Date: March 13, 2009
Location: Sugarloaf, Maine
Weather: sunny, teens – low 20s
Conditions: 60% firm groomed with boilerplate patches, 40% soft groomer crud, up to 3 or 4 inches deep. No bumps, trees, powder, or corn.
Skis Tested: 08/09 Fisher Race SC, 165cm; 08/09 Head Supershape Magnum, 163cm; 08/09 Fisher Watea 84, 176cm.
Me: 5’ 7”, 130lbs, 46yo, level 8
Background: Obviously the first two skis have some similarities, and the third is totally different. The Race SC and the Magnum are candidates to replace my Fisher World Cup RCs, which are too stiff for me under most conditions, with a softer, turnier ski. The Watea I tried just because I felt like it.
Notes on format: I ski differently depending more or less on the pitch of the slope. On greens and the easier blues, I like to make clean arcs of different sizes. I tend to ski very fast here when slope traffic allows. At Sugarloaf, this basically means anything on the lower part of the mountain, plus the Timberline area. On blacks and the steeper blues – upper mountain at the Loaf – I ski much more slowly, make short radius turns, and introduce varying degrees of “brush” into the turn. (I’m not strong or quick or fearless enough to sustain pure arcs on these pitches for any length of time.) Therefore I have broken out the reviews accordingly.
clean arcs on greens / blues
Fisher Race SC 165cm: Turny. Definitely more of a slalom style ski than the “combi” personality that the marketing blurbs imply. Very clean, crisp, and solid feeling on edge – I had absolute confidence in it. Excellent grip on boilerplate. Up to a point, easy to vary radius depending on degree of angulation, but too tempting to lean it way over. When you do this, watch out! If you are not totally on top of the turn you will get launched. In short, a total blast in these conditions, but almost too responsive.
Head Supershape Magnum 163cm: First impression of this ski is that is insanely easy to initiate a turn on. This impression was totally positive for me; I could tell from the first couple of turns that its flex was much more suited to my size and style (i.e., pretty soft). On the easiest hardpack runs this ski was a joy. Not quite as crisp as the Fischer, but noticeably more “comfortable” for me. It needs to be at a higher angle before it really locks in on the carve, but turn radius is still nicely adjustable. Has a distinctly damper, smoother feel that the Fischer, not quite as prone to launching me unawares if I put too much oomph into the turn. On the middling blue sections, where I was still carving it up at speed - with a bit more energy and power due to the pitch - this ski started to let me down slightly compared with the Fischer: At high edge angles (short radius arcs), it was fine as long as I could hold on. But when I tried to open it up into more GS turns, the associated lower edge angle compromised grip a bit and I felt some disconcerting slippage and chatter here and there.
Fischer Watea 84 176cm: The longer turn radius of this ski was more like that of the skis I’m used to, so I had no trouble figuring out how to open up the throttle and carve some big honking GS turns. Under these circumstances it was very nice to be able to hit some minor piles of soft snow and have them be absorbed seamlessly – something neither the skis I own nor the others I demo’d was very good at – instead of jarring me. But this benefit was not worth the down side: there was no comparison with either of the more race-oriented Fischers (either my RCs or the Race SCs I demo’d) or with the Head Magnum in terms of hardpack grip. It wasn’t horrible, it just was not anything that would give any dyed-in-the-wool New Englander a warm fuzzy feeling. Grip was noticeably weaker even than that of my Legend 4800s, which are not known as an ice ski. No reason to use this ski on a day like this on these runs. Note: longish length (for me) was a non-issue in this context.
brushed turns on blacks
Fisher Race SC 165cm: These skis have some of the same issues that I run into with the RCs: the tips are just too stiff for my weight. Initiating arc’d turns at speed on hard snow is not a problem, but in brushed turns, and/or in softer snow, the tips just do not deflect sufficiently. Instead they just plow ahead rigidly in a straight line. The turn does not initiate quickly enough and I end up resorting to rotary movements, and/or over pressuring the front of the ski in an effort to get the turn started, resulting in a subsequent tail washout. This behavior pretty much rules this ski out for me.
Head Supershape Magnum 163cm: With its softer tip and slightly wider waist, this ski was distinctly better in brushed turns through small piles of soft groomer crud mixed with boilerplate than the Race SC. Way more to my liking. However, once I picked up the speed a bit from quite slow to motoring steadily, the tendency to chatter at moderate edge angles that I mentioned above became radically more pronounced. I’m sure there is a technique flaw on my part at the root of this, but it was a big downer with a ski that otherwise seemed really close to exactly what I’m looking for. In reviewing some of my past experiences with shorter skis, including the 165 version of my Dynastars, and a 160cm pair of Atomics I had a while back, I am thinking that there is a very good chance I would have been happier with the 170cm version of this ski. Something about my turning style just works better with a slightly longer ski. The 170 was available, but I did not make room for that test in my afternoon. In retrospect, that was a mistake.
Fischer Watea 84 176cm: There was quite a bit of thick groomer residue on Gondi Line, Spillway, and Haulback. I mostly stuck to these trails while testing this ski. It was very fun surfing through this stuff on the Watea. Even this little bit of soft snow showcases the likeability of a softer, wider ski compared with the others I tested. I’m pretty sure I would have liked the experience even better on the 167, but they didn’t have one of those to try. (I just think it would have been a bit quicker and even more forgiving at that length.) In any case I would have liked them even better on the steeper slopes if they were a bit turnier. In addition to the so-so hard snow performance of this ski (see above), the deal killer on this one for me was the loud resonant noise coming from the tips as I plowed through the coarse-grained chop. There is enough noise in my world; I don’t need more coming from my skis! Based on this experience I’d be interested in testing the Watea 78 and the Head Monster 78, on the premise that these skis might be a bit turnier – and potentially better on hard snow - but otherwise retain a similar personality. (The Watea 78 has a different core construction from the 84 – maybe not so loud.)