Buying Skis

Many British skiers like to buy their own skis rather than renting. It can be economic because buying a pair of skis may cost no more than renting them for 30 days. However, it does not make good sense if one buys the wrong skis - so I am bemused that so many people buy expensive skis purely on the recommendation of a sales assistant or advertising blurb.

Marketing is very powerful of course, and there is a feeling that more expensive skis or really good competition equipment must somehow improve ones ability. Don't kid yourself they're probably harder to control! But having the right skis adds a lot to your real enjoyment - how it feels at the time.

Modern skis are highly developed technology and no two models perform in quite the same way. They can be surprisingly different even for fairly novice skiers - but so many people tend to buy or hire the equipment without any reliable knowledge of what suits them best. To really be sure, you need to try two or three different models - spend at least a day on each and vary your skiing.

Do of course shop around, read what you can and discuss skis with an expert - but none of this substitutes for testing a few pairs out!

Trying before buying

I always do this myself. In Combloux we have found a ski shop, Marin Sports, that has excellent hire stock. Guests staying at our apartments can have 10% discount on anything bought from Marin Sports, and 20% discount on hire of ski equipment. Marin sells all of the Salomon and Rossignol range and some others, including good models that are not available in UK. With our discount most skis and boots are 25% or more cheaper than in UK (Snow&Rock catalogue), on top of which you can get free hire while testing which model to buy. If you have any special requirements we can let Marin know in advance - or you can do it by using our online booking form.

However, it is generally cheaper to buy in any french ski resort than in UK and the advice you'll get is at least as good. Before hiring let them know you want to try a few models with the intention of buying skis. Its not smart to hire in one shop and buy from another because if you do buy they are likely not to charge for the hiring and that may well exceed any discount you get elsewhere.

I once tried some new skis while skiing with my daughter. Although we are quite different size and build, on the same type of skis we kept exactly the same speed and line through a slalom course. When we used different models it was impossible to hold the same speed and line - even though the skis were around the same price and looked quite similar they behaved and felt very different.

The technology

Ski technology is very sophisticated. The right ski for you not only matches your height, weight, strength and skiing ability but it actively participates with the particular way you use your body to achieve turns. Rossignol has one of the most advanced technologies and it is no coincidence that so many World Cup racers choose them. (My only connection with the company is that I always seem to end up buying their skis.)

Controlling turns is the essential skill in skiing and there are many different ways to achieve turns. Skis are designed to turn naturally when they are tilted sideways and pressed against the snow - they flex under the skiers weight such that the "sidecut" forms a smooth curve in the snow.

The snow plough turn relies entirely on the turning ability of the ski and beginners are shown how leaning over the ski to increase flex produces the turn. Softer skis flex more easily and more deeply sidecut skis form a tighter turn - both of these features assist beginners to turn but such skis are less stable and less precise for experts travelling at high speed.

Turning can also be increased by taking some weight off the tail ends of the skis and allowing them to slide sideways through the snow. This skidding sharpens the turn and reduces speed. It is an easy method of turning and gives beginners a reassuring illusion of increased control but it is an inferior method which scrapes snow off the piste and does not feel as good as other techniques.

At one time skidding was encouraged to learn the "stem christie" transition from snowplough to parallels. Later it was developed as a natural method of turning in the French "evolutive" method. Skis were produced with soft tails that could twist to aid the sideslip - but the disadvantage of skidding (apart from destroying moguls!) is a lack of precision in the turn.

For higher speeds and difficult terrain, skis must be stiffer and spring faster to respond very quickly to bumps and changes of direction - but they do therefore need more skill and energy to control properly. Generally, a more expensive combination of materials is required to provide the high performance and because of the lively response, additional mechanical features are needed to dampen the vibrations that could cause the edges to loose their grip in the snow. High performance skiers need these more expensive skis but others can ski better and get more pleasure from simpler models.

Carving skis

Eventually the materials and techniques developed for racing skis go into the manufacture of recreational skis for the majority of us to have fun in the mountains. Ski racers use carved turns because they do not want to kill their speed by side slipping. In fact this is a very easy method of turning. Both skis are tilted on to the same edges and body weight is kept roughly equal on the two skis so that they form a smooth curve and their path will then naturally form a long radius turn through the snow. This is exilerating but for beginners it would be scary and dangerous because there is hardly any reduction in speed through the turn.

So called "carving skis" were marketed a few years ago - a newer shape of ski which were shorter and more deeply sidecut (i.e. noticeably broader at the tips and tails) so that they naturally form a shorter radius turn. All modern skis are based on this design but it is not necessary to 'carve' turns - and most people don't - because there are several different ways of initiating turns and modern skis generally make them much easier. Beginners can now make as much progress in two days as would have taken them two weeks, thirty years ago. Before the revolution in ski technology, there was a big switch to snowboarding because youngsters found it so much easier to learn, but the modern skis are as easy to master and much easier for snowboarders to adopt to.

I resisted changing over to carving skis because I enjoyed the sensation from traditional skis but I eventually switched when I had a sore knee and found that a few centimeters reduction in length makes an enormous reduction in the turning force. I also discovered the Rossignol 9X, which I reckon is the first top-of-range ski that can also benefit someone with only a couple of weeks experience.