We do a really good job making ski selection, grinding, and waxing very complex. That’s what happens when you try for the highest possible performance. But we also know that many of you prefer a simpler process. We have put together this “easy guide” to ordering skis to help you navigate the decision making process when it comes to new skis. There is still a lot of information here, but it should help you gain some clarity.
You’re always welcome to contact us directly by phone or email to initiate the ski ordering process. But we also have a handy ski request form which does a better job gathering all the necessary information in one place than I do on the phone. The ski request form (linked here or on the image to the right) is organized to gather information about you, and about the ski you want. Since you may not know exactly what skis you want, below are some guidelines to help you fill the blanks on the form.
Brand & Model Choices
Do you already know what brand and model you want? Excellent – this should be an easy process for you. You can skip ahead to the “Grinds” header. If you’re unsure, then you’ve got a big decision to make. “Every brand makes great skis”. You’ve heard that, right? It’s true, but it’s equally true that every brand makes different skis, and one of the most frequent conversations we have is matching ski and skier characteristics for the highest satisfaction. It’s a great idea to try a bunch of different brands and models at an on-snow demo (something we’re always happy to try to facilitate in person), but opportunity isn’t always available.
The best skiers in the world can make any brand work well for them. The best skiers also have a service staff to take care of waxing and ski care. But we’re not the best skiers in the world, and it can be really useful to acknowledge our challenges in order to select materials that best support our needs.
The trade-off between kick and glide more or less defines the design parameters of classic skis, leaving relatively little room for unique solutions. The difference in feeling between classic models from different brands is considerable because the material all responds differently, but the difference in functional performance is relatively small. In this sense, we can find a ski that will work well for you from any of our brands.
Do you stomp, or tip-toe?
If you tend to initiate the kick with an emphasis on downward impulse, then it’s likely that you’re standing fairly upright, and kicking through a flat-foot position. You’ll end up wanting a ski with strength in the back of the pocket, the high point back near the toe, and a moderately high carrying capacity. This gives you access to the kick from a variety of positions, and provides a great platform for a forceful kick. If, on the other hand, you initiate the kick by moving quickly onto the ball of the foot, then you’ll appreciate a softer and lower pocket with a more forward-positioned high point. These are distinctions we can help with, and since we’re going to have our hands on your skis, we’ll want to get some information from you. Tell us what you can on the form, and we’ll connect on the phone or email for additional insight.
What about skin skis?
Duh. I forgot to put those on the form. But you can specify what you’re looking for in the comment fields, and we’ll connect to figure it out.
There is more room for interpretation and unique material expression in skate skis than in classic, and the differences between brands create more opportunities to select brands and models that support the best possible experience. As time has passed, the whole industry has come much closer together in their skate ski designs, and the overall performance has been elevated. A decade ago there were some skier/brand combinations that just didn’t work, while these days it’s generally possible to make every skier happy with skis from any of the brands.
Speed at all cost?
Every racer we’ve ever worked with will prioritize ski speed over skiability every time they pick a ski. But when we run demos, we see clearly that ski feel and handling make a far bigger impression on most skiers than straight-ahead speed. What’s really interesting to me is that since he retired from full time racing, Kris Freeman has made very different decisions about his skis. In the races he did this year, Kris prioritized edge stability and skiability over speed – even asking me to move his bindings forward to enhance the edging on his skis. He also asked me for a pair of skis to use in icy conditions, so I sent him an older pair of Ski Trabs, which he skied on pretty much anytime he wasn’t racing because of the very strong edge security. They weren’t “fast”, but he preferred them for the ease of use.
It would be nice if stability just had one meaning, or people experienced it the same way. But the performance of skis depends a lot on how you stand on them (your loading position) and where in the stride you need stability, not to mention the prevailing conditions.
Skiers who like to glide on one ski for a long time and ski with a low tempo, tend to prioritize flat-ski stability in their ski selection. The same skiers often tend to load the foot in a neutral position, rather than through the forefoot. Flat ski stability and directional control tend to be enhanced in ski configurations that carry more load on the rear of the ski, and offer relatively long pressure distribution through the tail of the ski. It used to be common to find skis with a distinct “rudder” in the tail, but modern racing techniques and ski design trends have moved away from this. Still – some skis work better than others for these skiers.
Salomon – This is where the Salomon design really shines – particularly for skiers who push through a flat foot, with a centered or rearward body position as opposed to an aggressively forward position. When the Salomon skis are loaded through a flat foot they provide excellent stability and speed – both on a flat ski and on edge.
Fischer – Over the past decade Fischer has moved away from a long rudder in their ski design, and the flat-ski directional stability inherent in the design now depends on some more forebody loading than it used to. But the bridge position and camber configuration in the design make this pretty automatic, and the skis are tolerant of a wide range of loading positions. The overall low camber and strong finish of the Fischer design provides excellent flat-ski gliding performance.
Madshus – When we first started working closely with Madshus their skis were notably fastest on edge, and didn’t do a great job supporting flat-ski gliders. That has changed quite a lot over time, and the current Madshus skis do well when they’re flat on the snow. What hasn’t changed is that the skis still respond very well to edging, and tend to feel like they accelerate when they’re on edge. Long gliding skiers don’t need to be afraid of Madshus, but the real benefit here might be for those who find the edge of the ski early, and have a long push phase.
Active High-Temp Skiers
Skiers who are constantly in motion, moving from edge to edge, often with a higher tempo, tend to favor skis with good edge efficiency and speed. Edge stability and edge efficiency are two different things, and both are valuable to these skiers. These high tempo skiers often tend to carry a more forward-position, and to load the ski through the forefoot.
Madshus – While the Madshus skis do glide well when they’re flat on the snow, they really shine on edge, and when they are loaded through the front of the foot. Madshus are the only brand where playing with binding position sometimes points us toward a position forward of neutral on the NIS plate. The skis do very well on edge, both in terms of stability and efficiency. They edge security is very good, and the skis also seem to accelerate naturally on edge.
Fischer – The most notable evolution in Fischer’s skate ski design since about 2010 has been its increasing reward for active skiing. The 610 model is incredibly smooth in transition from flat to edge, and the efficiency on edge is excellent. Edge security in squirrely conditions is the one are where Fischer isn’t at the front of the pack, but it’s worth noting that the new 3D Gliding Sidewall design seems to provide a sharper edge feel. While the Fischer design supports high tempo, active skiing, the dynamic properties of the camber and material design don’t beg for it. The tendency on Fischer is toward more balanced and glide-oriented skiing.
Salomon – The S-LAB carbon models provide outstanding edge support and are easy to roll-over provided the load doesn’t get too for forward on the skis. Our experience has been that aggressive forward loading really takes these skis out of their optimal performance window. There are lots of really good skiers who thrive on these skis – it’s not a question of the skis being unsuitable for high level skiers and aggressive positions. But switching between brands requires some adjustment, and when we put these on the snow at demos, we find that the people who drive the ski from a neutral to flat foot position are the ones who gravitate toward these skis.
Control and Downhill Cornering
Sometimes we’ll hear a customer talk about how they can “carve” corners on downhills on a given pair of skis. I don’t think that really happens – these skis don’t have the kind of sidecut or reversible camber that would let you truly carve turns on them. In general, we can boil descending technique into two strategies – you can step your corners, or you can slide them. Sooner or later, everybody is going to end up sliding a corner. In general, lower camber skis with shorter bridges and less edge security are easier to slide through corners – steering with the ankles. Skis with notably strong edge security and directional stability sometimes don’t want to skid around a corner, and really need to be stepped. Higher resting cambers can sometimes make it feel that you need to “high-step” the skis – especially in soft or slushy snow – in order to get them clear of the snow for cornering. If downhill control is important to you, make sure to let us know how you want to steer the skis! These comments apply to both skate and classic skis.
It’s worth remembering that ski length is actually core thickness. Longer skis have thicker profiles, and stiffness is strongly dependent on thickness. So, longer skis are materially stiffer than shorter skis. The “flex” of the ski depends on a combination of the material strength and the camber, which governs the amount of deformation that the skis will be subject to under your load. Matching the material characteristics to your weight and your performance demands is important. Skis that are too short have insufficient material strength, and their dependence on camber makes them unpredictable and reduces the operating range. Skis that are too long have too much material strength, and they tend to be unforgiving, and inaccessible. The right length depends on your weight, and also your strength and movement patterns. In general, full size adult males in the normal to large range (call it 165 lbs and up) should be on full length skis (206-207 classic and 191-192 skate). The exceptions would be older or less aggressive skiers. Smaller men and larger women should be on the next length down (201-202 classic and 186-187 skate). And normal to small women would end up on the third size down (196-197 classic and 181-182 skate). At a World Cup level that’s as short as any company goes. For especially small people, and growing kids, we take even shorter skis.
Factory grinds continue to improve – slowly – as the factories invest in their finishing lines. But we still see improvements in performance and predictability with our grinds on new skis. When it comes to selecting grinds, the simplest thing is to ask us to choose a structure for you according to the performance objectives that you’ve outlined for the skis. We’ve added that options to the drop-down menu under grinds selection, so you can bypass that whole conversation by simply putting the decision in our hands. We take a lot of factors into consideration, and general make good decisions. However, if you want something specific, or would like to discuss options, just let us know. Pro-tip: you can write-in structure names in that slot on the ski request form. We’ll do what you want, and if you have something you know you like, we’re happy to produce it for you. All grinds are $50 on new skis.
Boots & Bindings
What boot binding system are you on? If you still use SNS (Pilot or Propulse) boots, then your ski options are limited to skis compatible with those bindings. Fischer has removed the binding retention material from the core of their skis, and we will not be able to mount screw-on bindings onto Fischer Speedmax skis starting with the 2019 production. We also won’t mount screw-on bindings onto the Rottefella NIS 2.0 plate currently used by Madshus on their classic skis. For use with screw-on bindings, we can offer all Salomon model skis, along with Madshus skate skis. Here’s a helpful chart that you can use to make an appropriate binding selection.
Heatbox and Race Hardening
Skis need to be waxed after grinding, and there is all kinds of terrible information floating around about how much waxing is required to bring the skis up to speed after they’re freshly ground. In our experience there are two very important steps.
The second most important step is also the first step that we do after grinding, and that is saturating the base with soft paraffin. Wax goes into solution (like sugar dissolving into tea) in the amorphous material in the base, and it helps with performance by supporting the desired bulk properties, and by providing a lubricating layer at the surface. The purpose of saturating the base is analogous to wetting a new sponge before doing dishes. The low-melt point wax dissolves into the base easily, and helps to carry and bond subsequent layers securely into the base. You can saturate new or freshly ground bases with five or six repetitions of basic waxing procedure. Or else you can put them in the heatbox, which is what we do. We charge $20 for a basic saturation in the heatbox.
The most important part of the process, by far, is hardening the base. This is where we bring the amorphous materials up into the glass transition range of 130+ degrees Celsius, using a special wax as a vehicle for the heat. This process is essentially the same as “burning” the base, but it’s done in a controlled process that results in a harder, more resilient, and faster base. The process only needs to be done once after a ski is ground, and it ensures that the base is hardened evenly and well, providing a long life of good performance.
Effective hardening requires iron temperatures between 145 and 150C, and a wax with appropriate thermal stability at that temperature. Most waxes with lower melt points will damage the base if they are ironed at temperatures that high, so using the right wax is important. You can use most any “green” paraffin, but those high melt point waxes do tend to block softer waxes, and it can take a few waxings to recondition the base. We use a proprietary hardening wax called “H10” from Star, which they designed at our request to have high thermal stability (no risk of base damage at high iron temps) and a low melt point (below 115). That means that our hardening process is both safe for the base, and easy to work with subsequent wax of the day preparation. We provide the Race Hardening process for $45 (including heatbox saturation), or we can sell you the H10 so you can harden the skis yourself.
Super Secret Liquid Paraffin Promotion
If you order a full-price pair of skis, we will offer you a Star liquid HF paraffin kit. We have been working with these waxes for two years now, and have had outstanding success. Last season we used these waxes (along with Vauhti’s liquid paraffins) for 100% of our daily skiing sessions, and the overall performance was excellent. We also use the liquid paraffins in racing, under pure fluoro layers.
We set-up a handful of our best customers with a liquid waxing system as a test this past season, and they were very enthusiastic. The system is based on a relatively long “service interval” between hot-wax applications with the iron to keep the base well conditioned and the bulk properties appropriately tuned to support optimal glide. And then we use liquid paraffin for daily skiing. And it’s fast.
There are three products in the Star line; HF40 for cold, HF30 for mid, and HF20 for wet conditions. Each container will provide 15-20 applications of very high performance race paraffin, with sufficient durability for an awesome 60km day (in March in Sjusjoen – that’s the longest I’ve gone on this stuff). The normal cost for each is $39, and we’ll include all three for $58.50 with the order of a new pair of skis. We’ll also include more detailed instructions on service intervals, and how to most effectively use the wax.
If you want to get-in on this, just make a note of it in one of the comment fields on the form, or let us know by email. We’re a small shop – we’ll sort it out!