Pros: Speed, edge grip, ease of use, fun
Cons: Not very versatile for mixed conditions
For the past 10-15 years, perhaps more, I've skied almost exclusively on all-mountain skis. I'm not the gear junkie I used to be and tend to find a ski I like and use it until it breaks or find myself by happenstance on a new set of boards. That changed this winter when I found myself in need of some skis to do some recreational racing. Enter the Chrome 74 Fluid X (184 cm--probably a size too big, given my height and weight, but read on to see my impressions of the ski's size and how that influenced performance for me).
First, some of my vital stats for reference:
Height: 5' 10"
Weight: 180 lbs
Skier type: aggressive expert who doesn't ski as much as he used to, so isn't as strong as he used to be. I also tend to ski almost exclusively on ugly snow: crud, trees, general off-piste conditions. I prefer big, fast turns in almost any condition.
Recent skis, in order of acquisition and use:
Volkl Cross Ranger (200 cm)
Fisher Big Stix 86 (180 with 86 mm underfoot)
Scott P4 (181 cm with 108 mm underfoot). This is my current go-to ski for general skiing, and while I love it I sometimes wish it was longer.
Also in the mix during the Cross Ranger days was a pair of Dynastar Speed SFs (197) that I never skied much, probably because of a combination of binding set-up (a few extra degrees of forward lean created by the bindings) and the ski's length. Although the ski was reviewed well in its day, I was never able to consistently find its sweet spot. And that was the last piste-oriented ski I tried--until now.
In January I found a great deal on a very lightly used pair of the Chrome 74 Fluid's (184 cm) at a local consignment store and began scouring the internet for information. I don't generally review gear, but it was difficult to find very much about the CR 74 Fluid x, especially in that length, so I'm compelled to add to the knowledge base as it were. Having read Skiing Magazine's review and Ski Club Great Brittain's review, as well as a number of French and German reviews sloppily translated by Google, I have to agree with many of the general assessments. The ski is fun, fairly accessible for advanced skiers, and powerful. I have yet to find its upper-end speed limit, but that doesn't mean it has to be skied fast. In fact, that’s part of the beauty of this ski: it is very powerful, but it can make slow, skidded turns. When on edge and being pushed, however, it carves very clean arcs on hard and soft snow alike, and although its 17 meter radius wants to ski medium to long turns most cleanly it can easily handle rapid-fire short turns. Also, unlike some older GS skis I tried a long time ago, it's easy to break out of the carve to scrub speed when you need to.
The CR 74s have the same dimensions as the Speed Course Pro, Dynastar's GS race ski marketed to the masses, and while I'm no authority no the matter I imagine the key difference is stiffness. But make no mistake, the CR 74 fluid is still a very stiff ski. Some of the reviews discussed its lack of energy or pop at the end of the turn, a sought-after characteristic in race skis. It's worth pointing out, though, that the CR 74 does in fact generate a fair amount of energy at the end of the turn--enough to force me to concentrate on my basic technique for the first time in a few years. So I think this is a matter of perspective. For a racer or others who ski stiff GS skis regularly, it may lack some pep. But for someone like me who's just spent a decade skiing on relatively squishy all-mountain skis, the CR 74 generates plenty of energy to launch into the next turn and in fact throws me on my heels when I'm not paying attention.
While it’s billed as a 100 percent piste ski I also found myself on these in about 5 inches of cut up fresh on top of groomed snow. This sort of condition, a mix of crud and ice, has long been one of the most challenging for me, and the CR 74 absolutely ripped it, plowing through shallow crud while still holding clean on the ice. My preference during such a day will still be the P4s and some tree skiing, but the CR 74 can certainly handle some degree of variable conditions—and in fact excel in some of them.
Finally, a note on length. By the books, I should be on the 178. I was worried the 184 in such a stiff ski would be too much, but this hasn’t been the case, helping verify the “huge performance window” referenced in the Skiing Magazine review. I can fire off slalom turns, scrub speed when I need to and still enjoy a stable and powerful ski that loves to go fast.
That said, would I prefer the 178? The answer is an unequivocal maybe. I’m not as strong or young as I used to be, and the CR 74 is a powerful, if accessible, ski. On occasion, when I’m lazy or lackadaisical, it catches me off guard and feels unwieldy, and this translates to decreased precision during high-speed, hard carves. Since I have yet to find the ski’s upper speed limit, I don’t think the shorter skis would impose speed or stability limitations, but would probably add a degree of precision and control for someone of my height and weight. As it is, I now own these, and my solution to this minor conundrum is to get a little stronger and focus on cleaning up some of the bad habits I've accumulated during 10+ years of skiing soft and, by comparison, more forgiving skis.