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Ask Josh – November 2000

Ask Dr. Flake

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Everything from mountain bikes to tennis rackets have become lighter lately. Why haven’t skis followed suit?
Martin Sanders
via the Internet

The premise underlying your question appears to be correct. For instance, in 1983, Rossi’s top-of-the-line GS ski, the SM VAS Competition, weighed 2,182 grams in its longest length; the comparable year-2000 model, the 9X Pro 10.2, weighs 2,169 grams in its longest length, a paltry reduction of .6 percent. But the fact is, you cannot apply your bike-and-racket reasoning to skis. Any gee-whiz superlightweight material, used alone, would make for a decidedly light ski, but one that would lack, shall we say, desirable on-snow characteristics. (You may remember the ethereal Lacroix skis of the ’80s-rather unpleasantly chattery on anything other than powder.) No, we demand more of a ski¿longitudinal flexibility at low temperatures, torsional rigidity, slipperiness, smoothness, waterproofness¿than we do of a tennis racket, which is, after all, little more than a rococo bat. And many of our demands are seemingly incompatible with one another, so ski engineers have to combine several different materials¿some superlight, some much heavier¿to meet them. So while those Rossis haven’t gotten much lighter in the past 20 years, they and their competitors have gotten one whole hell of a lot better. Remarkably, they’ve done so without getting any heavier.

Why do you ride up some chairlifts on the left of the towers, but on most you ride up on the right?
Jamie Bushell
Port Washington, New York

I have often wondered myself why I sometimes hang to the right and sometimes to the left. But that’s neither here nor there. Despite the way you phrase your question, it remains to be proven that most chairlifts go up on the right (and by the way, liftologists refer to the whole left-and-right thing as clockwise and counterclockwise rotation, respectively). But there are dozens of reasons why one direction of travel might be chosen over the other. First, there are the issues of which trails feed the lift and where the combination of terrain features, tree groupings, and sound ski-area management suggests people should board. Then there are terrain features on the hill itself: If the terrain slopes down to the left, say, you wouldn’t want passengers riding up on the right where they’d be closer to the ground. And then there are prevailing winds and the disinclination of lift-installation personnel to have you be blown clangingly against lift towers as you ride up. Anyway, if more lifts do go up on the right, as you say, it’s probably because when there’s no compelling reason to rig a lift one way or the other, they just set it up like we drive.

I read that if you ski the steeps, you should avoid skis with a deep sidecut because of possible “tip-tail hang.” What is the dreaded tip-tail hang and how can I avoid it with my X Screams?
Frank Journey
via the Internet

Ah, hereby hangs a tale. The phenomenon you refer to occurs when a slope is so steep that a super-sidecut ski grips the slope with just a smidge of edge at the tip and tail. But chances are, in situations where tip-tail hang is significant (a narrow, concave couloir, say), you’d also be hung up with traditional skis, because they are that much longer. I’ve found that whatever oddness there is to having extra grip at tip and tail is more than made up for by super-sidecuts’ ability to carve beautiful round turns on even the steepest terrain (where before, a skier of my modest means would have been hopping from windshield-wiper turn to windshield-wiper turn). On shaped skis you do have to commit to the fall line a little sooner and a little more boldly¿and really concentrate on tipping your skis instead of turning them. Being the bucket-headed snow eater that I am, I’d speak with less confidence had I not also heard actual, genuine good skiers say much the same thiing. As for you, a little less time spent worrying about whereby hangs your tail and a little more spent directing your tip and you’d be much happier.

Do you have a question for know-it-all Josh Lerman? Send it to Ask Josh, Skiing Magazine, 929 Pearl St., Ste. 200, Boulder, CO 80302; or e-mail him at

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Former SKIING executive editor Josh Lerman is now articles editor at Parenting.