Getting an edge on the experts

Skis: the shape of things to come?

You must try these," urged the ski-fitter, with as cheery an all-American welcome as you could imagine.

I had asked for good skis at Loon Mountain, a delightful little resort on the east coast of the States and mainstay of Crystal Schools' operation in New Hampshire.

The star-spangled fitter pulled out a flashy pair of bright blue Fischer Ice skis. They were much shorter than normal, narrower in the middle and rounded off by a wide fishtail. They also enjoyed something called plasma edge, which turned out to be a reinforced edge that retains its sharpness for longer. "They've just come in and I've skied them two days. They're wonderful," she enthused.

She was right. On good snow, with temperatures way below, the skis were a delight. I was Fred Astaire on snow. Converted, I splashed out on a pair. They hit the north American market last winter and were popular with ski rental shops out west. They will be available this year for groups at Loon Mountain. Call them what you will - shaped, hour-glass, super-sidecut, parabolic - the skis are now produced across manufacturers at average cost.

As Skiing magazine gushed: "Simply amazing. We have seen the future and it's super, as in sidecut. Super-sidecuts are one of those rare products that deliver precisely what's advertised: greater ease in carving turns."

But like any love, it ain't perfect. In spring conditions in France where the pistes were rock hard, the planks developed their own temperament. The skis and their owner were all over the place. At pace on an icy schuss and on early morning concrete, they wandered. I hired another set of normal boards to recover the composure.

Fischer sales' rep in Britain, Russell Quinn, describes the "hour-glass" range of Fischer Revolutions as a "progressive tool" that will help anyone to learn to carve turns more quickly and grasp the art of off-piste. They are not snowploughers' or early intermediates' skis but a means for intermediates to make the big leap to carving.

They work for intermediates because the extreme shape allows the longer edge length to remain in contact with the snow. They are shorter, easier to handle and help to complete the turn, arcing back up the hill quite readily.

Mr Quinn explains: "They are not going to carve the turn for you. You have to put them on the inside edge and you have to apply pressure. But once you do that, you use less energy, carve more effectively and consequently have more fun."

So how you stand on skis and apply pressure matters as before. But the hour-glass skis will make it easier to grasp the technique required. In the US, they are increasingly being used for teaching. Europe is catching on. Over in Les Arcs in France, one of the more innovatory resorts and the home of short-ski teaching, one word dominates: "parabolics".

Across the Alps this season parabolic skis are the big news. Michel Buet, head of the Ecole de Ski at Arc 1800, welcomes their arrival. "You have to ski on them like a French frog," he jokingly advised. "You have to be Alberto Tomba and ski with your legs wide apart, lean into the turn and let the skis do the turn. Usually you have to be a very good skier with strong legs to get the feeling of carving a turn. For years we gave this picture of people skiing with their legs close together but they do not do that in competition."

Mr Buet points out recreational skis have traditionally been designed from the racers' developments. Now, parabolics are designed for recreational skiers and are making it easier for intermediate skiers to make the great leap forward.

At Les Arcs, young people in the ski club were tested on a 20-second slalom with normal skis. When they changed to parabolics they gained two seconds on the 20 and retained that advantage when they changed back to their original skis.

Mr Buet explains: "You can get the feeling of carving a turn and once you have it, you can reproduce this on normal skis much quicker than normal."

Skiing this season will mean one thing. It's "parabolical".

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