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Exclusive: You want to know what is going on in the US ski market? All you have to do is look at the automotive industry.

Sedans.jpeg
You want to know what is going on in the US ski market? All you have to do is look at the automotive industry. There was a time when sedans and wagons ruled the American automotive landscape. The best selling cars for years at the high water mark in the late 1970’s were the Oldsmobile Cutlass with over 520,000 sold a year. Recently, the Toyota Camry, with sales under 295,000, represents a drop of over 40% in car sales. In that time, the top SUV, the RAV4, had high sales in the 450K range. Other options like the Honda CRV and Nissan Rogue had stratospheric numbers. All of these SUV sales are at the cost of sedan sales, with the wagon sales all but gone for a quarter century.

Why have the SUV sales dominated? Simply, image. In reality, there is nothing that the vast majority of SUV’s can do that a sedan and specifically a deceased wagon can do in real world environments. The get worse fuel economy, they handle worse, they are more expensive to maintain. As far as storage? Most are significantly smaller inside than the long gone sedans they replace. Four wheel drive and ground clearance? Pffft, I got through a few Tahoe winters with a front wheel drive Volkswagen TDI equipped with winter tires and never had an issue.

How does this relate to skiing? Well like all the SUV’s you see on the road, look at what people are skiing. The vast majority are on skis well over 90 mm underfoot. Why? Ego and the fore mentioned image, pure and simple. Like people buying an SUV to go off road, which they rarely do, people buy wider skis for conditions they hope to ski, which most rarely see in all but the best seasons. I am not even going to address the skiers skiing on 110+ skis as their daily driver, these are the ski equivalent of a jacked up SUV with 24” bling wheels.

How did we get here? Where did it start? What is the chicken and what is the egg? Great questions. Was it the Salomon Xscream, Volant PowerKarve or Rossignol Bandit? How about the original Volkl Explosiv or Mantra? You can ask 10 industry experts and get 12 different answers that might be one of the skis I mentioned or a slew of other viable skis.

For me, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when a recently defunct magazine did a “Frontside Ski Comparison Test” that included 13 skis in which all but three were over 90mm underfoot. Let that sink in. When you’re thinking of what a frontside ski is, you would think a ski that excels mostly on piste and with that groomers and some bumps & trees. To me that is NOT a 94 mm wide ski. Now, I cannot fully put all the blame on said magazine, some has to be put right on the shoulders of the brands. I know how this particular magazine set up their test, they had their categories and asked the brands what skis they want to submit. Could the magazine have had better criteria like “Frontside Skis 80-90mm Underfoot”? Yes. I know brands that submitted a 94 mm ski when they had a much more viable 84 mm ski that was a significantly better ski for the segment. When I approached that brand, they said the 94 mm ski will outsell that 84 mm offering 10:1 even if the 84 mm ski was indeed better.

Buying a ski for the conditions you hope to ski verses conditions you actually ski.

Author skiing in varied terrain on the 85mm Atomic Redster Q9.8
I believe the 80-90 mm is very well the most important segment in the industry, and it is also the most ignored, dismissed and overlooked one. Some of our readers will say that no one needs a ski over 80mm underfoot as a daily ski, yes there is an argument to be made there. The original Volkl SnowRanger was a powder ski at a whopping 78 mm underfoot! If you want a narrower ski, you have my blessing, and personally I err to a 77 mm ski as an everyday ski in Tahoe, a region that will get 4 feet of snow, followed by 4 weeks of sun. I want a ski for those 4 weeks.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, following the car industry. Gone are cars like the Chevy Malibu, Ford Fiesta, Focus and Fusion, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon, Volkswagen Passat and others. The Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger are soon to follow all in favor SUV’s to replace them. Fortunately ski brands still produce narrower skis, but they are not on the ski walls of shops so, do we blame the shops? How responsible are they to have to educate the consumer? When someone comes in looking for that “all mountain” 94 mm ski, it is better to ask, what binding do you want on it as compared to “Have you considered this 84 mm system ski because where you ski, it will be a better ski”. The customer will be polite, say they will do some research then bee-line to the next shop and buy that 94 mm ski that wanted. It is the same at the car dealer when it is suggested that the sport wagon is a better option over the SUV. The customer is off to the next dealer to buy the SUV.

Where does this leave us?

Yes, skiing is about personal expression, but my point here is to make you think about this: Is the ski marketed to you, the best option for what you actually need for a day-to-day tool? I will close with what I used to tell my car customers, “Don’t be the grandparents that buy the 7 passenger SUV because the grandkids come in once a month.” So to you, I will reiterate, “Buy a ski for the conditions you actually ski versus conditions you hope to ski, and damn the marketing."
About author
Philpug
I started skiing in the mid-70s in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania; from then on, I found myself entrenched in the industry. I have worked in various ski shops from suburban to ski town to resort, giving me a well-rounded perspective on what skiers want from their gear. That experience was parlayed into my time as a Gear Review Editor and also consulting with manufacturers as a product tester. Along with being a Masterfit-trained bootfitter I am a fully certified self proclaimed Gear Guru. Not only do I keep up with the cutting edge of ski gear technology, but I am an avid gear collector and have an extensive array of bindings as well as many vintage skis.

Replies

I would agree with the importance of the 80mm+ ski for everyday packed snow conditions. But, I also know a few skiers that only go skiing when there is enough new snow to float around, and they tend to jump off things… The wide skis are liked by some because of the stability when landing. Some skiers don’t care about the groomed runs.
 
Phil's not saying that wider skis don't have their place - they certainly do, BUT ..... they often are in reality a specialty ski that do not fit the conditions the average skier is on most of the time. And just for contrast, I'm currently in a space where anything in the mid to high 70s waist is my phat ski for softer snow i.e. not an acolyte of the 80s sweet spot.
 
I would agree with the importance of the 80mm+ ski for everyday packed snow conditions. But, I also know a few skiers that only go skiing when there is enough new snow to float around, and they tend to jump off things… The wide skis are liked by some because of the stability when landing. Some skiers don’t care about the groomed runs.
As you said, a few. I rarely make the exception, the rule. I also said...
“Buy a ski for the conditions you actually ski versus conditions you hope to ski,
So, if they are skiing those condtions, so be it.
 
@Philpug - would you say that the same level of build is placed in a Kanjo that the Mantra gets? This is the insidious push to get skiers on the wider & wider boards. I’d agree 80-90 is the sweet spot at the moment, but the builds are often 5-10 years back.
 
Slight thread drift - talking to new skiers about hybrid ski set-ups. After much discussion, I ask them to buy the ski package for realistic terrain and conditions. Most 50:50 touring set-ups in reality more like 90:10. Similarly, wide skis, 110 and wider are for aspirational snow conditions.
 
I am not sure what you are asking here.
In many instances, the mid 80s are floppy & the only way to get a legit build is width. I loved the Solly Q(uest) Lab @ 109, so I thought the Q85 would be a logical step- I was horribly disappointed.
 
In many instances, the mid 80s are floppy & the only way to get a legit build is width. I loved the Solly Q(uest) Lab @ 109, so I thought the Q85 would be a logical step- I was horribly disappointed.
The narrow wide skis, skis from a freeride collection that are brought narrower tend to be but on the flip side, wide narrow skis like the Atomic Q9.8 and Head eTitan are as strong as their narrower siblings.
 
Joking aside there is a trend of people getting longer wider skis, that really does not make sense. As a result we see a lot of kids on these rockered phat skis who struggle to link turns and they grow up into adults with some bad habits. All my kids learned to ski on narrow skis with a 67 waist, we used to buy the kids multi-event race skis which had a traditional sandwich construction and overall build compared to most of the kids skis out there. As my kids got older they all got into freeride and mostly ski off piste which does not lend itself to frontside skis. That said they each developed their own quiver of skis ranging from mid 80's to 110+ ... and oh yes we still have some mid-60s frontside carvers but they rarely get used. We always travel with a quiver to Freeride comps and family vacations because have the right skis for the right conditions does make a difference ... oh and it is also a lot of fun.
 
I thought SUVs were classified as trucks, and hence could have high emissions and a lower cost to manufacture.

What's missing from the conversation is turning radius. It's just as important as width.
 
I have both quivers, cars and skis. I skied two days on 98’s at the home mountain, Timberline in WV. I skied 98’s in Utah and Wyoming about 9 days. The rest of the season was spent demoing Ax Laser 78 I believe and Rossi Experience Basalt 88. I almost stole the Stockli’s and was disappointed by the Rossi.

The other sixty or so days were on Head iRally or a newer pair of eRally, 78 underfoot.
 
I'll play. My automotive quiver are all 'front side carvers'. And by that I mean under 75mm too. Actually had all four of them out last week. And much like my front side skis, they all have a different way of performing the task at hand. Three RWD and one AWD, an inline 4, boxer 4, inline 6 and a turbo boxer 4. Each has a very different feel but most importantly ALL are great FUN! Just like the skis...

Words not spoken where I live;
Truck
SUV
Automatic trans
Dual clutch trans
EV

* Number of days I've skied my K2 Pontoons (130mm)... two mornings!
 
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In many instances, the mid 80s are floppy & the only way to get a legit build is width. I loved the Solly Q(uest) Lab @ 109, so I thought the Q85 would be a logical step- I was horribly disappointed.
This is my beef/frustration. The skis I prefer (narrow wide) fall in this category so one's option is to go with something not very playful in the 80 mm range (Kendo, Brahma, Enforcer 88) or go wider (Faction cult, Rossi Blackops 98, Line Optic 96, Ranger 96). It wouldn't sell but I'd love a Line Blade 80, Rossi Blackops 88, Line Optic 86, etc. with same top-shelf build as their wider brothers.

And, Mountain Bikes fall in this same category with so many riding Enduro bikes on newly built, buffed out flow trails. My Yeti SB115 may be outdated but talk about the right tool for the job!
 
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^yes!!!

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* there’s a ton of caveats here, yet my goto ski has been the Corvus when not carving / coaching. I’d love a Corvus 90, but for now I’ll accept the compromises.
Sign me up! I had and sold the Corvus and regret it today. Was a riot in my favorite part of ski season (Vermont in mid-March to late April) but the SkiTalker in me kept going back to it being too wide. I would be all over a narrower Corvus or Nordica Unleashed, Salomon Blank, etc.

The underserved and discriminated against "East of the Mississippi" minority has spoken...
 
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Absolutely correct and everything in this article, it is far easier to slide wide short fat Gees around for those who do not really know how to ski BUT I think they are very cool.
 

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