A decade ago, quick-turning slalom skis accounted for a vast majority of ski sales. For experts who wanted to make staccato fall-line turns on hard-packed snow, the stiff, straight slalom ski was the perfect tool. But with the advent of shaped skis and now mid-fats, the so-called slalom ski has gone the way of the wooden tennis racket. That's beginning to change.
The 4-year-old shaped ski revolution has finally reached into the design of slalom models, and the result is a genre of radically short, shaped, quick-turning tools that make your old straight slalom boards feel like two-by-fours. With lengths of 160 to 180 centimeters and a sidecut in the 99-62-87 millimeter range, these ice-skates for snow are showing up under the feet of junior slalom champions, NCAA racers and Masters, all of whom are looking to take a straighter, faster line through the gates. While the veteran World Cup men who were raised on straight skis are holding pat, the shorty slalom skis have already made the podium on the women's World Cup and there were several pair in the top 10 of the men's U.S. Alpine Championship slalom.
Last May, SKI convened a team of Masters racers and All-Mountain Experts at Arapahoe Basin, Colo., to answer two short-ski questions: For adult racers, are these skis better in the gates than traditional slalom models? And, more important, can they serve as all-around skis for those addicted to quick turns?
The testers ranged in weight from 110 lbs. to 220 lbs., yet even the strongest of the bunch had no problem adjusting to the shorter lengths. In general, they found they could ski straighter at the gates and use less edge to produce more turn.
Frank Taft, a medalist in the 1999 U.S. Masters Alpine Championships slalom, took an immediate liking to the 180-cm Atomic 9.16 SL . "It's rock solid and very stable at speed¿just like a traditional slalom ski but quicker into and out of the turn." Bob Tatge, another Masters racer, favored the Salomon Superaxe EQ 3V, which was on the podium of the World Alpine Championships' women's combined event in Vail, Colo. The entire test team praised the Rossignol 9S Pro Carve 9.9, which cut the quickest trenches of the bunch. There was also enthusiasm for the K2 Merlin VI SL, a less shapely shorty that last season helped U.S. Ski Team member Bode Miller to the best U.S. finish in a World Cup slalom in the past decade.
But can these skis keep the non-racing, short-turn fanatic happy? The test team's response was "yes" with a caveat: You've got to really love short turns and be willing to surrender some versatility. The low-profile tips tend to sink in crust and powder, and in the moguls these skis can be stiff and unwieldy. As always, it's best to demo before you buy.
The Short List
The new shorty slalom trend was so new last spring that several major ski companies didn't have a finished model available for our test. Look for these models this fall, and expect other manufacturers to offer shorty slalom skis for the 2000-01 season. (Sidecut is in millimeters for tip-waist-tail; lengths are in centimeters; price is Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price.)
Atomic 9.16 SL
(106-62-95; 160, 170, 180; $730)
(103-63-90; 162, 172, 182; $699)
(102-63-90; 161, 166, 171; $695)
K2 Merlin VI SL
(94-62-80; 182, 187, 192; $750)
(98-64-87; 158, 168; $599)
Rossignol 9S Pro CarvE 9.9
(99-62-87; 160, 170, 177; $799 with Axial Slalom Plate)
Salomon Superaxe EQ 3V
(103-63-93; 168, 176; $725)
VölkL P40 SL Carver
(103-65-91; 163, 170, 177; $735)