The new generation of slalom skis delivers thrills with less effort.
Three years ago, the sport of slalom skiing was in a slump. Hordes of casual skiers were frustrated by the difficulties of mastering high-end slalom skis. Meanwhile, a growing number of baby boom-era buoy chasers had discovered the aches and pains of turning 40.
Today first-timers to old-timers alike are rediscovering the fun of slalom, thanks to a new generation of wide and shaped skis. This ongoing revolution in ski design began with an unlikely candidate: the Connelly Big Easy, a ski so wide that it seemed a bloated parody of traditional slalom shapes.
But despite some initial skepticism from the high end, the Big Easy was a big hit with thousands of weekend athletes. Finally, a slalom ski that was easy to start, easy to ride and forgiving, and that performed well behind PWCs and small outboards.
The industry took note, and the market was soon filled with a growing number of wide skis. Meanwhile, ski designers were taking the easy- skiing concept to the next level. They kept the width at the tip to promote easy starts, retained some width in the tail to reduce drag and shaved the midsection into an hourglass shape to increase the ski's turning ability.
This second-generation ski was labeled the shaped slalom. Like the wide-bodies, shaped slaloms quickly found receptive audiences. The two groups that embraced shaped skis most enthusiastically were athletes in training and former hard-cores looking to recapture the thrills of performance slalom without the accompanying pains.
For the advancing skier, shaped slaloms provided the opportunity to perfect body position, pulls and turns on a more forgiving platform and at less demanding speeds. Shaped skis are designed to perform at lower speeds than traditional competition designs, but slow doesn't necessarily mean sedate.
“We let several hundred people try our shaped skis, and when we asked them what speed they thought they were running, most all of them guessed 5 or 6 mph faster than they were actually going,” says Connelly's Gordy Holmes. “The first wide skis got a lot of people back into slalom and made it easy. The next generation of shaped skis brought back the performance and the thrill. You get the perception and thrill of speed without the liabilities.”
Now there are at least 15 new wide and shaped ski designs on the market. Depending on your experience and level of fitness, your choices range from easy-running cruisers that plane at speeds of 20 mph and below to competition-ready hybrids that edge into high-performance territory.
In the past year, an increasing number of entry-level and experienced competitors have been pushing the limits of shaped ski performance. Skis such as the HO SST, Connelly Super Mid and Iconn Power Carv are showing up at competitions across the country, and riders are pushing into 22 off and beyond. Grapevine reports indicate that at least one ski company will continue to push the shaped ski envelope in 1999 with a shaped/competition model designed to run head to head with traditional tournament skis.
This year, shaped skis outsold traditional slaloms by a significant margin. There will always be a place for the no-limits tournament ski, but no longer will it be the benchmark by which all skiing performance is measured, and no longer will it be the ski of choice for all slalom enthusiasts.