Special Feature: Designing a Ski for the FWT

Two things:

(1) Blister reviewer Garrett Altmann has qualified for the Freeride World Tour this season. You can read Garrett’s thoughts about qualifying here.

(2) A number of readers have written us asking what we know about Wagner Skis, a custom ski operation out of Telluride, Colo., and whether we would recommend them.

None of us at Blister have skied on Wagner Customs, and Garrett’s qualification for the FWT seemed like a good opportunity to remedy that. So Wagner is building a pair of custom skis for Garrett to compete on this season, we’re going to document the process, and Garrett and I will both write reviews of the ski this season.

Of course, the first step is to get an idea of what sort of ski Garrett is looking for. In the following article, G and I discuss some preliminary design ideas for this fully custom, purpose-built ski.

(If you want to brush up on your ski design terminology, see our Rocker 101 article & glossary. And to get a fuller picture of who this ski is being designed for, check out Garrett’s bio page.)

Jonathan: If this is going to be your comp ski for the FWT, then it seems like the specific venues you’ll be competing at will help determine what this ski ought to look like. Here are the FWT stops this year:

1.   December 18, 2013: Revelstoke, Canada

2.   January 18, 2014: Courmayeur Mont Blanc, Italy

3.   January 25, 2014: Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France

4.   February 1, 2014: Fieberbrunn Kitzbüheler Alpen, Austria

5.   March 1, 2014: Kirkwood, USA

6.   March 22, 2014: Verbier, Switzerland

That’s a pretty sick lineup.

So, my first question is, “Do you want this Wagner ski to excel primarily in big, open terrain, or tight and techy terrain?” Or are you looking for a compromise between the two?

Garrett Altmann interview, Blister Gear Review.
The first stop on this year’s FWT—Mackenzie Peak, aka, Mac Daddy Face, Revelstoke, B.C.

Garrett: I’m actually thinking less about specific terrain, and more about specific conditions. While terrain certainly has to be considered, I’m most interested in (1) a ski that will perform in variable snow types, and (2) that will flow with my skiing style.

I need a ski that will perform in less than ideal conditions—you know, the type of snow we have to play on when it hasn’t snowed in weeks. The thing about ski competitions—whether it be racing or freeride—is that you’re pretty much stuck with the conditions you have the week of the event and athletes are often tested in conditions we wouldn’t normally care to go send it in. It may be hard pack, icy, and windblown junk, but that’s what we have to work with sometimes.

But really, it’s the same for destination skiers who book their trips several weeks or more in advance. You have to deal with the conditions you’re dealt during that period.

I have yet to ski in Europe, and I hope we’ll have good snow. But bad snow years in the Alps sound similar to what we get during similar periods in the Rockies of North America, and I want to be be prepared for the worst.

You can make most any ski perform when conditions are good, but I need a ski to handle hard pack, punchy, wind scoured, off-piste conditions effectively. So I’m looking for a ski that will:

1) Hold an edge on anything.

2) Carve mid-to-large size turns at speed.

3) Still be nimble enough to throw around for airs and jump turns.

Garrett Altmann, Blister Gear Review.

JE: So given that answer, what skis have you ridden (and perhaps competed on) that have design elements you’d like to bring to this Wagner ski?

GA: The two skis that really stand out for me are the Moment Belafonte and the ‘08 Dynastar Legend XXL. The Belafonte features more progressive attributes like a twinned up tail and a greater amount of tip splay that I’d like to incorporate.

JE: The tip rocker line of the Belafonte is actually quite deep. It’s not subtle. (Check out the rocker profile pics of the 187 Belafonte here.)

The ‘08 Dynastar XXL is a fully-cambered ski, with a seriously upturned tip—nothing subtle about that. Do you have a clear preference? XXL tip, (with a shallow rocker line and a modest amount of splay), or the deeper rocker line of the Belafonte? In other words, you’ve already said that you prefer the tail of the Belafonte to the XXL’s, but what about the shovel and tip?

GA: I’d definitely like to have some pronounced splay at the tip, but maybe not as deep of a rocker line as the Belafonte. I want enough tip rocker for the ski to plane effectively, and to assist flotation when landing cliff drops, but I’m not looking for an enormous amount of rocker. I want the majority of the ski available for carving turns—I want to have a greater amount of effective edge available.

JE: Okay, so how wide are you thinking for this ski?

GA: Somewhere in the 105-110mm-underfoot range. The dimensions of the 187cm Dynastar XXLs are 132-109-122mm, and the Moment Belafonte comes in at 135-106-124mm. I don’t imagine that I’ll stray too far from those dimensions.

JE: And no tail rocker? Slight tail rocker? You said you want a twinned tail like the Belafonte’s, but do you want an even looser tail than the Belafonte’s, like the Scott Punisher?

GA: No tail rocker. I want a raised (twinned) tail for skiing and landing switch, but no serious rocker. Not even a little like the Punisher. I want to be able to load the tail when carving, not have it wash out. [*We had a pretty bad surfboard analogy here that we decided to cut. Good looking out, readers.]

I don’t like to ski in the back seat, but if I find myself there, I don’t want a ski that will make it harder to recover. Tail rocker can have that effect.

Given all that, the design and feel of the Belafonte’s tail is nice and pretty much what I’m looking for, I think.

20 comments on “Special Feature: Designing a Ski for the FWT”

  1. That sounds like a very interesting project, and I’m sure that many are looking forward to hearing more about it.
    Just to make a point: 99.9% of surfboards have tail rocker (typically about 2″ for a 6 foot shortboard). It’s nigh on impossible to turn one without it, but less tail rocker means more projection (speed, drive) out of your bottom turn.

  2. Maz, thanks for making your point about tail rocker. Surfboards do have a little rocker along the edge, and in terms of depth, it seems comparable to the tip on a ski…perhaps not even as deep. On skis I consider it more of a twin tail, rather than a tail with rocker. But you are correct in that less tail rocker equals more drive out of bottom turns. That is essentially what I’m looking for in this ski.

  3. Excited to see what you come up with. Wish you all the best for the FWT – good snow, no injuries and most importantly as much fun as you can have out there. I’m confident you will make the finals – and then you will be one of the few hands-full of individuals who have seen “Bec des Rosses” from above, something most skiers – inculding me – will only dream about…

  4. I’m a bit confused about why you’re doing this, Garrett — is it for the competition or the review? Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see a review of some Wagner skis on Blister, but it’s hard to imagine your competition odds are going to improve by skiing a brand new untested model from a small manufacturer whose skis you’ve never tried. And there are lots of rigs out there for exactly your needs. It sounds from your specs a little like you’re trying to reinvent the Praxis GPO (not exactly a coincidence, given that ski’s track record in comps).

    • What, specifically, reminds you of the GPO? The GPO is 116 underfoot and has 35 cm of tail rocker. Garrett is looking for a ski that is 105-110 underfoot with NO tail rocker. How are these the same ski?

      Garrett, you didn’t talk much about a number of other design aspects: turn radius, taper, or the ever-nebulous “feel” that you want these skis to have. The other question I was left wondering is what you want to change about the Belefone, other than slightly reducing the amount of tip-rocker depth?

      • Good question, Zak. For the initial design process, I described the type of ski I am looking for and a range of conditions I want it to excel in. Beyond a few specifics (which we named), we wanted to bring Pete Wagner in on the process and discuss things like sidecut and tip taper with him.

    • Roman,
      Fine question. The bottom line is I’ve been looking to have a ski for tough conditions, regardless of competing. Wagner has been garnering increased attention in the custom ski world and we’ve been very interested in testing their product. While the goal is to compete on this ski, the purpose of the project is to provide an objective, unbiased review for people interested in Wagner. Quite honestly, if the ski isn’t capable of handling the demands I subject it to, then it will simply not be used in competition. In that event, I will still evaluate where the ski excels and identify any shortcomings. As far as reinventing a ski, that isn’t remotely my intention. I’ve simply explained to Wagner what I’m looking for, and as part of their skier DNA process, included a couple skis that had appealing characteristics. If anything, my hope is that we can invent a ski that satisfies my ideals because, to me, that is what a custom product should be about.

  5. The surfboard analogy is pretty poor. Many surfboards have slight rocker towards the tail for increased maneuverability. Don’t spew about what you don’t know.

      • I’m excited to see what you and Pete come up with. It’s cool how Blister will be covering the full Wagner ski crafting experience. I look forward to reading your updates about the ski’s performance, as well as insights to the competition scene.

        Best of luck on the tour Garret! Ski hard, huck that meat, and try not to get hurt!

  6. I have only skied a couple Wagner creations, but they were superb performers with an unusual sense of control and power on demand….and after talking to a bunch of customers of Pete Wagner/s, each one seemed thrilled with the ability of Pete to deliver the exact ski they were looking for. Pete is very good at extracting information and personality out of a skier during the interview process, and since he’s been doing it for quite a few years now, he has great experience and can ask the right questions to narrow down the type and proportions of materials and the geometry needed to meet the skier’s need. If you are honest, thorough and articulate about the behavior you’re looking for, I will bet Pete Wagner can produce the ski to match…and the quality is top-shelf on the pairs I have seen and skied….

    Good Luck this season, and let us know how the design process works out!

    • Thanks, Eric.

      And great description of the skis’ performance…”superb performers with an unusual sense of control and power on demand.” That’s exactly what I’m hoping for.

      We’ll keep you posted…

  7. Great read!

    Anxiously awaiting the next installment.

    Oh, and just wondering if you know that surfboards apparently DO have tail rocker? :-)

    • Right on, Tom. I’m glad you enjoyed the read.

      Yeah yeah on the tail rocker…it didn’t take long to figure that out!

      Standby…we should have our next installment posted later this weekend.

  8. Congrats to Garrett! Way to represent America on the podium.

    Couldn’t help but to notice K2’s on your feet. Those Wagner’s almost out of the press?

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