Today we’re talking about skis built for the deepest of days, the ones we dream about — and the kind that Folsom’s Mike McCabe and I were fortunate enough to ski recently in Alaska. And if you’ve ever heard someone say, “All skis are great in pow,” well, we’re here to blow that notion up. So what design elements work best in deep snow? What about low-angle terrain vs. steeper terrain? How wide is too wide? Is a softer flex pattern better? We discuss all of this and more.
TOPICS & TIMES
- What did you learn in Alaska? (4:01)
- Rethinking Ski Length (8:18)
- Width (9:32)
- Misconceptions about Skiing Deep Snow (12:10)
- Snow Variability (16:59)
- Steep Terrain & Other Variables (22:19)
- Folsom G-Wagon (29:47)
- Folsom Rapture & Low-Angle Deep Snow (38:10)
- Figuring out Scale in AK (42:40)
- Slope Angles & Ski Design (46:20)
- R&D Trip / Pinnacle Conditions (57:00)
- Mike’s ‘Crashes & Close Calls’ Story (1:03:17)
- What We’re Celebrating (1:10:22)
14 comments on “Powder Ski Design w/ Folsom’s Mike McCabe (Ep.243)”
When people skied narrow skis in AK (like when Doug Coombs first went there in the early 90s) they were limited to steeper faces and a much more restricted skiing style. It simply wasn’t possible to move through lower angle faces. It’s fairly illuminating to watch movie segments from back then.
Good point. And interestingly, this also raises safety issues:
(1) if your skis literally won’t allow you to move through deeper snow on low-angle terrain… then will skiers be inclined to get on steeper slopes with more potential to slide, rather than stick to safer, lower-angle terrain, which can still be a ton of fun on skis that will float you?
(2) in deep snow & low-angle terrain, the narrower skis the skis, the more you might be wrenching your knees with each turn, and / or burning out your quads as you fight to keep your tips from diving. Exhausting your legs while subjecting your knees to significant wrenching = recipe for a bad time.
I absolutely agree with both points.
I would add that when you ski pow on skinny skis every turn is effectively a ski cut, which further magnifies the avy risk.
IMO a fair number of the people who professed to dislike wide skis were the ones who’d figured out how to ski pow on narrow ones, and were upset at the “democratizing” aspects of the newer equipment, never mind that the sport had been in serious decline at the hands of snowboarding up to that point.
Exactly, even today it is pure elitism. People who continue to ski powder on skinny frontside skis are the same folks who insist that on-piste skiing fundamentals (i.e. racing technique) universally apply to all conditions, and that if you can’t carve in powder or moguls you’re simply not a good enough skier (exhibit A: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGK9W4li61w). Sure, it’s possible, but so is pounding in a nail with a screwdriver: needlessly difficult, inefficient, and not fun.
I come from a racing background and used to be of this mentality, which really held back my off-piste skiing abilities until I realized that it’s a fundamentally different form of skiing that requires fundamentally different technique and gear.
Yep, and it’s not like your racing background is wasted on the new equipment. Unless you’re making McConkey turns (i.e. endless spine slides) all day long you have some powerful tools in your arsenal that you can bring out to perform better still on the new equipment.
The thing that catches my attention about that video is that they’re skiing several inches of powder on an underlying firm surface. That’s the classic situation where you can choose to ski either the powder or the base underneath. No surprise there, but deeply misleading about powder skiing in general.
BTW you’re not the famous “Jules from a racing background” are you?
These pow ski and ski design podcasts are the most fun gear:30s. There definitely should be another one of these with both Mike and Paul!
Greetings, this was very informative. Will Blister do any shoot out style reviews of various skis so that we can get more of an a/b/c type comparison. The comments about flex/design parameters were of great interest to me because I am 6’3.5″ at a fit 230 lbs. And I have found that many skis do float well in softer snow but can be so much more difficult to manage in variable conditions. I have 3 fatter skis in my pow day quiver:
1. DPS Lotus 124 alchemist 2.0 (191cm) for open slopes/ heli
2.Volkl Revolt 121 (191cm) for more all around variable conditions/Cat skiing
3.Season Forma (183cm) for resort skiing on pow days and trees. It’s the best all around resort pow/bumps and tree ski that I’ve found for really deep days at a given resort. A shocking ski for how short it is, but how well it skis even for a big aggressive guy . Short skis can really work well. And I don’t have to work as hard!
Sadly though, the DPS are starting to delam. in the tails and I am considering new heli skis ( I don’t like the current design of the Lotus 124 pagoda) so I am looking at the new 2024 k2 Crescendo (186cm). Is there a test coming out soon for this board. It’s directional and hopefully a firm flexing ski like the Pon2oon but with more versatility due to the sidecut. Thanks guys , and keep up the good work.
I also have a Völkl Revolt 121 (191cm) at home and also tried one on this trip.
I like a lot of things about that Revolt, and it perfomed well in the Resort Alyeska. But in the – maybe rather exceptional amount of – snow we had in the cat and heli skiing terrain it did not have enough buoyancy (by a lot) and you needed to ski it heavely in the back seat to get the tips out of the snow enough, which was very tiring.
And if the snow got heavy (from water) at the bottom of some runs you had to ski apprehensively.
I got back on the Folsom G-Wagon to make my life easy breazy and just enjoy. Also the Folsom Rapture performed much more predictable than the Revolt with better floatiation while almost beeing as nimble as the Revolt but without any of the down-sides of the Revolt.
BTW, that was what was most suprising about the Rapture to me: It excelled in all the ways you would except it to excell but it was also very nible for that sort of ski. I found no down-sides to it* and build quality of the Folsoms’ was excellent.
*) except that for as much snows as we encountered, an even bigger ski was called for :-)
Damn you to hell! I’m so jealous of your AK trip. Skiing with Chugach Powder Guides is on my lifetime bucket list. Hope to do it someday. I’ll use whatever skis they tell me to use.
One thing in the podcast that really got my attention was McCabe’s comments about the shape and stiffness of the Lotus vs his equivalent skis, basically the fact that because DPS built the “final” shape of the ski into the camber profile they could make it very stiff while remaining skiable.
Where I suspect DPS’ strategy might pay off is at low speeds, where you might not have enough power in the turn to flex a softer but less rockered ski to “ideal” profile. I can certainly feel something analogous happening with my Pro Riders (a moderate-flexing but heavily cambered charger, that takes a bit of speed to come alive in the snow) vs more modern chargers that are stiffer but have more rocker and flatter camber. OTOH I love the feel of skis reacting as I drive them, so as usual it’s all a matter of what you want.
@Jonathan – you mentioned sharing a link to the picture in the show notes. Can you share? I’m curious what those tracks looked like
See the 2nd photo at the top of this page
Very interesting podcast. Interested in these new AK Raptures. As per @David above I also have the original Lotus 124 A (in a 185cm) which have been a fave pow ski for a while. I had the chance to ski them alongside the original 190cm Grey Spoons in Valdez this season and for me the Spoons were the clear winner. They are so easy to ski in 3D snow. When it got a bit sun transformed on the run outs you had to be much more careful not to catch the cambered tails of the 124’s whereas the Spoons were a breeze from deep pow to crust. If I was looking for a new heli ski I’d give the new 138 Spoons a look.