The Shape of Things to Come - Shaped Skis Turn the Corner
Let's face it - if you've been skiing for any length of time, you've been bombarded every year with news of some new product that's virtually guaranteed to turn you into an Olympic-class skier overnight. One year, the ad-meisters say, you absolutely must have the latest and greatest in bindings. Twelve months and a few hundred dollars later, it turns out you didn't need new bindings after all - what you really needed was the latest and greatest in ski boots - or whatever.
In today's highly competitive, hype-driven equipment derby, it's easy to worry that this year's hot new gimmick will - with the passage of just a few months - turn out to be, well, last year's gimmick.
We here at West Virginia Ski commend you for your skepticism. But we also have some bad news for you: Shaped skis, one of the most heavily hyped products in years, really have turned the corner into a new industry standard. Why? Simply because they can take you to a new level faster than just about anything that's come down the pike in the last decade, especially if you ski under a wide range of conditions. Shaped skis should be particularly interesting to East Coast skiers who cut their teeth on hard-packed, groomed snow but still get that "sinking feeling" when suddenly caught in deep powder. (See our Ski Tips page for some more suggestions on staying afloat)
So what exactly is a shaped ski? Quite simply, a ski that's wider at the tip and tail than at the waist. We'll skip the physics, and simply say that this design causes the ski to turn tighter - and with more control - than your old-fashioned straightaway. Since your ability to carve a turn has a lot to do with your level of control, shaped skis allow many enthusiasts to venture into more intense territory. And if you're an expert who can't resist the temptation to show off a little, they make much better "helicopter blades" too!
Here's our advice: If you're happy with your current set of sticks, don't feel under any pressure to go out and spend the $500 to $800 it will cost you to have the very latest. But don't smirk, either, the next time you see a six-footer on a pair of short, "fat boy" skis. You just might see him zip by you on a Double Black Diamond!
West Virginia Ski has "reviewed the reviews" - produced by everyone from ski magazines to that funny looking guy who runs the rope-tow - to provide you with this sampling of the new, shaped skis. We've given preference to the most versatile of the lot, with East Coast skiing in mind. These are the skis that you can use to float through a foot of fresh, fluffy powder, but still put on cruise control on corn. A set of these might just help you turn the corner!
Salomon X-Scream: A winner in this year's Ski magazine reviews, the X-Scream is billed as a classic "freerider" set of sticks. This ski excels at big arcs, and its extra width gives it more "float" in powder while retaining the ability to plow on groomed surfaces.
List price: $725.
K2 X-15: A good "entry-point" ski for those new to shaped skis. K-2 is known for some seriously stiff racing skis, but intermediate skiers would do well to give this new offering a close look. Super-sharp turn control opens more of the mountain to you, without sacrificing the ability to plow on gentler straightaways.
List price: $660.
Rossignol Bandit XX: Reviewers seem to come back to one word to describe this ski: smoooooth! A deep-snow ski that will still get you home, these Rossis will serve you well if you drop in on Vail or Targee this year as well as Snowshoe and Timberline.
List price: $675.
Kastle XTC: A prototypical shaped ski, the Kastle XTC packs the punch of a standard 210 into a compact 180. Reviewers describe it as powerful yet forgiving in tight spots.
List price: $700.
Dynastar Speed XS: The name here says it all - speed demons will love this ski, described as "hot". If you have to beat everyone in your group to the lift, this ski fills the bill. Not for the novice.
List price: $575.
Olin Super Radius K: The pitch here is for stability with speed - forward-leaning skiers will like its aggressive feel and ability to carve long turns on steep terrain. Ski magazine reviewers called it "the BMW of the group", but advise a shorter length for more agility.
List price: $575.
… A final note: Virtually every ski manufacturer now offers an array of shaped skis, so the list here should be considered just a sampling. The absolute best way to find the right ski for you is to try a pair from your local outfitter. Most offer special try-out days when you can do just that. Check our outfitter page to find one close to your next ski destination, and call to arrange a test drive.
Don't forget to read about our reviews on boots and bindings too.