What Gives a Ski Its Character?
Skis should be fun. A playful backcountry ski floats well in the powder, quickly initiates in a turn, holds an edge on ice, and smears like butter on a pancake. Finding the right balance of these characteristics makes for a great ski tour and more fun being had in the backcountry.
Every G3 ski design and construction is part science, part art, and part voodoo magic, with secret ingredients we can’t divulge without taking you hostage. But we can share the primary performance attributes of the skis, along with how and why we might manipulate that attribute for a particular ski.
FIRST UP… FLEX IT BABY
We’ve all been or seen that person in the ski shop doing the ‘flex test’ with their arm then act like that’s all we need to know about the ski. But the ol’ flex test is just scratching the surface, and only tests one type of flex.
There are actually 2 main types of ski flex:
- Longitudinal flex along the length of the skis contributes to responsiveness and stability at speed.
- Torsional flex along the axis of the ski affects your turning and how well you can carve.
For edge grip in particular, we focus on the torsional stiffness of the ski. The stiffer it is in torsion, the more it will want to hold on your edge while carving a turn. Conversely the softer in torsion, the earlier or softer/easier a ski will release from those turns.
Fibre orientation and placement will also have big impact on a ski’s flex and performance.The layers of glass or carbon fibre in skis can be vertical along the length, horizontal across the width, or at an any angle along the ski. We can boost a ski’s longitudinal and torsional stiffness by adding fibres at a given angle anywhere along the ski.
In skis for aggressive riders we’ll give it a stiffer flex and more traditional camber, while for more playful and easy powder skis you’ll want softer flex and more reverse camber for ease of turn initiation and release.
So you can flex those skis all you want in the shop. It will paint part of the picture but won’t tell you much about torsional flex and overall performance.
NEXT… THE INGREDIENTS
All the ski’s characteristics including flex and, of course, weight are affected by the ski’s different layers and what materials the layers are made of.
For weight, materials are indeed the biggest factor, but to go light without sacrificing performance you need realistic weight goals.
When building a performance touring ski for big vert crushing days, you need to pick the materials that suit it best. For example G3’s FINDr, SEEKr and SENDr boast carbon fibre layers instead of fibreglass to shave substantial weight, plus flexible PolyUrethane sidewalls to counteract the carbon’s inherent chatter. On the flip side, a more all-mountain ski, like the ROAMr, might use heavier materials such as fibreglass to get the appropriate performance characteristics of a more damp, durable and stable ski.
So light is right for those big tours in the backcountry, while materials such as fibreglass and metal can be clutch for a smooth, damp ride on resort or through chunder.
CAMBER AND FEEL
Camber will play a big part in how a ski performs in different snow conditions. The playfulness is largely affected by where the tip and tail contact points are on the ski. Playful powder skis should have contact points farther in (ie earlier tip n tail rise), allowing you to release from turns easier and keep your tips up in the freshies.
A more traditional camber ski has those contact points closer to tip and tail, making for better edge grip while carving turns and hard snow.
Damping and stability are often neglected in the lightweight ski category, but even on your biggest backcountry days we know you want your skis to shine on the descent. That’s why realistic weight is often more important that purely counting grams. As we mentioned, fibreglass is inherently damp and suitable for those heavier all mountain skis, while carbon fibre can be chattery and needs something to combat it if you want a smooth ride. G3’s flexible PolyUrethane sidewalls (link to chatter blog) combat that by absorbing energy and vibrations for a more fun and stable ride. It’s a good example of how careful material selection can help achieve both the weight and performance goals.
TOP DOWN SHAPE
Largely defined by the turning radius, the skis shape impacts how well the ski will perform in tight trees, open fast bowls, and everywhere in between.
A larger radius of course means a larger, longer turn, best for open terrain and fast skiing.A smaller radius yields shorter turns, make a ski more agile, maneuverable, and easier to initiate or exit a turn in trees or tight spots.
The mounting point is defined by the center of that turning radius. The mounting point marking is optimised for that position on the ski, but skiers often choose to adjust their mount forward or back from the line depending on style and preference. Mounting your bindings in front of the line gives you more of a freestyle feel, standing on top of ski for drifty, playful turns. Bumping the binding mount behind the line can get you more power in your turns for more aggressive, faster skiing.
THE WHOLE IS GREATER THAN THE SUM
There are tonnes of variables that affect a ski’s overall performance and character. It’s the ski designers job to take all that info and optimize the ski to suit a certain style of skiers’ needs. Then of course comes the fun part. Mount them, ride them, and have a good time.