All Skis are not created equal. The construction of quality race skis involves a considerable amount of hands-on-work. Two skis of the same brand and model, length, and flex can vary widely in quality and performance. One may have a long, smooth glide zone and a firm, elastic camber while the other may have a short glide zone and a rigid, dead feeling camber.
High-end skis are made individually for two reasons, the first reason is because laying carbon, resin, and wood into a mold is a nuanced craft. Whether building a rowing shell, a racing canoe or a fixed wing glider when laying up carbon in a mold, human hands and eyes are critical in delivering a product that is strong, light and responsive. A secondary result of hand-building top-level skis is that manufacturers want to build variety within each model so skis can be selected according to a variety of snow conditions. These rules do not apply as strongly to midline and entry level skis, which are mechanically made, resulting in more consistency within each model.
How we test and measure
At Gear West we use several methods to analyze the flex and quality of a pair of race skis. First we use hands and eyes, we squeeze the skis to check for a smooth yet lively camber. When squeezing a skate ski we want them to close smoothly and retain enough reserve camber to give the ski energy. When squeezing a classic ski we look for a double camber where the closure hesitates just before the skis closes completely for the kick. After this we move on to the flex bench or flex tester.
We have skiers stand on the skis we are testing and have the skier apply body weight in three positions to simulate the pressures applied to skis on snow. First they apply even weight on both skis, second they stand on a flat foot on one ski, and third they rolled onto the ball of one foot. We slide paper under the skis at each position to measure the ski pocket and to ensure that the skis match each other. (There can be variety of flex within a pair of skis). The flex bench gives us a good sense of the quality of the ski and how the ski fits the athlete.
This testing machine, which was designed from the ground up here at Gear West, uses load cells to collect precise pressure distribution data. This data allows us to determine the quality of flex, weight range, and ideal snow conditions for any ski, as well as objectively comparing individual skis to each other. Unlike other flex machines which capture data at only half and full body weights, the Signature Flex Tester captures data for the entire weighting cycle; pressure data can be viewed for any load from zero to above the skier’s body weight. The flex tester to gives us accurate, nuanced, repeatable metrics to identify the fastest skis. Using our flex tester we can, and often do compare several skis side-by-side to find the subtle differences between several pairs of skis that can make a huge difference in final performance. Once we finally find the perfect match, we mark the ski with your name and an order reference, then store them in a VIP storage area that only Gear West signature ski fitters can access.
What can you do to increase your chances of getting a really nice pair of skis?
If you are spending time and money on race skis, you should give yourself the best chance of getting a great gliding and kicking ski. In searching for a great race ski, it's critical to compare several skis of the same make and model. When you stand on (or flex test) three pairs of skis you will see one will have a longer and smoother glide zone while the others may have shorter glide zones and even higher pressure areas. In most conditions, the skis with the longer glide zone will glide best.
It is also important to consider if this is going to be your primary race ski or it is filling a specific snow condition niche within your fleet. Your best race ski should be selected to perform best in the most common snow conditions you race in. In the Midwest we look for skis that perform well in colder and dryer snow. For skate skis, we want a long, smooth glide zone. When selecting classic skis for firm tracks we look for a lower kick pocket which can result in a longer, smoother glide zone.
Alas, all skis are not equal. To increase your chances of getting the best pair of skis, you and your ski fitter need to compare several skis of the same model, length, and flex. Together, you will narrow your choices down to the skis that fit you and deliver the smoothest and liveliest camber. You will walk away with skis that climb easy and glide like there's no tomorrow!