This article was written by Frank Lundeen and previously published in Master Skier Magazine.
While offering service at races one of the common questions I get is, “Which skis should I use today?” While this is a great question and a most important thing to figure out before a race, or any other ski for that matter, it is quite simple to figure out on your own.
Often times, racers pick which skis to use for the wrong reasons. For example, because a ski is newer than another, or even if the base is in better condition than another, that may not be the ski of choice.
The flex characteristics of a ski are the primary factor determining how the ski will perform. The flex characteristics of a ski affect performance far more than structure or even wax!
When the term “flex characteristic” is used, it generally refers to 2 different types of flex; camber and pressure distribution.
Camber refers to the stiffness of the ski while under your foot. You can see the camber height by placing the bases of the ski against each other. Then squeeze the skis together to feel the camber stiffness. Camber is the main determining factor when being fit for skis. Refer to your ski shop or past articles in Master Skier Magazine for precise information on ski fit. Usually, stiffer cambered skis are more appropriate for firm snow conditions where softer cambered skis are more appropriate for soft snow conditions.
Pressure distribution generally refers to the stiffness of the tip and tail of the ski, then how that stiffness transitions from the ends of the ski to the rest of the ski. Similar to camber, skis with stiffer tips and tails are more suited for firm snow conditions while skis with softer tips and tails are more suited for soft snow conditions. Whether the ski tips and tails are stiff or not, it is very important that the transition from the ends of the ski to the center of the ski be gradual: In other words the ends are always relatively soft, but as you go toward the center of the ski, the ski should become progressively stiffer.
The best way of having skis “flex characteristics” checked is by having a shop do a paper test, thus a knowledgeable quality shop is paramount.
Now we need to draw some conclusions. In soft (especially new) snow conditions, a ski with generally soft, smooth flex characteristics is always optimal.
In firm conditions, the biggest concern is being in control of the ski, thus a stiffer ski with stiffer tips and tails is generally the racer’s choice. If a skier isn’t in control of the ski, ski speed doesn’t matter. One’s skis must be stable enough to ensure the safety of the skier. Additionally, if the skier isn’t comfortable on unstable skis, their technique will generally fall apart. Skiing in hard icy conditions on soft skis can be most frustrating and will compromise the enjoyment and value of the workout.
This winter test your various skis in different conditions, you’ll find that specific skis work better in certain conditions. Don’t be afraid to experiment. When race day comes, simply match the conditions to the ski’s optimal conditions and prepare the ski for the race.