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Sneak Peak - Skis for 2015

Sneak Preview - Skis for 2015
by Andy Dappen

People who think that testing ski equipment is an easy, posh job know nothing.  Testing this gear is brutal work. Recently at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City, for example, I was tasked with an impossible job. The OR Show brings together several hundred equipment manufacturers who exhibit next winter’s wares to tens of thousands of owners and employees of outdoor shops. Day 1 of the show is an on-snow demo, held at the Solitude Ski Area, and between the Nordic gear, Alpine touring (AT) hardware, and ski-mountaineering (skimo) equipment there is always waaay too much equipment to test. The task becomes one of trying as many products as possible and then asking other trusted testers to fill in the huge gaping holes about all those products you can’t get around to test.

On this particular day in late January, I wanted to test new AT skis and boots. I also wanted to test the ultralight edge of ski touring – skimo boards and boots – to see how that gear performed next to normal weight AT gear. This was easily a multi-day endeavor (a ski day and a boot day) so I opted to keep the boot variable constant so I could evaluate what I was feeling and simply test the sexier part of the formula – different skis.

My routine with each pair of skis was to take them on the same three- lap circuit of an express chair. One lap was a high-speed cruising run down very firm and glazed snow, another down a steep descent of firm to icy bumps, and one down chopped-up-and-chunky powder. Most AT skis these days handle powder well so knowing how the ski performed on glazed to icy conditions and in crud, I thought, would give valuable feedback. Here’s what I discovered.


The Coombacks are still alive and well and I felt the same about skiing them again this year. At past demos, this has been one of my favorite skis from K2 – at least in terms of downhill performance. They hold an edge on glazed snows, cleave cleanly through crud, and wiggle easily in the bumps. The problem boils down to the uphill performance of a pair of skis weighing slightly more than 8 pounds and with 135/102/121 tip-waist-tail dimensions. Throughout the winter, spring, and early summer, I like long, dark-to-dark touring days, and I can’t keep up with my companions unless I shed ski weight with a skinnier board. This has a domino effect because skinny boards are driven by lighter boots, use lighter skins that glide better, and use smaller ski crampons. Also wide skis like the Coombacks are far harder to edge when skinning uphill on frozen spring snow. So, for me, boards with the dimensions of the Coombacks become a quiver skis  for deeper, softer snow. However, for real studs with greater horsepower and more willingness to use ski crampons when skinning up firm snows, the Coombacks ($650 in 2014) could be their one love.

For me, the Wayback 88 (88mm under foot and the ski I currently own) and the new Wayback 96 (96mm under foot) are the better all-season, all-condition workhorses. I like the Wayback 88 (124/88/108, 6lb 10 oz, $600)) for skiing the thinner snow packs of the Mission Ridge/ Blewett Pass environments. If I lived in Leavenworth and frequently skied the deeper dumps of the Stevens Pass backcountry, I might covet the Wayback 96. On my trio of testing laps, the Wayback 96 gave me chatter-free performance on the cruising run, plenty of platform to ski the crud smoothly, and an easily controlled combination of edged and slipped turns to noodle through the firm bumps.


Over at the Dynafit booth, I started out fat and moved to skinny.  The Grand Teton (113 mm under foot) may have been my favorite downhill ski of the day as I completed my laps. Having more mass, it handled ice, crud, and speed with more control, which translated to great pilot confidence.  However, although lightweight for a board of its size, it still flunked my weight and width criteria for long tours and all-season performance (see the K2 Coomback). For me this would be a quiver ski – and a good one at that.

Next I wanted to test the new Denali (100 mm at the waist, rockered tip, straight tail). Unfortunately the test skis in my size were always out when I returned to the booth so I only got to hear the positive reviews of others who were making laps on them. The Denali seemed to be making advocates of everyone using them. Instead, I skied the new Manaslu which in 2014-15 will be 90 mm at the waist (about 4mm skinnier than the old Manaslu). I also skied the Cho Oyu which underwent some liposuction, too, so it could occupy the 80mm-waisted territory. The Denali, Manaslu and Cho Oyu are all being constructed similarly in regards to materials, features, sidecut, tip rocker, and tail profile (straight). What’s different is primarily the 10mm addition in platform (and weight) between each model. Both of the models I tested were primo for my style of skiing (moderate speeds more turns). If I were mainly a spring and summer skier or a traverse skier (e.g., Haute Route) I’d migrate toward the weight savings and greater uphill edge bite of the Cho Oyu. As a quiver-of-one skier looking for a ski that would be fun for skiing deep snow in winter and firm snow in spring, I would tilt toward the Manaslu.

Finally I wanted to try Dynafit’s race-oriented skimo board, the Patrouille des Glaciers (PDG). ‘Toothpicks’ might better describe the PDG ($700) – they weigh 3 pounds 9 ounces (per pair) and have tip/waist/tail dimensions of 95/65/80. The waist dimension was normal 20-some years ago, but the shape and sidecut of the PDGs is far more modern. Theoretically, this should help them edge, carve and handle crud far better than old, straight skis. Skimo boards are short too. For sanctioned races skis must be at least 160 cm long for men (at least 150 cm for women) and most competitors, regardless of their size, run races in short lengths (usually 160 cm, even if they are big). In most snow conditions, keeping skis short is faster on the uphill. Meanwhile, skimo courses don’t have gates to swing around and the downhill portion can be steep, bumpy, rocky, and/or bushy. Short skis are good for maneuverability and control as you deal with such obstacles. And if the boards are a little slower than long skis in soft snow conditions, you simply point them straighter and execute fewer turns. That’s the theory anyway.

In practice, as I stood at the top of the steep, firm cruising run, my initial response to these skinny skis was ‘Yikes.’ Skiing these down glazed snow seemed like it would be like roller skating over BBs. Despite the trepidations, the PDG handled my troika of laps just fine. The skis chattered at speed on the glazed cruiser but by slowing down 30 percent, I gained good control. In the bumps and the crud, the skis deflected easily if I tried to push at fat-boards speeds, but at two-thirds speed the skis handled well. In the end I was impressed. These skis are 50 percent lighter than the 100mm-waisted skis that the average AT skier uses today and given that at least 75 percent of your touring time is spent going uphill, you’ll usually go faster and farther on these ultralight skis. I want a pair.


Onto Voile I went. In times past I’ve test driven their Vector (90mm waist), Charger (105mm waist), and Drifter (120mm waist) and have enjoyed them in fresh-snow conditions. In fact last year while I was searching for an all-season quiver-of-one backcountry skis to replace my well-used K2 Shuksans, the Vector was one of my finalists.

I intended to ski the newish V8 (around 115mm underfoot) which has been highly touted. At the booth, however, the brand new V6 (similar to the V8 in construction and features but 10mm slimmer) had been rolled out for testing and seemed the better all-around platform. So onto it I went. For the way I ski (lots of turns, moderate speed) and for where I like to ski (anywhere ungroomed) this would be awfully accommodating ski. It carved well on edge and slipped easily to slough speed. It handled all aspects of my laps well and I felt darn confident on it. It’s a light layup (LAY-UP?) for a ski of these dimensions but the V6 is still a lot of ski to power uphill for a 7,000 vertical foot day.

So there I am again mired in that age-old conundrum of having easy and enjoyable downhill performance sitting on the opposite side of a teeter totter from uphill performance. Where do you balance things out so you have just the right amount of each?

I also hopped on Voile’s creation for the light-and- fast crowd, the Wasatch Speed Project (84/63/72, 3.5 pounds, 63mm under foot, $595, 25-meter radius). This is the first American-made board built for the skimo crowd and it comes only in a 160 cm length, emphasizing the notion that going light and short is where it’s at if you want to travel fast and far. Though built for the uphill, this ski strives to be as good as a 3.5-pound ski can be when pointed down. And, overall, it succeeds. It uses the same tip rocker as the Vector, which helped it feel smoother than I expected in the hacked powder. Like the PDG from Dynafit, the Speed Project handled my circuit of runs fine as long as I dialed the speed back. Truth be told, I enjoyed the slightly bigger and shapelier platform of the Dynafit PDG (99/65/80) more. Was the difference substantial enough to merit spending an extra $100? The cheapskate in me might well decide the skiability difference was smaller than the price difference. These are tough decisions… which loops back to the start: Being a ski tester is brutal work.