In our last Topic of the Week, there was a question about whether or not ski manufacturers stiffen up the flex or change the construction of their skis when they build longer lengths.
That prompted this question below from a Blister member:
“Last spring I was in a shop and I had a lengthy conversation with the owner. We talked a lot about skis, but the thing that stuck with me was his view on the use of high-tech design and manufacturing. Essentially, he was of the opinion that smaller companies just can’t compete in this regard with the big companies.
He used the Elan Amphibio (his shop carries Elan, Rossi, Armada, Salomon) as an example of a high-tech ski produced in a factory to match. On the low-tech end, he singled out J Skis, which he described as skis with nice top sheets produced in a factory that hasn’t changed in 20 years.
I can see his point, I’m guessing if you looked in the design rooms and factories of those brands, things probably would look different.
My question is,  how important are those resources and capabilities when it comes to actually making a really good ski?  Do the big brands have an edge? Is there an advantage to being the little guy?  Does it depend on what the end use of the ski is (for example a race ski vs a powder ski)?
Curious what some of the builders you talk to might think about this.”
These are good questions. They are also questions that tend to elicit very loud, extremely impassioned, and sometimes angry replies.
In many cases, those loud / passionate / angry answers are put forward by people who aren’t exactly objective — they either work for one of those big companies or one of those small companies, or they are (as in the case above) shop owners who carry — and are very much trying to sell you — skis from those big companies or those smaller companies.
And just as in other walks of life (e.g., every single debate in American politics), the original question or issue often quickly gets left behind, and the internet equivalent of a bar fight breaks out — it’s no longer about offering thoughtful replies, it’s about throwing haymakers and trying to bludgeon anyone who disagrees with you.
So my primary aim is to avoid that here.
But Nathan’s questions are quite valid, and he’s certainly not the first person to ask them.
And given that I suspect that our lead ski reviewers have probably spent more time on a broader range of skis than anyone else in the world (and then written more in-depth reviews of these skis than maybe anyone ever has), I think we are in a decent position to weigh in.
And so, to Nathan’s 3 questions:
 “How important are those resources and capabilities when it comes to actually making a really good ski?”
In terms of “high-tech” materials in particular, I would say, “Not very.”
Maybe you’ve picked up on this, but we spend a very small amount of time in our reviews talking about the fancy new tech in a given product. Those are talking points that marketing people love and that some shop owners love, but I personally could care less. Really, the only thing I care about is how — and how well — a given ski feels and performs on snow.
So you can shove all the latest, greatest materials into your ski, but if you then screw up the flex pattern or screw up the shape, then all that new tech doesn’t mean shit.
Case in point: one of my all-time favorite skis is still the 190 cm Moment Bibby / Blister Pro, a ski that has remained the same in terms of flex and shape for a long time now. Yes, Moment has made sidewall tweaks and added carbon stringers several years ago, but the first Bibby I skied 8 or 9 years ago is quite similar to the current version, and no “high-tech” ski from a bigger company has replaced it for me.
This is simply one of many examples I could cite, but hopefully it makes the point: I think getting rocker profiles and flex patterns and dimensions and sidecut ratios right are far more important than using cutting-edge new materials.
 “Do the big brands have an edge? Is there an advantage to being the little guy?”
The primary thing that I have learned over my years at Blister is that big brands are quite capable of screwing up a ski, and little brands are quite capable of screwing up a ski.
Conversely, some of the best skis we’ve ever been on were made by very small manufacturers, and we’ve been on any number of outstanding skis from larger manufacturers.
Point is, generalizing about “big” vs. “small” is a stupid thing to do. And sorry, but with respect to the shop owner you were talking to, how many J Skis has he actually skied for a substantial amount of time? Or any time at all?
Too many people fling around empty generalizations and talk shit without having any knowledge of what they’re actually talking about. If you’ve ever spent more than two minutes on Facebook, then you know what I mean. And the same thing happens when hating on big companies or hating on little companies — people start generalizing.
I’ve said it before: just because you’re an indie doesn’t mean you’re awesome.
And simply being big is no guarantee of awesomeness, either.
Furthermore, let’s all remember that it is a false dichotomy to simply split the ski world into “big” or “small” — there is no dividing line, no agreed-upon number of total skis manufactured that separates “big” ski companies from “small” ski companies. “Big” and “Small” are relative terms. In our years testing, we have seen excellent work and attention to detail from some “small” companies, and we have seen really underwhelming work from other “small” companies.
There are, of course, both pros and cons to being big or small — “small” can result in an advantageous nimbleness, but it can also lead to sloppiness or corner-cutting. And “big” might mean that you have access to some very nice equipment, but “big” can also mean that a company has to sell a larger number of skis, and this is sometimes why we see so many outstanding skis get tweaked or discontinued — the ski might have been perfect, but the accountants don’t care. And the “unsuccessful” volume of a big company might represent for a small manufacturer an extremely successful number of skis sold.
So now who has the advantage?
 “Does it depend on what the end use of the ski is (for example a race ski vs a powder ski)?”
Probably. But note that my answer here to question #3 is my most speculative, so this is by no means an opinion I would cling to.
With that said, it does seem to me — at least in theory — that a larger manufacturer who could afford to work with expensive, new materials could have an advantage when it comes (specifically) to making really lightweight touring skis. At this point in time, I wouldn’t say that this is obviously true, but I could at least imagine it being true if materials continue to evolve, and new tech / materials are developed that are lighter, damper, and / or more durable than what we have now.
And as for race skis, maybe. We certainly don’t see many small companies making race skis, and that might be because there isn’t much of a market opportunity there — the larger companies are already making some very good on-piste carvers and race skis.
But it’s also possible — and I will defer to ski builders and engineers here — that the precision that goes into making true world-cup race skis — where hundredths of a second truly matter — is more easily accomplished in certain factories / factories of a certain size / factories with certain equipment. But even if that is true, I’d argue that this is not the end-all-be-all metric, and that for the vast majority of all-mountain skis being made, simply getting the rocker profile, flex pattern, and dimensions right is far, far more important.
Anyway, that’s my take. And I’m very curious to hear how much of this resonates with your experience.
But let’s remember that one bad experience on a ski from a smaller company or a bigger company isn’t enough evidence to generalize about whether smaller or bigger is better when it comes to skis. To reiterate: we’ve seen companies of all sizes screw up a ski, and we’ve seen companies of virtually every size make some really excellent skis.
And that’s why we focus on and assess particular skis rather than generalize about entire companies, regardless of size.