The Glitch in the System

By: Jackson Hogen

Published: February 18, 2020

For three picture-perfect days last week I put 27 new and returning 20/21 models through their paces under azure skies and ideal test conditions. Mammoth Mountain hadn’t received its normal bumper crop of natural snow, but the resort made the most of what it had, rolling out an immaculate white carpet every morning that held up brilliantly as the day wore on.

Given the conditions, the skis with the best opportunity to shine were carving skis, whether culled from the Non-FIS Race, Technical or Frontside categories. The All-Mountain East (85mm – 94mm waist) genre was also fair game, as its members must, at a minimum, be able to carve capably on hard snow.

When the best manufacturers put their best effort into making a ski that holds at speed on hard snow, the results are stunning. I fell in love at least five times a day, often before noon. If there is a single hallmark of the new generation of carvers it’s that they all feel smoother, silkier and easier to manage in each phase of the turn.

I must have made several hundred full-bellied arcs, pulling G’s while riding a buried edge, yet my most vivid memory of last week’s runs had nothing to do with the ski I was evaluating at the time. I was just beginning a fresh test run, emerging from the traffic snarl that often prevails at the top of lifts to find myself trailing one last citizen before I could get down to business.

Normally I would move to one side, hit the gas and be gone, but I couldn’t take my eyes off what was happening not twenty feet in front of me. He was male, middle-aged and expensively attired. I’m always checking out my fellow citizens’ skis, which in this case was a recent iteration of the Head Supershape Rally, one of the premier carving skis of all time.

The Rally is designed to respond to the first hint that the pilot is tipping it, and as its master at this moment was hurtling straight downhill in an open, semi-wedge stance, the Rally on each foot was trying to tip up on edge on opposing paths.   Sensing instinctively that this would result in a brutal body-slam, our valiant subject was working non-stop to keep the overly reactive little buggers flat, so they wouldn’t be tempted to do any of this stupid and irritating carving action.

Trying to stifle the Heads’ instinct to roll up on edge was taking a vicious toll on our hero’s energy supply. Keeping the skis flat meant adopting a rickety, bow-legged, Yosemite Sam stance that he strained mightily to maintain. I can’t imagine this stalwart soul could endure more than four runs like this on a bunny hill, but my sympathies actually lay with the ski. This Rally was going to live out its life without ever experiencing a turn like the one it was engineered to make.

How did such a hopeless mismatch between man and machine occur? Of course it could have been a loaner, or hand-me-down or some other form of organized accident, but it was most probably selected after a routine interview with a well-intentioned shop employee. While I wasn’t there, I can well imagine that the exchange went something like this.

Ski Salesman: “How would you describe yourself as a skier?”

Customer: “I’ve been skiing for ten years, and I’d call myself advanced. I love groomers the most, where I like to ski fast. My ski app says I went fifty yesterday, if that tells you anything. Oh, and I hate bumps and rarely ski powder.”

Ski Salesman: “Sounds like you’d like a ski made for cruising the groom, something that makes carving as simple as walking. You want a ski that holds better the faster you go. For this style of technical skiing, I’d recommend the Head Rally.”

Of course there would be other information batted back and forth, but once this initial compact is made, the direction of the sale has been set. When one witnesses the end result in action, it’s impossible to imagine a worse marriage of ski and skier. All because the customer overstated his ability before the sale had even left the starting gate.

In my scenario, it’s the customer who has marched himself straight to the gallows, but the salesman earns several demerits for allowing the customer to hang himself. Let’s deconstruct the customer’s opening self-assessment.

Skiing for 10 years is a fuzzy stat. If this person skied 6 times a year, that’s a mere 60 days on snow, quite possibly without a hint of instruction. Someone who loves groomers but eschews moguls and powder matches the description of an intermediate, not an advanced skier and certainly not an expert. And the peak speed measured by his app is as accurate as a fortune cookie. (The fact that he mentioned it should have sounded an internal alarm.)

In the salesman’s defense, he otherwise followed all the rules of Salesmanship 101. He just misread the data and allowed the customer’s self-assessment – the glitch in the system – to stand. Once advanced ability was assumed, some sort of dreadful outcome was all but assured.

The solution to this sorry sequence of events is to introduce into the mix a neutral third party, namely, video. Virtually every man, woman and child on the mountain has a smart phone, and while that doesn’t make them Warren Miller, almost anyone should be able to capture a few seconds of our customer’s inimitable style.

I’ve been advocating this idea for a few seasons, without any notable success, and my suspicion is this entreaty will be likewise fruitless. All I can say is a few frames of video would have introduced an element we call “reality” into a sale that sorely needed it.

While I realize this peroration is already too long for current appetites, I want to point out one subtlety to my tale. All the characters are male. This isn’t unconscious misogyny, but a reflection drawn from decades of experience. Men inflate their abilities, often absurdly; women do not. (Women also know how to put on a pair of knee socks, while this skill eludes some 90% of men. But I digress.)

Thank you for hanging around long enough to get to the moral of our story: be clear-eyed in your self-assessment when shopping for ski gear. (The same goes for when you’re describing your kids’ talents.) Inflating one’s resume will only bring grief. Of course I have a solution for anyone struggling with model selection: go to Realskiers.com, where you’ll find a complete methodology that will steer you in the right direction.

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