Date: December 11, 2011
Location: Sugarloaf, Maine
Sky: Overcast, intermittent light snow showers, snow guns roaring in several spots
Temperature: high teens to high twenties, F.
Terrain: Hayburner, King's Landing, Tote Road, Candyside. These are all groomers, with a good mix of steepish pitches and flattish runouts.
Snow Conditions: All man-made snow. Surfaces ranged from soft stuff right out of the guns (but heavy like damp flour), to emerging bumps with scraped-off troughs, to yellow-white chalky boilerplate, to stretches that were true ego-crushing bulletproof, even by eastern standards.
Me: 49yo, 5'7", 135lbs, Level 8+/-, beer league racer, east coaster. My personal ski for the day, for reference: Blizzard Supersonic 167cm - took several runs on these to keep myself honest
If you are wondering why I chose these these particular five skis to test, read my spiel (way) below, about why demo days never turn out as planned.
Stoeckli Laser CX 170cm 116-69-100 R15: Calm, quiet ski. Nice tune! Very clean, grippy, and predictable on boilerplate. Stable at moderate speeds. (Hill way too crowded to really open it up.) Not too hard to flex, even at low speed. Less of a taskmaster than the brand might suggest. Will make scarved instructor turns beautifully. Graphics very classy and appealing. This ski had an old-fashioned, conservative feel on initiation. In arced turns, you have to be patient and wait for the tip to engage meaningfully, which takes a while. I think I've gotten used to skis - like my Blizzards, and like the Dynastar and Fischer in this group - with really fat tips that just haul you into the turn by your ear. At high speeds, the CX's gentle engagement would probably be an asset. I can see Dawgcatching, who professes to like skis that only turn when he asks them to, liking this behavior. On this day, in these conditions, it was the one slight downside to this ski for me. In fairness to other skis, this model had the advantage of the day's earliest and best snow surfaces. Unfortunately I did not get to try the Laser SX, though a friend did. He didn't want to bring it back to the tent.
Fisher Motive 80 168cm 122-80-110 R17: I picked this ski out of the rack because I speculated it would be exactly the right thing for the day's conditions: torsionally stiff for the hardpack, turny for the crowded slope, and wide enough for stability on the variable surface. My first turn on a patch of boilerplate, that the Laser had handled without batting an eye, literally sent me onto my ass. The peanut butter spreader in my kitchen junk drawer has a better tune on it than this ski did. I managed to make it down onto the flats unscathed, if not unscared. Once down there, I found some snow that was soft enough that I could actually get the ski to bend and turn like it was designed to, and I could see that this could be a really fun ski with the right tune and/or in the right conditions. But obviously I can't provide feedback on this ski that would be meaningful to anyone except - I'd like to think - any Fischer reps reading this. This is especially a shame because normally I am a Fischer fan.
Atomic Crimson Ti 171cm 130.5/88/116 R16: Meh. Perfectly nice ski. Not my thing. Can't explain it. Wasn't bad at anything; just didn't make my toes curl. Later in the day I talked about this with the owner of one of the better area shops. His comment was that the Crimson is "well known as a big guy's ski," and that I should have tried the Blackeye instead. So maybe I just wasn't giving it enough gas to let it shine. Shoot. Next time.
Dynastar Course Ti 171cm 121-72-105 R15: Ski of the day for me. Gracefully handled every surface I could throw at it. Unsurprisingly, given its nearly identical dimensions and intended use, it shared a lot of appealing easy-race characteristics with my Blizzards. But the Dynastar is a quieter ski with noticeably slower rebound at low speed and what felt to me like a more easy-going flex in the forebody. Doesn't mean you can't load it up and get good pop in a real arc; just means that it's a little more forgiving in bumps and when pushing a bit of heavy soft stuff. The Course also released easier than my Supersonics. Part of this could be down to the tune (my skis could have used a smidge of gummy stone at the tails), but I think the rebound thing plays into it too: It just feels like I have more time at the end of the turn to get ready for the new edge when the ski re-cambers more slowly. Really hard for me to imagine a strong New England skier who wouldn't love this ski. The hideous top sheet is my sole complaint about the Course Ti. Props to Rep. Chris Clapp - who could enter a Killy look-alike contest - for always being ready with a decent tune, informative but non-pushy info, honesty about his wares, and genuine good cheer.
Rossignol S3 178cm 127/98/118 R20: No one will be surprised to hear that this ski really sucked on the skied-off skating rink that passed for a runout when I got onto this ski after noontime, as the reps were packing it in. Honestly, so did my skis - or at least my skiing - by that then. Yes, I could make it carve after a fashion on the sluff still available near the trail edge in certain places, but I could tell its heart wasn't in that activity. However, by this time we had "discovered" the neglected softer, chalkier surface and bumps on skier right, King's Landing, and the S3 lapped that up. (At least it did I after I made some quick minor accommodations to my skiing - this is a MUCH different ski from the preceding ones, obviously.) Really really fun. I haven't spent a lot of time on wide skis or rockered skis. The big revelation for me here came on the last pitch, which, despite being on a nominally "blue" run, is plenty steep by any resort's groomer standards. (If you've skied the Loaf, you'll know that this is not just a Maine resident's parochialism speaking. It's a tough mountain.) To ski this pitch well, you really need to "dive off the board" with conviction. Anyway, this was a place where a couple of the skis - notably including my own - had caused me a bit of trouble in the transition. I could not believe how fast and easy the S3 came around into the new turn on this section. What's with that? Related to the rocker in the tail? At any rate, I can really imagine myself loving this ski on the wall of some steep bowl in the West. Downsides: juvenile tank-slime paint job, and a clearly identifiable "cardboardy" feel that also presented itself in the Rossi S86 I skied for half a day a couple years ago. I skied well and confidently on both of these skis - probably above my usual level - but they both bugged me slightly in the same exact way, that I can't put my finger on.
Demo day is never what I think it's going to be. Not sure why I haven't learned the lessons by now.
my delusion: Reps are going to bring a broad cross section of their better models.
reality: Some reps bring a wide selection. Others don't. Sunday's example: very few race carvers to be seen in anyone's tent, even on a day with as much bulletproof on offer as any other condition. Props to Dynastar and Stoeckli for bringing a couple. (Maybe others too, that I missed.)
my delusion: Reps are going to bring a range of sizes.
reality: Some reps do; others don't. Sunday's example: I really wanted to try the some Nordicas in the 90 - 100mm bracket. I needed something roughly in the 170 - 175 range. No dice. They had Steadfasts and Hell & Backs only for chunky 6' guys who are double my weight, and they had the Nemesis only in sizes for twiggy 5' women. Nothing - and I mean nothing - in between. Props to Fischer for bucking the trend with at least one model in 3 or 4 sizes.
my delusion: Other people will not want to try the same models / sizes I want to try. And if they do, they will bring them back after one run.
my delusion: I'm going to try models that make sense to compare head-to-head.
reality: I try models that I can get my hands on, that are roughly my size, that I have vague interest in checking out. It's ALWAYS apples to oranges.
my delusion: I'm going to try mostly models in a niche that represents my likely next purchase.
reality: See above.
my delusion: I am going to get to ski with my buddies - also demoing - while still managing to try a bunch of skis.
reality: The timing is tricky. Maybe I take a few minutes to scope out a model I'm interested in, that's available in my size, and then have to wait in line a few more minutes for the tech to process people ahead of me and then adjust the bindings for me. Meanwhile, my buddy scores something he wants right away in an empty tent and is already on the lift while I'm still browsing. Can you blame him, this early in the season? I can't.
my delusion: Demos are going to last all day.
reality: Reps tend to decamp shortly after noon.
my delusion: If the availability stars align, I am going to make sure to try specific models that I have a particular interest in.
reality: For reasons that seem irrational in hindsight, I skip over available skis that I later really wish I had made a special effort to try. Sunday's example: I had an opening to grab a pair of 173cm Bushwackers, which were on my "wanted list," but I let it pass because I just wanted to keep skiing. (Wait. Maybe that is totally rational after all!)
my biggest delusion: Ski companies who want you to fall in love with their skis - and therefore buy them - will make sure they are tuned to within an inch of their lives for the day's conditions.
reality: Not that. Not even close to that. (But kudos to Dynastar, Stoeckli, and Atomic - among the brands I tried - for making a strong effort to be on top of this.)
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Date: December 11, 2011