Skis are particular. Different manufacturers use different cores, materials, flex, camber, edges and more. Knowing the qualities and characteristics of skis, or what the materials are used in their making and how it affects the performance of the ski will help when purchasing new gear. Rossignol ski maker Ron Steele says, "If you think of a ski as a cake, it's not just the flour or any one ingredient that makes it taste good, it's how all the ingredients are blended together. That's what makes a good ski."
A ski is built around the core. One of the most common materials used for the core is wood. Though more expensive than many other core materials, wood is also much more durable. Wood has a responsive feel and vibration dampening quality that many skiers find desirable. Foam is another material of choice for a ski core. Lighter in weight than wood, foam gives a consistent flex over the life span of the ski compared to wood, which will lose the spring and responsiveness over time. Composite cores use various combinations of wood and foam to achieve a hybrid ski. Try to look for the core material of your choice, but remember it is only one of the ingredients of a good ski.
The base is the part of the ski that makes contact with the snow and surface. When properly waxed it allows glide, thus allowing the skier to fly down the mountain, carving turns. Ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene (known as PE or UHMWPE) is a common base material. PE has a high molecular weight that results in a harder base. This makes wax absorption harder, but also prevents base damage and core shots due to the strength of the PE. Regardless of base material, bases come in two forms, either extruded or sintered.
Extruded bases offer low maintenance and are easy to repair and less expensive. The cons of extruded bases are underperformance in extreme cold or wet conditions and losing wax over long periods of use. Sintered bases hold wax dependably and are very strong. The preferred base of ski racers, sintered bases are expensive, tough to repair and require frequent waxing to prevent oxidation.
Tips, Tails, Shovels and Waists
Modern skis are often referred to by numbers. Most skis have a three-number reference such as 124-110-118. These numbers refer to the tip or shovel, waist and tail and correspond to millimeters. A ski with 124-110-118 measurements would have a tip/shovel 124mm wide, a mid-ski/waist of 110mm width and a tail of 118mm width. Of the three different dimensions, waist is the most important because it is the section of the ski making contact with the most snow and surface. Generally speaking, the wider the waist, the harder to initiate a turn, but the better it floats through deep powder.
Twin tips are skis with flared ends on both the front/shovel and tail. Twin tips are favored for terrain parks and trick skiing as the to tips allow a skier to ski backwards and forward for stunts and tricks.
Camber and Rocker
Camber is the flex of the ski when the skier stands and puts weight on the ski. When weight is applied to the ski it will flatten out. When this happens the entire length of the ski can be used to initiate turns using the metal edges of the skis. The flex when the skier goes from turn to turn is what allows the ski to "snap back" into each turn. Soft-cambered skis are good for beginners as little effort is required to use the ski's camber and flex.
The rocker is a fairly new innovation in ski technology. Found in powder skis, the rocker is where the tip and/or tail of the skis are shaped with an upward curve that looks like the arc at the base of a rocking chair. Having a rocker on a ski helps prevent the tip or tail from sinking into deep powder or fluff, making turning easier and improving balance.
Article Written By Eric Cedric
A former Alaskan of 20 years, Eric Cedric now resides in California. He's published in "Outside" and "Backpacker" and has written a book on life in small-town Alaska, "North by Southeast." Cedric was a professional mountain guide and backcountry expedition leader for 18 years. He worked in Russia, Iceland, Greece, Turkey and Belize. Cedric attended Syracuse University and is a private pilot.