SNOWMASS VILLAGE - Not long ago, buying equipment was not very difficult to get right. There was only a few top-of-the-line skis that worked due to construction, flex and type. For boots, one-shape-fits-all was the norm and bindings in those days worked too well or not at all.
We first experienced the transition from wood to metal and then were bombarded with the introduction of the shaped ski. Skis got shorter and turning was easier and this gave ski schools a new technique to teach. Narrow under foot with wide tips and tails, and with riser plates to keep you from booting out, technique changed from muscular unweighting and steering to tip to the edge and hang on for the ride. Let's face it: The skis we skied on in the '60s, '70s and '80s were difficult at best, except on groomed snow. Of course ski schools were in heaven teaching things that only the pro could do. These were the heydays of ski school, and students kept coming back to master the techniques.
Ski design changes did not slow down in the '90s and into the 21st century. Skis increasingly had more and more shape. Tips and tails got wider, and this allowed the width under foot to get wider, making skis much more versatile.
Technology also made its debut with various external damping devices and construction materials such as titanium, liquid metal and carbon fiber used by the top brands. Along came the introduction of the "smart skis" incorporating vibration control technology. When skiing at high speeds and on tough terrain, skis tend to vibrate, lessening the contact area between the ski edge and the snow surface. This results in reduced stability and control and a decrease in the skier's speed. Along came piezoelectric skis into the ski industry. K2 Four made the first attempt to utilize this technology converting vibration to electrical current and dissipating through a small light on the ski. Head took this technology to a new level by adding a computer chip and electrical fibers to adjust the tensional stiffness of their ski to the changing snow conditions. Race skis with this technology could not be used to race World Cup because skis changed as racers moved down the course. Head adapted the technology placing the chip behind the binding heel, and now it stores the energy until the pressure on the skis is released, sending the stored energy out the tail of the ski. This technology has proven to be very successful.
In the past couple of years we have entered a new era in ski design with the intro of rocker technology. Each brand might have a different name for it, but in basics it is the turning up of the tip and tail in various combinations with camber or even reverse camber. Wider and rockered, lighter and easier to turn has allowed more people to experience the steep and deep. Those secret stashes are slowly disappearing.
Boots in the meantime have evolved to fit different shaped feet; women-specific boots, better kids' boots, and more. High-tech plastics are softer in places to allow easier flex and stiffer where needed to control the edged skis and much warmer than its predecessors.
Bindings are pretty much the same technology and design that the successful brands have been using for years; improvements in materials make them lighter and stronger along with new wider formats to accommodate the wide skis of today. If you have been away from skiing for a while we now have brakes instead of straps. Today you come out only when you need to and not before if your bindings have been set correctly by a certified technician.
A few things to remember when shopping for skis: What part of the country do you ski the most? What conditions and terrain do you ski the most? How often do you ski off piste, trees, through the gates to the double blacks? What is your experience and skill level? Do you want one pair of all-around skis or two pair or more for specific conditions?
With technology, the down side is cost. Snowsports equipment is expensive. Usually big-box stores in the cities carry more mass-produced, mid-priced, generic skis. In mountain ski shops you will find a wider variety of top-of-the-line equipment. Smaller independent shops might specialize in one or two high-tech brands and possibly World Cup type skis.
There is a very broad price range of equipment catering to one's pocket book. Early season through the Christmas holidays, prices are closest to full retail, and after the holidays, prices will start to drop closer to the minimum advertised price. After the ski show in late January the bargains start to show.
If you are looking for only high-end, high-tech equipment, you'll need to jump on it early because these products are limited production.
When money is not an issue or you are a pro, you can afford the luxury of having a quiver with several skis for all occasions.
With conditions improving with every passing storm it might be time to upgrade the outdated equipment with some new technology. Choosing the right ski requires research and work before you make the trip to the ski shop. The difficulty lies in which ski is best for your skiing and then test-driving your choices. For every skier there is a ski, and for every ski there is a plan of attack. Shop small. See you next run.
Don Jewkes is a 36-year certified PSIA-RM level 3 Teaching Professional and local resident. Support your local independent retailers and restaurants.