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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.

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
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.


grew up skiing Olin Mark IV's . I much prefer my Deathwish as a daily driver at Alta :ogbiggrin: (112 underfoot)
Thanks, Phil. This needed to be said, both about SUVs and skis.

When I went to replace my Volvo V70 wagon about 5 years ago, I really wanted to like one of the Subaru SUVs (Outback, Forrester), but like every other SUV I've driven, the ride is fatiguing, the handling mushy and imprecise, and they feel like they struggle to just go down the road. Not to mention the poor fuel economy and higher cost of maintenance. Most of my driving is highway (4 hours to the ski condo, ~10 to Tremblant, ~20 to Colorado) so a sedan or a wagon is the appropriate choice. When I fly and rent a car sometimes they give me an SUV, so I've driven several. Would much rather have real snow tires and FWD than an SUV.

As for skis, thankfully many manufacturers make race skis, where narrow is such an advantage that FIS specifies a minimum width, which is the width everybody races on. This technology spills over into their frontside carver skis in the mic-70s widths, so fortunately good skis are still out there. NASCAR, with it's 70s technology is not doing the same for cars.

I live in Michigan, and most shops don't even carry skis that are appropriate for the usual conditions here. As if you need 100mm when only 2 or 3 mm of the edge is in contact with the "snow".
I am a big fan of hatchbacks. Handle like a car, get very good gas mileage, and are almost as good at carrying stuff as a small SUV. There are currently 2 in my garage - wifes Mazda 3 and my BMW 4-series Gran Coupe. Wish there were more available.
My perspective is that educated, experienced, and above average # day (annual) skiers know what they like and to each their own. I appreciate a carved turn with the best of them but also spend my days on varied terrain, making all sorts of turn shapes/types, and even skiing techniques. Just don't take myself too seriously and am out to have fun. I find the current generation of narrow waisted skis (under 80 mm) not the best tool for me and my typical ski day and conditions. So, I tend to be on wider skis than suggested here but definitely in line with what you see on the hill in VT (for right or wrong). Works for me, I continue to try/demo narrow waisted skis to re-test my preferences, and my skis of choice are not ego or marketing driven. I'm not going to say my 87 mm to 100 mm waisted skis are as good on glare ice or carving at mach schnell but I also don't want to frequently ski those conditions in that manner. Mid-week, no people is another matter and I bring a different ski for those unique "it's all about the turn" lunch break sessions.

I do agree with the point that this is bigger issue for the less educated/experienced/frequency skier and that their choices are driven by industry trends (and not personal experiences and preferences). I'd also argue that these people are less concerned with skiing technique/improving and just are out for the "experience" and to have fun. Really not seeing any harm here either outside of they might find skiing easier and less fatiguing with a more appropriate ski.

In the end we need to take responsibility for our own decisions/actions and consumer beware....and stop suggesting that those on wider skis are only making skidded turns and "just need to learn how to ski/carve." I'm getting older but these sentiments make one sound really narrow minded and needing to get on some good wider skis to test your assumptions.
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And I drive a 8-cylinder Suburban because our 5 kids and Newfie can't fit in our Volvo V70 wagon! :)
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I live in the Midwest and ski both the mountains AND the Midwest. As others have mentioned, it really depends on where you ski most. I have a couple of pairs of narrower Blossom Skis which work perfect for both mountains and Midwest. With a higher percentage of hard pack snow in the Midwest, there is no way a wide ski is ideal. We laugh at skiers who come out with fat skis — they look like huge clown shoes flapping down hard-packed trails.
Anybody remember the Nordica SUV ski? I remember demoing them and thinking yow, that's some real truth in advertising.

It was like they took all the ponderousness and poor handling and uncomfortable ride of an SUV and applied it to a ski.

Ok it’s been awhile but you sucked me back in Phil. Interesting analogy between car industry and skiing and I agree. People are buying an image they want to project. Unfortunately skiers are also compensating for lack of skill in many cases because wider skis are easier to skid, er ski. It’s also the fast food syndrome vs preparing a healthy meal. One gives instant gratification without time or effort invested, the other takes time and effort to reap the rewards. Skiers used to strive to carve their turns. Back when skis had little side cut and they were much more difficult to carve, skiers saw carving as the goal, the epitome of skiing skill. Today very few care about technical skill. We are flooded with extreme skiing movies of bottomless powder and hucking big air. The trend in free skiing comps does seem to be returning to focus on technically sound skiing scoring more points but the general public has not caught up. It’s sad really, standing in the lift line on a “man made powder” day and seeing 90% of the skis in line over 90 mm wide under foot. 70% of these skiers are “vearing” down the runs by simply parking on the edges and going for the ride and the other 30% are content skidding controllably skiing the fast line slow. What happened to skill? What happened to the joy of carving? The thrill of skiing the slow line fast? Im glad I learned some skills and my knees are happy I use the appropriate tool for the conditions. It’s too bad many skiers never discover the joy of skiing the slow line fast.
Thank you for this article !

You are writing what I have been saying since 2005 or around .
The ''fat'' and ''short'' skis were supposed to help you ski better .
Sit down in the lodge and look at the slopes : the people are skiing better ??
Really ??

And then , enjoy the ride on these gigantasmatic wide skis .
No fun to be had !

We could talk about the price for these obese planks ... once , it was racing skis that were expensive . Now , they argue that these wide skis are worth more because they handle better ... but they handle better what ??
If you ski in 2 feet of snow , I could give you the point .
But I would also ask you to watch the ski movies of the '80 where people were over their head on very narrow boards .

Do you want to ski better or to look sharp , trendy , in , fashion ?

I understand the manufacturers : what sells is the new stuff .
Whatever it is as long as it is trendy ... people will not see the difference because , basically , most of them don't ski that well .
They can't judge !!
And they are too proud to admit that simple fact .

I would go for a station wagon anytime ... I owned a few in my life .
It got me everywhere and , bonus , I could sleep in it .
Impossible to find one now ...

For skis , up to 18 months ago , I had 179 pairs of skis .
Yes , I am sick .
Except for 3 of them ( 2 being BBR ) , all were '80 and '90 skis and very narrow .
And long ... I do not ski shorter than 203 . Most are 210ish
My favorites being competition Spalding and Head .
I swear I could outski anyone my age on wide boards in any terrain .

Now I am old - older - and much poorer and I hurt everywhere .
But I still ski 4 or 5 days a week , going as fast as possible .
Most of the time on hardpack as I live in the wonderful world of taxes , fees and duties : Québec .
On the slopes , I can hear skiers coming , their wide , expensive , boards flapping ...
No powder , guys !
Who sold you that combo ?

I will probably die before I see a new station wagon or a narrow 210 cm ski on sale .

For now , I picked-up 2 pairs in my inventory . I will buy new bindings . Have them installed .
And ski down hardpack ....
Having fun !
It is a scientific fact proven by several studies that wide skis on hardpack (groomed) slopes put undue strain on the ACLs, the wider the ski the more strain. On groomers my wide skis are 63 to 68 under foot and do they carve well. You can put water pipe in the trenches. 90% of skiing is done on groomers, when the 10% powder shows up and it is 1foot plus or more deep I rent the fat boys---when I heli ski I am on fat boys. I do not risk my ACLs with wide skis that do not carve.
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.
Mid 80's are floppy? Have you skied on a Brahma? Floppy isn't the word I would use to describe them
It's all about the right tool for the job. Seems like so much about buying equipment these days is about having skis for fantasy instead of reality. Powder days at Bachelor are so short I have to back to my car to switch skis. I don't know why I haven't burst out laughing at some poor clueless soul on really fat fully rockered skis on really hard pack snow with the tips and tails flapping like mad.
Many of the wide skis have more of a GS sidecut rather than the SL sidecut trend that came in fashion with the narrower short skis. I wonder if this is increasing the popularity of the wide skis; whether people are starting to realize that a GS radius is fun.
Interestingly, I haven't skied a single ski in the 89-90 mm category that I liked, though I have plenty of skis on either side of that chasm (from 78 down to 66 mm, and from 94 up to a rarely used 124 mm). I may be missing out, but I think that important segment is a dead spot for me. Maybe if you don't have the luxury to have many pairs of skis?
Interestingly, I haven't skied a single ski in the 89-90 mm category that I liked

Guessing a typo, and maybe you meant a bit greater range than 1 mm, so:

I kind of agree, though I liked a few pretty well, until I jumped onto the Rossi Exp 86ti.

I love those things.

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