RealSkiers: What Makes A Great Ski Great?
A bedrock principle of marketing is to draw public attention to your product’s differentiating feature that delivers a performance, comfort or convenience advantage over the competition. To reach the widest audience, the communication has to be compressed to the point where the “elevator pitch” better not take more than one floor to spit out.
This all but obliges the savvy ski maker to draw the ski shopper’s attention to some readily identifiable detail to which can be attributed a succinct benefit. In the current market, the feature that’s attracted the most buzz is the translucent honeycomb tip on the bumblebee-colored Rossignol Soul 7.
Never mind that Rossi is hardly the first in recent history to make a see-through tip design – that would be Kästle – nor the first to use honeycomb in its extremities, as has Salomon previously; the latticework in the Soul 7’s Air Tip is pretty, it screams “lightweight!” and it’s easy to ski. Case closed, ski sold.
A Clever Coup
What makes the Air Tip a particularly clever coup is that it doesn’t actually do much to contribute to the Soul 7’s turn shape; the functional sidecut that’s the dominant factor in turn definition doesn’t continue into the yellow tip and tail sections.
It’s not that the visually appealing extremities don’t contribute anything to the Soul 7’s performance, as it’s axiomatic that a ski is affected by every aspect of its design. Creating lightweight tip and tail sections would not by itself ensure a successful design; the real magic in this ski lies in its black center section and how well it marries to its bright buffer zones at tip and tail.
The case of the Rossi Air Tip raises an interesting question for the ski buyer: What are a great ski’s defining characteristics and can this knowledge be applied to the business of picking your next ski?
To answer this question we break it down into several smaller inquiries that together should give us a clearer view of the whole enchilada. To give this exposition some flow, we look at these issues roughly in the order in which they arose historically.
We examine four cornerstone elements of ski design: materials, construction, shape and flex/vibration management to explore how each contributes to the whole.
The two biggest evolutions in how expert skiers negotiate a hill over the past 25 years relate directly to the two biggest changes in skis over the same span: skis have become shorter and have many more dimensional varieties in sidecut and baseline.
Without advances in dampening systems that allow shorter edges to feel secure on hard snow and variations in flex profiles to optimize performance in every snow condition yet encountered, skiers wouldn’t have these ultra-adapted tools at their disposal today.
Pressure distribution and vibration control have been pivotal issues since skis were first whittled from wood. Mastery of these matters has been what’s separated good skis from great ones throughout the modern era of ski design.
The Envelope, Please
So what is the most important factor in a ski’s make-up? The answer is back in our preface: a ski is everything that goes into it, right down to the glue. Its sidecut, its materials, its construction, its damping methods, its waist width, its baseline, its finish ex-factory, all play a role in what the skier feels on snow.
In the final analysis, the driving force behind the last 75 years of ski design hasn’t been materials, shape or construction. To find the answer to that teaser, and to delve deeper into what makes a great ski great, we invite you to join the realskiers members’ site, where the full article is posted.