The Lost Kingdom of Carving Skis: The 2020 Technical Category

By: Jackson Hogen

Published: November 5, 2019

Once they were kings.

After a relatively short incubation period in the early 1990’s, shaped skis suddenly overran the worldwide ski market, effectively ending the reign of long, skinny skis by the second half of that pivotal decade. When I attended ISPO in 1996, Intersport, the buying colossus that was used to dictating its own commercial terms, informed its ski suppliers that it henceforth wanted each ski indelibly marked with the “Carve” category to which it belonged. Choices ranged from Fun Carve (I kid you not) to Race Carve, but every single model had to had “Carve” in its name. That’s market dominance.

While the entire ski market was downing the Carving Kool-Aid like it was the elixir of life, an oddball, outlier genre of unusually wide skis made for powder junkies earned a toehold in resort shops and heli operations. (Bear in mind, in these sepia-tinged days, a ski 80mm underfoot was considered wide.) What was an oddity in one decade evolved into a stampede ten years later, as the American general public snapped up these magic skis that enabled them to travel off trail without the hassle of improving their skiing.

The apotheosis of the perfect carve, as demonstrated by PSIA Demo Team legend Mike Rogan. 

America’s wholesale adoption of fat skis left little room in a shrinking market for anachronisms like super-shaped skis. But America’s embrace of fatness wasn’t shared by the huge population of central Europeans who remained attached to on-piste skiing and the carving skis that excel on this surface. I conjecture that two reasons why so many European skiers prefer on-piste skiing are that, first, traveling off the beaten path can pose far greater risks in the Alps, and second, Europe’s infatuation with carving turned into lasting love because it took root in a more nurturing environment.

As Intersport’s effort to homogenize the ski market around Carve categories indicates, every aspect of the Euro ski market went all-in on the Carving craze. Critically, this included the small army of ski school instructors who immediately developed new teaching methods aimed at inculcating the masses into the carving cult in record time.

If any social scientists among my Dear Readers can explain why Americans would rather drop out of ski school than get a degree in carving, while Europeans (French excluded) dutifully endure a brief learning curve that allows them to ski better, please drop me a line. (BTW, the French are unlike most other European skiers in that a considerable number of them are absolutely nuts and will ski anything you put in front of them. No offense intended.)

The reason for the elaborate discourse on American vs. European ski mores is that the Technical genre (waist width 67mm-74mm), where the modern day carving ski has been pigeonholed, is alive and well on the Continent despite being a commercial pariah in the U.S. Models that are known and loved in Europe can’t get a second date in America.

An unintended consequence of our collective indifference to top-flight carving skis is the best women’s versions are underrepresented in U.S. shops. In virtually every ski makers’ women’s on-trail collection, the top model, made for the best skiers, has a waist width around 72mm-74mm, and so falls in the Technical category. The rest of the on-trail models, made for lower rungs on the ability ladder, are wider and so land in the Frontside genre. This is where the first-time ski buying female is steered.

By the time an American women has achieved a measure of technical proficiency, she wants to graduate out of the Frontside genre and into an all-mountain model. Trying to convince the advancing American woman that she needs a more expensive carving tool instead of an all-terrain vehicle is like trying to coax a vegan into eating foie gras.

So it is without illusions as to their importance that I review the best 2020 Technical skis for women and men. As you read this, my 2020 Recommended models have all been posted on Realskiers.com’s free, public site.

Given that I cull what data I can from American reps’ demo fleets, the coverage is less than comprehensive. Much as I grieve over this situation, the only way it’s likely to change is if all real skiers, acting in concert, are able to convince their peers that a pure carve can be just as pleasurable as a face shot, and far more frequent.

I’m not holding my breath.

Even though face shots are as rare as polar bears in Kansas, their allure cannot be resisted. In the final analysis, we Americans are dreamers, and when we dream, we dream of powder.

As you’re not dreaming at the moment, why not pop over to Realskiers.com to gain a deeper understanding of the best 2020 Technical skis, all that remains of a genre that once ruled the world.

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