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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.

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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

It is nice to walk into my local shop here in New Mexico and see some narrower offerings from Fischer and Head, and not just all wide skis. But this isn't CO or UT, either.
 
> 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.

The reality today is that unless you have a 4WD/AWD you will be stopped on the way to the mountain to put chains on. I used to drive to the mountains in snow storms in a Miata with snow tires and the top down (my. skis were too long for the top to be up). That is impossible today with highway restrictions. And car manufacturers aren't making many 4WD/AWD sedans. So you kinda need an SUV as an easy choice. I'd rather a wagon, and there are a few decent ones., but for sure an order or two of magnitude less than SUVs.
 
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> 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.

It's the only segment I can't stand. I'd rather be < 80 mm or > 90 mm. YMMW.
 
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.
From the reviews I have been reading, unless you want a serious carving ski, this seems to be the case in many instances. Many of the 84mm skis just don't seem to have the performance of their wider siblings.
 
Brian Finch pretty much said what I was thinking. Now I do have a pair of Nordica Dobermann Spitfire RB 80 carving skis that are dynamite on hard snow; but if I hit loose chop, not so much. I started with the Nordica Enforcer 100 (to replace my old 203 Dynastar's) and I agree with Phil that along with the stellar reviews I was thinking having a ski I could go back country with my buddy occasionally. It makes a great daily driver; but right now, I'm seriously looking at the Peak 88 by Bode as a daily driver and leave the Enforcer 100's for those days with the big heavy PNW dump for plowing through anything. The Peak 98 and 104 sound great too, but I am thinking 88 would be a good way to go. Thoughts??
 
> 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.

It's the only segment I can't stand. I'd rather be < 80 mm or > 90 mm. YMMW.
I am reading more reviews on this segment and seeing some terrific options available. Like K2 Disruption 82 Ti, Head Supershape e-Titan, Elan Wingman 86CTi, Head Core 87, Blizzard Brahma 88, Nordica Enforcer 88, Salomon Stance 90, Atomic Maveric 88Ti, Fischer RC One 82 CT and of course the Peak 88. Many of these seem to be very stout skis, some are toned down from their wider siblings; but several stand on their own.
 
One thing I have noticed in reviews in general is that they are primarily aimed at a vastly different skier than myself. The reviewers are all talking about a touring ski, a park ski. I am not doing any touring, and I'm not doing tricks or getting big air anymore either. I can't afford to Heli-ski or take a half dozen ski vacations and the big fat powder ski to go with that. I have plenty of off piste available with lift access when the snow is right, which in the PNW won't likely be this year, but I need a ski that can push through chop and crud, carve a groomer, turn through a few moguls and when we do get 6-10" of fresh, be able to deal. In a ski I also need stability at speed, some level of versatility.
The industry does seem to be making a strong push in the 88-102 width aka All Mountain narrow; but even in this it seems stronger for the 90-102, however; not nearly as big a push as the 100-110 All Mountain mid-fat.
There are some excellent sounding 88-90 width skis available (having not personally skied them I am relying on reviews, and I read several sources) made by top brands like Peak, Volkl, Head, Blizzard, Elan, K2, Fischer, Salomon, Nordica, Atomic, Stockli, Rossignol, Dynastar, Armada, Faction and many of the more boutique brands.

Folks east of the Rockies don't need a 106 for a daily driver and fact is that most of the ski areas in America are east of the Rockies! (Disclaimer I live in Seattle.) Eight out of the Top 10 states with the most ski areas in America are there- NY (52,) MI (39,) WI (33,) NH (26,) PA (26,) VT (24,) MN (20,) ME (20) [CO #4 w/31, CA 4-way tie w/ 26 round out the top 10.]
Add other areas east of the Rockies and that adds another 48 ski areas. Other west states [ID 18, MT 16, WA & UT 15, OR 11, WY 10, NM 8, NV 5, AZ 3] add 101 to the 57 in CO & CA. Give or take a few from these numbers and it still comes out 262 areas east, 158 areas west, so why the emphasis on a ski best used in 3-4 states in the west?
Answer-big destination resorts and big dreams of deep pow.
Reality is a 75-90 width ski will work best for most skiers most days and in the most likely conditions they will regularly face.

All your major brands put out a pretty good ski in these widths; but wider (90-106) still seems to be the focus of reviewers, and the buying public and where many of the best performing and top rated skis reside. (Pure carvers living in an elite category of their own.)
 
I am reading more reviews on this segment and seeing some terrific options available.
Oh, no doubt! That width somehow hasn't jived with me and I haven't looked hard into it either. My quiver's widths are 66, 69, 78, 94, 97, 98, 98, 107, 118, 124. I'm only an SR 95 and something-something 96 away from a 5-ski quiver in a 5 mm range :roflmao:which seems like a more fun situation.
 
So I drive a Volvo XC wagon in which I often pass a lot of people at Mammoth in SUV’s with tires far too wide /low aspect ratio for snow .( Are there skis all wide too?)
I also prefer skis in the sub 85mm class. The Volvo is a Swiss Army knife-it does a lot of things well but isn’t outstanding in any one thing other than safety. Unless one wants to bring a full quiver, you either guess ( educated) at the right ski for the day or go for the Swiss Army knife and rely on your skill .
Great insights into something that has confounded me for awhile. Also, wagons like narrow skis are far more popular in Europe than here. Go figure.
 
So I drive a Volvo XC wagon in which I often pass a lot of people at Mammoth in SUV’s with tires far too wide /low aspect ratio for snow .( Are there skis all wide too?)
I also prefer skis in the sub 85mm class. The Volvo is a Swiss Army knife-it does a lot of things well but isn’t outstanding in any one thing other than safety. Unless one wants to bring a full quiver, you either guess ( educated) at the right ski for the day or go for the Swiss Army knife and rely on your skill .
Great insights into something that has confounded me for awhile. Also, wagons like narrow skis are far more popular in Europe than here. Go figure.
The problem is Coastal CA people have vehicles not equipped for winter weather, and the CA traction law doesn't help either. It's probably more akin to wrong structure and wrong wax on the base.

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There are wide/low profile Winter Tires available, like the Michelin Pilot Alpin's.

My SUV does just fine in the Sierra mountains and San Bernadino mountains.... and can make it from LA to Bishop on 1 tank of gas, which includes having a cargo box on the roof, and haul myself and 3 other people in comfort.

The Michelin CrossClimate2 isn't the swiss Army knife of tires, since it struggles in fresh Sierra cement, but it's perfectly home on plowed roads. So, now it's back to 2 sets of wheels/tires for me, just a minus-2 sizing for the ski season.
 
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The problem is Coastal CA people have vehicles not equipped for winter weather, and the CA traction law doesn't help either. It's probably more akin to wrong structure and wrong wax on the base.

View attachment 221767

There are wide/low profile Winter Tires available, like the Michelin Pilot Alpin's.

My SUV does just fine in the Sierra mountains and San Bernadino mountains.... and can make it from LA to Bishop on 1 tank of gas, which includes having a cargo box on the roof, and haul myself and 3 other people in comfort.

The Michelin CrossClimate2 isn't the swiss Army knife of tires, since it struggles in fresh Sierra cement, but it's perfectly home on plowed roads. So, now it's back to 2 sets of wheels/tires for me, just a minus-2 sizing for the ski season.
I’ve seen those Alpins they are nice but the aspect ratio seems too low. The problem with wide tires on a passenger car is like wide skis they tend to float . They might work ok on a plowed road but in snow much deeper than 2” it’s a lbit too much in my opinion and experience - you want to sink down to the pavement for optimal traction not float above it. Steering is improved as well . All of our snow tires were /are narrower by 30-40 mm -sometimes more- than “ summer” tires.
I grew up in rural New England on a gravel ( dirt) road that was the last plowed . Snow has never given me a problem in 4WD, FWD ,
or RWD and I made extra money as a kid running a snowplow on an F-250 with a granny gear. Mud however, scares the hell out of me- been stuck very bad in mud more times than I can remember.
 
I’ve seen those Alpins they are nice but the aspect ratio seems too low. The problem with wide tires on a passenger car is like wide skis they tend to float . They might work ok on a plowed road but in snow much deeper than 2” it’s a lbit too much in my opinion and experience - you want to sink down to the pavement for optimal traction not float above it. Steering is improved as well . All of our snow tires were /are narrower by 30-40 mm -sometimes more- than “ summer” tires.
I grew up in rural New England on a gravel ( dirt) road that was the last plowed . Snow has never given me a problem in 4WD, FWD ,
or RWD and I made extra money as a kid running a snowplow on an F-250 with a granny gear. Mud however, scares the hell out of me- been stuck very bad in mud more times than I can remember.
It's not the aspect ratio or width that makes them more in deep snow. It's that the tread is not open enough to dig into the snow and pack enough snow for snow on snow traction. It's the equivalent of wearing cleats when you're playing football or soccer on a grass field versus wearing running snows. Shoes may be the same size and width, but the lugs on the shoe tread are totally different.

having larger voids will sacrifice handling on cold, dry surfaces.

With mud, the reason why mud tires have large open voids is to clear mud from the tread to allow the tread lugs to dig down and grip, versus a more highway based all-terrain tire that can get packed up with mud and then not provide traction.
 
So I did a little research and it seems that your assertion is right although most of the articles are fairly recent. Don’t know if the narrower is better theory has been “coasting” for awhile. As for mud, I’d speculate that wet snow is effectively not much different- wet snow compacts and clogs treads even more so as the snow tire treads are more closely spaced than dedicated “ mud tires”. I’ve seen this for years in early spring snow - spinning snow tires with snow packed treads. And we haven’t even gotten into the relative merits of tire pressure yet. :roflmao:Hint: tires are rarely at the optimal pressure in cold weather. Anyway, when it comes to safety I’m always happy to keep currrent. :D
 

Single width in that movie ... and they go anywhere , on any snow , whatever thickness of powder ... ''frontside'' or ''backside'' :)
I still ski on these skis and the reasons they sell you wider is :
a) they need money and they get it by saying you need a ''new'' ski that will be easier to turn .;)
b) you are not good enough to handle anything coming your way with a narrower ski .:eek:
 
I feel the same way about cycling. It's all about the halo and corner case riding. TdF and Red Bull sells.
 
My Jeep is on 37" MT's, my truck on 35" AT's. I ski a 104 UF 80% of the days with a 122 being my widest and a 102 narrowest. I've never owned or skied anything under 96mm (since I was a teenager anyway). Piste is the connecting highway between my ideal runs.

Today is day 94 this season. A May powder day. I'll be on 112's. Somehow I've both survived the roads and slopes with my ill fitted offerings.

I've spent a lot of hours scouring the internet for a manual transmission AWD wagon. Times have changed. Maybe I'll buy a 90mm ski next year, but only if i can find a fast, capable AWD sedan to go with it. I yearn for a manual transmission.....

Good riddance to old, slow, shitty sedans dying off. Life's too short to drive something that boring or ski something as one dimensional as a frontside carver.

Flame suit on.....
 
Owned a 6 speed RWD BMW 3 series for 13 years. Sold it to someone who will appreciate it more. I now drive the 4Runner I bought as a backup for when the BMW was down or for places it wouldn’t go; forest service roads to trailheads or wintry mountain passes.

As often as I hear that sub 80mm skis are the way to go for technical excellence and no one needs to ski over 90mm on any day that isn’t a deep day, hardly anyone skiing off piste on chair 6 at Crystal, the backside of Stevens or anywhere on Baker has a sub 100mm ski. And there are some seriously good skiers on that terrain (yeah, I know one person who posts on here skis Baker on mid 80mm skis).

I guess people really like their SUVs. I know I like mine.
 

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