Ski Equipment

What’s New In Down Hill Snow Skis

The most significant development in ski design in the last few years has been “Shape” skis. These skis have a pronounced hourglass shape and are easier to turn than more traditional designs. They hold better on ice and hard snow and are much easier to learn to ski on than straighter traditional skis. So much so that it’s now possible to ski at a low intermediate level in just a few hours rather than a few days.

These skis are awesome to ski on. The deeper sidecuts make it really easy make big, round carved turns. But you’ll find that turning them is different than with straight skis. With straight skis there was a bit of a skid at the beginning of the turn. The deeper side cut on shaped skis prevents the skid. To turn them you just put a little pressure on the front of the ski and roll them from edge to edge. If you’re new to shape skis consider taking a carving lesson. In one hour you’ll learn more about turning these critters than you’ll learn in several days on your own. Just about every ski made today is a shape ski so they’re not a fad. They’re here to stay and they’ve taken over the ski industry.

How to Pick a Ski

Sport, Performance and Hi Performance Skis one of the confusing things about shopping for equipment is the label the manufacturers give to their equipment. What is a Sport skier? What’s an All Terrain ski? What kind of skier am I?

These labels are attached to different performance levels of equipment to help differentiate it from one another. They’re not hard and fast descriptions and they differ from one manufacturer to the next. For the purpose of trying to simplify our discussion we’re going to break equipment down into three categories: Sport, Performance and Hi Performance.

More important than what the categories are called, is what kind of skier the categories are for. That’s where the manufacturer’s descriptions become a little fuzzy. If fairness to the manufacturers it is difficult to being precise with this because a particular ski may actually work quite well for a number of different types of skiers.

For our discussions we’re going to use the following skier descriptions;

Sport Skiers:

Sport skiers tend to more concerned about the skiing experience than the actual equipment. A good day for a sport skier means a sunny day, good food at the lodge, fun with their friends and family rather than having the correct base edge bevel, perfect wax and the latest in hi-end equipment. They may spend as much or more time in the lodge as they do on the snow. Their performance level can be anything from beginner through intermediate and they probably don’t ski enough to get any better than they are now. They usually ski on green or blue runs. If it’s not a sunny day with mild temperatures they probably won’t go skiing.

Performance Skiers:

Ability level doesn’t define the performance skier as much as their desire to improve. These skiers can be anywhere from beginners to the advanced skiers that people look at from the chair lifts. They’re concerned about their technique, they would like to ski better than they do now and they work at trying to improve. Skiing is the most important part of going skiing (as opposed to hanging out in the chalet). They’re the first skiers on the hill and the last off. They ski a variety of runs, at a variety of speeds. The performance category is the broadest of the categories.

Hi Performance Skiers:

What differentiates Performance from Hi Performance skiers is speed. These are faster and/or more aggressive skiers. They can be racers, extreme, powder, cruising, bump or all around skiers. The equipment needs these skiers have are much different from those of the performance skiers. In many cases function takes precedence over convenience and fit takes precedence over comfort. Hi Performance skiers can range from improving progressing intermediates to advanced and expert skiers that are not willing to let the limits of their equipment compromise their ability.

Sport Skis

Sport skis, particularly the new shape sport skis are skied at shorter lengths, somewhere from chin to nose height. The ski should be at the short range for slower speed, less aggressive or lighter weight skiers. The ski should be longer for average to higher speed, more aggressive or heavier skiers. Sport skis are sometimes wider, to support the skier’s weight over a shorter length, and softer flexing so that they’re more predictable and easier to start into a turn.

The difference between less expensive and more expensive sport skis may be in how much fiberglass the manufacturer used in making the ski, how complex the core construction is and in what type of top edge protection and base material the ski has. More fiberglass and a more complex core design makes for a firmer ski that is torsionally stiffer and will hold better on hard snow and feel more stable at higher speeds, which is important as you improve your skiing technique.

Torsional stiffness can be visualized by having one person hold the tip of the ski and another person holding the tail of a ski, twisting the tip and the tail in opposite directions would demonstrate torsional flex. If you try this you’ll notice that the torsional stiffness at the tip and tail is softer (twistier) than the middle of the ski. The softer tip and tail allows the ski to be easy to start into a turn, the firmer midsection helps the ski hold well on ice. As the performance level of the ski increases one thing that changes is that the torsional flex of the ski gets firmer. This makes the ski hold better on hard snow for more advanced skiers that ski at higher speeds. It also makes the ski “quicker” from edge to edge.

Good quality skis will have that perfect balance of a ski that’s easy to turn and holds well on ice. A good sport ski will also help the skier learn how to carve their turns. A ski that’s too soft (too cheap) will never carve; they’re just too soft. A sport skier with a ski that’s too soft will never develop good strong carved turns, the ski will hold them back.

Performance Skis

Just about any ski will carve on soft fluffy snow; the problem is when you get on hard snow or ice. The difference between less expensive and more expensive performance skis is how well they behave at higher speeds. The less expensive skis work well up to moderate speeds but don’t respond as quickly or hold as well at higher speeds. The more expensive skis carve and hold well for the performance skier at all speeds.

Some of the best values in skis are in this performance ski category. In many cases these were yesterday’s hi performance designs that have been “bumped” by the latest design or manufacturing change. In some cases though I’ve seen manufacturers take hi performance ski designs, take out some of the components or designs that made hi performance skis great and make a “detuned” version of the flagship skis that are absolutely awful. The trick for the manufacturer is to find the best compromise between an easy turning yet good holding ski. This is where it’s important to talk with someone that has tried the ski and knows that it performs well.

One neat feature that you start to see in performance skis (that all hi performance skis have) is vibration control. As a ski travels down the hill it doesn’t ride truly flat on the snow, it vibrates. A small amount of vibration is good because it helps break suction between the ski and the snow and helps the ski glide better. Too much vibration though and the ski is unstable. The faster you go the worse it gets. To counter this vibration the manufacturers put special materials or vibration damping systems into their skis to absorb or reduce vibration.

Hi Performance

These skis are the Porsche, Ferrari and Corvettes of the industry. They are the direct result of hundreds of thousands of dollars of research and development, World Cup racing experience and the finest engineering and design minds in the ski world. For a ski junky, skiing and testing these skis is like getting to take a few laps at Indy in a Penske car. One fascinating thing about high performance skis is how incredibly easy the are to ski on. There’s no squirreliness and no chatter. They turn as quick as you want and they go where you point them. Going fast on these skis is like riding in a Cadillac on fresh new pavement. They’re impressively smooth and quiet at high speeds.

Most of the skis in the high performance category can be skied by anyone from an intermediate level and above. The only reason someone at an intermediate level or above wouldn’t want to buy a high performance ski is the price. If you don’t ski that often it might be hard to justify spending more money. If you can afford it though, a high performance ski will be the quickest and easiest way to improve your skiing.

How to Fit Ski Boots

Ski boots are the easiest piece of equipment you’ll buy because they’re the only piece of equipment you can actually try in the store. The most important thing about buying ski boots is to make sure they fit correctly when you buy them!!!! Most boot fitting problems are related to boots that were fit improperly to begin with. And the most common fitting mistake is that when people that don’t know how to buy ski boots they end up buying them too big!

These are the essentials of proper ski boot fitting:

The most correct way to size a pair of boots is to remove the liner from the ski boot shell and put your stocking foot inside the shell of the boot. Stand up and put weight on your foot, slide your foot forward until your toes are lightly brushing the end of the shell. For recreational skiers there should be about _” between the back of your heel and the inside of the shell. Racers should shoot for about _”.

Boot fitting:

When you first put on a correct sized ski boot your toes will hit the end of the boot. Don’t worry about that yet. Lightly buckle the boot shut then flex forward firmly a few times to get your heel seated back in the boot (this should pull your toes back off the end of the boot). After you’ve seated your heel back in the boot flex forward and buckle the lower buckles to a normal skiing tension, this will hold your foot back in the boot. Next, rise up until the back of your leg touches the back of the boot and the shaft of your leg follows the shaft of the boot. DON’T LEAN BACK IN THE BOOT. Buckle the upper buckles to a normal skiing tension.

How do they fit? When you’re standing in a neutral stance, not leaning forward or backward but your leg is following the forward lean of the boot, your toes should be lightly brushing the end of the boot. When you flex forward into a skiing position with your legs pushing against the front of the boot, your toes should pull off the end of the boot. It’s important to make sure that new boots fit like this because the inner liners will pack out and the boot will grow. In fact the boot will never again be a small as they are the moment you first put the boot on. If you can’t touch the end of the boot with your toes when you’re standing in a neutral position the boot is too big.

Socks the least expensive most important piece of ski equipment you’ll ever buy are ski socks. Every boot manufacturer will tell you that the last 10% of the fit of a ski boot are in the ski socks. Ski socks are tightly woven, fitted socks with no ribbing where the boot touches the foot or the leg. They’re made from blended wool, silk or man made polypropylene or insulated Thermax. DO NOT WEAR COTTON ATHLETIC SOCKS! Unlike wool, cotton fibers mat down when they get wet and they make your feet cold.

Always fit the boot with single pair of ski socks. Never wear two pair of socks because it’s too easy for the bottom layer of sock to wrinkle and cause a pressure point. Also, the bottom of your long underware should be above the top of the boot. There should be nothing between your foot and the boot except for a single ski sock.

Warm feet hint : Drive to the ski area in your regular socks and put your ski socks on right when your put your ski boots. If you drive to the area in your ski socks they’ll become wet from perspiration during the dry and make your feet cold. If you have a problem with cold feet (which is usually caused because your feet are wet from perspiration) try spraying your feet with an antiperspirant before you put you ski socks on. That should help you feet stay drier.

Performance vs. Price Inexpensive entry level boots, use softer plastic shells, and softer less dense foam liners. The fit is looser and the emphasis is on “cush” rather than support. Higher performance, more expensive boots use firmer shells and more dense less cushy liners. The liner fits snugger to the foot. Performance oriented liners often have multiple layers of foam in them with softer more comfortable layers next to the foot and progressively more dense layers toward the outside of the liner to hold the foot more securely.

Less expensive entry-level boots use stitched liners. The bottom of the liner is stitched to the side of the liner giving the liner square corners next to the foot and a less supportive fit. Performance oriented liners are lasted. Lasting is a process where the liner is made around a form of a foot which gives the liner more of a foot shape with a defined arch and heel pocket. Lasted liners ski much better than stitched liners.

The ski boot is the link between the skier and the skis. The looser and sloppier the link, the less control the skier has over their skis. The firmer and more responsive the link the more control the skier has over their skis. Trying different boots at various price points will give you a quick indication of how much more supportive the boots become as they get more expensive. Many shops will have a device that will clamp the boots down firmly onto a ramped board. This allows you try different performance level boots on, flex them firmly and evaluate how well each boot holds your foot in place.

The best advice is to get the most expensive boot you can afford because more expensive boots mean more support, which ultimately means better control and better skiing technique.

Be sure to read the section on Custom Fitting to learn how to make your boots perform better.

How to Fit Kids Ski Boots

Kids’ boots are harder to fit than adult boots because kids can’t verbalize how the boot feels. A good way to get an idea on how the foot is going to fit the boot is to put the child’s stocking foot against the bottom of the shell of the boot. There should be about an inch between the toes and the front of the boot and an inch between the heel and the back of the boot. That will give you some room to grow without getting it so big that the foot slides around inside.

You need to be very specific about what you’re asking kids when you’re fitting them for boots. Don’t ask, “how does it feel?” Instead, tell them the boot is suppose to be snug and ask “does it hurt or pinch anywhere?” or “is your foot loose or sliding around?”.

Make sure that the child can flex the boot. Some kids’ boots are so stiff that the child can’t even bend the upper cuff. If they can’t flex the boot it will be very difficult for them to learn proper ski’ technique. Also keep in mind that if they can’t flex the boot in the ski shop when its 70 degrees, they’ll never be able to flex it outside when it’s cold and the plastic shell stiffens up.

How To Maintain Your Skis

The first thing to realize about new skis is that they are not ready to be skied. Just like many other products, the skis need some work before they’re ready to perform like they were intended to perform.

First of all, new skis should be tuned for the skier and the conditions the skis will be used in. That means that the base and side edges of the skis (which, by the way, are not a square 90 º) need to be beveled and polished to the angles that make the skis work best for you. For casual recreational skiers the base edge should be beveled 1 º and the side edge should be beveled 2 º. That will give you a forgiving, easy turning ski that won’t skid in most snow conditions. For higher performance skiers we recommend a base edge bevel of 1/2 º and a side edge bevel of 2 º. That makes the skis respond quicker from edge to edge and helps them hold better on icy or harder snow. For racers we recommend a base edge angle of 1/2 º on the bottom and 3 º on the side. That makes for a super quick ski that holds really well on icy race courses.

Once the base angles have been set the skis need to be waxed. When skis glide across the snow they actually melt the top layer of snow and form a very thin layer of water. If you ski down a hill and turn around and look at your tracks you’ll see that they’re shiny. That’s the thin layer of water that’s frozen. Ski wax breaks the suction that’s formed between the ski and the layer of water that you’re gliding on. If you could look at the plastic base of your ski under a high powered microscope you’d see that it’s porous like the surface of a sponge. Those pours hold wax like a sponge holds water. As you glide across the water the wax is drawn from the pours and breaks the suction. Just like a sponge will only hold so much water, a ski will only hold so much wax. Once the wax has been drawn from the base of the ski there’s nothing to break the suction between the water and the ski and the skis get dog slow. They’re harder to turn and they don’t want to glide very well. They’re not nearly as fun to ski on as properly waxed skis.

After your skis have had the initial base and side edge angles set and they’re waxed you’re ready to go.
Now you need to know what to do to keep them in good condition.

They first thing that should be done after skiing is the edges and base should we wiped down with a soft clothes to get the water off the edges (to prevent rusting) and dirt off the bases. Next each of the four side edges (two side edges per ski) should be polished with a diamond stone clamped to the correct side edge angle tool. Skis are never sharpened by sharpening the bottom edge. By honing each side edge about 6 times every time you ski you will keep the skis acute edge angles sharp and true.

Next, the skis need to be waxed. Preferably this is done by the melting wax onto the base of the skis, ironing it into the base then scraping the excess off once it cools. If you don’t want to go to that amount of effort, liquid wipe on waxes can be used. For recreational skiers skis should be polished and waxed at least every other time you ski. For high performance skiers or racers, the skis should be polished and waxed every time you ski.

Hi Tempo offers free tuning and waxing clinics every week to should you how to take care of everything you need to do to make sure your skis ski as easily as possible.