A decade ago, when I was a member of HEAD’s international women’s design team, I learned a couple of things about ski design. First, though ski technology changes only incrementally year to year, after five years, those small tweaks add up to a substantial improvement. Second, the average skier typically keeps a pair of skis five years or longer. When it comes to super-G skis for masters and adult recreational racers, these lessons also apply.
In 2012, when the FIS implemented its unpopular sidecut rule, requiring athletes to use straighter and longer skis for all disciplines but slalom, racers balked. Super-G radii grew from a minimum of 33 meters to 40m for women and 45m for men. Ted Ligety publicly accused the FIS of being a dictatorship that was going out of its way to ruin the sport. Masters racers, myself included, heaved a sigh of relief when the FIS grandfathered us out of those mandates. We could use any ski length or radius we wanted as long as they were deemed appropriate by the technical delegate (TD) at the race.
When the sidecut rule came down, super-G skis with “≥ 33m” etched on the tail became gold among masters racers. I grabbed up every pair of 33m-radius super-G skis I could find. I gorged my prima donnas with wax and guarding them zealously from evil impurities on the hill. But all treasured skis eventually wear out. Unfortunately, the sources of new or well-maintained 33-meter super-G skis have also dried up. What’s a masters racer to do?
“Move on!” says Jim Schaffner, a longtime racer and owner of Start Haus in Truckee, Calif., which specializes in ski racing equipment and service. “The gap between those old skis with ‘≥ 33m’ on them and the new skis isn’t what you think. The new ones aren’t simply old skis with a longer radius. The current technology in new skis, with radii ≥40m, is better.”
The five-year theory strikes again! Winter 2016-17 marks the fifth anniversary of the unpopular sidecut and ski length mandates by the FIS. “Manufacturers haven’t been sleeping on this,” says Schaffner. “Athletes want skis that work. The current crop of super-G skis is a blast to ski on, way better than they were.”
Michael Braun, Rossignol’s race representative in the Far West division and a top masters racer, concurs. “I was the first to say ‘hold onto your old skis’,” says Braun, who grabbed every ski he could find out of Rossi’s race department when the FIS sidecut rule passed. “I was scared to death, but when I skied on our new super-G skis, I was shocked at how easy to turn they were.”
The skis that both Schaffner and Braun refer to are women’s FIS skis, 203 centimeters long with a 40m radius. Both recommend this ski for strong, experienced masters-level men and women.
Radius Realities. One of the realities of bigger sidecuts is that they really aren’t that much larger than what most of us have been using all along. Notice the little line below the “greater than” symbol, “≥ 33m”. If your old super-G skis are, say 201cm long, their radius is likely closer to 38m.
“The new sidecuts are only a tad less turny,” says Braun. “You don’t feel it because the flex is different.”
New Ski Flexes. To make bigger sidecuts more user-friendly, the latest crop of super-G skis has softer flex patterns and torsional rigidity, especially in the tips and tails, to help lower resistance in and out of turns. Some companies have added a small amount of rocker to the ski tip, too.
“In Rossignol’s case, we cut the metal (Titanal) layer short, about three inches before the shovel to soften the tip,” explains Braun. “Most of the ski is still beefy to pull through the turn, then the tail is softer.”
Men’s FIS GS Skis for Super-G? Since the advent of the FIS sidecut rule, many masters racers have had success using men’s FIS GS skis for super-G, which are just under 200cm long with a ≥35m radius. While they give up speed and stability on the faster, straighter sections of a course, they more than make up for it with better turns – and masters super-G sets can be turny.
“If you do well on a men’s FIS GS ski, you’ll do better on a super-G ski,” believes Schaffner. “Super-G hasn’t seen the same changes in course sets as GS. In masters racing, if it’s a tough turn, there’s usually lots of belly below it. Masters don’t need to get across the fall line like a World Cupper. It’s not really about the sidecut, but how quiet the skis are on the snow. Super-G skis are damper and adapt better to the terrain.”
Maybe it’s time to get rid of the old and bring in the new. After all, it’s been five years.