Völkl didn’t actually invent the concept of quality control, but denizens of our little corner of the universe can be forgiven for thinking so. It set the standard for base finish for so long, if someone gave a trophy for the best QC they’d have to name it the Völkl Prize. Yet this noteworthy achievement probably plays only a minor role in why skiers who buy Völkls never buy just one pair; instead, they become Völkl junkies. Not that they become dissolute, as it takes an athlete to happily co-exist with a Völkl, but they do become dependent. Mama, don’t take my Mantras (or Kenjas) away!
During Völkl’s ascension to market preeminence, it earned a reputation for powerful, technical skis with a small sweet spot and an unslakable thirst for speed. Völkl came to regard its experts-only-need-apply reputation as a stigma that limited its sales potential, so it set in motion a long-term plan to change how the brand was perceived by changing, sometimes radically, how it made skis.
The trick in this transformation was how to wean their public off its ultra-traditional, thick, fully cambered skis without losing its established base among the sport’s elite. It began by tampering with the Gotama, an off-trail ski that served as a logical place to excise an Old School, arched camber line and substitute a fully rockered baseline.
Once the new Gotama with the flat baseline was accepted, Völkl applied the same technique with its Frontside carvers, with the same result: the RTM 84 won instant adherents. With each passing season another venerable model passed through the modernization machinery.
The process continued in 2014, as the Kendo and Kenja were brought into the New Age fold with double rockered baselines with just a remnant of camber underfoot, and the revered Mantra and Aura were transformed into off-trail models with a fully rockered baseline, all the better to smear with. The power that was once the exclusive province of highly skilled athletes became accessible to the nearly skilled, as well.
When Völkl unveiled the V-Werks Katana several seasons ago, it would have been supernaturally prescient to foretell that by 2017 it would be the inspiration for nearly all important models from 81 to 108mm underfoot. The Katana was an experiment to see what would happen if a ski was made of a lot of highly compressed carbon and little else. It skied like the world’s fattest carving ski, not exactly a niche everyone was stampeding to occupy.
But the V-Werks Katana was onto something. It was possible to pare away a lot of material from a conventional ski construction and, if the remaining structure were strong enough, it would still perform at a high level. Völkl called this new shape 3D.Ridge, named for the raised central platform that’s forms the thickest part of the ski.
By 2016, 3D.Ridge design permeated the Völkl line, spreading the Lighter is Better gospel to all skiers. There was only one fly in this low-fat ointment: none of the Katana’s kinder skied with the authority of the original, all-carbon 3D.Ridge, which then as now costs a fortune to make and therefore isn’t marketable to the masses. In 2018 Völkl revealed the perfect patch for the power shortage, a bottom layer of glass configured to increase the torsional rigidity, called 3D. Glass. Ingenious in its simplicity, stunning in its impact on performance, 3D.Glass was the best across-the-board product upgrade of 2018.
It’s difficult to overstate the benefits of 3D.Glass, the craftily configured sheet of fiberglass that elevates the edge grip of every model it touches. The secret to 3D.Glass’s effectiveness is that it doesn’t just lay on the bottom of the stack of laminated components, but runs up the sidewall and tucks over its top, essentially forming an anchored, open box with the other elements as filling.
3D.Glass makes a ski livelier because glass is the springiest material in the ski. It makes a ski more resistant to twist because it has its own sidewalls. It helps maintain edge contact on hard snow and bat away clumps of broken snow off trail. It can’t put your boots on for you, but it does just about everything else.