Thursday, January 4, 2007

skiing: replacing an icon

ripped out edge of Salomon XScreamnicked top edge of Salomon XScreamIn mid-December I skied slightly off to the side of KT22 and hit a rock that not only gouged my base but ripped three inches of the metal edge off. It would cost at least $100 to fix, not worth it for such beat-up skis. Having already replaced my unloved Völkl G41 Vertigo powder skis with ex-demo K2 Apache Chiefs at the end of last season, I was not looking forward to more demoing. As I recounted, in the past I've found nothing that comes close to the XScream Séries.

But this season turned out to have an abundance of riches. I needed an expert ski that could ski everything but powder (and no need for skiing backwards or in the park), with the wrinkle that I love short-radius turns and moguls as well as carving. "All Mountain Expert with emphasis on short turns" is a huge range to cover.

The Völkl AC3
I was dubious on my demo loop, but gave it another run and started to enjoy it. A really tall ski with lots of wood running along the edges, so there's a lot of stiffness in front of your foot. Yet it felt lively and fun and willing to make all kinds of turn shapes. Its big downside is not much radius, so you tip it into a carve and it doesn't turn much. You have to load it up to do a tight carve.
Völkl Allstar
More of a carving ski, this helps you turn and will do a lovely carve. It didn't feel as solid in crud but it's got such a nice turn initiation that you feel confident in bad conditions. Fast into the turn, fast through the turn, but not a lot of acceleration.
Atomic Metron 9
Incredibly lively, with a grabby tip that just digs in, turns sharply, then pops you off into the next turn. Great edge grip on ice. This was a lot of fun but I was dubious about versatility.

Volkl AC3 skiAll three are fine at short-radius turns, though they reward different techniques. You tilt the Metron 9 on edge and the fat tip just digs in and starts turning, the rest of the ski bends into a curve, and if you don't screw up, sharp turns happen; you feel like you're standing at the center of springy rubber bands. You scoop the Allstar tip into a turn and then ride the entire edge through the turn. You guide the solid front of the AC3 into a turn with a combination of tipping and steering, and modulate both throughout the turn. The reviews got it partly right, the AC3 is a fine crusing ski, but you can take it out of that comfort zone and have fun with it. And that ease let me ride it long, in 177 cm instead of 167-172 with some other skis. (I remember when 204 cm was considered short.) I bought the AC3!

The also-rans:
Nordica Nitrous
Easy turning, but too slow
Nordica Top Fuel
Same geometry as the Nitrous but extra metal. That made it stiffer, but no livelier. However, once locked into the one turn shape it wants to make, it's very stable.
Atomic Metron 11
It seems like a great idea to make a ski that's less a hardcore turner than the 9, but this just felt slower and less alive without any great payoff in versatility.

The ones that got away: I really wanted to try the Salomon Tornado which got higher marks than the AC3 in every category in the ski magazine reviews, but couldn't find a pair to demo. Everyone raved about the AC4 and those ski magazine reviews rated it better than the AC3 (I bet next year they come out with an AC5), but I assumed fatter meant less good at short turns. Maybe a Völkl RaceTiger would be a meatier version of the Allstar. I heard good things about the K2 Apache Recon, but just ran out of time and energy to continue demoing. I never got to the Fischer and Head lines, and Blizzard, Elan, etc. are rare on the West coast.

Kudos to John, Dennis, and Cory at Squaw Valley Sport Shop for letting me take demo skis out in low snow conditions with rocks a plenty. Granite Chief and the Gold Coast demo center would not let me demo skis, though to be fair a guy at the demo center pointed to a rack full of damaged demo skis.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

skiing: hick nicks ripped sticks

hacked-up Volkl G41 and Salomon XScream Séries skisHere are my skis: fat-ish 188cm Volkl G41's from about 2000 and the legendary mid-fat Salomon XScream Séries in one of their weird power ratings from 1998. As you can see I continue to shred the living daylights out of my right ski, which means both need replacing. The XScream seems to take the abuse well, but the Volkl wood core is exposed to moisture and that's not good.

I have a hate-hate-love relationship with the Volkls. They're fast and they work in powder and crud, but they need a lot of manhandling to turn. I have to ride them for two days before I start to enjoy them. I was suckered into buying them by the petite salesperson at Granite Chief who claimed to ride this length in all conditions. I should have got shorter skis or held out for Salomon's All Mountain skis.

The Salomon XScream Séries is just great in any conditions less than 6 inches of powder or major crud. Bumps, carving, speed, short-radius, long-radius, chopped, ice, anything! They're fairly soft but still respond to aggressive moves. I was very dubious about the Prolink bars you can see in the picture — why not make the ski thicker? — until I saw race stock Salomon downhill skis with three sets of these.

I'm sure I would be happier on several powder skis than the G41's, but I spent 2000-2005 demoing replacements for the XScreams and never found a ski as versatile and unfailingly excellent. Besides, until I stop scissoring my left ski into my right and tearing its top edge to shreds, I don't want to subject new skis to the same abuse. Time to go second-hand.

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