The cover of a ski magazine is usually not an accurate representation of a typical day on the mountain.
Many ski manufacturers have finally come to realize that most skiers are not turning through untouched powder all the time.
In fact, a day at a mountain resort for most snowriders includes riding through tracked snow or along groomed runs for the majority of their visit.
Because of this, companies have recently toned back the design of their skis as extra-wide, fully rockered (rising up at the tail) for carving through fresh snow, to more of a standard all-mountain ski built for a variety of conditions.
Jeremy Nelson, owner of Skjersaa's ski shop in Bend, says the latest technology is a tempering of the rockered movement that has dominated ski design the past several years. Many of this season's models are built to appeal more to the everyday skier. Some skiers, Nelson notes, have complained about a lack of control when trying to ski a groomed run on fat skis designed for powder.
“A fully rockered, super-wide ski is great if you're in the backcountry or in the powder all the time,” Nelson says. “But it's not the most effective tool for skiing groomers (groomed runs). It's really good in new snow and untracked powder. But let's just be realistic, it's never really like that, unless you're out in the backcountry. By 9:15 a.m., everything's got tracks on it (at Mt. Bachelor ski area). And you have to ride a groomer either to get out to where you're going or to get back to where you're going. To have a ski that just feels like an elephant on ice skates is no fun.”
The wider skis were not providing enough edge hold on the groomed snow, and thus, skiers felt out of control, Nelson explains.
Many of this year's ski models feature a reduction in the tail rocker and more side-cut for turning on harder snow. Some also have more conventional camber underfoot, meaning the skier is able to compress the skis more into the snow during turns, providing greater control.
“You've got to have that camber underfoot so you can really get the edge in and flex the ski a little bit,” Nelson says. “Everybody got so excited about the fat skis and the rocker, and then it was like, wait a minute, this is not working though, because it's just too much.”
The Armada TST is a new all-mountain ski — incorporating more standard camber and less rocker — that Nelson recommends.
The trend away from fully rockered style also translates to snowboards. Many new snowboard models have less exaggerated tips and offer more camber underneath the feet, the better for snowboarders to dig their edges into the snow.
The Burton Sherlock is a new snowboard model designed along those lines.
“Burton has really taken into account how a board flexes and what happens when that board is in a flexed position,” Nelson says. “They had to find a way to keep the edge hold there, while simultaneously allowing the snowboard to float and maneuver better.”
While snowboard boots have not changed significantly in recent years, a new trend in ski boots is to offer two different pairs of soles for the same boots: one sole designed for regular alpine bindings, and one for backcountry touring bindings that allow for a free heel.
One such boot is the Tecnica Cochise.
“You can just switch out the soles,” Nelson says of the boots. “Basically, they're making boots more functional and multifaceted. The true touring (backcountry) aficionado is going to want different, lighter gear. But most people, if they're going to use it for both on-area (resorts) and touring, this stuff works fantastic.”
While the latest and greatest gear is not always the cheapest, those on a budget can often find affordable used ski and snowboard gear. That can mean perusing Craigslist, or visiting shops around Central Oregon such as Gear Peddler in Bend and Redmond or Repeat Performance Sports in Bend.
Nelson recommends looking for a discount on last year's models, since skis, snowboards, and boots do not change significantly from year to year.
Repeat Performance takes used gear on consignment, and the maximum price for which they sell items is half the retail price, according to owner Josh Sims.
The full-service ski shop will test bindings and offer fittings for skis, snowboards, bindings and boots. Sims says he expects to have 400 to 500 sets of skis (a mix of nordic and alpine skis and snowboards) available by the middle of this month.
“You'd be amazed how much stuff there is here in Bend,” Sims says. “We're getting so much in right now. We have a ton of families that are both consignors and customers. They'll bring in all the stuff their kids grew out of, consign that, and then use the money to upgrade this year. That works out pretty well for them.”
Sims says that the previous year's models of winter sports gear are usually pretty easy to find.
“This town's full of people who upgrade their gear every year,” he says. “There is a lot of gear in this town.”
What to buy?
A look at gear recommendations from local ski shops (photos above):
Skis: Armada TST, $650
Rex Shepard, employee at Skjersaa's in Bend: “It's my everyday ski. Go up on a powder day or on a hard-pack day. Very versatile ski.”
Snowboard: Burton Sherlock, $500
Jeremy Nelson, owner of Skjersaa's: “Camber underfoot and rocker in between. It's weird but it works well. Camber underfoot for hard-pack, rocker in the middle for powder.”
Snowboard boots: Burton Ruler, $220
Snowboard boots have not really changed much in recent years, and Burton is still one of the most popular brands.
Ski boots: Tecnica Cochise 120or 130, $650 or $750, $50 for alpine sole; $80 for touring sole. A new crossover boot, the Cochise features a tech sole to go with backcountry touring bindings, and a regular alpine sole for skiing at a resort. The soles can be changed for either type of skiing.