OK, so we've all had a tough week or two.
Hard times require some perspective, which gives us all the perfect reason to hit the slopes for some much-needed, snow-aided gravity research -- that is, skiing.
Luckily, despite the warm weather here on the Street, there is plenty of snow left out West.
Spring skiing 2007 should be epic.
And not only are there significant amounts of snow waiting for you, there are also interesting new developments in ski technology for 2007.
To get a sense of the cutting edge of ski design, I recently headed out to
Park City, Utah, with a fresh pair of high-tech Atomic
Nomad Crimson skis and Neox 4.12 bindings ($1,250) matched to Atomic's similarly slick
M-Tech M110 boots ($749).
My verdict? Prepare to have your stodgy impressions of modern, do-everything skis vaporized.
For the decent skier looking for well-mannered rides that still behave reasonably well (that is, go fast) yet don't have the dorked-up feel of soft-intermediate skis, it's tough to beat these Nomads.
Angling for the Everyman
In case you have a real life and have not been following developments in ski technology, there has been a quiet revolution in the stuffy world of things that slide on snow.
Makers have (finally) gotten over the let's-just-detune-the-racing-skis thing for the average skier. Now rides are aimed squarely at you and me. They are built to turn easier, go faster and be more durable.
Usually dubbed "all-mountain" skis in the industry, these modern mounts are a careful balance of competing design ideas. They combine snowboard-inspired shapes -- the ends of the skis are wider than the middle -- so you can turn them simply by angling them to the snow with your feet (like skates).
And all-mountain skis carry plenty of stiffness right around the middle of the board, under your foot, pretty similar to what aggressive types like Bode Miller slide on. But all-mountain skis have softer fronts and backs, so they bend when you turn them and ease the sometimes terrifying process of getting from one ski to the other without pulling an Arnold Schwarzenegger -- that is, breaking a bone.
Ski makers have even hacked the ultimate problem. They have figured out how to make skis that are soft tip-to-tail
Side-to-side stiffness, or torsional stiffness, is crucial to good ski performance. Skis that are torsionally stiff don't twist so much underfoot, so they can safely hold their edges as you ski across the face of a steep icy, horrifying slope. Trust me, it's a nice feature.
Even better, new materials are making these all-mountain rides blissfully light. Carbon fiber, ultratight weaves, Kevlar and other technologies are taking pounds off these skis.
Atomic, for example, says it has lost about a pound and a half off a comparable set of skis over the past few years. That's about 20% of the total weight.
"It's getting to the point where we're getting the pain-in-the-butt factor out of skiing," says Rick Halling, director of nordic line ski development for Atomic, the well-known ski and sporting-goods maker.
Hit the Slopes
It all sounds very noble in a geeky sort of way, but how does all this fancy tech stuff translate on the slope? It was off to
Deer Valley (that's the resort that Robert Redford does not ski, thank you very much) to find out.
Right away -- on the way to the lodge -- the benefits of all this newfangled technology were apparent. There was nothing, and I mean nothing, like being able to carry skis around without channeling my inner Sherpa.
Once up Bald Eagle Mountain, I found a nice bonus to this Atomic gear: going with one common manufacturer for boots, skis and poles. Atomic has done a nice job of finding the important centered, neutral position over their skis for you. I simply had to step into this setup, and I was roughly where I should be over my rides. (This is a good tip to remember when you are renting equipment.)
Once skiing, the Nomads work as advertised. On softer powder, say on the sunny side of the Flagstaff Mountain, the skis turn simply by angling the big toe of one foot and the little toe of the other foot down into the snow -- yes, even you can do this.
The soft tails and tips made turning relatively simple. My ski buddy Stephan, who is also a ski instructor, showed a cool trick to get the best performance out of the Nomads: Keep your ski-pole tips just gliding over the surface of the snow. That kept me balanced as the skis turned from side to side underneath me.
And on faster slopes -- Deer Valley is the uber-grooming snow capital of the West, so you can really fly here -- the Nomads had enough heft and power for some real
. They tracked on-edge, were relatively stable on icy pitches and had a nice habit of not chattering.
Now, the Nomads are not perfect. Remember, they are a balance of design philosophies, so they don't do any one thing extraordinarily well.
They do not have true edge control on extremely icy terrain. You will miss the heft of a wider ski in deep snow.
They are also major limits in truly high-performance situations. If you try to pull a pro move with them -- that is, ride the skis max hard on one edge and than quickly drive them under your body and push them out onto the other edge -- they tend to wash out from underneath you. And then? Well, you're just another hilarious outtake from a Warren Miller movie.
In the end, you will not be jumping the steeps at Chamonix, France, with these Atomics. But I am far from that nonsense. And so, probably, are you. These skis offer a reasonably decent taste of high-performance skiing, while still well-mannered enough for everyday use.
I even expect that after the first day you ride these Nomads, you, like me, will finish your final run, step out of these boards and, before you start clomping off to the bar for a drink, say to yourself, "Good skis."
Finally, keep in mind that Atomic is not alone in its all-mountain-ski ambitions. Most other major makers are in the hunt to sell you a do-everything ski with some high-end punch (see picks to the right). You almost cannot go wrong with any of these rides. They are all major prize winners in their category. It's more about what you ski -- and how you want to look -- than anything else.
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Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.