The unbearable lightness of skiing

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.

Logical

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.

3 comments on “The unbearable lightness of skiingAdd yours →

  1. I used to own a pair of Hexcel skis, sometime in the early ’80s.

    I remember that they were revolutionary, half the weight of “normal” skis of that time, quite expensive and they skied remarkably well!

    Sadly they broke and I went on to Blizzard Thermo RS (awful skis, because I lacked the technique to get those 210 cm long skis to work) which I also managed to break (but wasn’t very sad about) and then on to Völkl P9 SL. Those P9s were the best skis I ever owned, until I switched to carve skis in the early 2000’s.

    But none of my skis, except the Hexcels, have ever been lightweight.

    1. There’s no definite answer to that question, I think. It’s a scale. There is heavy and too heavy (for the ski to perform in certain conditions). The same goes for the lightweight side of that scale. The weight factors into the performance. That’s something to be aware of. And there are quite a few skis specially designed to perform well on hard snow that do not – in my opinion for a major part due to the lightness of the construction.

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