Caldwell Sport: Feedback Season

Caldwell SportNovember 30, 2012
Noah Hoffman at U.S. nationals in Rumford, Maine. (Photo: Caldwell Sport/

Around the country people are just starting to get skis on snow, and that means we’re just starting to get feedback on our work. I get nervous for the early feedback every year, but every year the feedback gets better. It’s not easy to write a glowing review of your own work without sounding conceited, so a press-release on early season feedback is really hard. Lucky for us, one of our customers has taken care of it! We decided not to publish his name because of the cough (cough, cough) that he developed on the day he got his new skis. He thought a pseudonym would be fitting, and suggested “Einaar” or “Leopold” or maybe “Jerome”. Take your pick!

This fellow is currently excited about Madshus, which is great. But as he points out, it could have been any brand. We work hard to put people on the skis that will support the best experience possible.


Zach Caldwell with a pair of Madshus skis

Thanks for the three pairs of Madshus skate skis! I wanted to drop you a note about my impressions. Zach may recall from our conversations that I’m not exactly an elite skier. I do think, though, that my experience so far may be useful in talking to other less-than-elite skiers who may be on the fence about whether they need great skis.

A reality check first. I just dropped a bunch of money on skis, and I’m surely interested in validating my purchase. What’s more, I’ve done the usual reading about skis in deciding what to buy, so there’s no doubt that some of what others (including you) have said has been knocking around my brain, perhaps creating certain expectations. In addition, I just don’t have the years of experience on different skis that provides an ideal foundation for noting the nuances.

However, in balance, I’ll note this: as a long-time racer of bikes who’s desperately trying to get away from racing, it was almost criminally easy to unload some redundant gear (still leaving me with multiple levels of redundancy, in some cases) and turn it in to new skis. So, really, I almost felt like I was getting something for nothing when the new skis showed up. Second, while I haven’t been on hundreds of skis – not even a dozen, probably – my years as an obsessive bike racer have left me, for better or worse, with what I think is a fairly attuned sense for some of the differences between different materials and equipment. With skis, many of those differences surely drown in my sea of bad technique, but at least some of my ability to perceive these things is there.

So, getting to it… I spent last season, my first on skate skis, on a pair of off-the-rack (top of the line race skis). I found them at a low advertised price, was told the shop had a pair that would work for my 70kg, and got skiing. I suppose I bought them in the same way some people shop for bike components online. They were fine, so I thought, until I happened upon a couple of hard snow days and found myself all over the place. Frightening. Over the summer I did the obsessive Internet reading thing, eventually deciding to find something new. With your help I ended up with a Madshus 118 and 119. My wife will be skiing on her pair of 118s this weekend.

Although I was mentally ‘over’ the old skis and waiting for the new skis, I couldn’t resist the chance to ski and took the old skis out on Sunday. The snow was a couple of days old and shallow enough that grooming had been done by dragging a trash can lid behind a sno mo, or something. Again, they were fine. A little skittish, a tendency for the edges to wash out on push-off, but they were what I was accustomed to. It was simply great to ski in the sun.

Yesterday, well, there wasn’t any new snow, but there were new skis from Caldwell Sport. With a light calendar at work, I was able to develop a small cough (cough cough) that, unfortunately, prevented me from making it in to the office.  I returned to the trails to find the same shallow, now even older snow, transformed to very granulated sugar. I couldn’t resist the 118, so skied them first. The higher camber and different feel was apparent right away. The 118 felt like it wanted to run away from me at first. So I skied some more. My confidence increased and I was navigating trails much easier than before, especially descending and twisting trails. And then I skied some more and, after about 45 minutes, realized I was working harder than I ever had on my other skis. It was like the skis were allowing me to work harder, but in a good way. As the hour ticked away I realized that I had become a better skier on the 118. They still seemed vaguely foreign, but it was as though they were helping me start to get it in a way that a season on my old skis had not.

Amy Caldwell with a pair of Madshus

I was impressed, but it was time for the 119. Things were warming up a bit, and it was probably a 119 day anyway. I changed skis and right away, the 119 felt somewhat familiar, or at least more familiar than the 118. I suppose the 119 felt more like the old skis to me, at least in some respects. Lower, closer to the snow, less motion than the 118. It felt amazing. The 119 felt like it was easier to bring the ski under on recovery, like the swing weight was less than the 118, but that’s hard to nail down. They were great. Very comforting and friendly.

After an hour on the 119 I went back to the 118, and the Holy Shit moment happened. As soon as I got back on the 118 there was something instantly apparent that hadn’t been there before. The difference between the skis, and what the 118 felt like in particular, actually had me blurt out “Holy shit!” as I skied away from the cabin. The ski-to-ski acceleration on the 118 was scary. The initial hour hadn’t really made that obvious to me, but now it was after coming off the 119. I kept skiing, switching back and forth a time or two, and ended four hours of solo skiing feeling like I’d made as much progress over one day as I did during the whole of the previous year.

The skis seemed to allow me (or force me, or encourage me) to ski better and ski harder. I can’t say that I prefer one pair or the other, and in reality, I think I could be happy skiing either in most of the conditions we routinely see.

So, what does this mean? Well, most importantly to me, I’m incredibly inspired to continue working to be a better skier. After 15 years of competing in a different sport I’m telling myself I won’t be racing skis anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the desire to push myself and improve. These skis are motivating me to continue doing that work on skis the same way I do it on bikes or with running, even though I hope I never pin a number on again. I may not be a typical customer, in that I’m more obsessive and driven than a typical casual athlete, but I’m no longer focused on competition.

However, for those non-racing skiers out there, don’t believe the advice about not needing top level skis. You need top level expertise to get the most out of the sport. In cycling, I wouldn’t advise a new rider to get a ProTour team bike and adopt a pro’s position right away. While I do believe that most ‘comfort’ and enthusiast positions are ridiculous and that good racing bikes are the most comfortable bikes, there’s no doubt that using that kind of equipment can require some adaptation and progression before a rider can be comfortable and efficient on pro gear in a pro position.

Skis are different, I think. I see no reason why a developing skier shouldn’t be on top level skis, assuming the ability and willingness to pay for them. In many cases we’re talking about a few hundred bucks between average and great, so if it’s possible to bridge that gap, skiers will benefit from doing so. I was told by someone that Madshus skis were ‘harder’ for a new skier to learn on, something that my initial experience suggests is totally wrong. The Madshus skis got me skiing better in a few hours and I can’t wait to keep it going. I certainly don’t mean to knock other brands, because I’m sure I’d have done well with a properly selected pair of Fischers or Salomons too, but good skis are good skis, for everyone.

So, thanks. I appreciate the time spent on finding the skis and all the other advice along the way. Looking forward to the winter.

Caldwell Sport

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