3 minutes reading time (602 words)

RealSkiers: The Right Tool For The Job

Race slalom skis (Head)There’s never been a better time to own a race slalom ski. Seriously.  

I realize the American ski market moved away from race skis as useful archetypes for recreational skiers some time ago. I wrote over 200 reviews of 2014 models this year for realskiers.com and not one was for a race slalom, so I’m aware that the advice to adopt one of these skis may appear ironic if not downright loopy.   

The reason I’m extolling the virtues of the shapeliest, tippiest models extant is because the available terrain in many parts of our country is limited to relatively narrow ribbons of carefully nurtured groomed runs.  In these low-cover conditions, a tightly controlled trajectory becomes essential to survival.

So from a safety-first perspective, a slalom is a superb ski selection because it can spool out any turn shape without losing a trace of edge contact. This same quality makes it a gas to drive around on groomed terrain, which for many American ski resorts is the only game in town.

The slalom works so well in these environs because it’s made to grip with the coiled power of a python. As a genre, slaloms are loaded with vibration-damping technology both in and on the ski so they ride quietly on hard, brittle snow that’s been re-groomed 100 times.

While a slalom ski is designed to execute rapid direction changes, it doesn’t have to be flipped edge to edge as fast as a hummingbird’s wing-beat every moment of every run; banked at a modest edge angle it will calmly hold a long-radius arc without bucking.

If you want to up the aerobic ante, feed your slalom a steady stream of high edge angles, the inner leg in control, driving up and in, core, shoulders and head suspended all but motionless like that hummingbird's body above whipping skis, feet and legs, mass committed to the center of a slingshot arc, then -- wham! -- back again  the other way and repeat in a nonstop torrent of centrifugal energy. 

You’ll soon appreciate that the gulf between technical skiing as performed by the race community and recreational skiing as practiced by the rest of us is both wide and deep.

If there’s a downside to driving a race slalom, it’s that its charms are revealed only to those with the skills to extract them. You don’t have to train every day to be able to handle them, but they do require some skills, and skills in turn take some effort to acquire.  

If you presently feel that you come up short in the "skinny-ski skills" department, the Clendenin Ski Method provides a means of refurbishing technique in a way that strengthens the basics needed to create an arc, and that translates well to all-terrain skiing.  (The realskiers.com members’ section provides a distilled version of Clendenin’s curriculum.)

There are also master’s and citizen race programs at many resorts around the country; nothing buffs technical technique like regular gate-running and nothing renders limited terrain more interesting than gate training and friend-to-friend racing.

Just because ski conditions are sub-par doesn’t mean the skiing has to be. On the right ski, with the right share-the-slope attitude, limited terrain can still prove a fertile playground for indulging one’s expertise. The delicious sensations of setting an unwavering edge, of cutting a sinuous track that bends but never breaks, of conquering qualms in gates, of aligning with the gravity stream that flows down the mountain, are all there for the taking in even the most limited conditions.

As long as you have the right tool for the job.

Photo: The right tool just may be a slalom race ski (Head Skis)

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