Because Non-FIS Race skis aren’t often in a rep’s demo inventory, I take special pains to collect as many as I can and corral them at Footloose, near the base of Mammoth Mountain. I also recruit ex-racers like Jim Schaffner of Start Haus and Theron Lee of Bobo’s, both of whom are also active coaches, and my perennial wingman, Corty Lawrence, erstwhile co-owner of Footloose.
Unlike our examination of other categories, we’re not trying to identify the “best” Non-FIS Race ski, as every last one of them is great. Instead, we’re trying to describe the nuances in behavior that make some more demanding of the pilot and others more amenable to freeskiing. We realize that our observations play no part in any committed racer’s choice of model, as these decisions are determined by the athletes, their coaches and the suppliers who equip them. Our intent is to inform the civilian community who is more likely to free-ski these models than race them.
Our examination of the NFR field is not comprehensive. Dynastar, Elan, Fischer and Salomon models were MIA for a variety of reasons. We’ll try to catch up with them next year.
What makes this shortfall in data collection particularly vexing is that every model we were able to essay we adored. This isn’t pandering – this category is reasonably pander-proof – but a reflection of the fact that race ski technology represents each brand’s best effort. Peripheral considerations such as Off-Piste Performance pale in comparison to a single determinant of excellence: the clock.
The battle to make the best race skis never calls a ceasefire. Just because the ski in the catalog doesn’t change from one year to the next doesn’t mean the R&D department has hit the snooze button. It doesn’t make sense to re-tool every year for a market as slow-moving as the citizen race category, but reputations are built on innovation so it’s important to introduce fresh blood into the racing mainstream every few years.
In 2020, the brands who refreshed their NFR collection were Atomic and Blizzard, in both cases to stunning effect. Last year Völkl tweaked its Racetigers but we didn’t get on them until this spring, so they were new to us. In a word, wow. The Völkl Racetiger SL had the biggest performance envelope of any ski we examined, making it the best free-skier of the lot, in our testers’ estimation.
Some of the models we essayed are awfully close to the real deal, but there is still a wide gulf between the most aggro Non-FIS Race model and actual World Cup race machines. To challenge this supposition, I inserted one true, FIS GS, which happened to be a Stöckli Laser WRT GS FIS, into our mix. Compared to the Non-FIS field, they were practically unskiable. Within a few yards after pushing off, the skis inform their passenger that they’re heading for the finish line whether you care to come along or not. If you lack accuracy, timing, commitment and most of all, strength, you will not be in charge of coming events.
While race-room technologies continue to creep ahead every season, a couple of timeless verities remain true year in and year out. Truism number one is that there are more similarities among Non-FIS Race skis than differences. Truism two would beg to differ, noting that there are two clear sub-sets within the genre: skis that behave exactly like real, FIS-approved, race skis that beg to be skied with tireless aggression, and those that just want to have fun. Truism number three is that no matter if you’re on a slalom or a GS, you’ll have some of the most exhilarating runs of your life on a Non-FIS Race model.
As befits models built for speed, not for comfort, our Recommended models are presented here in order of their Power scores. High Finesse scores are worth noting but it’s the Power score that drives the pecking order.