Skis 1999: What is a Shaped Ski?

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A technological advance this good doesn't come along often. So when it does, it deserves to be understood. Yet many skiers are still confused over the definition of a super-sidecut or "shaped ski." And more important, why it works. Below is a comparison of three typical types of skis: conventional, shaped and the latest iteration, mid-fats or Freeriders.

This year, to help readers be more aware of the differences in shapes, we have published the dimensions of each medal winner. Above each review, you'll see three numbers describing the width of the ski, in millimeters, at its tip, waist and tail, in that order.

When comparing shapes, remember that the wider the tip and tail are in relation to the waist, the more radical the sidecut, and the tighter the turn the ski wants to make. Waist width is also important: Narrower skis tend to be somewhat nervous, but excel on ice and hard snow (think hockey skate). Wider skis tend to be more stable and buoyant, and excel in powder and soft snow (think toboggan). As for length, we recommend your shaped ski be 10 to 15 centimeters shorter than your conventional model.

One last note: All the gold medal winning models in this issue are shaped skis.

Long, long ago, a smart Norwegian ski-maker figured out that making the tip and tail slightly wider than the waist made a ski easier to turn. Conventional sidecuts served us well for many decades, but only the best and strongest skiers could actually carve a turn. This was accomplished by bending the ski into a curve, section by section through the turn. Skiers who couldn't carve simply skidded their tails around until their skis pointed in the desired direction.

The new sidecuts have brought true carved turns down to the realm of mere mortals. All that's required is to tip the ski on edge, stay balanced over its center, and let the sidecut do the work. The wider tip aggressively engages the snow, and the skier's centered weight bends the ski into a curve. The wider tail helps the ski carve through the turn. With a little bit of practice, you can't help but leave arcs on the snow. You'll be more in control, even at higher speeds, and able to ski longer, with less effort.

Now shaped skis have evolved further still. The new breed is wider from tip to tail, though not as wide as conventional "fat-boy" powder skis (hence their alternate name, "mid-fats"). The Freeriders offer all the benefits of super-sidecuts, with extra flotation and stability provided by the added width. They're terrific in soft snow and powder, but can still carve.