COPPER MOUNTAIN — The past few seasons in Colorado arguably fell victim to Murphy's Law of skiing. Create the perfect powder ski, and a two-year snow drought is a virtual lock. Retool the boards to ride hardpack, and Mother Nature turns on the snow machine.
Fortunately, snow or no snow are really the only options.
So in a way, the patient consumer has been blessed when it comes to skis. After being run through the wringer, the ski builders have dug deep into their bag of tricks to develop the latest set of snow-sliding tools that inch ever closer to doing everything we ask.
"People want a ski that does everything well," said Willy Booker, president of Nordica USA. "There's still a lot to learn about how to make the skis ski better across multiple snow conditions."
While there will always be room for improvement, the Snowsports Industries America (SIA) Snow Show that wrapped up with a two-day on-snow demo at Copper Mountain on Tuesday illustrated just how close the ski industry has come to designing the ideal ski for several — if not quite all — snow conditions.
The trend is toward weight reduction, perhaps a nod to the longer tours many skiers have been taking in search of deeper snow. And now that fatter footprints and rockered shapes have established their functionality in the powder, they've been fine-tuned for better edge hold on hardpack too. You know, just in case this year's snow doesn't last until next year's skis go on sale.
Meanwhile, here are a few that we enjoyed.
Dynastar Cham High Mountain 107. The French-made Cham was an immediate hit when it debuted two years ago, inspiring the lighter High Mountain edition this season and an increased emphasis on this more consumer friendly version for next year. With the same progressive "five-point" sidecut as the standard Cham, the HM reduces weight by 25 percent by removing metal from the plenty stout paulownia wood ski construction.
"We think that the High Mountain has a lot more accessibility for more people," Ed Green, Dynastar's Colorado sales rep, said. "It's 2 pounds lighter than the standard Cham. And the trend in skis right now is very light. With the High Mountain we've found that you give up so little when you go from the metal to non-metal. The only place I've seen it make any difference is on really hard snow, where the regular Cham 107 still holds a better edge."
The new Cham 117 joins the 107mm (underfoot) and 97mm models next year, replacing the ultra-fat 127mm model.
Liberty Double Helix. Avon-based Liberty introduces three new skis to its expanding lineup next year, but the wide-bodied Double Helix (121mm underfoot) still proves to be the ski favored by company employees.
"The Helix (105mm underfoot) is our top seller, but all of us ride the Double Helix pretty much daily," said chief operating officer Chris Sears. "They are pretty wide underfoot, and that can be intimidating for destination skiers. But if you live in the mountains, you aren't scared of them. In reality, it makes it easier to ski."
Liberty's bamboo ski cores and subtle "stealth rocker" create a light (for its size), lively ski that initiates turns quickly and maintains a grip on the hardpack. The skis have slight camber underfoot and a stiffer, flat tail with twin tips for smearable turns and switch stance possibilities. New offerings include the symmetrical, park-oriented Transfer (88mm), the softer-flexing Jinx (94mm) for women and the fully rockered Origin (116mm).
Volkl Mantra. The Mantra has been a mainstay for German ski-manufacturer Volkl for as long as anyone can remember, yet Volkl has managed to find a way to improve it by making it both wider and more nimble next year.
"It's always been a great long-turn ski, but we wanted to make it just a little bit quicker," said Midwestern sales rep Jeff Ludwigson. "So we took the camber out of the ski and made it flat, and then we introduced tail rocker along with the tip rocker we added two years ago. That just makes the ski a little more nimble."
The all-mountain classic also managed to add 2mm to the tip, waist (100mm) and tail while maintaining the same weight and turn radius as the current edition. The women's version, the Aura, got the same treatment. Volkl's new BMT (Big Mountain Touring) line combines graphite and wood cores to create stunningly light fat skis (94-122mm waist) that further blur the line between alpine and backcountry boards.
Rossignol Soul 7. Skiers will notice the weight reduction in Rossi's "Air Tip" technology immediately. The skis swing easily and concentrate the center of gravity underfoot, helping skiers conserve energy. The technology introduced last year is shared throughout the so-called "7-Series," with the Soul 7 (106mm) as the line's flagship ski.
"The Soul 7 kind of encompasses everything we're going for with the fusion of backcountry and free ride performance," said public relations manager Nick Castagnoli. "It's light on the uphill and offers great versatility all over the mountain."
The new Sin 7 (98mm) replaces the popular Rossi S3 and is the latest to receive Air Tip technology. If there's a knock, it's in the crud, where the lightweight tips have a tendency to deflect rather than punch through the snow.