Everything You Need to Know About Alpine Skis - barrabes.world
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BLOG | TIPS | 04 October 2016

Everything You Need to Know About Alpine Skis

Find out how to choose your alpine skis, and what’s new for the 16/17 winter season.

Skier in Cerler, Benasque valley, Pyrenees. Photo: Aramon Cerler
The big bets by the main brands for the 2016-17 season, are once again on rockers and wide midcuts. All Mountain is securing its place as the ski of the future, although piste skis still have their place in the market.

Last year Barrabes collaborator and ski expert Javier Menchaka Gutiérrez wrote an article in our blog explaining the evolution and applications of camber and rocker technologies in ski construction and their effect on ski performance. Once again this year we have asked “Menchaka” to present to us the new technologies and novelties. Above all we got him to write a guide helping those of us who, whether being beginners or advanced skiers, get lost between so many types and models of skis, and have doubts about how to choose.

Do you need to change your skis this year? Perhaps buy your first skis? Then this is the article for you!

THE ETERNAL DOUBT WHEN CHOOSING SKIS
For some skiers, buying a new pair of skis is a straightforward procedure. They are well informed on the latest developments, already have a defined criteria and know what they are looking for. They are usually more than willing to try out the latest advances the that the industry offers each season.

Furthermore they are very aware of their skiing abilities, fitness level and their own expectations of personal improvement. All this makes choosing skis much easier, whether your shopping at a store or on-line.

If this isn’t the case for you, inform yourself and don’t be overwhelmed by the avalanche of new technologies and materials or bad experiences from past purchases. And most importantly of all, no matter how much you know, always get assessed by experts.

The clearer it is in your mind which type of skiing you want to do and what your expectations are, the easier it will be to make the correct choice.

It also helps to ask yourself questions such as, has your level of fitness seen better days or are you at the peak of your level? Are you looking for just one pair of skis or are you looking for “That ski” for “that snow”? Do you dream of groomed slopes or is POW your thing? What’s your level (be honest) and your expectations on improving on it? Do you ski slowly or quickly? Is your attitude on the skis relaxed or are you on the edges on each turn as if it were the last?

Skiers in Cerler, Benasque valley, Pyrenees. Photo: Aramon Cerler
Try to consider what interests you or what you would like to improve as a skier. Even if you plan to put yourself into the hands of an expert at our on-line store , having the answer to these questions can make all the difference to ensure you get a ski that feels like it was made just for you.

If you’ve done your homework we can move onto more personal questions:: How much do you weigh?. How tall are you?. What is your skiing level? How much do you ski every year and where?. What ski boots do you have or have you had?

We’re not trying to be nosy. There are so many details and nuances in the skis that have been released onto the market in the past years that we can say, without the shadow of a doubt, that there is a ski that is almost perfect for you.

It’s also important that your ski and your boot work in harmony, above all if you are going to get a technical ski. A high level ski requires a high level boot.

We’re going to try to prevent the huge selection of brands, categories and models from clouding your horizon. And remember, don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any doubts.

And here’s a tip, before we begin, if you’re not sure what to get, buy an All Mountain ski!

Length

We see lots of people preoccupied by the length when choosing new skis. Choosing the right length depends on so many factors that it’s better not to worry about it until you have decided which ski you want.

In this article we are going to give you lots of tips on how to get the optimal skis for you. Bear in mind that your skiing style, level of expertise, and personal preferences on such things as terrain, snow type, and speed will affect what “optimal” means for you.

Once you’ve done all that, it will be easy to find the right length. We can follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the ski chosen and that’s it.

People often say “I want short skis” when what they are really trying to say is “I want easy skis”. Thanks to rockers and wider waists, easy skis no longer have to be short.

Skiing in Cerler, Benasque valley, Pyrenees. Photo: Aramon Cerler
Categories

The categories alpine skis are generally divided into are: Piste, All Mountain, Freeride and Freestyle. The boundaries between the categories are not clear, and sometimes an alpine ski can almost appear to be an All Mountain or an All Mountain seem like a Freeride.

It’s also true that the jargon varies as time goes by, which can make everything even more confusing.

The Versatility Fever - The Spirit of All Mountain

Race skis and pure Freeride skis are the polar opposite of the philosophy of versatility that has impregnated the collections of all of the manufacturers.

The versatility fever has caught on in almost everything. On-piste skis that promise to behave reasonably off-piste. Freestyle skis that promise to carve great turns outside of the snow park. Freeride skis that promise to be light enough to be used for ski touring. Specialized skis are becoming harder to find.

In the last few seasons, manufacturers have developed specific skis for women. These skis are lighter with a more permissive flex and a lower turn radius. Skis specifically designed for women are mainly found in the high end of the all mountain range, although they also exist in other categories.

From here on we will treat each category individually, talking about each one in detail so that you can make the best decision possible.

SKI BOARDS 2016-17
Lets start with Piste Skis.

Within this category we can find two subcategories: one for the “general public” and another one for “competition”. These skis are usually known as Race skis. Be careful because here the border between categories is unclear and within the “general public” category we can still find some very high performance skis.

Race Skis:

A better description would be “race inspired” as it is very difficult to find a pair of real race skis in a ski shop except for SL (slalom). Normally we find Race Carvers and SL in shops. Race Carvers are skis with a medium or wide turning radius. They are a domesticated version of Giant Slalom skis. They put the thrills of a GS turn into the reach of normal ski enthusiasts, thanks to the contained turn radius. The SL (slalom) ski, due to its grip on steep slopes and hard snow and its reduced turn radius (around 12 metres) is still the preferred choice of short turn fanatics.

Looking at the latest SL or a Race Carver we realize that this category has maybe changed the least in the last few years. Having said that, the rocker has also arrived in this category - in this case with the promise to ease the transition between turns. Arguments like maintaining the tip afloat or greater gliding, used to justify the rocker in other categories, don’t make sense here. However, as you can see, the rocker is good for almost everything.

Looking at the geometry and performance, sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between a race ski and a top-of-the-range on-piste ski. What is unmistakable about the race skis is the way in which they clearly display the company logos. Their design is inspired by the skis seen in the World Cup.

All Race skis are top of the range high performance products.

These are your skis if:

  • You like to go fast on the edges on groomed red and black slopes.
  • You are looking for a ski that allows you to become a master of hard snow and POW.
  • You have perfected your short turn or are looking to perfect it.
  • Dominate the secrets of a medium/wide turn carving on all slopes. (Race Carver)


Perhaps they aren’t your skis if:

  • You’re not as fit as you could be.
  • You’re a laid-back skier.
  • You only want one pair of skis, and every time there is a load of fresh snow you love to go off-piste.
  • You have a limited budget.


We said that these skis have a Race spirit without compromises in the turning radius. When we try to categorize we quickly discover that it isn’t easy. There are exceptions everywhere we look.

The Fischer the Curv DTX is a perfect example of this. Triple radius technology makes the entrance and exit of a turn very closed while the mid phase of the turn allows us to enjoy carving on the edge. With respect to the length of the Curv Fischer they haven’t wasted time. Sidecut 121-72-106 in all the lengths. The shorter skis have more closed radius, the longer ones have a wider radius. The same thing has been done with the Blizzard SRC. They are simpler than any other ski.

Blizzard SRC
The thinking behind the geometric design is similar in the Curv and in the Blizzard SRC. They have the same sidecut (121-70-106) in all the lengths. Different radius’ depending on the length of ski, but with the sensation of a slalom turn always present. The bindings for the Blizzard designed by Marker, incorporate one of the best release systems from a backwards fall thanks to technology of the XCELL spring in its toe. They are also in the Quattro range and the Ikonic by K2, amongst others.

The more conservative among you shouldn’t get scared though; We can still find the classic SLs that have always been around in shops. Two good option for this season are: The Speed Fis SL by Dynastar or the Hero Elite ST Ti by Rossignol. Both with Look mounting plates and bindings.

Rossignol Hero Elite St Ti
If on the other hand you looking for Race Carvers; a very good option is still the Atomic Redster Doubledeck XT. If you don’t already know the Doubledeck system by atomic, it’s about time you did. World Cup technology at your feet to achieve one the best lengthwise flex on the market. Its podiums in the World Cup, Olympics and World championships speak for themselves.

On-piste Skis

Their more relaxed geometry and construction make them more versatile than Race skis. It’s easier to take them off-piste due to their turning radius, which allows them to be enjoyed in short and long turns.

Although inside this category we find a high range aimed at people who carve, they are always going to be more versatile than the Race, allowing to lower the pace when our legs ask for a breather or when it’s time to ski with the family.

In this category we find a stepped range according to our ski level,.from beginners to authentic speed lovers.

These are your skis if:

  • You have good technique but you’re not that fit.
  • Groomed slopes are your terrain.
  • You are looking for a ski that allows you to progress technically.
  • You are looking for a ski that gives you security on hard snow.


Perhaps these aren’t your skis if:

  • You always ski inside the piste but spring snow frightens you.
  • You only want one pair of skis and you are thinking about going off-piste.
  • You love going off-piste every time there is a heavy snowfall.


We said earlier that within this category we can find some real crackers. The Blizzard Quattro RS is a full camber ski for high level skiers who are looking for something more versatile in its turning radius than a Race ski but still give it everything. Full Camber and a 69 midcut in 174cm ski is a clear statement of intentions in these times.

Blizzard Quattro RS
Blizzard has really put the chips down with its Quattro range and seem to want to mark the trend with some models in this range that, despite being on-piste skis, have very generous cuts. We have the 84 mm midcut of the Blizzard Quattro 8.4 Ti (remember we are still talking about on-piste skis). It’s a top of the range ski for skiers that are looking for, above all, a good balance between comfort and sportiness. The amazing characteristics of the All Mountain seem to want to finish with the on-piste ski as we know it. It will no doubt be a hot potato in the future.

Blizzard Quattro 8.4 Ti
With a more classic point of view, Rossignal once again put their solid On-Piste collection onto the shelves with the Look plate and binding systems. They have the Pursuit range for men the Famous range for women. If you’re beginning to ski this year the Pursuit 200 Ca or the Famous 2 are perhaps the best option. They are lighter thanks to the Look Xpress bindings.

Rossignol Famous 2
All Mountain:

At present the All Mountain concept completely encompasses the all-rounder category.

The characteristics of an All Mountain ski are:

  • A rocker making it easier to begin a turn, easier to pivot and easier to slide at lower speeds or in heavy snow.
  • Waist widths range from seventy to over ninety millimetres to increase float in deep or spring snow.
  • Sidecuts that maintain the balance between performance on the slopes, and functionality off-piste. They sacrifice some carving on the edges so as not to let us down when the snow becomes more difficult to handle.


Many brands quantify how much their All Mountain skis are designed for on-piste use in one way or another. The most common logic is “the wider the ski and bigger the rocker, the less suitable it is for groomed slopes.”

This seems logical at first glance as the skis with the narrowest midcut on the market are 100% on-piste and the skis with the most pronounced rocker are Freeride.

However this is only true up to a point. Let us explain:

We can see that the brands are marketing 85±mm waist skis the most. It’s here where we can find the best materials in reinforcements, cores, bindings and mounting plates in the majority of collections. The narrowest midcuts are associated with the bottom end of the market.

In conclusion, although an 88mm midcut may be classified by the manufacturers as more off-piste than its baby brothers doesn’t mean to say that it will perform worse on a slope than one of these. In the majority of cases it’s just the opposite.

The logic of “the wider the midcut, less designed for pistes” starts to come true with hardly any exceptions from a 90 mm midcut. All Mountain skis with these measurements almost remind us more of a Freeride ski than anything else. Many of them come with “open” bindings (a binding that is screwed directly onto the ski just like in the past), just like the majority of Freeride skis.

Broadly speaking, although we can find many exceptions, we can say that within the category of All Mountain we find:
  • Waist cuts between seventy and ninety mm for skiers with a medium level that prefer pistes and that don’t mind sacrificing some performance in exchange for comfort in deep or springlike snow, bumps, or snowy days when the difference between on-piste and off-piste become blurred.
  • Skiers who prefer groomed slopes but when the weather and snow conditions allow, are happy to ski off-piste, albeit occasionally.
  • Midcuts between 85 and 90mm for skiers with only one pair of skis that look for the thrills of carving on-piste, but can’t resist a nice day with POW to go off-piste. Here we tend to find the star products of the brands.


They are your skis if:

  • You are looking for one versatile pair of skis, in order to ski any terrain and incline and enjoy every type of turning radius and every type of snow.
  • Whether spring-like snow frightens you or you love it, these skis are just the job!
  • You are looking for a smooth, calm ski.


Perhaps they aren’t your skis if…

We don’t really know. We find it difficult to find a reason not to jump onto the band wagon of the All Mountain this season. They certainly are THE SKIS of the moment.

Rossignol and Dynastar, except for some cosmetic touches, continue with their successful All Mountain collections.

Dynastar have the Powertrack (men) and Glory (women) ranges which continue staking on generous rockers and generous tips with a convex sidecut that has received so much praise. They are great on the edges on slopes despite having a clear “hors piste” character. In fact the Powertrack remind us a lot of the Cham Freeride range.

Podemos encontrar los Dynastar Powertrack 79 Ca Fluid X+ NX 1, Dynastar Glory 74 + Xpress W 10 B83, o Dynastar Glory 79 Xpress+ Xpress W

Dynastar Glory 79 Xpress
Rossignol, on its part, with their Experience (men) and Temptation (women) ranges, continue staking for a more classic sidecut combined with a generous double rocker. They are fun when skiing quickly on the edge and are easy to control over deep snow or at low speed.

And of course the Air Tips aren’t missing this year. Translucent shovels with a honeycomb construction that apart from being lighter look awesome. 3 examples are Rossignol Experience 80 + Xpress 11 B83, Rossignol Experience 84 Ca K + Nx 12 Konect Dual and Rossignol Temptation 80 + Xpress W11 B83

Rossignol Experience 80 + Xpress 11 B83
Atomic kills two birds with one stone and substitutes the successful Nomad range with Vantage at the same time as fusing that was left between the Race and the Freeride ranges into one concept. They are all-round and versatile skis, and a carbon fibre composite has been added to reduce weight.

Although this range comes under the umbrella of on-piste skis, it’s obvious that they waging more towards the All Mountain ski.

We have the Vantage 90 CTI and the Vantage 95 C in that area of All Mountain that are close to Freeride, to demonstrate it. Both come with Atomic (Salmon) Warden bindings with open mountings.

Atomic Vantage 90 CTI + Warden Mnc 13
Look out, the open bindings jumping from Freeride to All Mountain is picking up momentum. We can now find them on an 83mm midcut like the Vantage 83 CTI which substitutes the Nomad Crimson.

The Vantage X 80 CTI (substitute of the Nomad Blackeye TI) and the Vantage WMN X 74 are two options for almost any medium level skier that is progressing. Both are very recommendable.

Atomic Vantage X 74 W + E Lithium 10
If we talk about All Mountain without talking about the fathers (up to a point) of the creature: K2.

If you’re one of those people that looked suspiciously at the cuts of All Mountain when it all started for being “to wide”, well look at where we’ve got to now!

The K2 bet for this year continues to be its Ikonic range. They are perhaps the lightest All Mountain skis on the market. They come with incredibly light bindings created “ad hoc” by Marker.

K2 Ikonic 78TI QUIKCLIK M3 10 SET
FREERIDE:
There are very few experiences on skis that can beat a sunny day with a blanket of powder snow under your feet, far from the bustle of the slopes. If your experience of Freeride doesn’t go further than the occasional excursion off-piste when the weather permits, your best option these days is definitely All Mountain skis. However if your idea of the perfect conditions for going off-piste are more lenient, and you’re one of those that at 5pm the day after a big snowfall you are still looking for virgin lines in the resort, without a doubt you need a pair of Freeride skis…

Here things have been clearer for a bit longer. Midcuts of 95mm or wider, generous rockers, double rocker or full rocker and turning radius’ that are heading towards wide in the majority of cases.

Once again, though, the borders between categories are unclear: Skis with more than 100mm in the midcut are sold as half Freeride, half All Mountain. We can also find incredibly wide and ultralight skis which are denominated as Freetouring. This is a category between Freeride and Ski Touring, which can be confusing.

As far as sidecuts things are just as varied: Convex sidecuts in the racker zone, practically straight skis, and parabolic sidecuts from tip to tail—a bit of everything.

These are your skis if:

  • You are a Freeride fanatic.
  • You are looking to extend your repertoire off-piste.
  • You don’t want to risk scratching your on-piste skis on a stone. Remember that off-piste nobody removes the stones or conditions the terrain in the summer.


Perhaps these aren’t your skis if:

  • Your ski level is a bit tight.
  • You don’t like to go fast. Although they are easy to handle and allow short turns, they work better with a little bit of speed.
  • Your excursions off-piste are not very frequent, and are limited to days with good powder snow.
  • You usually ski off-piste but you only want one pair of skis.
  • You always ski on indoor slopes. (There are people that do everything…)


Here we aren’t going to expand too much as we are preparing a special article about Freetouring and Ski Touring which you will be able to read here soon. We are only going to say that this year there are some great looking skis for Freetouring. Skis like the Blizzard Bonafide, the Faction Agent, the Dynastar cham or Dynafit Dhaulagiri will make us all dream this season. If skiing POW is your thing, imagine doing it where no one else gets to.

Anyway, that's it for now. Have an awesome 2016/17 season—and be careful out there!

Blizzard Bonafide
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