Girth Matters

The wider the waistband the sweeter the ride

    Photo: Chris Bartlett

REMEMBER THOSE images from the late nineties of skiers leaning into lay-down turns without poles? Forget them. And while you're at it, forget everything you've ever heard about the radical shaped skis, or parabolics, those coiffed posers employed to execute their boorish "pure carving" parlor tricks. In the six years since freakish hourglass boards with 24-millimeter sidecuts emerged on the market, the novelty of carving slow turns on beginner runs has (hallelujah!) worn off and ski manufacturers have shifted to relatively mild 14- to 18-millimeter sidecuts. (The sidecut is the curvature of the ski from tip to tail.) The reason is simple: While skis with 14- millimeter sidecuts make slightly longer turns and skis with 18-millimeter sidecuts make slightly shorter turns, everything within that range is perfectly adept at the all-important all-mountain turn.

Since most of the skis your favorite shop will seduce you with this season fall within this 14- to 18-millimeter class, sidecut is no longer the most crucial element in selection. To tell how a ski performs on varying terrain and snow conditions, you need to pay attention to girth—that is, how broad the ski is under your foot. Skinny-waisted skis bite reassuringly into hard snow and require less muscle to tilt on edge. Obese skis float in cow-choking powder or knee-torquing crud, where you want as much load-bearing surface as possible to pop to the top of the snow. Merely chubby skis are a compromise between the two.
So how fat should you go? That depends on your favorite terrain. Skis designed for high-speed cruising on boilerplate run 65 to 68 millimeters at the waist. Experts who whip turns in Eastern trees or Western chutes prefer 69- to 72-millimeter waists. And while 73 to 79 is classic "mid-fat" territory—powder skis for strong skiers—80 and up is pig city, ideal for riding bottomless powder and unskiable muck on big, wide-open mountains. In each of these categories, we tested two of the finest skis available. Your task: Match 'em up with the right mountain, and then let 'em rip.—Seth Masia

High-Speed Cruising
65 mm: Völkl's new Carver Motion ($895 with Marker binding, lengths 156­184 cm) is built for fast skiing on screaming groomers like Sun Valley's Warm Springs or the front side of Vail. With tip-waist-tail widths of 107, 65, and 95 mm respectively, the Carver unleashes lightning-fast edge changes. At 18 mm of sidecut depth, it has the most pronounced shape of all the skis we tested—perfect for linking fast turns to convince ski patrol that, indeed, you are in control. Its construction, like that of the great giant-slalom skis of the past, is heavy on metal: a lightweight core of dense foam reinforced with hardwood stringers sandwiched between sheets of titanium and aluminum alloy. All that metal eats chatter like a full-size Benz on a bad road, making the Carver sweetly stable at pants-wetting speeds.

THE BINDING:Völkl only sells the Carver with Marker's Motion 1200 Titanium binding, which slides onto special rails molded into the top of the ski—a clean system that eliminates the need for drilling and lets the ski flex more naturally.

68 mm: Put a hard-charging veteran aboard a 68-mm ski—the same waist as classics like the Dynamic VR-17 and Rossi Strato—and something clicks in the brain: Yes, this feels natural. So it is with Fischer's Big Stix Freeride 68 ($535, lengths 153­193 cm). Sporting a 105-68-90-mm profile and 15-mm sidecut, it should feel familiar if you've skied on anything built since 1998. In the 68, Fischer has combined a comfortable turn radius and a round, no-surprises flex pattern to produce an incredibly versatile ski. Predictable on almost any ski-resort surface, the 68 is built around a lively wood core wrapped in a weave of carbon fiber. Prone to skiing over rocks? The Fischer's steel edges are case-hardened, giving them a 50- percent boost in durability.

THE BINDING:With 32 mm of lift for better leverage, the Fischer F11 Powerconcept binding ($225) is great for hardpack conditions.

Chutes and Glades
70 mm: Although it's sold as a Western resort ski, look closely and you'll see the K2 Axis X Pro ($785, lengths 167­195 cm) is part modern chubby, part old-school giant-slalom stormer: two sheets of titanium/aluminum alloy, a laminated spruce core, K2's lightweight "MOD" foam on top to smooth the ride, and a slick race-style graphite base for ultimate glide when the snow is wet and sloppy. We loved this K2 in the tight wooded chutes of Taos and Jackson Hole—it's narrow enough to slink through the surface rocks and fat enough to float over the rest. No slacker on the groomers, the Axis Pro's 16-mm sidecut depth is identical to most World Cup GS skis, but with dimensions of 107-70-97, it's a race ski that floats.

THE BINDING:To smooth out the ride, we went with Marker's lightweight Titanium 1300 Piston Control binding ($395). The shock-absorbing pistons soak up vibration when you feel the need for speed.

70 mm: Shorten Hermann Maier's race skis a tad, blow the width out about ten millimeters, and you've got the Atomic Beta Ride 11.20 ($869, lengths 160­190 cm), perhaps the perfect ski for New England, where powder days are separated by icy weeks. With a sidecut depth of 18 mm (dimensions 108-70-99), the 11.20 is surprisingly quick for a ski of this girth—a fact you'll appreciate as you're making short-swing turns through the hardwoods at Jay Peak. The 11.20 contains a lot of titanium in the form of tubes in the foam core. Again, metal quiets the ride when the trails are covered in those bite-size chunks of ice known as death cookies. Feel like running a few gates? Carbon-fiber sheets across the top of the ski give the 11.20 amazing torsional punch, which translates to better edge hold.

THE BINDING:The 11.20 is designed to work with the Atomic Xentrix 614 binding ($299), which can be easily shifted fore and aft on the ski depending on snow conditions—back for powder, forward for bumps.

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