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  • by Karen Cummings

Hourglass skis are the shape of the future

Revolutionary new ski increases skills... Are you skiing more but enjoying it less? Are your skiing skills stuck in a rut? Could you, heaven forbid, be considered a terminal intermediate?

Note: This article was written back in 1995 for the '95-'96 Mountain Ear Winter Guide, but it seems even older than that. Though not a classic, it's funny in retrospect.

Well, Leslie B. Otten thinks he's found the answer to all your problems.

Yes, that same Leslie B. Otten who built Sunday River up from a four-lift, 70-acre ski area into the major player in eastern skiing that it is now and recently purchased Bartlett's Attitash Bear Peak--which is why it has the new name--plus Cranmore here and Sugarbush in Vermont.

Obviously in tune with what skiers want, he's turned his attention to what they travel down the slopes on, in addition to what they find at and on the slopes.

Last year, Sunday River, Sugarbush and Attitash Bear Peak became exclusive National Demonstration Centers for the new Elan SCX parabolic ski. This year, in addition to having them available for rentals, the three ski areas are so committed to introducing thei new product to skiers that they are featuring them at all learn-to-ski programs at the resorts this winter.

So, what's so great and what's so different about these new skis?

Well, first of all, they're pretty silly looking.

I took a clinic from Kevin Gagnon, the SCX product manager in skier development at Attitash Bear Peak, this past winter and I felt just a little foolish carrying the odd-shaped, multi-colored skis out on to the slopes. (The cosmetics of the skis have been changed to a more descreet maroon and black design.)

Designed to have three times the side cut (that's what the "SC" stands for) than a conventional ski, the Elan SCX is almost twice as wide as a conventional ski at the tip and tail and narrower in the middle. (The "X" stands for Experimental.)

"They're nicknamed the 'toons because of their cartoon-like appearance. They look like duck feet," said Gagnon. They made me feel like Clarabelle.

Now, if you recognize who Clarabelle was--the clown from the old 1950s "Howdy Doody" show--then these skis also might really be for you.

"These skis are perfect for the intermediate skier, for people coming back from injuries and for the older set," said Gagnon.

The older set. Ouch, that hurts, but if the shoe fits... Actually, like the Prince racket revolutionized tennis and was subsequently adopted by aging Baby Boomers as a way to improve their game, so should this new light-weight and shorter ski help improve the skiing skills of that huge chunk of the population.

Manufactured in Slovenia (don't ask me where that is), this revolutionary ski was first introduced in 1991 and test marketed in Europe in '92 and '93 and only introduced in the United States during the '93-'94 ski season at Okemo in Vermont and through the Aspen Ski School.

It met with rave reviews, according to Gagnon, who added that Otten became so enamored of the ski that he decided to make a full blown effort last season to introduce it to the public.

What it does with its 15 millimeter side cut is give those "terminal" intermediates the ability to truly carve a turn.

"It allows a person to get the sensation that the expert skier gets--what it feels like to carve a turn," said Gagnon.

The November Ski magazine said, "For novices, the hourglass ski is an accelerated learning tool... Put a little weight on one edge, and the ski naturally settles into a turn and crosses the hill."

It's this ability to carve a turn rather than sliding around one that separates the men from the boys, so to speak, in skiing skills.

"When put on edge properly," explained Gagnon, "the carvability of the ski is amazing."

Did it work? for the most part, as I looked back at my trail down Thad's Choice at Attitash, I had carved distinct lines in the snow rather than the big sweeping arcs as I normally do. I had a bit of trouble with the wider stance recommended to use the ski to its best advantage, but old habits are hard to break.

"The skier needs to be coached as to the movement needed [for the SCX]," said Gagnon, "but it is a minimal amount of coaching necessary."

Certainly, I had only to think turn and the ski was easily carving in the direction I wanted to go, a different sensation for me.

"You don't have to power the ski to make it turn," added Gagnon, "plus, being a lighter ski, it makes it much easier for those coming back from an injury to get back out there."

"It may look a little weird, but this ski isn't a gimmick," said Bob Harkins, director of skier development at Sunday River and a former U.S. Ski Team Coach. "This is a ski on which almost anyone can experience the feeling of a carved turn, almost from the moment they step on them.

"The carved turn is the essence of accomplished skiing and snowboarding," he added, "and the SCX's shape provides a tremendous opportunity to feel the ski work. It's a carving machine--one day on them you're doing things you've never been able to do before."

Designed to accelerate the learning process for developing skiers, the skis are also "lots of fun" for the expert skier, according to both Harkins and Gagnon.

"It's like a refresher course in the process of carving," said Harkins, "and it's a heck of a lot of fun."

"This ski is a confidence builder and if you feel better, you look better," said Gagnon.

Do I recommend trying them? Definitely, but I recommend taking a clinic--it'll make these silly, but effective, new skis work even better.

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