Say, Nice Figure

The newest ski shapes will turn a lot more than your head

Used to be, buying skis was as simple as knowing the difference between slalom and giant slalom. No longer. Now you have to sort through a mind-boggling array of categories and the abstruse terms that come with them, such as parabolic, super-sidecut, carving, free-skiing, and new-school. These may or may not be properly delineated at the ski shop. Not to worry. The lingo isn't nearly as important as the idea behind the new designs—all of which are considered "shaped." And it adds up to one thing: Skis are becoming more fun to turn.

What most of today's models have in common is a deep sidecut, meaning a big difference in width between a ski's waist and its tip and tail. Think Betty Boop rather than Olive Oyl. Where they differ is in overall width and the amount of sidecut. An all-mountain plank might measure 105 millimeters at the tip, 70 at the waist, and 95 at the tail (105-70-95 in shop shorthand), while carving models have narrower waists for resort hardpack, and thicker-waisted midfats thrive on wild, ungroomed slopes.

The upshot? You can finally burn those 210-centimeter-long torpedoes. Length isn't the key to edge-control and stability anymore. Even though the new skis are relatively short, you're actually getting more edge on the snow because of the dramatic waistline—the tips and tails dig in the instant you pressure the ski. Also, most good skis now offer steadier rides, thanks to wider girth and built-in shock absorbers, be they simple elastomers, metal structures on the exterior, or fancy electronic doodads.

The nine skis we tested combine unprecedented levels of egghead science with up-to-the-minute ski theory. Each model is intended for a slightly different purpose. What unites them, however, is that they all love to etch curvy lines on snow.

 

ATOMIC BetaRide 10.20 (107-68-97)
"Lively" and "rigid" seldom describe the same ski, but Atomic—ski supplier to Austria's hard-charging Hermann Maier—blends both qualities into the BetaRide 10.20 ($830) through an innovative core construction. Instead of using one flat sheet of wood, Atomic runs two wooden barrels down the length of the ski. A cross section of the BetaRide 10.20 would look like a B on its back, putting the meat of the ski where you need it: the edges. A plastic block under the binding absorbs shock, evenly distributes pressure from your boots, and lifts you another 17 millimeters above the snow in case you lean into corners like the Hermanator and need the leverage. The 10.20 is a lot of ski—too much to consider lugging into the backcountry, but ideal for whipping turns in just about any lift-served condition.

DYNASTAR 4x4 Powertrac (107-70-92)
Dynastar was one of the first companies to figure out that shaped skis could excel in conditions other than hardpack, and the 4x4 Powertrac ($695) is the refined result—it begs to carve big arcs on any type of snow. A wide tip promises float in the fluff, yet the narrow tail allows for better glide and more maneuverability in bumps and uncombed nastiness. The Powertrac doesn't turn as automatically as shaped skis with more symmetrical curves, but if you're willing to put a little more effort into driving this ski, you'll be rewarded with a veritable all-mountain pass, complete with access to forest crud and alpine windslab. When you're venturing under that boundary rope, though, just remember that the 4x4 is made in Chamonix, a place where the attitude toward lost skiers can best be summed up by the phrase c'est la vie.

K2 X-15 (106-70-94)
K2 understands that "all-mountain" can mean both out-of-bounds powder in the Tetons and corduroy boulevards at Devil's Head, Wisconsin, with its vertical drop of 500 feet. Thus the X-15 ($685), an ideal all-mountain mid-fat for aggressive skiers. It boasts a figure that can surf the deep stuff, and on hard snow it holds a nice edge because of a gizmo called Smart Structure, which is molded into the ski just in front of your binding. It's essentially a circuit board that converts unwanted vibrations—chatter—into electrical energy and releases it through heat and light. A flashing red LED means it's working. However fast you drive this ski, it stays glued to the snow. Unless, of course, you want to launch it off of something, in which case the X-15 will land with forgiveness and chauffeur you to your next point of departure.

NORDICA GS World Cup (97-63-85)
Since when does Nordica make skis? What's with the old-school GS name? And is it me or does the GS World Cup ($999) look a little skinny? The answers: The same company (Benetton) owns both Kastle skis and Nordica boots and has renamed the former after the better-known brand; the skis are indeed new; and yes, they're made for rocketing down firm slopes, whether in a true giant slalom or a fierce last-one-down-buys-the-beer challenge. Even with its relatively svelte tip, the GS has a turn-friendly sidecut. Its titanium-reinforced core and surface-mounted steel lever damp vibrations—crucial, considering how fast these skis fly. Pre-season quadriceps training is strongly advised.

OLIN Selkirk (108-75-98)
The Selkirk ($630) raised the bleached and pierced eyebrows of freeskiers last spring with winning performances in two extreme skiing competitions. One of those contests was at Whistler, where a single descent can link raw powder at the summit, carvable hardpack in the middle, and mushy maritime snow near the base. The Selkirk handles such diversity with aplomb thanks to a fir and spruce core that's soft enough to wiggle through bumps and stiff enough to carve fast icy faces. Most significantly, the Selkirk steers from a relatively plump 75-millimeter waist, which delivers reassuring float and stability. Of all the skis on these pages, the Selkirk has the sweet spot that's easiest to find. It'll be the board of choice for anyone with a ski pass this season.

ROSSIGNOL Mtn Viper X 10.2 (102-64-93)
Perhaps the concept of the "quiver"—a separate ski for every condition—strikes you as the sort of marketing flimflam that only Telluride's famous Trustafarians can afford to buy into. Perhaps you want a ski that you can mount up, use every day, and not worry about. If so, check out the Mtn Viper X 10.2 ($739). Right off the lift you'll feel comfortable stepping on the gas. It lays down long, cruising parabolas and rides smooth in most any in-bounds terrain, thanks to the shock-absorbing elastomer mounted directly above the sidewalls, which nullifies pernicious bumps at their origin. It may not encourage the lightning-quick hops that you see on the pro mogul tour, but it's responsive and predictable enough to take the panic out of short-turn situations, whether they're crusty bumps or Appalachian glades.

SALOMON Superaxe Series 2V (103-62-93)
Take the Superaxe Series 2V ($715) to a wide-open bowl and it behaves like a good Border collie: eager to run yet obedient to its master's commands. The 2V owes its responsiveness to its Prolink Twin dampers, metal arms attached to the topskin fore and aft of the binding that work like horizontal pistons to suppress the free expression of bumps and jolts. Further evidence of the 2V's commitment to linking smooth turns is the tight radius of the waist-to-tail sidecut, which helps pop you into your next turn. Consequently, you shouldn't size a 2V the traditional way—i.e., according to your height, weight, and ability. Instead, think what size turns you want to link: Try the 192-centimeter model if you rip big ones or the 176-centimeter if you navigate pinched woods.

VOLANT PowerKarve (106-74-97)
A cult favorite in places like Wyoming's Jackson Hole Resort, where the ski area doubles as access to great off-piste routes, the PowerKarve ($629) busts through untamed snow with the single-mindedness of an Arctic icebreaker. For the year 2000, Volant slightly stiffened the tip and tail to reduce flutter when you're back on hardpack, but the guy on the chairlift won't care about that. He'll ask about the gleaming stainless steel cap. Tell him that Volant patented the use of stainless steel because its density makes it ride smoothly and its isotropy (uniform behavior in all directions) ensures that it holds an edge. And because of steel's unquestioned durability, the ski won't fatigue after repeated top-to-bottoms. On the PowerKarve, neither will you, thanks to its luxuriously wide profile. Note: Skiers under 150 pounds may prefer the titanium version, the Ti Power ($749), which is lighter and quicker.

VÖLKL Vertigo G30 (105-69-92)
In much the same way that a Porsche 911 is overbuilt for dirt roads, the German-made Vertigo G30 ($695) brings a racing heritage to the crunchy pursuit of freeskiing. But if you can get past the ham-fisted graphics, you'll ride a responsive, precise set of boards that yearn to flick turns in skinny couloirs and double-fall-line bumps. This ski behaves better than many planks because of a sidecut meticulously engineered to keep the entire edge in contact with the snow when the ski is flexed. Indeed, the Vertigo G30 produces such a trustworthy ride that Tomba-weights who once used 208-centimeter skis will find themselves plenty amped up piloting a pair of 188s. Just don't let the exhilaration serve as an excuse to act like the Italian champ.


WHERE TO FIND IT

Atomic, 800-258-5020; Dynastar, 800-992-3962; K2, 800-426-1617; Nordica, 800-892-2668; Olin, 800-522-7547; Rossignol, 802-863-2511; Salomon, 800-225-6850; Volant, 303-456-7800; Völkl, 800-264-4579

Rob Story lives and skis in Telluride, Colorado. He is not a Trustafarian.

SKI-SIZING SOLUTIONS

The downside to shaped skis? Finding the right length is more complicated than making sure they're taller than you. That's not to say it's rocket science. First, check the length of your old boards and subtract 10 to 15 centimeters. Second, ask someone at your local shop which length is recommended for a skier of your weight, style, and ability—Salomon and Rossignol both have helpful sizing charts. If the two numbers are within five centimeters, you're on the right track, but if there's a discrepancy of more than that, start asking questions. Maybe your old boards were too long or too short. Or maybe—and pardon us for saying so—you're overestimating your ability just a touch. When in doubt, buy the shorter ski: You'll never notice if it's five centimeters too short, but if it's five centimeters too long, you'll regret it.
—MARC PERUZZI

Necessary, Yes. Evil, No Longer.

Finally, expert ski boots that don't crush your shins

What does progress feel like? Relief. Like skiing top to bottom without your inflamed, bruised shins smacking against your boots. If you've ever suffered shin-bang to the point of having to quit a powder day at lunch, rejoice: Ski boots no longer batter your tibias. Since shaped skis turn so willingly, you need not jam your lower legs against incredibly stiff tongues to steer. Mercifully, bootmakers have responded with kinder designs.

Using a new shell construction known as "bi-injection," bootmakers now place the stiff plastic in areas crucial to steering and more pliable varieties elsewhere for comfort. Throw in other developments—custom-fitting liners, funky applications for keeping your feet warm, and designs that finally make slipping on a ski boot easier than squeezing into a pair of Jordache jeans—and there's really no reason why high performance has to come with pain and suffering. See for yourself.

ALPINA CRV 11
Operating under the conviction that weekend warriors end up with boots far too stiff for their needs, Alpina developed the CRV 11 ($445; 603-448-3101). It's adequately performance-oriented with a stiff spine and an adjustment to tilt your lower legs forward into a more aggressive stance. But this is a loving boot, thanks to an especially supple tongue and a cuff pivot that lets your ankle flex. It skis nicely, though high speed is not its forte. A note to Alpina: Reinforce the CRV 11's skimpy boot-top strap.

LANGE L10 ACD
A slightly more supple version of Lange's World Cup race boot, the L10 ACD ($595; 802-655-2431) exemplifies this new paradox of painless performance. Its medium-stiff upper flexes forward easily, and a carbon-fiber reinforcement wraps around the heel, providing lateral support and quick edge-to-edge response. If an invisible compression bump throws you off kilter, you can snap this boot into instant recovery. Best of all, for anyone with a love-hate relationship with Lange, a normal human foot can slip inside this boot: The ACD is 5 percent wider than Lange's race design.

NORDICA GRAND PRIX EXOPOWER R
A pioneer in bi-injection molding, Nordica patented the use of a hard plastic external frame, which is said to channel a skier's energy directly to the ski. Under the frame sits a softer plastic shell that allows easy ingress. The Grand Prix Exopower R ($645; 800-892-2668) also benefits from a liner that incorporates Outlast. This material absorbs excess heat until afternoon shadows hit the slopes; when your foot temperature drops, the stored heat is released back to your toes. Experts only.

ROSSIGNOL FREERIDE XX
Rossignol, on the other hand, puts the stiff skeleton inside. The Freeride XX ($569; 802-863-2511)—and let's give it some props right now for being one of the few boots whose name doesn't read like an IRS form—excels at, well, freeriding. That is to say, it's responsive enough to make quick turns in dicey couloirs yet supple enough to land cornice drops without rattling your fillings. Interestingly, this very balance makes the Freeride XX an excellent choice for more casual skiers too.

SALOMON EVOLUTION2 SERIES
The Evolution2 Series ($535; 800-225-6850) is not meant to climb Olympic podiums. Instead, it ferries its owners into après-ski bars, where they stand in comfort and rave about the great turns they were able to make. Its three densities of plastic strike an optimum balance between stiffness and comfort. A dial on the rear lets you straighten the aggressive angle of the cuff so you can walk or cruise in a relaxed stance, and the foam of the liner molds perfectly to your foot. It's a user-friendly boot without the slop of an intermediate model.

TECNICA TNT ICON CARBON
Not since Barbie made the scene has a chunk of plastic come with such an extensive line of accessories. Racers still need stiffness, so the two flaps that overlap the tongue of the TNT Icon Carbon ($725; 800-258-3897) are rigid. Cruisers can replace them with more flexible versions. Or the tinkerer can keep it stiff on the inside for precise steering and flexible on the outside for comfort. Mix and match! However you dress it, the spirited TNT Icon Carbon will keep you amused from the first chair to the last.


BOOT-FIT BASICS

Odd as it may seem, proper-fitting boots are far more important to skiing well than your skis are. So make sure the salesperson sizing up your feet is an actual boot-fitter and not someone paged over from the hunting department. Ask to try three models. To check the fit, stand in the shells without the liners and slide your foot forward until your toes brush the front. You want to be able to slip two fingers between your heel and the shell; much less means you're in for pain, anything more and you'll have no control. Then, with the liner replaced and the boots buckled lightly, stand up to see that your toes nudge the front. When you bend your knees, your toes should pull back from the liner. If after ten minutes you don't feel any pressure points, you're finished trying on boots: Buy 'em.

Check Your Head

Don't make us say we told you so

You bought those all-terrain boards thinking you were saving yourself from the perils of blue-square groomers, where if the yahoos don't kill you, the boredom will. But there's another item that really can protect you—a helmet. (If you haven't noticed, ungroomed terrain can be lethal too: Western chutes are studded with rocks, and those eastern hardwoods are, well, quite hard.) Thankfully, manufacturers have finally done their part to make wearing one appealing—cool, even—in terms of both comfort and styling. Most shells are padded with expanded polystyrene (EPS), a lightweight foam that absorbs one major impact by spreading the load and destroying itself in the process. Most also have vents, and all are suitable for both skiers and snowboarders. Herewith, five of the best designs. Don't hit the slopes without one.

MODEL
CARRERA HERMANN MAIER

THE LOWDOWN
Close-fitting Speed Racer facsimile made of extremely hard ABS plastic. Large, mesh-covered earholes let you hear the boom when you go supersonic; Austrian eagle paint scheme ensures that weekend crowds will scramble out of the way.

VENTING
Two vents, assuming you count the earholes.

WHO NEEDS IT
Besides the helmet's namesake, anyone who knows the joy of early morning speed runs on boilerplate. Warning: may induce cravings for Wiener schnitzel.

VITALS
21.5 ounces; $179; 800-659-3527


MODEL
GIRO FLINT

THE LOWDOWN
Bolt-on visor and pre-drilled holes for optional chinguard (shown) make perfect battle gear for boardercross events (snowboarding meets Roller Derby). Deep notch in back secures goggle strap when you're getting elbowed in the face.

VENTING

None. You got a problem with that?

WHO NEEDS IT
Remember the guy whose ticket got pulled for skiing off the roof of the bar? Or the big and brooding boarder working on his thousand-yard stare?

VITALS
25 ounces; $160; 800-294-6098


MODEL
LEEDOM LIMIT HP

THE LOWDOWN
Patented ribbed EPS liner designed to absorb and spread impacts more effectively than standard foam. Neck "curtain" helps seal out cold and snow. CoolMax mesh liner keeps your noggin nice and dry.

VENTING
Adjustable Active Air Flow System pulls lots of air through channels beneath the shell.

WHO NEEDS IT
Destined for odd crossover appeal: New-school crazies will love that Jonny Moseley sports this model; gear freaks will dig its high-tech look.

VITALS
17.5 ounces; $144; 800-536-6995


MODEL
BOERI SHORTY POSTAL

THE LOWDOWN
Subdued matte finish and urban-simple Harley styling don't scream, "Hey, look, I'm wearing a helmet!" Cut of lid accommodates a variety of goggles (try before you buy), and removable fleece pad keeps chinstrap from chaffing.

VENTING
Two adjustable vents up front let cool air in; two in back let hot air out.

WHO NEEDS IT
Everyone from terrain-park tricksters to Alaska's big-mountain hucksters. (Not recommended as protection from deranged civil servants.)

VITALS
19 ounces; $120; 781-551-9933


MODEL

RED SKYCAP

THE LOWDOWN

The rare lid made with an expanded polypropylene liner, which is heavier than EPS and can withstand the repeated head bonks of half-pipe riding. Allows for unobstructed peripheral vision—but the guy you just cut off doesn't know that.

VENTING

Two intake valves in front, two exhaust ports in back.

WHO NEEDS IT

Any flinging acrobat who's tired of answering the same old question: "Bro, how many fingers am I holding up?"

VITALS
16 ounces; $110; 800-881-3138

Hut Couture

An ideal ensemble to get you off the ground

Hat
Tightly woven nylon shell blocks skull-chilling wind, thin fleece band inside insulates.

Goggles
Double lens fights fog. Smith's miniature fan draws air through lower vents, across the lens, and out the top like a car's defroster.

Poles
Telescoping design lets you adjust length for different pursuits: long for snowshoeing, short for alpine skiing, shorter still for strapping to a pack. Similarly, interchangeable baskets let you use one set of poles for resort hardpack and backcountry crud alike. Life-Link's ovalized shaft keeps the two halves from slipping.

Gloves
One-handed cuff-closure seals out snow. Gordini's temperature-controlling Outlast insulation absorbs and releases heat to keep your hands constantly between 90 and 92 degrees. Seriously.

Parka
Adjustable hood won't hinder peripheral vision. Reinforced shoulders withstand abrasion from pack straps, skis, and tree branches. Vents with easy-to-grab zippers mean you'll actually use 'em.

Pants
Cordura-reinforced knees and butt keep you dry when kneeling or sitting. Elastic inner gaiter scotches snow from your boots. Built-in suspenders keep you from unwittingly dropping your drawers.

Socks
Thin so they won't cut off your circulation. Synthetic or wool to wick.

Pack
Front zippered panel allows access to anything you might want to get a hand on—with boards attached. Internal pouch separates water reservoir from gear. Da Kine's clever strap system carries either skis or snowboard.

WHERE TO FIND IT:
LIFE-LINK VARIANT COMPOSITE POLES, $140, 800-443-8620; GORDINI OUTBOUND GLOVE, $60, 800-467-3464; CLOUDVEIL ICE POINT HAT, $42, 307-734-3880; SMITH CASCADE TURBO C.A.M. GOGGLES, $170, 208-726-4477; MOONSTONE MOMENTUM TECH PARKA, $379, 800-390-3312; MARMOT TOUGH PANT, $249, 707-544-4590; FOX RIVER WICK-DRY SOCKS, $11, 800-247-1815; DA KINE POACHER PACK, $100, 541-386-3166

The Other Stuff

Mountain Hardwear Ventigaiter

Though your typical gaiter may look like a stovepipe, unfortunately it doesn't really expel heat from your smoldering foot. The cool alternative? Mountain Hardwear's FTX Ventigaiter ($95; 800-953-8375), the slickest winter accessory made for the prosaic chore of keeping snow out of one's boots. The innovation is an 11-inch zipper that runs diagonally across the outside of your lower leg—a pit-zip for your shin. Simply slide it open, roll back the triangular flap to expose a generous swatch of open mesh, and air out those legs on, for instance, a daylong slog up Rainier. (You'll need to move your pants cuffs out of the way to let the breeze in, of course.) The Gore-Tex shell fits snugly around heavy-duty footwear of all shapes, including backcountry telemark and plastic mountaineering boots, though they're too bulky to seal against lightweight hiking boots. A layer of fray-proof, rubber-impregnated nylon called Hyperguard extending high up the instep-side should prevent damage from run-ins with crampons or ski edges. Likewise, the strap that runs under-boot is unlikely ever to fail since it's made of robust, urethane-coated nylon. In fact, the durability easily lives up to the clever design. Which is a very good thing—because who wants to worry about gaiters more than once a decade?
—ANDREW TILIN


Kestrel Envirometer

Trying to decide whether to don that fashion disaster of a balaclava before catching the first chair? Check the windchill readout on the Kestrel 3000 Envirometer ($159; 800-784-4221), a veritable palm-size weather station. At the press of a rubber-sealed button, it also displays data like wind speed (current, maximum, and average), temperature, relative humidity, and even dew point. Weighing less than three ounces, it's the sort of gadget you can tote on outings all year long. Contemplating a midday August run? The 1-by-2-inch LCD will calculate the heat index, a function of heat and humidity. (Work out at a heat index above 105 degrees and you can expect cramps, heat exhaustion, or worse.) And anyone skinning up the slopes in sleet will appreciate a definitive answer to the question: "How many degrees before this misery turns to snow?"
—GLENN RANDALL

The Other Stuff

Voilé Split Decision Snowboard

It sounds like a tall tale: a snowboard that rides well in any terrain but also allows you to hit the backcountry without lugging along snowshoes (or skis) to make the climb. But Voilé's newest incarnation of its Split Decision Twin Tip ($630; 801-973-8622), a snowboard that breaks down into beefy touring skis, is a true story. Introduced in 1995, Voilé's hybrid refines what was originally just a niche oddity into a true high-performance, all-mountain board. Gone is the flat tail that made riding fakey awkward, if not impossible. Gone is the inside sidecut on each ski that left a snow-spewing gap in the center of the board. (Duh.)

The design is remarkably clean, though it may not sound that way. Here goes: Bolt any strap bindings to the board's removable steel plates that in one configuration help bind the halves together and in another serve as randonnée ski bindings to let you lift your heels to scoot uphill. Hinge the toes of each plate to the skis with steel pins, slap on the skins, and you're ready to climb. Fast. The 120-millimeter-wide skins provide impressive purchase. Once you've reached the top, slide the binding plates onto mounts to turn them into snowboard bindings, lock them in place with the same two pins, and latch the halves into a solid whole with burly metal clasps.

With this updated version you can even rotate your bindings to customize your stance, as with any snowboard. Just be sure to really torque down the adjusting screws; I lost three of them during a three-hour ascent of Mount Adams. The metal edges running down the center of the board make for a stiff ride, and the raised bindings make the Split Decision incredibly responsive—a quality you'll appreciate on long descents of unknown terrain, or even corduroy-carving at your local hill.
—MARY CATHERINE O'CONNOR


Atlas Snow Tracker

Bucking the trend to outfit every man, woman, and child for Everest, Atlas Snow Shoe Company has designed an appealingly low-tech crampon for those of us who frolic in the snow at more hospitable altitudes. The Snow Tracker ($59; 888-482-8527) is a strap-on winter hiking cleat for everything from walking Fido around the block to negotiating heavily tramped winter trails. It works beautifully on hard-packed snow, icy paths, and any other conditions in which crampons are overkill and snowshoes flounder for lack of powder. The nylon-webbing straps accommodate all manner of footwear, from sneakers to hiking boots to snowboard boots. With a gentle stomp, aluminum fangs dig deep, while one-inch incisors provide good lateral grip. It takes all of two seconds to strap on the cleats, something you'll likely do quite often.
—JANE MAGUIRE

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