A Few Thoughts on Slalom Skis

I love trying out new slalom skiing gear, particularly skis themselves. I’ve ridden more skis than most skiers (certainly more than anybody I ski with regularly), particularly in the last couple years. As such, I feel like I’m in a pretty good position to provide feedback and guidance on slalom ski selection for folks looking to get up into -28 and beyond. Over the past 3 seasons I’ve ridden, in this order (links are to videos I have of them):

2013 D3 Quest
2016 Radar Vapor Lithium*
2016 Goode Rev6*
2016 D3 ARC
2012 HO S2 (a quick revisit of an old friend)
2017 D3 NRG
2018 D3 EVO
2016 ARC-S*
2019 Radar Senate Pro
2019 Radar Vapor Pro Build*

I may have missed one or two, but that’s the general lineup right there. This represents lots of time and money, so hopefully I can provide some useful insight with that investment.

Acclimation

Here’s the deal: None of these skis took any acclimation to “get used to”. All of these skis ran -22/34 on the first crack out of the box with no problems. Some of those -22 passes were dreamy. All of these skis ran -28 eventually. Some ran -28 out of the box. Some ran it easily, some were a real struggle to figure out at -28. The skis with an asterisk ran into -32 on the first set right out of the box, for reference.

Speed and Line Length Matter Regarding How The Ski “feels”

If you’re running -15 at your max speed or less, or running -22, you may not even notice the differences from one ski to another. I think that’s really important to understand. Differences you may feel may not be relevant as the line shortens. Folks on forums asking about ski advice when they are “mainly free skiing” or running 30mph -15 passes need to understand that they are using a ski in a different capacity than -28 and shorter and traits from one ski to another don’t matter as much as they may think.

Characteristics of Good, Modern Skis

I feel that in the early ‘teens, slalom ski design took a turn for awesome, and since then everybody has been putting out really good stuff. In general the consistent themes have been skis that:

– Are made of carbon and feel tactile and soft on the water
– Turn left and right really easily, particularly with a near-automatic offside turn
– Will not lean-lock or put you in dangerous situations in the course
– Will grab huge angle out of a turn but hook up “softly”, AKA be “re-pointable” to some degree
– Can easily make up egregious errors with cross-course speed
– Generally run fine out of the box on stock settings with boot adjustments being the only adjustments needed

Further, skis that I really really like ALSO have a fairly automatic on-side turn. That’s a more rare trait these days and it’s a hobby horse for me since my approach to the onside turn is generally weak (coming from the offside pull, I’m working on that). I find myself swimming at 2 and 4 more than any other buoys, so I appreciate a little help if I come into those turns improperly. This trait makes the ski go from good to GREAT in my mind. The skis with the asterisks above all have this trait.

“Top of the Line” Slalom Skis Work Best For Me

You may notice that aside from that Senate Pro, all of my skis have been “top of the line” competition skis designed to run 41 off. I do not subscribe to the ethos of these high-end skis being “less stable” or “less forgiving”. I feel like this is a ridiculous but oft-repeated line of thought. Nothing makes me scratch my head more than someone saying “oh I’m buying this bigger/wider/less carbon/cheaper ski because it’s “more forgiving and stable”.

Based on my experience and observations there is no “penalty” for buying the top ski from any manufacturer. I can tell you right now that based on real experience of trying the Senate Pro and the Vapor Pro Build back to back that the latter is the more forgiving, stable ski. In fact, it’s the most stable, forgiving ski I’ve ever ridden.

Bottom Line

My advice (assuming my baseline assumptions of what you are working with) is to buy a new, top-of-the-line ski from any manufacturer if you’re serious about running the course and improving. Ignore the rest of the lineup of skis. My wife rides a Vapor Lithium at 26-32mph and wouldn’t give it up for the world. She went from not running buoys to consistently running them on that ski, night and day. If you cannot afford a brand new ski, then the starred skis above are my favorites (though I should include the Quest because that ski got me into -28 and when I look back at video of that ski it’s a damn fine, balanced turning machine that I’d love to revisit just for fun).

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