November 24, 1996

New Ski Designs Embraced By Beginners, Experts

Kim Mchugh San Antonio Express-News

After 26 seasons of skiing primarily in Western states, I wanted to see how the powder in Canada stacked up. And I wanted to try skiing on the new fat skis and shaped skis that have hooked so many others.

Given the strong U.S. dollar and heaps of powder snow in the forecast, I set my sights northward.

A review of the British Columbia Tourism Winter Vacation Guide steered me to Whistler/Blackcomb, ski areas that overflow with terrain and views of mountains that zig and zag over the landscape.

A flight to Vancouver and a 2-1/2-hour bus ride later, I checked into the Delta Whistler Resort hotel - in the heart of the resort village and about 100 yards from the gondola.

As powder swirled about, I headed to the gondola with a pair of Volant Chubbs, the new “fat” skis. The makers claim the skis will cause less fatigue, more stability and give skiers the ability to make more runs.

Chubbs under feet, I set out. I must confess, I had my doubts about fat skis, which are a kind of hybrid between a water ski and a snowboard. As an expert skier, I had relied on 207-centimeter-long skis most of my life. “Fat Boys,” as they are often called, range in length from 152 to 187 centimeters, with a “waist” or center around 105 millimeters.

Considerably shorter and nearly twice as wide as regular skis, they are supposed to ride high in powder and blast through with amazing ease. Standing in the lift line, I wasn’t convinced. When the skis were introduced in 1991, powder experts weren’t either.

“I scoffed at them,” said Joe Royer of Nevada’s Ruby Mountain Heli-ski. “One powder day, I took out the widest skis I owned and one of my guides took fat boards. He skied rings around me. I ordered 40 pair.”

Nearly all the heli-ski operators in Canada and the Western states have switched over to the chubby skis.

I spent much of my time cruising the powder in the giant bowls at Whistler and found the fat skis phenomenal. They made it easy to initiate turns and to find my ideal balance point.

“It’s criminal how easy (fat skis) make it,” said Greg Smith of Utah’s Wasatch Powderbird Guides heli-ski operation. “You can ski easier in powder than you ever have before.”

While superb in powder and crud, many of the chubbies are not so hot on groomed slopes. There’s little edge control, especially at higher speeds. However, the Chubb handled pretty well.

So I stuck to the powder bowls and, thanks to my Chubbs, my Canadian ski vacation was off to a great start.

The second day, I visited Blackcomb and tried a pair of the new “shaped” ski by Elan. Also known as an hourglass, super-sidecut or parabolic ski, a skier will recognize it for its thin waist and extra wide tip and tail.

Again, I was skeptical. I wondered if the radical design was a gimmick or something that would translate into improved performance. Touted to make turning easier, the Elan SCX Parabolic did just that.

I did have an adjustment period of a half dozen runs. I found myself working the ski harder than it needed to be to get it up on its edge. The word from the maker is that, for an intermediate and advanced beginner, the shaped ski requires much less effort to turn because of the shorter length and dramatic side-cut.

Like the chubby skis, the shaped ski gets high marks for working beautifully in powder and crud, as evidenced by my effortless movements through both snow conditions. While I thought it held a great edge on the hard-pack snow, I wasn’t crazy about how it squirmed at higher speeds.

One company that claims success at providing stability at higher speeds with its shaped ski is Stockli, a Swiss-made ski. The K2 Four and the Volant PowerKarve also boast increased stability and a shorter learning curve.

“Every skier hits a point when he or she hits a plateau,” said a spokesman from K2 Skis. “These skis kick you off that plateau.”

With these new designs, beginner and intermediate skiers should see the kinds of improvements in their skiing that will catapult them to the next level. And experts can look forward to a lot more fun.


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