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Numbers don’t tell the whole story

Fri, Feb  17, 2012 - By Bert Hinckley

It used to be that people would come to a ski shop and say they wanted a pair of skis. The shop ski expert would do a quick mental evaluation, pick a pair of skis from the display rack, squeeze the skis and say, these are perfect. Most people were impressed at the expertise to make the selection and went to the trails happy.

Now there is a lot more information available used to select skis. There are flex numbers, camber heights, base material choices and secret race stock spells cast on some pairs. I have had people come in and tell me they want a 192cm skate ski with a 93 flex. They would not consider a 92 or a 94 flex pair.

We sell a lot of skis. I have a pressure tester where I can apply force to the skis to evaluate 1/2 weight, full weight, closing force to .1mm or .2mm; I can measure camber heights, camber length, contact zones, tip splay. I do it every day. And I find that not all numbers on skis are equal. I have flexed skis at, say 90 flex and 88 flex and, at times, find that the 88 flex skis test stiffer than the 90 flex at 1/2 and full weight. Some times skis with the same flex number are not at all alike. One pair, of the same brand, model and flex might have significant tip splay and the next pair have pressure way out near the far end of the shovel (where the curve starts up to the tip). One might be good for soft, wet spring snow, while the other is better for hard violet or red conditions.

What I am suggesting here is to not get hung up on numbers. Most modern skis have ranges in which they will work well. They are not missile parts. Good pairs may differ slightly in any number of parameters and still feel and perform great. Information is a great thing and more is available today than ever before. Think about what the skis are to be used for. I weigh 72kg standing on my skis. So, by Fischer’s guidelines I should be on skis that range from 79 flex at the soft end to 94 flex at the stiff end. I have a pair of old Fischer RCS skis that are 101 flex. On old, transformed snow that is not too cold they are my favorites. I have a pair of 86 flex skis with lots of tip splay and a stiff bridge that are the bomb in slushy snow. They are not so much fun in cold snow or on hard snow.

So, that old guy who pulls down a pair of skis, puts them base to base, squeezes them and looks at the tip splay; he eyeballs the length of the contact zone and gets a good idea of how much force it is taking to close the skis; he might just pick out the perfect pair without stressing about the numbers on the side or the sticker on the top.

Be well and enjoy your time on the trails.