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“Easy” vs. “Demanding” Skis

[Editor’s Note: A question came up in the Comments Section of our review of the Head Monster 108, and we thought it was worth highlighting. We also thought that some of you might want to offer your own two cents…]

 

Question from Blister Member, Jon:

Jonathan, would you be able to provide any insight as to why some players in the industry are claiming directional skis to be outdated and now part of history? I hear a lot of reference to “easy”. Easy is not the feeling I want to take home at the end of the day. I’ll take the Monster 108.

Answer:

I’m not sure that anyone—or at least, that many people or companies—are saying that *directional* skis are outdated — there are tons of skis still being made with directional shapes.

And by “directional shapes,” I very roughly mean two primary things:

(1) That the back half of the ski still has a “directional” shape – a (1) non-symmetrical sidecut and (2) a flatter tail.

(2) A “directional” mount point, which I would loosely define as any ski with a mount point that is set back 6 cm or more behind the ski’s true center — though the most traditional skis have mount points that are -10 cm (e.g. Blizzard Bonafide & Cochise are both more than -11 cm); -12 cm; or even -14 cm or more behind true center (the Volkl V-Werks Katana is -13.9 cm behind true center, and some race skis are mounted even further back).

Jonathan Ellsworth reviews the Arc'teryx Lithic Comp Jacket for Blister Gear Review

Jonathan Ellsworth on the Liberty Variant 113 – a great, heavier ski wth a -10 cm mount point.

But there is no question that “easy,” “more accessible,” and “more approachable” are terms that are important to just about every ski company. And that shouldn’t really be a surprise — don’t we see that trend in virtually every other industry? (Certainly the bike industry, but also across the tech industry, etc.?)

It’s really a numbers game: there are fewer skiers out there who are (1) strong enough to handle and (2) want to handle a heavy, damp ski with a big top end. (It’s always important to note that not all strong skiers like a heavier, damp ski.)

If the average number of skier days is 5-10 per season … then companies have to — and should — make skis that will be readily enjoyable by such folks.

But heavier skis that require more input and offer major stability are loved by a smaller set of folks. So companies know they won’t sell as many … and they have to make hard decisions about whether or not to keep making such skis.

The drum I’ve been banging for-seemingly-ever now — and that I will continue to bang — is to try to convince companies that it is truly valuable to continue to produce smaller runs of such skis. Doing so will (1) stop the loud, angry complaints that get directed at them, and (2) even better, it will not merely silence such complaints, but it will get those of us who enjoy such skis psyched on their brand.

Those two things amount to an incredibly smart and valuable branding play for the ski companies — in the same way that it is not a smart brand play to alienate skiers who want a fun and easy ski, it’s also not a smart play, in my opinion, to alienate that rather  very  insanely vocal minority that enjoys a more demanding ski — especially since that vocal minority tends to be on the mountain quite a bit.

(For more on this topic, check out the episode of the Blister Podcast where we talk to ski designers from Armada, Blizzard, K2 / Line, Moment, and DPS.)

That’s my take, anyway. And I’d be curious to hear what other people think.

10 Comments

  1. Ian April 13, 2016 Reply

    I like to have both in my quiver, but when i travel i can only have one, and i have no idea what my conditions will be, and little control over “skipping days” because i don’t have enough days on the trip to skip. So i want a ski that can do it all. I want to be able to jib off natural features and even maybe take a park lap, but at the same time, if we got dumped on i’m gonna be at the bowls and in the trees. So for me a pure directional ski is out of the question. If i lived in a place where i got to ski more, i’d be all about having two skis in my quiver, a purely directional ski that is damp for those days i want to nuke groomers and charge through chopped up bowls and chutes, and heck even when the pow is deep, pulling out of switch in pow is still something i’m trying to learn. Been on a Scimitar and found it to be a pretty awesome ski, but nothing like the sickle/scimitar has been made since. I think WHERE you ski has a huge dictation on what type of ski you’ll want, just as much as style. I feel absurd on a 98 waist in the midwest, as most people are on 80 waists (which i have a pair of, but they’re way too soft for charging, much more meant for butter on tips and tails) but i don’t feel LIMITED by the 98. When i head out west and ski real mountains with real snow i feel my -2.5cm of true center mount and only 98 waist limiting me in the trees as my tips tend to dive after 8″ or so of snow, and i have to really work them to keep the tips up. So finding that ski that is is MOSTLY directional, but still able to ski switch, and doesn’t have the swing weight in the air of an airbus 380 wing, is dang hard. I thought it was going to be J Skis the metal, but then it gets poor reviews on ice… something i HAVE to ski on. I don’t get to be like “oh bad day where things are crusting over, time to go in” or “it’s only -5F today, im just staying in” I don’t get that many days, so i can’t make calls like that. Once i move west, yes i will add a directional charger to my lineup.. until then i’m trying to find something in between that offers more float than my scimitars and having one hard time, because the scimitars are awesome on pretty much any terrain except deeper powder and the sickle, which probably would have given me exactly what i wanted, is long gone.

  2. Steve Bennett April 14, 2016 Reply

    I THOUGHT I wanted an easier ski as I approach half a century, so I demoed the Dynastar Powertrak 86. It was certainly a fun ski, but really folded up on me when I wanted to drive it hard. So I opted for the Blizzard Brahma, which suits me perfectly. I did not demo the Salomon X-Drive 8.8 because I don’t think I’d have as much fun on it even if I can bend it.

    I ski out west and have the luxury of a two ski quiver, so I also have a pair of Rossignol Soul 7s, which I really love in more than 4″ or so and in the trees. But on the way back to the lift, this “easy” ski isn’t a ton of fun for me. I just sort of make lazy, cruiser turns back.

    So, I would be very disappointed if companies stopped making demanding skis, because I can ski them, and prefer them in most anything less than 4″ new, especially when things get harder or older. But I have a TON of fun on easier skis, too, and love to have that option.

  3. Blister Member
    Big K April 25, 2016 Reply

    I am a poor student of Blister! After reading this I Then listened to Podcast 8, which was really fun and interesting. I can certainly understand the necessity for an “easy” ski. I doubt you could survive as a manufacturer without some variation of “easy”. I also see a lot of skiers with those ski’s never getting technically better. It seems that the technology for easy has done nothing to improve the quality of skiing from a large percentage of the skiers on the mountain. Permitting very sloppy or no technical ability prevents the skier from advancing. They look just as frustrated as skiers did 25 years ago. On the other hand one needs to want to charge hard to go down that path….

  4. Holger Strnad June 20, 2016 Reply

    Very interesting topic. I by accident learned skiing the hard way. Long ago, my first Freeride Ski was a Rossignol Bandit B3 in 195cm. I bought them at a summer sale just because they were cheap. Back then I had no clue about skiing and all I looked at was the price.
    They were way too much ski for me back then. I then spent the next two years learning how ski that monster. That was sometimes quite a mixed experience. However, it made me to learn to ski better. I had to adopt technical skills and had to train for more leg power.
    In the end I became a much better skier and today I only ski big chargers. I pretty sure, I would never reached that level if I had not to master that challege. So, I my view the “easy” skis do not help you to advance.
    I do not want to make a arrogant statement here, but easy ski are just for beginners. This season I skied a Rossignol Soul 7 once. That thing is a kindergarten toy! However, I would have loved them back then ;-)

    P.S.: Why did you never test the old Whitedot Ragnarok?

  5. Blister Member
    Steve Bennett June 21, 2016 Reply

    Holger, you may not have wanted to make an arrogant statement, but calling the Soul 7 a kindergarten toy feels pretty arrogant and insulting to me. Feel free to go read the first review (of three!) that the Blister guys have done where Jonathan discusses “lazy” talk. Further, in his conclusion, he states “Advanced and expert directional skiers who prefer a light, quick ski to play and bounce down the mountain, rather than a heavier, damp ski to steamroll the mountain, ought to be quite happy with Soul 7, too.”

    I ski the Soul 7 because I like to turn, turn, turn. If I wanted a heavier, damp ski to steamroll the mountain, I’d be on one. But I don’t. So I’m on the Soul 7 because it brings me pure joy. And I’m not in Kindergarten.

  6. Holger Strnad June 25, 2016 Reply

    Well, that was meant to be a joke not an insult ;-)
    I may should have add that I am above 100kg so any ski with a soft flex just folds underneath me….

  7. Brendan August 29, 2016 Reply

    I know I’m a little late to the party but the discussion seems to have veered off path from the original question. I think the best answer is that I hope companies continue to make chargers, these types of skis are a blast, it’s the reason I hold on to my fully cambered Mantras. I agree with Ian though and its all about the ability to have a ski that can do pretty much anything if you don’t have days to “skip”. I have pair of ON3P Kartel 106s and while no one would describe ON3P skis as easy the Kartel 106 is clearly not in their “directional” lineup. Mine are mounted at -5cm so are really in the middle between an easy and directional ski and because of that I can take them out whenever and, exactly like Ian said, travel with.

    I hate all the talk about easy skis being a bad thing for the sport though. Without “easy” skis it would be harder to attract newer skiers and beginners each year and that would be a very bad thing for the industry. When I’m at the resort I don’t really care is people are progressing because of easy skis, I’ll be on the top half enjoying the smaller lines. If someone wants to progress and become more technical that will spend the time practicing, studying, and learning. When I first started skiing on my new easy skis as a kid on parabolics all anyone would talk about was how bad they were for the sport and how 210 straight skis would always stick around. That clearly hasn’t happened and I didn’t fail to learn how to technically ski.

  8. richard October 13, 2016 Reply

    I’ve been skiing since 200 + cm was the norm. When skinny directional skis were standard fare. And all we new was it took like forever to lean how to ski these monsters. Learning technique was everything because without it your skis owned you not the other way around. One could ski powder runs almost alone because it actually took skills to be out there. How times have changed! But you know what….I’m not going back. The so called easy skis of today are a blast. Softer, wider powder boards are so much fun. We would have loved them then and we love them now. And the shorter, titanal/damper directional skis of today are also so great and easier to ski than anything we had in those days it has made skiing so much more fun than it has ever been. And having fun really is the name of the game here. Remember if you can when skiing was going out of fashion. The learning curve was so steep that the industry was loosing ground. Then the revolution came and we all benefited from it. For me I have to have two pairs of skis because one pair cannot do it all in the way I want to have fun. Directional power skis for groomers to about 3″ and a powder ski at -5cm for 3”to 4″ and above. The ski manufactures have taken such great care of us so far. I believe they will continue to do so. Sure they have to build easier skiable skis for most. But remember those guys love to ski too and they know what a great ski is about. They will keep building them for themselves and for the rest of us who know them too..

  9. Blister Member
    Hannes October 18, 2016 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,

    you say:

    “But there is no question that “easy,” “more accessible,” and “more approachable” are terms that are important to just about every ski Company.”

    I can certainly see that trend in the European Alps. I have no access to any sales statistics, but I particularly look at the smaller companies and I see companies that generally make “easier” skis like rmu, dps (except for the wailer 105 hybrid T2) and black crows grow, whereas more “demanding” skis disappear. Some personal observations.

    – Less shops carry moment or reduce their stock to skis like the deathwish and pb&j as “top sellers” and on3p is entirely gone in the Alps (according to one shop owner people do not buy on3p anymore due to their weight despite the great quality. 4kg per pair or below is apparently the benchmark).

    – When I observe people grabbing a new pair of skis they often firstly “weigh” the ski by lifting it up and down. No handflexing, no look at the rocker profile, no decambering by pressing the bases flat…

    – Black Crows replaced their Big Mountain Gun Sevun with the Anima – an entirely different ski (I know a few people that bought two or three pairs of the Sevun the minute they learned black crows would not continue it).

    To admit: I like skis that also save me energy when skiing, but I also like a certain degree of stability. Every design has its limitations. And there is one quote from you that I think was in relation to the SN 108.

    “You do not need to throw AT binding on every ski”.

    And I could not agree more to that statement. Though I personally prefer playful chargers like the bibby or rmu scrm over ultra heavy and damp skis with metal I think that a ski needs a certain amount of weight (4 to 4.4 kg for the pair) in order to feel planted and smooth on rough groomers and in tracked out resort conditions. Lighter is not always better and the more touring oriented skis will not be the ideal solution for resorts with firm or heavier, wet snow.

    So my conclusion is that companies should continue to build a variety of skis to meet every skier’s needs, because in the end skiing should be fun and fun means different things to different people. I do not mind if they focus on an increase of sales numbers as long as they also invest in building skis reserved for a smaller group of skiers who enjoy working their skis. Armada with their Invictus Line is a good example and I hope to see more of that from other brands in the future.

  10. Blister Member
    Scott November 23, 2016 Reply

    I think easy vs demanding can be a bit relative depending upon ability level and size of skier. FTW I am 5’2″ and about 125lbs. I have a hard time calling my self an expert skier. I can ski my local hill (Bogus Basin-Boise, Id) any run and about any condition but I feel its not that difficult of a mountain. For me to feel like an expert Id feel I need to be able to ski Jackson Hole black diamonds in pretty much any condition and the double blacks in most conditions. I dont know maybe I am selling myself short?

    That being said I have Line SFB in 172 (2014) and find them a bit soft. I also ski the Bibby’s in 174 and the Belafonte in the 168. All skis are accessible in varying degrees. The SFB can easily be skied by a lower intermediate skier, but a powerful skier may find them like a noodle. The Bibby surprisingly as stiff as it is also accessible (barely) but not entirely easy for the same level of intermediate but can much more easily be skied by a powerful expert skier with no fear that it will fold up as long as you take into account what it is designed to do. The Belafonte takes this a step further. I wouldnt put an intermediate on this ski at all as I dont see them being able to turn/flex it and if they get back on the tails the ski will take them for a ride. Its a ski you need your “A-game” for and must be able to drive a ski. However, it is still a ski that an advanced skier can handle and all experts bar the biggest most powerful racer/chargers will be able to push as hard as they wish and come away satisfied. I am not sure what similar ski that type of skier would have to ski to satisfy their charge at 100% and insane speeds all the time style. Seriously that ski can go from moderate speeds (25ish) to holy crap Im going to die speeds.

    All of that being said I think it is important for ski companies to make a range of skis based on a bell curve from easiest (begginer) to easy/accessible (inter to expert) to A-game skis (expert only). If K2, Rossi, etc only made skis for the never ever and the mass crowds while ignoring the true experts/chargers they would lose a fair amount of sales and drive those customers to other makers. Skiers to me seem quite loyal to brands. After getting on Moment skis its a company I will look at first. Sure they dont make any skis for the beginner skier, they are a small/boutique company and its not what they do. They make skis for probably the vast majority of Blister readers/members. So as long as there are companies like Moment, Liberty, ON3P, and some of the bigger boys like Blizzard, Head etc that still put out skis for the beast mode skier we should all be happy just maybe not have as much choice as the rest of us.

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