By: Jackson Hogen
Published: October 8, 2019
I don’t know how many Non-FIS Race skis will be sold during the many Race Nights that will most likely convene sometime this month, but I have a fair idea of how many will move off retail racks during the rest of the season: next to none. Aside from the race community, practically nobody wants a race ski anymore.
In light of the fact that race skis were once the only option for elite skiers, whether they raced or not, this state of affairs represents a considerable fall from grace. Race skis are so commercially insignificant, practically no media outlet reviews them. So why do we bother to?
Let me count the ways.
First, these are the best skis made that someone lacking in world-class skills (and conditioning) can steer. They embody every element the modern recreational ski eschews: they are cambered instead of rockered, narrow instead of wide and designed to connect with the snow, not disregard it. They do not pander to people of lesser skills; there are plenty of skis for them. A great race ski not only requires you to be good, it tells you so within the first 200 yards. Pull over, buddy, and buckle up.
Why are race skis so much better than recreational skis, I hear my most perspicacious readers cry? Because racing is the arena in which the ski maker proves his mettle. Any boob can make a powder ski: lots of surface area, little sidecut, lift as much ski as you dare out of the snow. Big deal.
But a race ski has to find a connection to snow denser than granite and hold onto a precise line at speeds recreational skiers (and their apps) think they attain, but don’t. To make a great race ski, you have to be on your game. If you cut corners, you’re also diminishing your athletes’ ability to do the same. Only the best will do.
Secondly, if we drop the “Non-“ from the category name, you move into a realm that frankly, you shouldn’t even consider. A FIS race ski is like a Formula One race car: what makes you think you’re ready to steer one of these rockets? If you own a TV, you’ve seen World Cup racing. Do your really think you can achieve the same angles these immaculately conditioned athletes do?
Johannes Strolz laying into a tidy turn. A Non-FIS Race ski won’t automatically confer this level of ability, but it can create the illusion that you can arc ‘em like Johannes. Photo courtesy of Head.
Here’s the deal: if you can’t get in those positions, you can’t turn the ski. The one requires the other. Pushing them against their grain at low edge angles won’t do anything but make them mad.
Thirdly, and perhaps most transparently, we test Non-FIS Race skis because we can. Point being, if you get a chance to ski on a slew of the best skis made during your lifetime, you take it. It may be as close as you’ll ever get to absolute power infused with pure bliss.
Anna Swenn-Larsson at work in her office. Photo courtesy of Head.
We are under no illusions that our take on any Non-FIS Race ski will influence a decision that resides in the natural province of a racer and his/her coach. Our testing isn’t subject to the tyranny of a time clock, and our experience is not directly transferrable to the racecourse. We’re describing a recreational experience on a non-recreational device.
So if the market is weak and the target community doesn’t care about our opinions, doesn’t that reduce our little enterprise to pure hedonism? Okay, got me. I gathered a few fast friends, leaned on the gracious hospitality of Footloose Sports, corralled twelve gorgeous race skis and wallowed in pure indulgence.
There is a pattern here.
The year after I graduated from Yale, the following class conferred upon two exceptionally deserving candidates the John E. G. Hogen Award for Hedonism. It’s so nice for one’s body of work to be remembered.
In keeping with a longstanding practice of telling my stories in reverse order, my reason for all this prattle about race skis is that digests of my 2020 Non-FIS Race reviews are now posted on Realskiers.com’s public site for my Dear Readers’ delectation.