How We Pick Your Skis

From the department of recycled marketing material…

We’re getting ready for the second ski selection trip to Europe of 2022 – a welcome return to in-person selection in ski factories after two years of Covid travel restrictions. This means that it’s time to ramp up our efforts at marketing our services. To order skis, you can use the PDF form linked from the image above, or else you can fill out our Google-based ski request form using this link:
We’re going to re-share some videos and articles that we’ve already sent out into the world (with updates and modifications).

First, here are the preview videos we released this spring on the new skis from each of our brands.

What Makes Us Different

We want to point out what differentiates our methods from other similar retailers. “Ski fit” is a term tossed around by almost every ski retailer out there, and it implies an evaluation of static properties measured against the skier’s body weight. Sometimes this is done on a flex tester, and other times it’s on a flex-board or using some kind of paper-test. While we do consider skier weight and carrying capacity in our work, we don’t do “ski fitting” in the sense that most people understand it, and we end up getting really grumpy about the use of the term. “Ski fitting” as a term resides in just about the same place as “skate skiing” in the hierarchy of xc-ski related vernacular. Yes, we are snobs. What differentiates our process from most others is that we focus on dynamic properties. Skiing is a motion-based activity and different skiers have different ways of moving. The dynamic properties of skis play a much larger role in the suitability for a given skier than any single measured static value.

This can sound like a level of refinement that is beyond the scope of all but the most advanced skiers. Isn’t all this “dynamic” hoo-ha more the realm of the World Cup than the regional marathon circuit? No!! Here’s the thing – professional athletes (and young athletes as well) are very adaptable, and can adjust their skiing to take advantage of most any platform. In fact, this process is automatic. Those of us who are less skilled, perhaps a bit older, maybe have some physical limitations… we’re the “old dogs” that will always struggle to learn new tricks. While the pros can jump on any ski and make it work to its best, most of us can benefit tremendously from skis that work in harmony with the movement patterns that we’ve developed and printed into our neurology over years.

What Makes Skis Different

To understand the dynamic properties of skis and how they vary, you need to understand what factors contribute to ski characteristics. The material composition and the shape (thickness profile and sidecut) are major differentiators from brand to brand. Within a brand and a model, these material characteristics vary by length – each length is essentially a whole different object. These material differences govern the stiffness profile of the ski (material stiffness along the length of the ski), the torsional stiffness of the ski, and the damping characteristics of the ski (the speed of the material in rebound, and the vibration characteristics of the material). Within a model and length, the skis are all pretty much materially the “same”. When we’re making brand/model recommendations to skiers, we’re usually focused on these material qualities. To sort out the differences from one ski to the next, we have to look at camber. Camber is the specific shape of the arc of the ski at rest, and it determines how and where the skis will deform under load – including basics like “tip splay”, but also including more advanced (and more important) subjects like material tension, release angles, length of the contact areas, and camber progression. This is where picking individual skis becomes an art. The entire reason we travel to select skis, is to examine and select specific cambers.

If you want a deep dive into the material side of those dynamic properties, then make a bowl of popcorn and settle in for over an hour of discussion of the specifics of ski materials and camber, and how we work with the dynamic properties of skis, in these two videos.

Incredibly, those videos have been watched something like 1600 times. What is wrong with you people??

What Makes You Different

What is much more important to most skiers than the dynamic properties of ski materials and camber, is the dynamic qualities of skiers. This is where we work directly with customers to evaluate their movement patterns and predict what materials and cambers will work best by asking a bunch of questions about athletic background, and self-identified technique goals.

Understanding that every skier has their own set of needs and demands is a critical part of doing good ski selection work. When we start working with the dynamic properties of skis, our best efforts are only as effective as our ability to match those properties to the needs of individuals, so we need to gather some information about the skiers we work with. Some of this is as simple as gauging overall energy input in broadly categoric terms, by gathering information on age, and target pace. Beyond that we look at motion patterns, and gather information on athletic backround, and technique cues and aspirations (what kind of skier are you trying to be). In 2019 we published an “E-Z Buyer’s Guide” in an effort to help people identify what kind of skier they are in the most basic terms, so they are better equipped to make decisions about brands and models. I’ve updated some of that material here, outlined in classic and skate categories.

Classic Skis

When it comes to getting the best out of classic skis, the waxing part of the equation is critical, and can overshadow the raw material quality in many cases. A really good waxer on an old pair of skis can end up with a better solution than a mediocre waxer on the latest and objectively greatest skis. The waxing is a critical part of extracting function from the skis. For that reason, older classic skis can have a competitive life beyond what can be expected of older skate skis – because a waxer who knows how to work with the skis can put them in the game. The added human value of a good wax job isn’t something we can sell, but it’s something we try to support with information, tips&tricks for getting the most out of skis, and with good kick wax product as well.

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. It’s worth noting that Madshus redefined the potential range of functional performance with the development of their plus-model Redline 3.0 skis in 2020. Our experience with those skis through the development process and into production has added some dimension to the way we think about classic skis.

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. These qualities can be found in Fischer 812 plus and some 902 model skis, in Madshus Warm skis, and in Salomon skis based on individual cambers.

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 skis are easier to find in Fischer 812 Cold and softer 902 skis, in Madshus Cold skis, and again in specific cambers in Salomon.

If your tendency is to kick with more force as the grip demand goes up, then a higher-camber ski with more force-multiplying capacity can be a real benefit. This is where the Madshus Redline 3.0 Warm skis have really reshaped our expectations of skis, and have pushed us to consider other camber variations from other brands. With these skis you’d boost the kick by adding some volume and cushion to the wax job. On the other-hand, if your tendency is to back-away from the commitment to hard kicks if the grip starts to fade, then we might want to focus on lower-camber ski with an emphasis on easy access, but lower peak grip force. On these skis you’d boost kick by using softer/tackier wax, but keeping the application thin.

Skate Skis

While glide-waxing is an important consideration on race day, skate skis don’t require the added human value of a good wax job to unlock their function, the way classic skis do. Skate skis still work with bad wax, and good ones work better with bad wax. The waxing element is an additive factor on skate skis, not a critical threshold to function. For that reason, the importance of keeping up to date with material is higher on the skate side of things.

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.

Finding Skiability

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.

Long Gliders

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 dramatically 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-Tempo 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 – Madshus skis really excel in a forward-loaded and edged position. 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 excellent 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 area where Fischer isn’t at the front of the pack, but it’s worth noting that the 3D Gliding Sidewall design introduced in 2019 provides a more secure 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.

Ski Length

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.