Secrets to great skis

Picking the perfect skis is more than just matching a skiers weight and height with a form. The brand of skis, the conditions they will be used in, and who will ski them important elements in picking the perfect skis. And some factors that matter more than others.

For starters, only a few brands produce the same skis for World Cup skiers as they distribute to local dealers. For Madshus, it has always been a guiding principle that the top of the line racing skis available in at the retailers should be no different than the Madshus skis the World Cup racers are on, explains Per Wiik, Madshus Global Marketing Director.

Mark Waechter of Nordic Ultratune in Winthrop, Wash., has a lot of experience with selecting skis and race tuning. He has the only Mantec stone grinder used for Nordic skis in North America, selects and takes care of numerous World Cup skis, and was one of the main wax techs with the Slovenian national team at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

“It is easy to pick good skis from Madshus. They are consistent, high quality and they have a great warranty,” Waechter says, noting that with other brands, some skis can be up to five kilos apart for stiffness in the same pair.

Different philosophies
Some manufacturers make their World Cup skis by hand and in different factories than where they mass produce skis for the retail market. At Madshus, World Cup skis and retail skis are made in the same facility, using the same machines, materials and construction, Waechter says.

So why does it seem like the World Cup skiers have faster skis than everyone else?

Well, for starters, they often have a lot of skis.

“Anyone who has 25 or 30 pairs of skis in their bag should be able to find a couple of pairs of skis that run better than the others,” Wiik says with a grin, adding that most masters and citizen racers don’t have that luxury.

And while Madshus World Cup skis in principle are no different than the ones off the rack, there are some differences. Madshus does have the capacity to engineer special skis for World Cup racers that have cambers and flexes that the mass market are not going to be interested in, Wiik explains, noting that they still use the same materials, construction, molds and machines. Accordingly, Madshus sometimes will make a ski for a very specific condition that otherwise would not sell, such as a super-wet klister ski or a skate ski for extremely cold and draggy snow.

Furthermore, Madshus also has the capacity to make a replica of a pair that a specific elite athlete is particularly fond of.

For instance, when Vasaloppet Champion Jörgen Brink (SWE) had worn out his favorite skis this spring, he shipped them back to the Madshus factory in Biri, Norway, and asked for some new ones just like those.

“You should have seen the skis Brink returned to us this spring. They looked like rock skis. They had scrapes and scratches in the base that went all the way to the core, and the upper was just trashed,” Wiik recalls, noting that he has rarely seen skis that worn. He was definitely in the market for some new ones.

The Madshus engineers analyzed the properties of the skis, such as flex, camber and pressure distribution, and then adjusted their machines and molds to produce an identical pair.

However, regular masters and citizen racers don’t have this option when their favorite pair is worn out. They have to trust that their local dealer can pick them a new pair from the stock that is fairly similar to the golden boards.

So how do consumers get the best skis?
First, it helps to know who is picking your skis. Serious dealers know their brands and models, and take their time when they determine which model and which pair best suits the skier. This requires more than just asking about the skier’s weight and height. Where the ski will be used, in what conditions, and for what kind of skiing are critical variables. A recreational skier has different needs than a racer, and technique and proficiency also matters, Wiik points out.

Second, it is important to be honest about your skill level and ambitions. Ask yourself what you are really looking for in a ski, and what you realistically need. Some skiers are just never going to be in the first wave of the Birkie, even if they had the skis from God. What is on top of the skis really does matter. If you don’t have time to work out, out in overtime at the office every night and only get on your skis for a few hours on the weekend, you can’t expect the skis to provide some kind of magic weapon. On the other hand, it’s possible that a new pair of skis could motivate you to get out more.

TLC and testing
Finally, having more skis is not necessarily the ticket to great skis. If you don’t take care of your skis and treat them right, it doesn’t matter how many pairs you have.

If you don’t have time to do more than one or two pairs of skis, having more pairs won’t make you faster. And for the record, the elite skiers generally have people who take care of their skis for them, help them test, wax and tune their skis before races. Just testing skis is a time consuming task in itself, let alone the waxing and tuning.

“The most important thing is to have the right skis for the conditions you will ski. If you have a couple of pairs you know well, know how to wax and tune for your needs, then you’ve come a long way,” Wiik concludes.