OK, so I'm still growing in my appreciation of this sport. My original post was probably way too oversimplified (surprising coming from me being such a gear head ). I had the opportunity today to ski 4 of my skis back-to-back and switch them easily (had my car parked in a beach spot at A-Basin).
Clearly, categorizing skis merely by their waist width is missing a whole host of other variables that absolutely play into the equation regarding what ski is suitable for which conditions. Running very different skis back-to-back provides a great experience to make some concrete observations regarding the pros and cons of each ski. However, you just can't make any blanket statements about what skis of certain widths can or can't do. So some mea culpa on my part.
So if anyone's interested in my observations today, here they are (note that the specs are my measured specs and not the published specs). Conditions today at A-Basin were basically dust on crust, but there really wasn't any boilerplate. As it warmed up the skis were able to bite into the slope very nicely.
Ski #1 - 2005 Elan S12 (166cm, 113-66-99, ~14m sidecut) - turns on a dime, incredible power and rebound energy, great edge hold. Heavy skis with a burly construction (very thick, tons of camber, lots of metal). These skis were great while I was fresh and willing to put the work into them - easy to get great high edge angles at slower speeds (<30 mph), but the sidecut is too deep for higher speeds to really lay them over (they just turn too quick and generate so much force I can't hang with them). I can't see using these skis for my typical day of skiing at the speeds I normally ski - I just can't relax on them unless I'm rolling slower (like skiing with lower level friends on groomers all day). I'm going to keep them until I can rationalize replacing them with something like the Elan Speedwave series stuff. I also had a tough time getting them to carve longer radius turns. This is a case where there may be other skis this narrow that are more versatile, but the pair I happen to have are not.
Ski #2 - 2005 Stockli Stormrider XL (171cm, 116-75-102, ~18m sidecut) - the contrast between the Stocklis and all the other skis was huge. I've said it before and I'll say it again - these skis feel like velvet on the slope. They're incredibly damp without being lifeless. They were comfortable doing multiple turn sizes and shapes - and I can really lay them over at much higher speeds and feel completely comfortable. At the speeds I normally ski at (30-45 mph - as shown by my GPS) these skis have just the right amount of sidecut and stability when the conditions are hard groomers.
Ski #3 - 2004 Volant Machete FB (176cm, 128-94-115, ~22m sidecut) - This is just a bulldozer of a ski and it eats crud for breakfast. They're so heavy that there isn't much you'll run into on a mountain that will deflect them (maybe a chairlift tower ), but with that stability comes a very noticeable decrease in quickness - you just can't throw these babies around. I'm keeping these around as I probably won't get a decent sale out of them and they're a great tool for when the conditions are killing anything else I could throw at them.
Ski #4 - 2006 Elan M999 (181cm, 126-99-116, ~24m sidecut) - This is the original edition of the M999 that has a very soft tip and tail while still being very firm underfoot. Although these skis are wider than the Machete FB they felt quicker (they're lighter) and easier to move them around the mountain. They held just fine on the hard stuff, but the tips and tails were flapping in the wind. It was a little disconcerting to look down and see the tips just flapping like crazy. I also really noticed the major change in effort required to get these skis on edge. Previously I haven't really noticed this in softer conditions, but running them at high edge angles for an entire run down a groomer was a workout. I wanted to see if I could ski them just like my skinnier skis and found that although I could (mostly) they clearly wouldn't be my choice for a groomer day.
So I guess I'm just going to be a big quiver skier. I didn't get out on anything with a waist width in the 80s today. That's the next big test - to compare my "winner" of the day, the Stockli at 75mm, against my Elan M777 (at 85mm underfoot) and my Elan 888 (at 89mm underfoot) - first on groomers then hopefully in some soft snow. I want to see if I can turn the larger skis almost as easily while they're much better at handling the soft stuff. I'm especially excited to get out on the Elan 888 since it's a bigger ski with a larger amount of sidecut (they have a fairly wide tip). On paper they should be fairly good at carving on groomers while still having enough float to do decently well in 3D conditions.