Lightweight seems to be the must-have selling point of skis these days. Over the past decade or so, ski manufacturers have tried to make skis lighter and lighter without giving up on stability, edge hold, dampening properties. In some cases, I do get that quest for weight loss. In other cases though, I find lightweight skis inappropriate.
For alpine touring, boot packing, and ski mountaineering, I get the lightweight concept. The way up is as important as the way down. And hauling all the stuff up must remain doable. Hence lightweight skis (and other gear). In fluffy, knee-deep powder I also get why less weight on your feet would help you get through and over the snow. I think shape, rocker profile, and width are even more important in the overall performance, but a lightweight ski doesn’t hurt the performance. The same goes for specific freestyle disciplines that involve quick turning (moguls), twisting, and jumping.
Where lightweight skis do not make sense, however, is in snow conditions that require the absence of vibrations (i.e. damping properties), confidence-inspiring and steady tracking, edge grip, and supreme hold throughout the turn. Basically: hard snow that you want to stick to. Whether it’s freshly groomed runs for the cleanest carved turns or a refrozen slope with tricky technical features with a high consequence if you miss a turn – these are circumstances where lightweight skis can do more harm than good.
Fact vs feeling
I am talking hard snow here. In my experience, ‘light-footedness’ is quite the opposite of a ‘planted’ feel. Which of these two you prefer is personal of course. The problem is only there when you want a ski to stick to the snow, and the ski just wants to jump up all the time. In my experience – again – it is always the lightweight skis that do that. I don’t know any lighter-weight skis that don’t jump up now and again if you don’t want them to.
The other way around – not particularly lightweight skis that are very light-footed – are often a nice surprise. You get the planted feel that you want, but not the hard work and sometimes fatigue that comes with moving heavier skis around. A nice balance between flex and rebound is at the heart of those skis. My point is: in my opinion, lightweight skis can never give that planted feel (they just don’t have the material and mass for it), whereas heavier skis can be quite lightfooted.
I have friends that first look at the weight of a ski and dismiss it when it is more than a certain number. For carrying it to the lift, I can get that. But for skiing on hard snow, there is not a definite link between the actual weight of the ski and how ‘light’ or ‘heavy’ they ski. If you know what I mean. There is more to a ski than just its weight when it comes to performance. Sidecut radius, flex, shape, rocker/camber profile…
The only thing that I have found to be true: you can overcome the mass of a ski with other properties, but you cannot make a lightweight ski feel damp and stable without a certain amount of mass and material. Some brands are trying to do just that, but have been failing so far – my opinion. With weight loss (in a ski), you lose much more than just the weight.