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Drawing on Snow

AUGUST 28, 2011
As the summer heat hits its peak, I'm thinking, of course, about ski design. Many of you don't or haven't skied in years, and revolutionary changes have taken place in the last fifteen years or so, inspired mainly by snowboarding. The first big breakthrough came in the early nineties with "shaped" skis, skis that followed a more hourglass shape. The theory was simple: skiing is all about turning. You turn the ski to control speed. With the older, skinny straight skis, in order to turn them, you had to first weight them to bend them into an arc, then roll them over on edge with knee and ankle pressure, then unweight them to release and complete the turn. This was difficult to do cleanly and mostly the reserve of expert skiers. With the ski pre shaped into a turning radius, shorter and wider, especially in the tip and tail, all you need do is tip them onto their sides and they literally turn themselves. The early versons, Elan's SCX and the S ski out of Colorado, were dismissed as learning crutches for beginners. Then an unknown kid from New Hampshire named Bodie Miller won the '96 Junior National Championships on a pair of shaped off- the-shelf  K2 Fours and the world took notice. Now virtually all skis are "shaped" to some degree. The technical term is sidecut, measuring the difference between the tip, waist and tail. More sidecut for smaller turning radius, less for longer. Sometimes very little or even reverse for powder.
  The next big breakthrough, other than width, which has grown steadily, is rocker. Rocker works like a rocker on a rocking chair. It follows that when you tip a ski onto it's edge to turn it, if it's pre bent in the shape of the turn, or rockered, it will turn more easily, especially in deep powder snow. The late Shane McConky came up with this- he put ski bindings on water skis to ski powder on giant Alaskan peaks- then designed the Volant Spatula which had reverse camber (rocker) and reverse sidecut (shape). These were great in deep snow.
 Just as an hourglass shape is less important in deep, soft snow, rocker is not always good on hard snow where you want some camber- a convex shape like a leaf spring so that when the center of the ski is weighted, the tip and tail are pressed into the snow. Few racing skis, meant to ski ice, employ any rocker at all. They do have a lot of sidecut though. The deeper the sidecut and shorter the ski, the tighter the turn as seen in competition slalom skis. The more shallow the sidecut and longer the ski the longer, faster, and more stable the turn, as in giant slalom.  Downhill skis- as in the Downhill event in World Cup and the Olympics- steep, technical, and very fast- are the biggest and baddest of all, being longer, with less sidecut, and very stiff. Lindsey Vonn borrowed a pair of Bodie's skis to win the Gold in Vancouver in 2010. Lindsey is said to reach speads of 85mph, Herman Meyer, the great Austrian racer now retired, up to 90.
  But I digress. This is really about powder ski design, because that's what we do here in Utah. Today's powder skis are wide, softish and rockered. Very much like snowboards.

At the top is an ancient- 2002- giant Slalom ski used in racing. The tip, waist and tail dimensions are 102/65/88mm. A very thin ski by today's standards. Very stiff, built for speed.
The Gold ski, the  much loved 2008 Volkl Gotama or "Chinese Goats" is an all- mountain twin tip at 133/105/124mm meant for powder skiing but a good ski all over the mountain. Sometimes they just get it perfect and produce a classic. This has no rocker, just traditional camber, is moderately stiff with a softer tail. You can ski it backwards. This years version has rocker tip to tall, some say they ruined it.
The pretty wood veneer is the Ski Logik Howitzer, a boutique brand out of Colarado 137/110/130.(2010). Big, soft and rockered and not much use in anything but deep powder, where it shines.
The Blue ski is a new design by Bertrand Krafft, the great French designer for Salomon. The BBR , new for 2012. I got #47 of 250 pairs that were pre- released last year. The dimensions are radical, combining a huge, soft shovel with a near racing ski stiff pin tail. Dimensions 147/88/111. It has 30 cm of early rise rocker in front for skiing powder with normal camber underfoot for hard snow performance. it's 186 cm long, but, due to the rocker, skis much shorter and is very nimble. This is a fantastic ski. The most versitile, fun, and easy to ski ski I've ever owned. Notice that it has curves like Jessica Rabbit (fig.2) It turns on a dime. Amazes the kids.
  The big black ski is the Volkl Kuro- 185 cm long, 164/132/139. A very big ski for  big boys. This is my friend Tor's. It 's pretty much a snowboard.
Devils Castle, Alta, Utah

powder turns in Ballroom, Alta, Utah

Drawing lines in snow. The perfectly spaced track to the right is mine- I'm a "Euroweenie" in that I prize precision and symmetry. The new schoolers just bomb it...

This is a "secret" hillside at Park City resort. It's just hard to find and the rock band at the top discourages tourists. The even tracks denotes good skiers, although with today's designs, it's much easier than it used to be on skinny skis. The big swooper on the right is a snowboard track.

This is the kind of powder skiers live for. The new skis make it so easy- that's why so many of the tracks are even and effortless looking. My friends and I started at the top, in the distance.

Katrin- resting. She's an Austrian/U.S. citizen who lived in the U.S. for 25 years and taught skiing at Alta.

Katrin again. We climbed up and came down through the notch in the rocks at the top left. Eddie's High Notch, Alta.

Fig.3 Comparison between the 2008, pre-rocker Chinese Goats (red) and the longer, rockered Howitzer. The early rise tip and extra length make it rise to the top in deep snow and float over broken snow. Many powder skis now have much more rocker. I know you guys will recognize the portrait... The Chinese Goats were made in China for a while and ran a Chinese motif on the topsheets. The quality was fine, but most, if not all of Volkl's manufacturing has moved back to Germany.

Fig.3 Prototype BBR's- 186cm long with 30cm of early rise rocker and deep sidecut. These are fiberglassed directly over the bamboo core. The blue you see on later models is just the cosmetic topsheet. My pair was handmade in Austria.

These skis were the Salomon Gun Lab S- also handmade in Chamonix, France, only 1200 pairs. They were a precursor to today's fatter powder skis and had a stout wood core, no rocker. They were big and burley, fat for 2005. 188CM, 135/101/126. The production model was softer and lighter with a foam core and suitable for a wide variety of skiers. I thought these were a little horsey for me- I like a more nimble ski and sold them after a couple seasons.

These are the BBR's in action- smooth and precise.

Mt. Baldy, Alta, Utah. Four pics down is a view from the top of the cornice on the left.

Random I phone shot.Notice the avalanche. Ski patrol knocks them down with dynamite and artillery before they open up.

I love this pic because it captures the spirit of Alta so well. It was shot a few seasons ago. We're traversing along a ridge to get to the fresh powder on the other side. It's early December, and the cover is a little "boney". That's my ski buddy, Emily, in the foreground, hanging onto the rope and checking her equipment. The next picture is looking the other way along the traverse.

This is pretty "sporty" stuff from high up on Mt. Baldy last April. It's actually steeper than it looks, and there's mandatory air at the top- you have to drop in. The BBR's were wonderful on this- 4" of light cover over wind buffed marble with 2' of light, dry Utah powder lower down.I prefer at least a foot of feather light powder on anything steep. Then, it's pretty much the steeper the better- but up here, at 11000' the wind can scour it off. The Hybrid BBRs were impressive. The stiff midsection and tail absorbed the drop cleanly and held onto the harder surface under the light cover beautifully. Of course, further down with that huge front end in deep snow it was like surfing. The whole idea of the ski was inspired by surfboards.

This is Park City sidecountry- my favorate shot from last season-a nearly untracked canvas with a shuttered mine below. Miners took 600 million worth of silver out of Park City in the nineteenth century, much of it by George Hearst, father of William Randolf. You have to walk up to get here, from the side anyway, not the bottom. Weeds people out and it's good for geezers like me. Again, the BBR's were great to carry on the hike up here. They're very light with the bamboo core and no metal layers. I mount them with Salomon Z-12 bindings, among the lightest on the market.

With my daughter Isabel after a big day. The snow freezes on the beard and makes you windproof. Alta got 723 inches of snow last year.

The headshot atop Rustler Ridge, Alta

I was inspired to post this here because of a piece by Lou Brooks I saw several years ago on minature race cars he used to drive in competitions. It was a window into a whole new and unexpected world. Thanks, Lou.