It's not about wind-whistling speed or big air or deep powder. It's not about fame and glory and a guest spot on Letterman.
It's about a feeling. A feeling of laying your body close to the snow, of resisting g-forces and defying gravity in a delicate balancing act as you swoop across the hill. It's a feeling that comes through your feet as your ski edges lock into a turn radius and slice cleanly forward, leaving a narrow groove in the corduroy as aesthetically pure as a single brush stroke in a classic Japanese painting.
The Euros call it "funcarving." In the U.S., where the trend originated, it's been called freecarving, hypercarving, or supercarving. But despite its origins and the efforts of pioneers like former World Cupper Geoff Bruce, it's never caught on here to the extent that it has in Europe. Partly this is due to a deeper racing tradition in Europe. Or maybe it's just because the buzz in this country is about all-mountain freeskiing right now.
Either way, because of the demand in Europe, ski makers have responded with a whole category of deep-sidecut carving skis (12 are reviewed below). As skilled practitioners know, moderate all-mountain shaped skis just don't cut it when it comes to laying out a pure carve. Not only do you need skis with a sidecut radius from nine to 14 meters, you also need to jack up the binding with a 12- to 30-mm lifter to increase leverage for edging and to prevent boot-out, which happens when the side of the boot scrapes the snow, disrupting the ski's edge grip.
To test these new tools, we gathered an 11-person crew of carving enthusiasts at Vail last spring and spent a day leaving signature tracks on the groomed. We also tried them on frozen granular, ungroomed crud, and spring slush to see how they would respond if treated simply as short all-mountain boards. The testers concluded that all these skis make it easy to get that carving feeling (some better than others, of course), and some are even versatile enough to handle the whole mountain. Read on.