madshus in early March, Per Wiik already had this posted in his office window.

As a side note: in the modern era, HC Holund’s performance in Seefeld can only be compared to Johan Olsson’s 2013 50km win in Val di Fiemme. The introduction of mass start racing has turned these 50km races into boring processional events – races of attrition with a sprint finish for the survivors (most of whom haven’t put their noses into the wind). Mass start racing on the World Cup has changed the sport into something different, and the break-through of a hard-man like HC Holund is a rare treat, and a truly astonishing feat, dependent on nerve, luck, and of course some teammates willing to not close the gap! And it’s worth a further note that Holund is reputed to be among the most deserving champions ever. That’s a race to feel good about.

Anyway – both of these outstanding Madshus performances in Seefeld were on new skis, supplied for the championships. The classic skis were “ordinary”, according to Per Wiik’s text message, but had a new wet grind from the Madshus Tazzari RP-23 machine. But the skate skis were a bit of something different.

December testing, under the lights, with Connor Green

December testing, under the lights, with Connor Green

This is where we need to introduce a new character. We’ve often focused on the people involved in the development of skis at Madshus. Last fall they hired a new engineer, and Bjorn Ivar Austrem – the head of engineering – put him directly into the ski development project. And the new guy? His name is Connor Green. He comes from Rochester New York, and he graduated from Harvard with an engineering degree just under a year ago. He was on the ski team at Harvard, and was a customer of ours when he was racing (Madshus skis, of course).

So how does a young engineer land a job developing high-end race skis in Norway? I guess you’ll have to ask Connor. But he’s apparently very well suited to the position; he has very high level nerd credentials, and is good enough at his job to be brought right into the thick of race ski development very quickly.

fullsizeoutput_e2When I visited Madshus in December, Connor and I went out on snow to test some new material layups that he had been playing with. I had asked him about the differences between altering carbon laminations and altering the thickness profile in changing the stiffness profile of the ski, and I had some specific ideas about adjusting the material. “Funny you should mention that”, he said. And we went out and tested some of his ideas that were already well ahead of my question. Those ideas seemed to prove out through repeated production cycles and prototype test series, and I’m pretty sure that the first pairs they made with standard production graphics instead of their test/prototype graphics were the skis that they have to HC Holund to test in Seefeld. They were good. The material adjustments that Connor started working with early in the winter, helped to deliver a medal at World Champs. I’ve talked with Connor and handful of times, and I think it’s OK for me to say that he’s got a long list of projects in the queue for testing.

Ole Martin Storlien and Martin Galleberg, the Madshus race service guys, unpacking, repacking, and heading back out onto the road. Again.

Ole Martin Storlien and Martin Galleberg, the Madshus race service guys, unpacking, repacking, and heading back out onto the road. Again.

In the past we’ve been really satisfied and impressed with the way the Madshus racing team has been able to work with Bjorn Ivar, the engineer, and Vidar, the camber wizard, to create a really tight development feedback loop. But the ability to push an aggressive testing agenda has been limited by the need for the racing guys to provide a stable and consistent level of product for racers, and by Bjorn Ivar’s need to wear a lot of hats in a small company. Now they’ve got Connor and Svein Ivar – development engineer and development testing director – working directly together to identify objectives and test concepts full time. The racing guys don’t test hare-brained ideas, they test proven concepts, and if they’re good enough, they offer them to racers. This is how development needs to work, and it’s the process that Madshus now has in place.

I think it will be a few years before we see an altogether new model from Madshus. But there will continual refinements “under the hood”, and those will come into the regular production as soon as they’re well enough proven. In the meantime, I’ve got reason to be excited by the ideas that Connor has been given the resources to chase, and I think it’s super cool to have a young American involved in the industry at this level.

 

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