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Every year new models of wider skis appear on the market. They are very fashionable and effective when used in fresh powder. But do they need to be that wide? What’s the payoff?
Wide skis work best in fresh untracked powder, while the width is also useful in finding the edges on groomed and hardpack snow. However, there are several downsides to wide skis, some of which have been addressed with technology while others remain.
Advances in skiing technology tend to take quantum leaps rather than a smooth curve. Breakthroughs in material technology or new scientific insights can create new markets overnight. In 1988, an engineer working at ski company, Atomic, wanted to make a better-designed ski for skiing on powder.
Rupert Huber’s aim was to create wider skis and he noticed the potential of a snowboard. So, he simply sawed a snowboard lengthwise, to create two wide skis, added bindings, and found them to be a great success.
So much so, his company put the version into production as the Atomic Powder Plus. This model went on to be the forerunner of other successful wide ski designs.
As with most skiing equipment, new designs have advantages and disadvantages, depending on the type of use they are aimed at. At first, wide skis became the panacea for a whole range of uses, particularly on powder. However, listening to feedback designers realized there were limitations, which could sometimes end up injuring the skier.
Wide skis are well-suited to powder. Powder snow is composed of small flakes, which interlock trapping a large volume of air. This trapped air makes the powder very light and with a very low density, which has little strength to support a skier.
Wearing traditional thinner skis, a skier will sink a long way into the powder surface, however, a skier with wide skis will ride through the surface layers of the powder. The skier’s weight is distributed evenly over both skis, so the pressure pushing down into the powder is considerably less than on thin skis.
Widest Skis Ever
Skis continued to become ever wider and in an ever-expanding number of styles. One of the most extreme is called the Monstre Fat, manufactured by French ski manufacturer, Duret. These skis come with Tip, Waist, Tail measurements of 190/177/200mm.
Ski Jumpers are a Special Case
Ski jumpers have a special interest in using wide skis. They need to gain maximum speed down the ramp but once in the air, they concentrate on as much lift as possible. They partly do this by using the bases of their skis to catch the airstream and fly farther, gaining extra feet on their run.
Wide Ski Advantages
With the weight of the skier evenly distributed across the wide skis, it is possible to almost float over powder, as the downward force of the ski is so light, Similarly, in spring slush conditions a wider ski will travel over the surface of slush much more effectively than a thinner ski, which will tend to sink in. Think of water skis – they need to be wide, as water offers little support.
The torsional or flexing rigidity of wide skis is better than standard width skis. This is because the wide ski has a larger structure, which adds to its rigidity. Torsional rigidity occurs in many situations, such as cars with a removable roof. With the roof in place, it adds to the structural rigidity of the chassis, making the car handle better.
However, removing the roof and the whole chassis will flex affecting the handling characteristics of the car. With good torsional rigidity, wide skis perform well on groomed and hardpack snow conditions.
Advances in wide ski technology have also included bindings and manufacturers now routinely attach bindings specifically designed for wide skis. The bindings are wider and more rigid, spreading further across the ski, which makes it easier for the skier to roll the ski onto its edge.
The bindings are often also raised off the ski surface with a plate, which enables the skier to have more leverage going into turns.
Wide Ski Disadvantages
With their superior surface area, wide skis excel on powder however the downside is that it is difficult to exert enough force through the edges to corner effectively. Manufacturers soon realized these limitations and created the best compromise they could find. These new all-around skis are wider, so they perform well in powder but at the same time have a narrow waist for better cornering.
Frequent powder skiers concluded that the advantages of wide skis could only be gained when skiing on at least a foot of fresh snow. More often the hillside will be already tracked, and the skier will actually be skiing on the firmer surface of the older snowfall underneath the fresh powder. This consequently makes the advantages of the wider skis redundant.
Additionally, the action/reaction force, which is a product of the third law of motion, pushes back up to the skier through the ski and into the leg. With a wider ski, this force is transferred from the edge of the ski, which is wider than the boot. This results in the skier adopting a knock-kneed position and other detrimental postures that aren’t ideal for good skiing practice.