Yep, been on a lot of race stock Atomics......we'll get to the specifics in a minute, but let's just go through some basics:
- First, there's a lot of "race" skis out there, and even from the same manufacturer, there's big differences. For example, Atomic has a Non-FIS legal GS 12 (19 meter sidecut). It has, I believe, basically about the same construction as the FIS compliant version, but comes in shorter lengths and has much more sidecut. I had a pair of 180s, and while they were fine for short, easy GS courses, they weren't cutting it for the long, tough Masters courses we have at places like Vail and Winter Park. So I went to a Head IGS RD 183 cm., 25.2 meter sidecut...and I'm a lot happier at high speeds in a GS course. They won't do much, however, until you're doing at least 30, and they take a lot of strength and precision to make good things happen in a course.
So there's a major difference right there. When you get into race stock of a FIS compliant ski, you can get into different levels. Atomicman could confirm, but I've heard that Atomic has 3 levels of race stock:
- Skis they make specifically for WC athletes like Benny Raich. These typically have beefier constructions, straighter sidecuts, and a bunch of other stuff that these folks demand and can make use of. I heard a story, for example, that a couple of seasons back, Benny and his dad found a pine tree on their property that had an amazing amount of life in the wood. So they cut it down and asked Atomic to make a ski using the wood, which Atomic of course did.
- Skis they make with probably a beefier construction, but are basically all the same thing in terms of sidecut, etc. Every ski, however, no matter how carefully built, is going to vary somewhat in terms of flex pattern. If you've ever been on a race stock ski, you'll typically see two numbers written on the tail: forebody flex, tail flex. So Atomic flex matches a bunch of skis...and then they let all the Atomic athletes who are right behind Benni go pick out their quivers first.
- Then they hand out what's left over to shops that deal in race gear, such as the folks I deal with in Colorado. Let's understand one thing, however, which is that the manufacturing quality from the major manufacturers, regardless of the level of race stock, is uniformly pretty damn good. All speed event skis are basically race stock. I got a pair of race stock Atomic 201 SGs late in the season last year that took very little hand tuning before I was ready to ski on them...basically just a little medium/fine diamond stone work on the edges, followed by a couple of sessions in the hot box. The sidewalls were already peeled back, the 1/3 bevel was right on the money, and I wasn't even going to mess with what was obviously a very fast structure put on by the Atomic techs.
When you start talking speed skis, however, then you get into some esoteric stuff. I heard that Atomic found out that the consistently fastest PTEX came from the beginning and the end of the rolls of PTEX. Therefore, when Hermann Maier was their marquee athlete, all of his speed skis came with bases from the beginning and the end of the rolls. Stephan Eberharter was also an Atomic athlete, and so he and Hermann were in competition for the fastest speed skis. I heard that Eberharter's Atomic tech...who was not Hermann's tech...held onto a bunch of really fast skis just so Hermann wouldn't get them...and that when Eberharter retired and his tech became Daron Rahlves' tech, Daron got all of Eberharter's skis, buffed out and ready to go.
- Speed event skis are a strange breed. You really need horses for courses...different sidecuts, flexes, bases, and so forth. I would guess that most guys are using a different setup at the Lauberhorn, for example, then they use at the Hahnenkamm. There's an interesting story about Killy on this topic. The day before he set the course record on the Hahnenkamm...by 3 seconds, I think...Michel Arpin, who was his Dynamic tech, figured that Killy had the course wired...but could go a lot faster on a different pair of skis. So Arpin drove to the Dynamic factory in D'Annecy, France, made a pair of skis specifically for Killy for that year's race...waxed them up a bunch of times, mounted them up, drove back to Kitzbuhel, took a test run on them, woke Killy up, and said "Here's your skis...go win." Which he then did...
- To cut back to what I was saying about race stock tech skis, you're going to get a ski that's amazingly well matched and buffed out...kind of like a Ferrari in the pits before an F1 race. Are you up to driving a Ferrari? Good, jump on. Wait one...more specifically, are you up to driving a Ferrari flat out on and F1 track? Great, tach it up. The thing you'll find about full on, FIS compliant, race stock, fully tuned skis is that they are a stoned groove...on a race course, and if you can handle them. Otherwise, you're likely to feel like a runaway dumpster headed for the parking lot...