Salomon has continued to push their development cycle relentlessly hard, with the introduction of new designs and models almost every year. This year we’re looking toward a totally new classic design, and we’ve got some limited but interesting testing feedback and lots of excitement about that. But we need to start with a review of what we already know. Last season Salomon launched a redesign of their carbon skate ski in the universal “yellow” model, and we were very excited. You can re-read our preview of the new model here:
We’ve now had a full season to work with the new “34” model skate skis, and we’ve been happy to find that Salomon has really delivered on the promise of the design. We’ve had outstanding feedback from our on-snow demos, and from our customers. And perhaps most telling – we’ve seen the new 34 construction skis displace established favorites in pretty much every Salomon skiers’ race fleets. The 34 construction is clearly a step forward.
That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been lessons to learn. We’ve found surprising limitations in the performance profiles of some of the production series that we took for testing, and in fact ended up reallocating some of our intended conditions designations in our race/demo fleet of 187s. Skis that we selected for blue-range conditions got reground for warmer snow, while some of the stuff we expected to run warmer got moved into more of a universal cold slot. After a bit of head scratching we’re satisfied that we’ve got our understanding squared away, and are on the right track with these skis.
Part of our job as we learn these products is to identify which skiers will benefit most from the characteristics of the skis that we carry. The Salomon skate skis have outstanding edge security, and great flat-ski stability for skiers who ride the ski in a neutral foot position. Both Amy and I feel that an aggressive forward position on the foot doesn’t bring the best out of the material – overloading the front of the ski actually seems to detract from the edge stability and elastic response of the ski.
Another change we saw last year was a new Prolink binding model that reduced the thickness of the heel plate, and generated just enough ramp in the binding platform to give the skis an easier initial acceleration. Overall the Prolink bindings have been a reliable platform, and Amy has a clear preference for the overall sense of connection and somewhat stiffer bumper feel than the various other NNN compatible binding options on the market.
For next year, Salomon is bringing the 34 construction to their blue and red model skis, and this is big news. Not because of any big change in camber or construction – the basic ski construction is the same for all three models – but because Salomon’s cold and wet bases are the best in the industry. It’s difficult to generate a big advantage with base materials, and still have tolerant and broad range solutions. Salomon has done amazing work in this area, and their clear base (126) and cold base (F) represent reliable and tolerant solutions for wet and cold conditions. Last year we suggested that customers should hold off and not get the blue or red model skis until they were available in the new construction. Now is the time to round out the fleet with dedicated warm and cold skis!
We did have a chance to ski on the new models during US Nationals in Craftsbury. It was a decidedly middle-of-the-range day when we headed out with Bryan Cook to check out the new stuff, and we couldn’t tell much, except that they both felt really good. And more importantly, they both felt like the 34 construction skate skis we’ve gotten to know. We didn’t invest too much energy chasing testing on these new models because we’re already familiar with all of the variables at play.
The big change for the coming season is a totally revised classic line-up. Salomon put themselves right into the mix in the classic game several years ago with their previous new line-up of skis. For reference, here is our preview of the 2016-17 model year:
The introduction of those models has been really good for us. We’ve had a lot of happy customers – particularly with the red (klisters) and blue (hardwax) models. In general the weakness of the brand has been in the mid-range, where it’s been tough to find good, easy access to kick along with good carrying capacity and great double-pole speed. Most of the time we’re finding that limitation in the yellow model ski, but I think it has more to do with the overall material design and the demands of medium-volume wax jobs than with the yellow model itself.
For next year, everything is new. The materials and geometry of the skis are totally reconfigured, with a dramatic reduction of thickness from the mid-body front and rear, out to the ends of the ski. They have introduced their thin-ply carbon topsheet material to the rear end of the ski, and a lot of the early attention to the new models has been focused on their very rapid acceleration and release in double-poling. And it’s true – the skis really seem to “scoot” when you double-pole. It’s hard to parse the contribution of material, thickness profile, and camber to figure out what is accounting for the difference in the feeling. My sense is that the revised thickness profile and camber contribute at least as much as the carbon cap material.
The result of all this is a pocket that forms early, with quite a long rear end – as you approach half-weight load the camber bridge contact point gathers up right where the thickness profile of the ski builds, about 35cm behind the balance point. This characteristic provides a very energetic unloading effect on release (that’s the “scoot” you feel in the double-pole), and it also creates a very soft finishing hardness, and proportionally high load on the front of the ski.
The advantages to this design are really easy access to kick, and really energetic and decisive release, which provides a very fast and free feeling under foot. The disadvantages are that it’s a tricky thing to find really good balance in the camber, and the skis can end up feeling quite wrong. Two of the three pairs we’ve tested have felt as though the front of the pocket is prone to collapsing early, creating a somewhat hitchy feeling.
To be clear, this is not a case of simply lifting the camber under the foot to create a long back end of the pocket and a soft finish. Many companies have done that, and it’s typical to end up with “inverted” pocket, where the middle of the bridge closes before the ends. That’s generally a really bad thing, and it doesn’t provide good kick. I believe that these 29model skis are getting their bridge characterstics in large part from the material and thickness profile, and in spite of the long rear end of the bridge, the pocket’s do not invert. It’s quite a feat, actually, to build a ski with finishing hardness this easy, and with sufficient material strength to hold the integrity of the bridge.
In the end, we feel strongly that this design can yield outstanding results if its well understood and the ski selection is done well. There is some risk involved – we’ve certainly seen skis that don’t feel right, and don’t perform with the consistency that we’d like to see. In the end, we’ll be looking for skis with a fairly clearly defined residual camber, and a little bit of an “old school” leaf-spring shape rather than a really flat and long pocket. The flat and long pocket versions we’ve been on are the ones that end up being tricky.
It’s worth noting that this design has seen a lot of success and very rapid adoption by World Cup skiers. It’s a proven design, and many days it appears to provide a decisive advantage to Salomon skiers. The demand in high level racing is for exceptional double-pole speed, and the ability to carry light kick wax jobs and still have access to kick. That’s clearly what these skis are about, and we’re really excited to work more with them because we think they will produce some outstanding results.
The skis are incredibly light – 10% lighter than the previous Salomon models – and even lighter feeling under foot with the reduced thickness in the tip and tail. They almost disappear under foot, until you put them on edge and realize how secure they feel.
The other interesting news from Salomon is the introduction of a position-adjustable classic binding. It still screws onto the ski, using the same hole pattern that is pre-drilled in the skis. Given the expected sensitivity to load and position in the new 29 model skis, we think that these adjustable bindings are a really good idea.