Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Skinny on Short and Fat

Hoping to have cream cheese for brunch, we set out after 11. Instead we found a lot of freezer-burned, gristly cheap steak.

I'd put my music teacher on Pavos, a discontinued model of Karhu compact BC ski. Supposedly, short skis are easier to maneuver, but this is often not the case. With her height and yard of leg, the short skis were too squirrelly. The short forward section did not support her weight shifts as she traveled across changing snow. The skis accelerated or slowed down, tossing her back or forward. A longer ski gives a skier somewhere to go when that happens. On a short ski, the skier's weight goes beyond the end of it quickly. It can be harder to lurch back into position and grab the controls.

We switched. She got on the 200 cm Traks and I snapped into the 175 cm Pavos. They were squirrelly even for me until I adjusted my technique.

On a short ski the skier needs to maintain a close stance in the Telemark position. Depending on the length of your upper and lower leg, you may not be able to sink down deeply without offsetting the skis too much. The tip of the rear one can fall completely behind the other ski, and certainly behind the boot of the leading foot. In this way a skier on short skis is much more likely to cross one ski behind the other. In ungroomed snow, all kinds of little lumps and blobs can lead a rear ski astray.

The tight stance and quick, shallow dip comes from a racing technique of the 1990s referred to as the "squirt Tele." Even on the long, narrow skis of the time, an aggressive, fast drop would compress a fairly stiff, shallowly sidecut ski into its tightest radius for the instant needed to come around a gate. On shorter, shapelier skis, you can't stay down in the lowrider position for long anyway. You end up firing off squirtlike Teles by default.

To get a short ski to feel somewhat like its longer ancestor, it needs a very fat shovel to provide the flotation and resistance the long forebody did. Then the ski has to taper to a narrower waist to make it flex as readily as a long, soft ski did. It still won't stride or run straight as well as the long ski did, but most people seem willing to give up that feature for tight-radius turning. But the actual Telemark turn becomes more of an affectation on skis that will turn more comfortably in a more upright parallel stance. The squirt Tele led to many infractions on the race course because the skier was not in the Telemark position when passing the gate. The Tele moment had passed in the brief moment of compression going in. The skier was already changing leads by the gate.

Just as skis and technique mutated originally when they moved to the Alps from Scandinavia's generally more rolling terrain, so did skis evolve again when the Telemark crowd wanted alpine levels of performance from freeheel gear. This has slopped over into the BC arena by two channels: the compact touring ski and the short, shaped downhill ski. Early entries like the Trak Bushwhacker and the Karhu Catamount have given way to a whole galaxy of shorter, wider models that might or might not ski like you hope they will.

You have to shop around or nurse old gear if you want to use more traditionally shaped skis in terrain that favors their versatility.

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