This article is a paid advertisement by Caldwell Sport, a ski grinding service and new ski retail shop operated by Zach and Amy Caldwell in Putney Vermont. Caldwell Sport has recently returned to Vermont after a four-year adventure pursuing coaching, ski service and business opportunities in British Columbia and Colorado.
Our recent return to Vermont has reacquainted us with many friends and customers from before our departure in 2007. It’s been quite a lot of fun to see skis that we selected and ground five or six years ago come back for a new grind. In part, it’s good to see that the skis we were picking back then were pretty good, and the grinds continue to serve people well for quite a number of years! It’s great to see how many of our customers love their skis, and take great care of them. It has also reminded us how much progress has been made in new ski design in the past four years. The bottom line is that skis have gotten better, and they’ve gotten better in tangible and specific ways. Since we’re in the business of selling skis, and we currently have a good inventory of hand-picked new skis, we figured it might be a good time to make a case for the excellence of the new materials!
Ski companies generally change their cosmetic appearance every two years, but most of the ski racing public is sophisticated enough to recognize that these are cosmetic changes – not new ski designs. Sometimes a tangible, visible change is made and a new product is launched. The hole ski; the new Madshus shape from two years ago; the Soft Ground ski from Salomon this year. But all of this misses the continual, ongoing incremental changes in ski design that add up to true progress.
To put it in perspective, Fischer has produced skis from their 610 mold for over two decades, yet the current skis bear almost no resemblance to the original 610. The process of refinement is ongoing, and remains highly significant. At a World Cup level it’s rare to see skis more than two or three years old getting used in races. There are notable exceptions – particularly on the classic side of things, but those exceptions are rare enough so that they serve to underline the general rule. It was striking to see Marit Bjoergen racing with an old RCS model skate ski in Gallivare last November, instead of a ski with a hole in the tip. And that’s because, in general, the new skis are better.
In the past four years it seems that all of the manufacturers have been working hard to develop better active skiing speed in their skate skis. The straight-ahead gliding speed of skis in 2006 and 2007 was quite good, and really hasn’t been surpassed. In fact, some of the skis from that era still have a more slippery feeling than many of the skis produced today. However, the newer skis help to produce speed in motion, and result in higher skiing speeds.
This phenomenon is well illustrated by the experience of my friend Mike Temkin, from Troy Michigan. Mike is a crazy Russian engineer who works for Chrysler on the proving grounds – designing tests for cars. I know he’s crazy because one year he decided to drive out to VT from Michigan to pick up his skis, and he spent a couple of days working in the shop with me. We had him visit in Boulder our first year there as well – another long drive to pick up some skis! Mike bought a pair of used demo Fischers from me in 2005, and we have struggled over the years to find skis to match that pair. We did pretty well with a pair of 610s in 2008, but that 2005 pair remained something of a standard. Last year I sent him a new pair of 610 hole skis, but this time I sent him some instructions as well. I told him not to make up his mind about the new skis until he compared his times between the new and old skis on a loop of several Ks. We even put the same grind on the new skis and the old skis so he would have a fair test. I was picking Gunnar up from school when I got the call on my cell phone – Mike was still out of breath from his test and I could hardly understand him between the Russian accent and all the huffing and puffing. “Zach! It’s Incredible! I felt for sure that the old skis were faster, but I made the test anyway. 10 kilometers, and I am skiing one minute faster with the new skis! How is this possible?”
How is it possible? Well, I think it’s mostly a question of balancing priorities. To build good energy return into the skis it’s necessary to emphasize the strength and elasticity of the materials under the foot, and to place the load higher on the camber. In 2006 we were normally mounting a pair of 192cm 610s at 870 to 880 mm from the tail of the ski. Now the 610s are being mounted at 890 to 900mms in order to take best advantage of the materials and the design. This puts a greater load on the forebody of the ski, and you can feel the difference. But the skis are fast by any measure, and faster than ever when you measure their average speed in a loop. All of the brands have a different design concept and a different feeling. Anybody who has been a Rossignol skier can tell you that the concept of an active ski is hardly new. I see the most successful brands converging on a certain common ground in terms of balancing speed and action with ever-increasing levels of refinement and excellence.
We have quite a lot of specific information on the brands that we carry on our website at http://www.caldwellsport.com/ and we invite you to read through that information, and pass along any questions you might have.