When I left Salomon in the spring of 1987, my motivations could be distilled into three principal components:
• The parent company declared it was moving its Reno-based North American HQ back from whence it came. Neither I nor my family had the slightest desire to return to New England.
• I felt I was spending more energy battling factions within my own company than I was out-flanking our competition. I’d worked more or less without a break since June of 1978. My thin veneer of patience cracked.
• I wanted to write screenplays. Not that I had demonstrated any talent for creative writing or had any training in the field. I’d written reams of technical swill, brochure copy, training manuals and memos which created the illusion that I could at least write something, so why not screenplays?
Note that none of these factors involves finding a new job. At the time, I didn’t want to resume wearing the shackles of employment as they would interfere with my ludicrous screenwriting ambitions. Then the stock market went into a tailspin in October, crippling what little equity I’d managed to accrue on my minimalist salary. Oops.
Don’t let the title fool you. Although it sounds like it, this Revelation isn’t about the degree to which skiing is top of mind among Helsinki society. The purpose of this exposé is to shine a light on a subject about which almost all skiers are woefully uninformed, namely the condition of their skis’ bases and edges.
Just in case you don’t imagine this subject worthy of your attention, I hasten to point out that how well your skis are tuned and maintained isn’t just a factor, it is the factor that determines how well your skis perform. A properly tuned ski, regardless of brand or type, is a delight for skiers of any and all abilities while an untuned ski is such a detriment that even supreme skill cannot overcome its liabilities.
In the 1970’s, prior to the adoption of the first ski boot sole standard, boot makers were free to concoct any sort of sole they might imagine. Many skiers still used leather boots with laminated soles, even after the industry largely moved on to injected plastic, which enabled shapes and sole patterns leather couldn’t duplicate.
This incoherent jumble of boot designs showed no lack of imagination, but little consideration for how they might interact with a binding. Bindings were likewise free from any standards that might have limited the creativity of their designs, many of which were crafted specifically to reduce or eliminate the role of the boot.
The road to hell is said to be paved with good intentions. In my experience, the friends and relatives of prospective boot buyers are a wellspring of wretched advice wrapped in bright ribbons of sincerity and concern.
(Let us pause a moment and prayerfully acknowledge the gratitude of bootfitters everywhere that the new, pandemic-driven bootfit protocol discourages the presence of a bootfit entourage composed of family, moral supporters and consiglieri.)
Back to the subject at hand, the particular nugget of advice I’m leery of is the customary admonition to avoid too stiff a boot as it will hurt, you’ll hate it eventually if you don’t detest it immediately, and it will inhibit your skills development. Get only as much boot as you need and no more, goes the conventional wisdom. Racers need stiff boots; you don’t.
One of the many hats I wore as North American binding product manager for Salomon in the early 1980’s was that of delegate to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). I believe the first meeting of F8.14 – the sub-committee on ski safety – that I attended was in Pennsylvania. I was flying under the wings of Salomon’s seer of all standards and patents, Gilbert Delouche, and the binding product manager for the North American zone at that time (and my mentor), Joe Campisi.
I was a babe in the woods, but I soon caught on to the game under Delouche’s patience guidance. I recall a debate on the binding specification then being batted around in the technical committee chaired by Carl Ettlinger. Ettlinger wanted language that would require any release/retention setting of 10 or above to be “visually distinctive” from the rest of the scale.
Don’t read the 2021 Masterfit Buyer’s Guide in Partnership with Realskiers.com for its 62 ski reviews. I should know. I wrote or edited all of them.
Not that the ski reviews aren’t worth the read. But ski reviews on the web are as common as rice, while the Buyer’s Guide contains something no other publication, whether in digital, print or video format, can claim: the most respected, thorough and dependable boot reviews in the world.
This isn’t mere puffery. The Masterfit Boot Test is so well regarded by the supplier community that nearly every brand not only sends its following year’s line-up in four men’s sizes plus three for women, it also dispatches its top designers and/or product managers to a distant North American site for most of the test’s five-day duration.
As I’ve observed in this space before, product managers spend most of their time in the future; the present for them is two years away for the rest of us. So when the coronavirus shut down the 19/20 ski season, it triggered an automatic response in the R&D lobes lodged deep in my noggin: what impact will this have two years down the road?
If I knew the answer to this question with any certainty, I should be running a hedge fund, not scribbling about skiing. But after checking with several of the bellwether players in U.S. market, I have some idea of what’s in store.
If you ever saw footage of early-1970’s mogul contests, you understand the expression, “linked recoveries.” This turn of phrase sums up my repeated attempts to capture coverage of the primary players in the 2021 women’s Alpine ski market.
Before we learned coronavirus wasn’t street jargon for overindulging in imported beer, I had a plan in place. I’d paid handsomely to have my test card app refreshed just in time for the major western trade fairs at Mammoth Mountain, CA and Snow Basin, UT, which convened on overlapping dates.
When the ski world skidded to a stop last March, the Realskiers.com database had already logged hundreds of digital test cards, a very promising start to what turned out to be a dismal season. There was just enough data to separate wheat from chaff, a winnowing process that revealed the top 70 unisex models spread across the four most popular genres: Frontside, All-Mountain East, All-Mountain West and Big Mountain.
It seems like ages ago, but it was only Friday, March 13 that I skied Mt. Rose for the last time. I left the mountain that day brimming with blind optimism. My plans to recruit veteran instructors to rotate through some twenty-five 2021 women’s models were taking shape. I took a few test laps under sunny skies and headed back to Reno confident that I had my bases covered.
During my time on this planet, the value of knowledge – specifically, the detailed understanding of accumulated facts about the past – has been steadily devalued. The impact of the pandemic and the crater it’s left in the world economy has created an uncrossable chasm between now and then. The Firesign Theater once capriciously declaimed, “Everything you know is wrong.” How right they’ve proved to be.
One of the many casualties of our perilous times is that bootfitting as we knew it is over. The last time anyone was able to practice this arcane skill, the best bootfitters would literally lay their hands on the bare feet of their customers. All the good reasons why this hands-on inspection was the part of the state-of-the-art protocol will not be enough to save it.
What we learned this year is the fragility of everything we thought of as permanent. But that’s a topic for a future Revelation, when we all have more perspective than is possible during a humanity-wide crisis. Going into this season, our concerns were less...
A little over a week ago, I was skiing. A little over a week ago, I was recruiting Mt. Rose instructors for a women’s test that would have rolled out yesterday. A little over a week ago, I was pulling together a dream team of Non-FIS Race ski testers, to convene the...