Chowder. Mashed Potatoes. Death Cookies. Surfy. Damp. Forgiving. Playful. Slarvy.
As skiers and snowboarders, it can sometimes seem like we have an entirely different language when it comes to talking about snow, how a ski or snowboard feels on snow, and what differentiates one product from another.
We have a Glossary of Terms that helps explain some of the terms we commonly use, but we’ve recently had a number of questions about some other terms, concepts, and expressions that often pop up on our reviews
So for this Topic of the Week, we wanted to try to clarify a few of the questions we’ve recently been asked, and then ask you if there is anything else you’d like to see us try to spell out.
1) Calling a Ski “Smooth”
We recently received this question:
“One of the evaluation terms I always look for is when you classify a ski as smooth. It is not a term you use often, but when you do, I have always found it to be spot on. In the reviews that I’ve read, I have seen a fair amount of “damp” as a quality you talk about, but “damp and smooth” together seem to be pretty rare. What would you deem the major factors contributing to having smooth as a characteristic?”
As U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart famously said about pornography: “I know it when I see it.” And “smooth” is, perhaps, difficult to define, but you sure know it when you feel it.
But I think the cluster of factors tend to be:
(1) Weight + Flex Pattern: Typically, the flex patterns of skis that we’d call “smooth” are not exceptionally stiff, and the weight of the ski tends to be a bit heavier than comparable skis in the category. And if I end up describing such a ski as “smooth,” it means that the ski offers a pretty plush suspension across variable or harsh snow conditions. Examples: HEAD Monster skis and the Nordica Enforcer Pro. Granted, the Monster 88, 98, and 108 are quite stiff, but they are also heavy enough that their stiffer flex patterns still afford outstanding suspension at high speeds. The Nordica Enforcer Pro isn’t that stiff of a ski, but it is relatively heavy for a ~115 mm wide ski (2346 & 2351 grams).
(2) Torsional Stiffness: In some circles, having a lot of torsional stiffness is often celebrated as being a great thing. But too much torsional stiffness can produce a harsher, more jarring ride. (On the positive side, a more torsionally stiff ski may feel more precise than a ski that is less torsionally stiff.) We’re actually going to be talking more about torsional stiffness soon in an upcoming GEAR:30 podcast, so stay tuned for that.
(3) Tip shape / turn initiation: I think this is another pretty crucial factor. “Smooth” skis will have the right blend of weight + flex pattern + torsional stiffness, but they also feel extremely easy and willing to initiate turns — apply any pressure on your edges, and you can feel the shovels of the skis start to engage and pull you into the turn, exactly as much as you want them to. Skis that we wouldn’t describe as “smooth” either want to pull you too quickly into a turn (which can be terrifying in a lot of situations), or they don’t allow you to access the shovel at all — don’t really pull you into a turn at all. There are a big number of skis that strike this balance quite well, and among them, we’d list the Fischer RC4 The Curv, the HEAD Supershape i.Titan, the K2 Ikonic 84 Ti, the Blizzard Brahma, the HEAD Monsters, the Nordica Enforcer 110 and Enforcer Pro, etc.
(4) The right tune: This is a huge factor, of course. But adjusting the tune the way you want it could definitely affect whether or not you are getting the amount of turn initiation you want — not too much, not too little. But of the skis I mentioned above, all of those skis felt pretty dialed in with the factory tune.
(5) Metal Laminate Construction: I don’t believe that a “smooth” ski would always have to have metal. But truth be told, I’m also not sure that I’ve described many skis as being exceptionally “smooth” that don’t have a metal laminate constructions. Hmmm.
(6) There are still a number of other factors here (e.g., rocker profile, the amount of traditional camber underfoot, etc.), so I don’t think there is some algorithm you can use that will let you then spit out a “smooth” ski. But “smooth” is also a subjective term to describe an on-snow feeling. But hopefully it’s a bit clearer now what we have in mind when using the term.
2) Skiing with an “Active” or “Dynamic” Style
We talk about this a lot — skiing with an active / dynamic style. And we generally bring it up when we’re talking about lighter-weight skis that don’t have the mass of heavier skis to simply steamroll and smooth out everything in their path.
In this sense, lighter skis generally don’t offer the plush ride of heavier skis. But lighter skis — when skied in an active or dynamic style — can be a lot of fun in variable snow or moguled-up terrain. Because in such terrain, since the ski doesn’t have the mass to bulldoze and smooth out the terrain, you the pilot has to do the smoothing out by anticipating bumps and terrain changes, popping from mogul to mogul, staying light on your feet and absorbing flat or firm spots, etc.
So there is no right or wrong here, it’s just another Know Thyself moment: do you like to ski in a very active, energetic, light style? If so, then heavy skis may be too sluggish or too fatiguing to allow you to approach the mountain like you want to.
And if you are throwing tricks and spinning, well, then heavy skis with high swing weights are going to make life pretty difficult.
But frankly, I don’t see tons of skiers on the mountain skiing in an extremely dynamic style and throwing tricks off everything. So if you are more of a directional skier — maybe hitting the occasional straight air, but pretty much never spinning — than a heavier ski might work better for how you ski.
And if you mostly love nuking down open faces making big, sustained turns, or straightlining tighter chutes, then you aren’t skiing in a very active / dynamic style, you are more of a mountain murderer, and you are probably relying on (1) the weight and stiffness of your skis, and (2) your own strength and power to keep things stable as you fly over and through bumps and variable snow. There isn’t exactly an opposite counterpart here to the “active / dynamic” style, but you could describe this as a more “powerful & planted” style.
And finally — to be very clear — these aren’t binaries. While some folks might fit perfectly into camp A or B, many, many skiers are going to fall somewhere in between. And it’s also why some of us like to own multiple pairs of skis, because some days, it’s fun to go murder the mountain, and other days, it’s fun to jump and pop and play.
Thoughts? How do you think about these things? And please let us know about any other terms or expressions you might be wondering about.