Letter Response to Inside Tracks Article Analyzing Powder Skis
I found this article quite interesting, as my desire to improve my powder skiing is what first attracted me to new ski technology and led to my purchase of the Volant Chubb in Nov. 1996. Later, I had the opportunity to demo many all-mountain/midfat skis and then purchased the Volant Power Ti in May 1999. My son Adam also demoed about 15 skis over the past 2 seasons (I bought him the Salomon X-Free in May 2000) and has a slightly different perspective.
We would define the groups by waist width slightly differently than your article. Widest are the Powder Ride/Heli Star at 100+. We view these as specialized tools for cat/heli operators to offer to clients with minimal powder experience. Adam had one of these at RK Heli and disliked it as he felt it detracted from the powder experience. They planed on the surface so there was little sensation of what I found to be outstanding powder on my 90mm wide Chubbs. The ability of the Chubbs to handle windslab, breakable crust, Sierra Cement, etc. makes it hard for me to imagine why anyone would want to go wider than 90mm. for powder or backcountry conditions.
The next group, Volant Machete, K2 AK Launcher (I think there's a also Salomon AK Rocket) is specialized in a different way, specifically to the conditions of the Chugach in Alaska. If you watch the ski films, you notice that the dense snow and steepness of the Valdez terrain results in high speed skiing in the untracked snow. Thus wide waist for the untracked is combined with beefy construction for the high speed. The Rossi Bandit XXX is often classified with this group, which as a whole tend to be 84-92mm wide at the waist. The new Chubbs fit this dimension but have a more forgiving reputation. Most reviewers seem to think skiing one of these in a resort setting is like driving a Formula 1 racer in rush hour traffic.
From here there seems to be a big drop in width down to the all-mountain group at 66-74mm. By personal observation these skis do just fine in fresh powder and are a lifesaver in the chopped powder/powder over moguls conditions which are typical of resort skiing as more terrain gets tracked out during the day. My Power Ti's are at the wide end of this range to make life easier in these variable conditions. Stronger skiers such as Adam believe that tip width is what's important for powder and like the more aggressive sidecut for quicker turns in other conditions. We believe that the all-mountain skis handle light Rocky Mountain powder as well as their wider counterparts with perhaps more of the floating/face shot sensations.
Where the wider skis like the Chubbs stand out is in the windslab, breakable crust, Sierra cement type conditions. They will also save your legs in on a cat/heli day where there might be several hundred vertical of low elevation crud to get through to reach a pickup point after skiing quality powder up higher. I can personally attest that a Chubb-like ski is a worthwhile investment for West Coast skiers who must deal with a wide range of untracked snow conditions. If I lived in the Rockies, I don't think it would be that necessary; the all-mountain ski would do just fine on nearly all powder days.
The new Salomon Supermountain is an intriguing ski to consider, as its 78mm waist falls between the two major groups, quite successfully according to your and other reviews.
Further demos during the 2001 season have confirmed a more recent Inside Tracks article noting the continuing trend to shorter lengths and the high importance of choosing the right length of shaped skis. Through the 1980's and most of the 1990's I skied Rossignol GS skis at 201-203 cm. My Chubbs are 180cm. and my Power Ti's are 188cm. Most of the all-mountain skis I demoed in 1999 and 2000 were in the 186-188 range and I found the 191 Rossi Bandit XX and the 193 K2 X-15 to be too long. In 2001 I demoed the new Atomic 11.20 at 180cm and was very impressed with its versatility and stability at a length I would have disdained a few years back. For reference I am 5' 11" and 170 lb. A similar sized friend on the same trip had the same favorable take on the Atomic 11.20 and found the 186 Salomon Supermountain to be too long. The sensitivity to length can be such that if there is a 10cm. spread between lengths, a particular skier may "belong" at the middle of the range on that ski and should look for a different ski where the available sizes match up better.