Once upon a time you could get skis in three different types: slalom, GS and garbage. And because the first two types of skis were only meant for the elite, most skiers were stuck with garbage.
It was a struggle, and a good number of people gave up the sport after years of flailing away and making no real progress up the ability scale.
Then came the specialty ski revolution of a few years ago, and you could obtain just about any type of board for any type of terrain and snow conditions.
You want to run gates? Grab your racing skis. You want to carve up the corduroy? Slap on your super-shaped skis. You want to jump into some freshies? Step into your fat boards.
But with the exception of the racing skis - which any proficient skier can turn in just about any type of snow - the latter two options were alarmingly one-dimensional. The shaped skis, which work wonderfully on groomed slopes, have a tendency to dip and dive and wander all over the place in the powder and crud. The fat skis, which have converted a whole new generation of powder hounds and off-piste fanatics, tend to respond like 2x4s on the groomed runs.
What’s a person - without a load of discretionary income - to do?
“Manufacturers have been striving for the ultimate all-mountain ski,” says Steve Merrifield, proprietor of DemoSki in San Rafael. “And they’ve come up with a new answer: mid-fats. These skis are full off-piste skis that float well in powder and yet rebound and carve like a racing ski.”
Stepping into the forefront of these so-called “all-terrain” skis are the Dynastar 4x4, the K2 Xplorer and the Salomon X Mountain (all of which retail for $600-$650).
“These skis are wide-waisted, making them good for powder and backcountry skiing, and they have a pretty good sidecut, making them good for groomed runs,” Merrifield says.
But supposing you’re just content to piddle around on the machine-buffed runs (and with today’s go-anywhere grooming machines, that’s plenty of skiing for most people), practicing your carving technique and wowing the locals?
The super-sidecut skis - which entered the world known as parabolics because of their shape - have evolved into an offshoot that promotes some skidding but still has the deep sidecut that enables the skier to carve.
These, too, come in different styles - high-performance types like the K2 Merlin, Rossignol 9x9.9 and the Salomon Axe (retailing for around $600) that have less shape and are narrower under foot and the lower-end skis like the Dynastar Max 2 and the Rossignol Energy 10.1 (in the $450 range) that have more tip-to-tail ratio.
“These are skis for skiers,” Merrifield says, “rather than skis for racers.”
With all the ski development these days aimed toward carving skis, it isn’t surprising that boot manufacturers have taken that road, too.
“Carving skis create more pressure on the boot laterally because they are on the edge so much,” Merrifield says, “so they’ve designed boots more streamlined to reduce boot-out,” which results when the boots release from the binding because of too much contact with the snow.