I learned this lesson the hard way. The really hard way. I skied for years on an Atomic Metron 9, which was a ski from the mid 2000s that was an intermediate advanced ski – good stiffness, trucky, heavy, short radius, and short for my height and weight. That was okay – that was then, and I had only been skiing a few years, and was far behind in skills against my skiing buddies who have skiing since they were in diapers.
After a few years of sking the Metrons, my skill level improved, but I was still left in the dust by my skiing buddies, and thought the solution was a longer, larger radius ski. Which, now I know, is correct to an extent. In the interests of keeping up, and building a quiver, I bought a pair of Volkl AC20s, without doing a lot of research, but did speak extensively to the guy in the shop who assured me they would be ‘way better’ than my Metron 9s. 170 cm length for me was ‘perfect’, given my 5’-7” 170 lb frame, and my ‘intermediate’ skills.
I was thrilled. Longer skis (170 vs. 157), Volkl (!), “AC” for “All-conditions” – should be the perfect ski. Bigger radii, due to it’s smaller sidecut. Best part – on sale, at the end of the buying season. And they’re Volkls! Skis of the elites.
I take them skiing at one of my favourite hills in Quebec, Le Massif, and indeed they are fast(er) – on groomers, where the snow is perfect. I’m thrilled, but in chop, they seem a little less than thrilling, in fact they seem a bit scary. No matter – I should improve my ski skills, as that’s what buying a ‘better’ ski should entail no? Besides, the dude in the shop said they were ‘way better’ and ‘perfect’, and any fault clearly lay in my less than perfect technique – and they’re Volkls!
Get my game up, and these skills will make me skier I dream of being.
Third day out, I’m skiing a trail I’ve skied dozens of times with my daughter, and there’s some bumpy icy stuff amongst the trees, and the skis came out from under me, and I landed on my left shoulder. Hard. Hit my helmet. Hard. My daughter, never having seen me take a spill that hard was a bit concerned, but I got up, and skied into the chalet where one of my friends had also taken a hard spill and wrecked his shoulder. It’s the conditions, it’s the less than perfect techniques that we undertook, we had convinced ourselves.
I pick up skiing again that week, and my shoulder has given me a bruise that extends across to the middle of my chest. No matter – it’s time to ski, and while it hurts, it’s not enough to not ski. The rest of the trip is spent being cautious, trying to improve my skill.
I have another last day in the season, out west at Lake Louise with my business partner who had just come back from an awesome skip trip to Europe, and was skiing up a storm. I couldn’t keep up – I assumed her age advantage was to her benefit, and my skills just weren’t up to scratch.
Next February, I’m at St. Sauveur, and I was skiing down a black piste, and the last words I remember were “careful, it’s icy”. Coming out of blackout is a very cool experience I’d care not to repeat. My daughter, again witnessing the tumble was convinced I was fine, as I was able to speak to the very nice Quebecois who stopped to aid me, in French. Linguistic skills notwithstadning, in the lodge, I was confused, my helmet was cracked, and I had a concussion.
I continue to ski the balance of the season, well off my game, and frankly weirded out by how my skills had either deteriorated, or my nerves had been frayed by the two most serious mishaps I’ve ever had skiing.
A couple of weekends ago, there was a demo tent at the local hill where I ski. My friend was looking at new skis, and we both stopped to grab a pair of demos. Her husband is an awesome skier – fast, smooth, and I used to be able to keep up with him, more or less. The entire day while skiing on my Volkls, I was taking up the rear, just behind my wife who is generally a cautious and patient skier. She just got new skis and was keeping relatively good pace, so I assumed that her skills had significantly improved and I just needed to learn how to ski better on these new Volkls.
I demoed a pair of Salomon RXT 800s – an advanced ski, and suddenly my skills were back. I flew past my wife, caught up to my friend, the awesome skier, and he was taken aback. Stability was back, confidence was back, and I was not being thrown around.
Looking back more carefully, and reading the actual reviews of the Volkl AC20, it’s a good intermediate ski. It’s a good groomer ski. It probably has a lack of torsional stiffness, so under heavy load, it twists and loses grip, so they wash out. They’re longitudinally stiff, so they’re good on groomers, have pop, and other stuff I was looking for. But they were the ski that I had the two most serious accidents I’ve ever had skiing. I was overskiing these skis. On crud and afternoon junk, the longitudinal stiffness threw me around, and it was hard to get strong edge due to the lack of torsional strength to cut through the junk.
The end lesson here is that skis have speed limits. If you have the skills, and buy a lesser ski, it’s not just a case of money and skiing badly. A good ski that matches your skills is critical to keeping safe.