Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Carving Skis - A New Idea?

As every recreational skier knows, the big advance in ski technology over the last decade has been the introduction of carving skis. It has been said that ski manufacturers have taken ideas from snowboard technology to create these radically new designs. Carving itself is seen as a brand new technique by many skiers, and a lot seem to believe that simply using carving skis means that they are carving.

So what is it that makes a carving ski different from a ski of ten years ago? The image to the left shows a two year old slalom ski alongside a ten year old slalom ski. Side by side it is easy to see that the new ski is shorter with a wide tip and tail, whereas the old ski has sides that are close to parallel. In addition, the top-sheet of an old ski is usually flat whilst a new ski will have contours to concentrate the ski's energy where is is needed (or, speaking in English, to make it stiffer in certain places). Notice that although the older ski has sides that are closer to straight - it is not completely straight sided. Straight skis still had a sidecut, and it is still possible to carve on them. People have been carving since long before I started skiing (22 years ago) and new equipment simply makes it easier to master the technique.

Next time you are in a bar or restaurant in the mountains and there is a pair of ancient wooden skis on the wall, take a closer look at them. At first glance they will look a far cry from modern skis, but look at the sidecut, and the shape of the topsheet. More than likely there will be a pronounced sidecut, and the top will be contoured to increase stiffness where it is needed. The idea of a shaped ski was invented in the nineteenth century by Sondre Norheim, and ski makers refined these designs over subsequent decades. However such innovations were deemed unnecessary when modern materials were introduced to produce laminated wood and metal skis in the fifties. Perhaps there was an element of marketing in this - making the new metal topped skis straighter gave them a more radical in appearance compared to the all wood skis that went before. I suspect the push of radical ski designs onto the market in recent years has at least something to do with competition from snowboard makers. This has made it both easier and more desirable for the ski makers to market ever newer looking ski designs that the skiing public might previously have greeted with suspicion.

Don't get me wrong, there have been big advances in ski design over the last decade and new skis are easier to learn and progress on, easier in difficult conditions, easier off piste, easier to carve on and less physically taxing. However, the principles are not as new as some would have you believe.

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