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OUTDOORS: What to know when buying new skis

Sam Baumann
For the Nevada Appeal
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal
NEVADA APPEAL | NEVADA APPEAL

Back when I bought my first pair of skis in Denver, the choice was easy: Just a couple of brand names such as the yellow-and-black Rossignols or the Northwoods, and various lengths all of hickory. Then you held up your arm and when the ski tip hit the palm of the hand that was the length you needed.

Since then the technology has exploded, with metal-wood-plastic combinations in a bewildering assortment of styles. Little will match the advice of the ski shop techy who probably has skied much of the stock in his store, but here are a few tips.

If you really want to get deep into the technical aspects of skis, see the Professional Ski Instructors of America magazine 32 Degrees, which covers it all in very specific terms.

If you’re a beginner skier, the technology isn’t too important. Beginners usually start on rental skis, which are designed for newbies, but after a couple of outings the beginner wants skis of his or her own.

By now, the skier will have some idea of how he or she wants to ski and it’s best to rely on the shop experts. Just don’t claim to be a better skier than you are, which could land you in skis above your skill level.

But if you’ve had some seasons on the slopes, here’s some points to remember.

First, unless you’re determined the be a racer or deep powder skier, go for the all-mountain category of skis. These are compromises aimed at getting you down the hill under almost all kinds of conditions: crud, power, groomed, icy. They won’t be the fastest, the best able to hold an edge, or easiest in powder, but they can be great fun and offer plenty of pleasure on the hill.

You should have an idea of how you like to ski: big, wide turns on blue runs, short-radius turns on more demanding venues, bumps or moguls, trees, trails etc. The ski makers are out to help you.

On the tail of most skis you’ll find some data such as the length of the ski, the width measurements at tip, waist and tail, and the side cut radius.

As an example, my Rossignol Zenith Z9ti skis list these measurements in millimeters: tip width 125, waist 75, tail 103, length 162, side cut radius 13 meters.

The last is very important. The side cut radius is the radius of a circle the ski would make if it were put on its edge and followed the side cut of the ski. The side cut is the curve from tip to tail along the ski edge (that’s the waist measurements on the tail as mentioned earlier). The higher the number the more the ski will be comfortable making wide radius turns; the lower the number, the opposite comfort.

The side cut dimensions on my skis make for a quick, short radius turn. High numbers such as 17 or 18, make for long radius turns. This does not mean I can’t make long radius turns on my skis, but the skis are better at shorter turns.

The waist measurement is the width of the ski under the foot. Narrower widths, such as mine, make quicker initiation of turns and good edge hold on packed snow; wider widths offer better ski movement over crud or powder.

If you can remember that while shopping, you have a good memory and you may be on your way to the ideal ski.

Taper is the difference between the ski top and tail widths. A Heavenly ski instructor explained that skis with an 11 mm to a 16 mm taper will come out of a turn easily.

Now we haven’t touched on the newest wrinkle in skis – the rocker. These are skis with the shape of the rocker arm on rocking chairs.

The concept is that with tips and tails tilted up, these will be easier to turn in powder (less resistance from the snow to the tip, which is out of the snow). I have not tried these skis so can’t really say much about them.

I’m still back working with my current conventional shaped skis in powder, still trying to remember to steer with both feet and get a little bounce in my turns – not always successfully.

Thus far we’ve talked about some of the basics. Yet to come next week is a discussion of how you can best match your ski selection to your skiing abilities and goals. You don’t have to aim for skiing the double blacks or the steep moguls. Skiing can be great fun running the blues with an occasional black tossed in.

And, oh, yes, women’s skis. That’s a subject better left to later as, for obvious reasons, I’ve never skied women’s skis. But I do ski in a boot designed for women, and it works just fine. Nobody giggles at the rather sporty colors involved.

And then there’s the demo opportunities. This is the best way to select a new ski and often the cost of the demo will be deducted from the final cost of a ski.

Just concentrate on that first run and try to repeat exactly the moves you’ve been making so far. By the third or fourth run you will no longer really be testing; you’ll be skiing.

Ski and Snowboard Swap by Heavenly

Those looking for ski bargains, should head over to the Heavenly Mountain Resort annual ski and snowboard swap.

New and used equipment and clothing can be found starting Nov. 20 at the MontBleu Convention Center.

Friday, Nov. 20 is a Midnight Madness event from 6 to 11 p.m. with entrance $5 for adults, kids 12 and under free. The main event is Saturday Nov. 21 from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. free.

This event is a good opportunity to support nonprofit snowsport programs and find good buys.

Information at 530-541-7354.

• Contact Sam Baumann at 841-7818 or sambauman @att.net.