The ski industry is using all sorts of terms for different price categories of top of the line race skis. Some companies will offer dealers skis with names like RACE STOCK, CUSTOM SKIS or HAND PICKED. Some dealers, not all, will charge extra for these specially designated skis.
Exactly what are these skis with fancy names? All companies have high end skate and classic race skis that go through the basic production process. Skis come out of the mold, put aside to dry, go through the stone grinding and are then inspected on the assembly line for quality control. For the most part, that final inspection is more than adequate for the vast majority of skiers. However, many companies have taken the selection a step farther and started offering an additional charge for skis with names like RACE STOCK. Why do companies have this extra charge? For these RACE STOCK skis, their Worldcup technicians round up the skis after their basic inspection and take them back to the race room. Here, they give the skis a more detailed and hands on inspection. Skis that don’t meet the standards of this more intense inspection, but are still viewed as good enough for the general public, are returned to the main factory floor. The manufacturers charge dealers extra for these skis picked by the race technicians.
Starting last year, Atomic decided to take that one step farther. Every Worldcup Skate and Worldcup Classic ski sent to authorized dealers has gone through the additional inspection of the race room. In Europe, these are called “Kilo Skis.” In the US, they are simply called skis. Here are the steps Atomic goes through to select skis for our dealers:
Step one: This is the flex tester that is used on a ski after production when the epoxies and resins have had time to fully dry. This is the tester that provides us with half body weight flex, full body weight flex, and a profile of the flex pattern. A few years ago this was all the further flex testing Atomic USA underwent. For most companies, the regular retail stock for race skis ends at a machine like this. Since last year, this is just the beginning for Atomic.
Here is a better picture of what is going on with this tester. The box on top represents how much pressure is being put on the ski. The white box below the ski has a rounded needle that rests against the ski’s base. The gauge on the white box shows how high in millimeters the base is above the surface. This goes down to the hundredths of a millimeter. The technician runs the needle along the base to inspect the height with different amounts of pressure applied to the ski. Atomic has set standards for how high the base should be at different points along the ski with various amounts of pressure.
Many dealers find that paper testing by hand still gives you the best fit for customers. Atomic’s race technicians also like to get a basic feel for the ski and not rely exclusively on the flex testers. Each pair of skis is compressed base to base over a bright neon light. A paper thin sheet of plastic is slid between the bases by the race room technicians. They can feel if there are any high spots or uneven flex patterns. They can also look down at the bases and spot any light showing through.
Atomic ships its World Cup skis to dealers right from its US headquarters. If dealers want specific flexes, they call atomic and tell them exactly what they need. Atomic can go to the racks and talk with a dealer about what is currently in stock. Notice the Super G, nordic and alpine skis share the same race room — just like different classes of cars share the same race room at Ferrari.
From Europe, the skis go to Ogden, UT where our headquarters are located. Like it says above, dealers can phone in and give specific flex information. Atomic will talk with the dealers with the inventory right in front of them to discuss current flex options. The end result of all of this, the Atomics on the retail floor are unquestionably the world’s most vetted skis. What the average Master Skier or Junior in the US buys is no different than what the Aukland brothers get to dominate the major marathons.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.