| Review: Hardware and Software, January 1997|
New proof that gear makes the athlete: skis and snowboards that practically turn for you
By Craig Dostie
Whether you cruise on one plank or two, the technique everyone wants to master is carving the turn: setting skis or snowboard on edge and then marveling as you shoot through a smooth arc. There's more to it than you might think; carving isn't simply skidding your tails through a scraping turn. It's how World Cup skiers thread the gates. It's what magazine-cover snowboarders are doing when they lean deep into the mountain, dragging a mittened hand behind.
And this season, it's how you'll get down the mountain. You can't help but carve on the new alpine gear, which melds skiing's hard-edged technology and snowboarding's curves. The radically deep sidecut ski that brought the art of carving to the masses (and elicited snickers from the experts) is now being tailored to suit skiers of all abilities; even those who thought they knew how will ski better. Snowboards, which pioneered the hourglass design, now feature cap construction and vibration damping, so they carve with less effort than ever.
As you wade through this winter's bounty of parabolic skis, match ability to shape: A more pronounced sidecut means slower and easier turns. A straighter ski is harder to turn and thus more stable at high speeds. Beginners should opt for a sidecut of at least 40 millimeters (to figure sidecut, subtract the waist width from the tip width). Expert skiers may prefer a sidecut closer to 25 mm. Then again, accomplished skiers looking for extra control in the bumps might want to try something more curvaceous.
If you prefer carving on a snowboard, look for a direction-specific nose and tail and between 4.5 cm and 5.5 cm of sidecut. And when you go to buy boots, consider this: Although comfy soft boots are standard at resorts, hard boots make it easier to carve.
Whatever your mode of alpine travel, here's a selection of all-mountain skis and snowboards sure to give you an edge.
Atomic Beta CarvX 926
Sidecut: 35 mm. Tip: 97 mm. Waist: 62 mm. Tail: 88 mm.
For the control freak. The Atomic has the shape of an intermediate ski, but its seriously stiff cross-section means it won't do all the driving for you. The rigidity comes from a unique construction that Atomic calls Beta Technology--the top cap, in cross-section, looks like the letter B, so that a stiff double arch runs the length of the ski. The upshot: The Beta CarvX 926 ($629) cuts solidly through crud and remains steady at high speed. It's unquestionably a parabolic, yet it's more traditionally responsive, allowing it to hold a straight line.
Elan SCX Monoblock
Sidecut: 52 mm. Tip: 112 mm. Waist: 60 mm. Tail: 110 mm.
Click into the SCX Monoblock ($499) and you'll think you have a snowboard on each foot. Indeed, with its whopping sidecut, this ski practically insists that you carve every turn--and that you turn often. It has the shape you might equate with a beginner ski, but it's not as spongy-soft, an attribute that keeps the radical sidecut from being a bully, yanking you into turns. Some experts use the SCX Monoblock almost as a trick ski because it's so easy to maneuver, but it's at its best when under the feet of the true blue-run skier.
Fischer Revolution Race
Sidecut: 26 mm. Tip: 89 mm. Waist: 63 mm. Tail: 89 mm.
If you're an expert who thinks the talk about parabolic is hyperbolic, the Revolution Race ($700) is for you. Reminiscent of the purist's ramrod-straight giant slalom ski, the wood-core Fischer merely nods in the direction of its shapely siblings. The stiffest ski in these tests, the Revolution Race is hesitant to turn at low speeds and needs a maestro's touch to steer through the bumps, but when you crank up the velocity, it'll capitalize on your momentum, remaining Carnival-cruise steady all the while. Once up to speed, the subtle sidecut will help even the strongest of skiers turn, saving energy that would otherwise be wasted muscling a conventional ski into an arc.
Rossignol Cut 10.4
Sidecut: 42 mm. Tip: 104 mm. Waist: 62 mm. Tail: 94 mm.
Your scraping turns trigger the occasional mini-avalanche? The Cut 10.4 ($419) should pull you out of the skids. Designed for the beginner who's just beyond the snowplow, the Rossi is the softest ski we reviewed--both lengthwise and torsionally--which makes it exceedingly forgiving in just about any condition. It certainly loves to turn, but it prefers performing at slower speeds. Oh, it's a fun ski at high speeds, too--just don't try to go fast and straight at the same time. Keep linking those turns.
Salomon Prolink Axendo 9
Sidecut: 35.5 mm. Tip: 99 mm. Waist: 63.5 mm. Tail: 89 mm.
Soft, and yet not too soft. Though its shape is similar to that of the Atomic Beta CarvX 926, the Prolink Axendo 9 ($635) is much more flexible. Its suppleness makes it easy to initiate turns, but it won't go mushy, thanks to two stiff plastic moldings, called Prolinks, mounted fore and aft of the bindings. Anyone from intermediate to expert will enjoy the ability to cut hard on the Salomon and still get enough snap to pop into the next arc. Call it turbocharged silk: No matter how hard you drive the Prolink Axendo 9, it won't fight back.
Burton Supermodel 68
Sidecut: 4.7 cm. Nose: 29.5 cm. Waist: 24.8 cm. Tail: 29.5 cm.
The Supermodel 68 ($430) is a forgiving friend. It incorporates a wood core--Burton calls it Super Fly--that's modified to be 30 percent lighter than a standard wood core. The result is that the Supermodel has the stability and flotation of a longer board but handles like a much shorter model. The go-anywhere dimensions and medium-stiff flex let you get into a nice rhythm, but the Burton won't overrule your will. Its hardpack performance is fine, but the Supermodel really shines as the snow gets softer.
Glissade Longboards 185
Sidecut: 5.3 cm. Nose: 31.2 cm. Waist: 25.9 cm. Tail: 31.2 cm.
What ruts? With its wide waist, tall build, and stiff construction, this behemoth plows through powder, cruises over irregular terrain, and turns corn into cream cheese--so long as you're going fast. Aside from expert-level experience, maneuvering the Glissade ($399) requires momentum. Once you get it steamrolling, however, it carves big, arcing giant slalom turns, although it's not quick to be forced onto its opposite edge. You may notice its considerable weight hanging off your foot on the chairlift, but that same heft, combined with a rubbery "Elasto-Plastomer" layer in the core, translates to a steady, chatter-free ride in any conditions. It's a magic carpet ride.
K2 Ginsu 156
Sidecut: 4.5 cm. Nose: 28.3 cm. Waist: 23.8 cm. Tail: 28.3 cm.
Don't be fooled by the graphics, resurrected from K2's infamous 1970s giant slalom skis: The technology underneath those pallid stripes is nothing but modern. The Ginsu ($410) has a laminated core construction, with a layer of rubber sandwiched between two layers of wood to create a fairly springy board that puts the kibosh on any jarring vibes. It also gives the K2 the stability of a longer board at high speeds. The Ginsu won't float in powder quite like the Burton, Glissade, or Morrow, because the nose isn't turned up as much, but it will hold an edge with tenacity on hardpack.
Morrow 4ten 164
Sidecut: 4.6 cm. Nose: 30.1 cm. Waist: 25.5 cm. Tail: 30.1 cm.
The 4ten's notably curled-up nose and tail combine with its full-figured waist to let it float through powder. Ordinarily a board with these proportions (wide for its length) would lack torsional rigidity, making it a bit wiggly when carving aggressively on hardpack, but Morrow reinforced the edges of the foam core with a carbon-fiber wrap to give it unparalleled stiffness. The result? The 4ten ($399) holds an edge better than the Burton, Glissade, or K2. Endowed with just the right amount of snap, it will spring you from one turn into the next, yet it's steady at high speeds.
Sidecut: 4.3 cm. Nose: 23.8 cm. Waist: 19.5 cm. Tail: 23.8 cm.
Oxygen doesn't shout about its alpine racing series, but if you want to etch sweeping arcs into granite-hard ice, this is the board for you. (Hard boots are a must.) The KR72 ($499) features the same technology Oxygen builds into its free-riding boards, but the package is much sleeker and faster. For instance, rather than making the core from a single sheet of wood, Oxygen bonds poplar slats side by side, using harder beech on the edges, to create a stiff board that won't fritter away your carving energy. And you'll definitely want to conserve energy on the KR72, which is exclusively for the expert boarder counting vertical feet.
Craig Dostie lives, skis, and snowboards near Lake Tahoe, California.
Copyright 1997, Outside magazine