Originally Posted by qcanoe
. . . Epic is not a good cross section of the skiing public. We are very heavily biased toward off-piste skiing, and we are probably much more biased toward west-of-the-Mississippi locales than national skier-visit figures would suggest. We are so biased toward skiing the ungroomed in the best available conditions that many of us organize our entire winters - including job, family, and budget arrangements - around maximizing opportunities to eat as much of that particular bon-bon as possible. This is quite literally not normal, even for most people who profess to enjoy skiing. We need to remember that.
For those of you in the west, okay, I get it. I would never tell you that it doesn't make sense to be using your 85mm boards on a "hard snow" day at your home mountain. I only wish that were me.
But for something like 45% of us here in this country - not 4% or 5%, but 45% - we are not skiing at Alta or Crystal or Bachelor or Taos or Copper or Big Sky or Kirkwood. . . .
So the question is not, "Can you carve a nice turn on 'hard snow' on a wider ski?" Of course you can. And you can have a ton of fun doing it. And the question is not, "Why doesn't everyone love skinny skis?" We know why. God knows that while I do cherish a clean carved turn on a race ski, I'd like the opportunity to spend more time on fat skis in their element! The question is, if you are one of the great mass of eastern skiers who accepts as a given, consciously or otherwise, that 90% or more of your actual skiing is done on bulletproof snow - snow of the kind that many of you would head straight to the bar rather than ski - what kind of ski makes those conditions the most fun?
I typically try to stay out of these threads, whether fat/skinny, carver/slarver, technical/tactical, because they rarely break new ground. Rather this stuff reads much more like self-affirmation justifying one's respective preferences and typical ski experience to the exclusion of alternative versions of the same reality.
But Q's post here is different and probably the best and most honest I've seen. Q is being real - and hinting at what really drives these threads and leads people to speak past each other in self-affirming feedback loops (including a tacit admission of "mountain envy").
The real issue is less about conditions than terrain and culture (and local culture is driven by terrain). If you accept as given that most people ski for FUN, it follows that the best, most experienced skiers on the hill are going to spend the majority of their scarce hill time doing what is most fun in their particular venue. And equipment choices flow from that. The other salient point is that one thing most of the ski population has in common (regardless of geography) is that most are way less avid than the average EpicSki contributor and probably have one, two at most, pairs of skis. And for many, just having fun, tooling around the mountain, taking a family vacation to a scenic location, is really all they are after. They aren't trying to impress Harald Harb, nor are they prepping for a PSIA exam.
I have limited experience skiing in the east (for the record I've skied Waterville Valley and Okemo a few times and it was pretty firm!), so I try to avoid definitive statements about what skis make the most sense in that venue. That said, if my ski reality were 90% nights at a 300 vertical ice rink in Ontario, I am pretty sure that I'd have totally different equipment - I'd probably keep my race carvers and that is about it. But more importantly, my focus would be way different. I'd be way more interested in technical carving and driving toward the elusive goal of technical perfection because that is what that particular venue offers for maximal fun.
On the other hand, out here, the terrain is vastly different. That drives culture and equipment choices flow from those environmental factors. 45 minutes from my house, there is a "little" 2000+ vertical hill, Alpental (think the A-basin of WA), that from a terrain perspective likely blows the socks of anything east of the Mississippi (I'm sure with a few exceptions). And the bottom 1000 feet, which is vastly better than anything at Okemo or Waterville Valley is open at night (the only limitation at night is that you don't have enough light to get too deep into the trees). That is our reality.
Another reality out here is that any ski you use, whatever you choose, probably should be a OSQ for that day. So you have to make some compromises in the service of versatility. I always say that equipment choices (and purchases) should be more about "ski days" and what you expect to encounter throughout that day, than generic "snow conditions." Because out here, unless you have a locker you aren't swapping skis in and out as if your car is 20 feet from the lift. And even if you do have a locker (or ski-in/ski-out accommodations), you better have sympathetic friends because very few normal skiers want to waste an hour on a good day skiing to the base of a large mountain solely to accommodate the OCD of a gear geek. You get one swap, max - lunchtime (assuming it makes sense to be in the base area).
To that end, we shouldn't ignore the other half of Tim Petrick's quote that opened this thread that also goes to this reality: "My point is that although I normally ski 105mm or wider waist skis at Crystal Mountain, WA, my home hill. . . The wider skis are perfect if you live somewhere the added width is actually a benefit." As someone with a pass at Crystal, I can confirm that Petrick is spot on, as is @markojp (noting his choice for a OSQ at our place is a E98). I use the Bonafide as the center of my quiver, but it is the same idea. Sure, we have some firm days (like late December/early January last season), but most of us are seeking out the best, "funnest" skiing on the mountain and that is going to be upper mountain, northern aspects, ungroomed. There are patches of groomers that you navigate to get around, but that isn't what it is all about and anyone of a moderate skill level should be able to navigate a short groomer for transport. Would my race carvers be better for that? Of course. But they would be way less fun on the parts of the mountain that I actually drove 1.5 hrs to come ski. On the other hand, if I skied Sun Valley regularly, I'd own a Fire Arrow 84ETD for sure and I'd ski it most days. I'd probably pair it with a FIS GS ski and something wider and softer, like a Nordica Soul Rider, aimed at softer snow, bumps and slush (in that venue 97mm underfoot would be more than sufficient 98% of the time).
Terrain drives ski culture. Because off-piste terrain is the highlight, and we don't really have awesome groomers at Crystal, Stevens, Alpental, Baker (the couple that we have at each place end up being bump and people fields by 11am), the emphasis here is less on technical skiing, much more on tactical skiing. Equipment choices follow. Head over to Mission Ridge, which skis more like a mini-Sun Valley than a mini-Whistler and you see a much more technical ski culture. . . race skis, carvers (I've never seen so many Head Titans in my life in a lift line), adults drilling with coaches - just the other side of the mountains (less than an hour from Stevens) and a vastly different ski culture.
That doesn't make one culture better than another, just different. But what I think chafes at the western folks in this community a bit is the somewhat parochial suggestion that those coming from a technical, carving ski culture are inherently "better" more talented skiers. Or that the tools we use to best address the typical terrain in our venue constitutes "cheating." But the reality is that we aren't stupid, delusional or necessarily unskilled. We are simply optimizing for what is fun and cool in our neighborhood. Moreover, you rarely see westerners on this board pounding their chest saying stuff like "hey Mr. Ontario carver dude, bring your race sticks out to WA and see if you can keep up with us in the Southback. . . bro bah, bro bah." Rather, most of us say "come on out and join us for some turns. . . . you can borrow something out of my garage (or demo pile) if your BSL is in range. . it will be fun." And of course, the irony of this disconnect is that most of the easties would trade places with us in a minute, all things being equal.
But I don't think that we should be bound by the tyranny of "or." For those of us out west, there is room for technical skiing (and the associated tools). Although it is not my focus, I find technical work and tools very useful, helpful and applicable toward developing more solid tactical big mountain skiing (even thought the optimal tools change). For those in the east, surely there is applicability for wider shapes, softer constructions and different dimensions - if for nothing else, the annual trip out west to more varied terrain.
Although I wouldn't deign to hold forth on east coast ski selection, one place where I think that westerns have something to add to this discussion is that we see regularly a broader range of terrain than the average Ontario-based performance carver. So many of us (at least those of us who are avid and interested) have tried a range of shapes, widths, styles of skis across a wide range of conditions and terrain. So when folks from bigger western mountains talk about "trade offs," giving up incremental "performance" in one dimension for more "performance" in another dimension - we actually know what we are talking about and can offer reasonable advice as to the degree of the tradeoff. Because out here, the consequences of being a zealot and taking out a pair of GS cheaters on a firm day at Crystal means that you are going crush Lucky Shot like Ted Ligety on your first run in the morning, but ultimately you will find yourself working your tail off and having way less fun when the group heads up chair 6 one run later. . . but the cool thing is that everyone makes his/her own choices and is capable of weighing the tradeoffs because recreational skiing is recreational.
Edited by LewyM - 10/10/14 at 4:25pm