Tuesday, February 4, 2014

ayyyyyyy....

What, you don't wanna be the best you can be?

As the American culture continues its canter along the path of selfish lazy entitlement attitudes, sports equipment must follow suit.

In alpine skiing, the average skiing consumer has insisted that skis must make a tough condition easier.  This is because the average skier has low skills and without equipment dumbing things down for him, he can't access much of the mountain without feeling like the no-talent hack he is.

Or she is.  I don't mean to be male-centric here, and I'm trying to not smash women's egos by suggesting they too --on average-- lack skills.  Saints be praised, women tend to be a little more humble than men (and girls, than boys) on the issue of athletics, ability, and ego mixing at once.  Women tend not to over-estimate their skills and in many cases tend to well under-estimate their present status and prospect for improvement.  Humility reigns among female athletes just as readily as egocentrism and arrogance dominate in the male spectrum.

Two customers come into a ski shop at the same time, but separately.  A man.  And a woman.  Both around 35 - 40 yrs old.  Perhaps older, even.  Depends on your area's demographic.

The man will come in and look immediately at the Top Of The Line boots and skis, imagining they're made for him in his High Accomplishment status.  He's not looking because curious, he's looking because they are Made For Him.

The woman will browse and might wonder why the color schemes aren't more complementary.  She'll leave the suitability question to the shop employee.

It's a low traffic day at the shop and one shop employee will handle both customers at the ski wall.

He approaches the woman first.  "How's it going?  Did you ski yesterday?"

"Yes, it was a little cold and I was struggling with the snow conditions.  I just moved here from Chicago and I am used to skiing well-groomed snow on even fall lines.  The mountain is pretty unforgiving here."

"It can be tough.  It helps to remember that changing conditions eventually make you a better skier, but that's not much of a help when you're struggling.  What skis are you on now?"

At this point the man interjects.  He's been eavesdropping and can't resist the chance to prove his manliness.

"I'm on the Volkl Mantra, and I find they just don't want to turn in these conditions."

The shop employee knows diplomacy, and he brings the discussion around to neutral ground.

"I can probably help both of you at once since you both are looking for something that is more suitable to our terrain and conditions.  If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to hear her answer on her present gear.  I can then talk to both of you at once, since I already know you're on the Mantra."

The woman waits for Mantra Man to maybe interject again, and then offers:  "they're some model of K2, an all-mountain ski, not real fat.  I got them mainly for skiing at Boyne."

Shop employee knows most mid-girth skis designed for "all-mountain" use and sold in the past few seasons were pretty standard skis dimensionally, geometrically and camber-wise, and he knows that skiing them in 3-D snow requires a bit more skill than most recreational skiers have.  He knows that a few companies have been working hard to deliver Skiing Ease(not yet TM) to the recreational skier approaching 3-D snow.  Shop employee moves over to the Rossignol skis on the wall, and grabs a Soul 7 and a Savory 7 in sizes appropriate for the two customers.

"We've made a lot of customers happy with this particular Rossignol, especially customers who found their previous skis difficult in the more challenging ungroomed conditions we routinely have up on the hill."

The woman brightens up significantly and, in a moment of hesitation, observes:  "they look awfully wide compared to my current skis."

The man is already scowling.  "Rossignol.  They make rental skis."

*****************

Let's look at what Rossignol says about the Savory 7 (women's) and Soul 7 (men's) skis.  This is marketing fluff.  It's not really a technical description of the ski or its terrain suitability.  It's a description of the image Rossignol imagines the typical customer trying to achieve, as a projection of the self standing in the lift line with these skis on his/her feet.

The future of freeride is here. A revolutionary fusion of backcountry, freestyle, and freeride performance, the all-new Savory 7 is the most versatile women's freeride ski we've ever designed. Powder Turn Rocker's been redesigned, virtually eliminating "tip flap" while retaining effortless floatation, fatigue-free maneuverability and instant speed control. New athlete-driven innovation includes patented Air Tip technology and a lightweight paulownia core, reducing weight by 20% for easier touring, enhanced agility, and ultra-light swing weight. At 106mm underfoot, the Savory 7 is a "do-it-all" backcountry and freeride ski whether ripping all-mountain, exploring sidecountry stashes, or taking on long ascents.
80% Powder / 20% All-Mountain

The future of freeride is here. A revolutionary fusion of backcountry, freestyle, and freeride performance, the all-new Soul 7 is the most versatile freeride ski we've ever designed. Powder Turn Rocker's been redesigned, virtually eliminating "tip flap" while retaining effortless floatation, fatigue-free maneuverability and instant speed control. New athlete-driven innovation, including patented Air Tip technology and a lightweight paulownia core reduces weight by 20% for easier touring, enhanced agility, and ultra-light swing weight. At 106mm underfoot, the Soul 7 is a backcountry and freeride "quiver-killer" whether charging all-mountain, attacking long ascents, or poaching backcountry pow.
80% Powder / 20% All-Mountain

Astonishing differences, eh?

How are these skis actually different?

Different name. Different top skin graphics.

How are the graphics different? Let's see how Rossignol's refined market research has discerned What People Want.

Men's, Soul 7


Women's, Savory 7


And here you thought I was being a misogynist when I said the woman customer is checking out color schemes and possible coordination of those palette selections.

******************

We're finished with shop employee's sales pitch.  Now it's time to talk about the two customers and why they are having a tough time in 3-D snow.

Go ride the chair at a mountain with significant ungroomed snow conditions and you'll see a wide variety of low-skilled people.  My humble estimate would be that even at a mountain that has a reputation for being an expert skier's hill, 90-95% of skiers are hacks.

Here's the truth:  most skiers judge their skill NOT by their actual skill portfolio, but instead by what run they survived without feeling like they embarrassed their self.  For some skiers that's "not falling down" and for others it's "not falling more than ___ times."

Very, very few skiers know how to ski well, and most skiers would think they are slaying some pitch when they're klutzing their way down the hill.

In the case of Mantra Man above, he got Mantras because he heard Volkls are badass expert skis, and he considers himself a badass expert.  He thinks this because where he used to ski before moving west, he routinely skied the Black Diamond rated runs.

Most Difficult

By which I mean, he klutzed his way down the Black Diamond runs, and assumed that made him one of the mountain's "experts."  Because he rarely fell.

Naturally, after reading online forum discussions (TGR, EpicSki), he knew he should be on a "charger" because he imagined himself a "charger."

An accomplished ski instructor or race coach would rate Mantra Man a low intermediate at best.  And would find it tough to break that news to him without offending him.  Usually the instructor or coach would have to dance around the news with emphasis of what few things Mantra Man does right.

"You're comfortable moving down the hill, rather than fighting it."

This one means the skier in question likes to go much faster than his skills warrant.  He's a danger to himself and others.

"You show great athleticism."

This one means the skier in question uses awkward moves to achieve directional changes or to slow down/stop, yet manages to avoid falling as often as a person with absolutely no coordination would fall.  Again, generally, a danger to himself and others.

****************

Mantra Man can't make his skis turn because he doesn't know how to make a turn, even though he fancies himself a "charger" and an "expert" due to poor self-appraisal and tremendous ego-salve.  The reason his Mantras manhandle him is that he's a low-intermediate, skills-wise, on a ski designed for someone with high skills refinement.

****************

The ski industry's mantra (no pun intended) is GROWTH and the goal is reached by selling more skis (and boots and, to a much lesser extent, bindings - poles - goggles - helmets) and getting more skiers onto the resort dynamic.  More lift tickets sold.  More nights in expensive slopeside lodging/condos.

Ski instruction plays a tiny, almost negligible role in most resort operations.  The bigger the resort, the bigger the ski school and usually, the more accomplished the instructor at the ski school.  Yet the percentage of skiers who will take lessons remains dismally small.

This is because of the American cultural model of selfish entitlement and consumerism.  You're expected to just become a better skier through more ski days, and/or through buying newer, presumably better gear.

The question is, what is "better"?

For most skiers, that means "makes me feel more accomplished" rather than "having a better set of skiing skills to enable adaptation to varying conditions."

And so, skis have evolved to enable this "more accomplished" feeling.  Modern skis like the Rossignol Soul 7 / Savory 7 let a low-intermediate ski 3-D snow with a narrow skill set.  As a result, more of the hill is skied by more skiers.

Though the skill level remains quite low, on average.  Your chances of being taken down from behind, by a skier who is hauling ass (relative to skill level) and out of control, are much higher now.  The parts of the mountain where you can ski freely without worrying about Hackamore Henry and Listless Lisette are shrinking.

The thinly-populated parts of the mountain now are like a suburban freeway, with lousy drivers hauling ass and creating close calls because they're entitled to haul ass and be distracted and possess low skills.  They have a sporty, fast car and they're gonna use it to its fullest.  NASCAR is mainstreamed now.  Top Gear assures them that this $65k wondercar makes them a badass on the road, and they're living the dream.

*************

Please go back up and click on the link at "don't want to turn" and read that post, as well as the following ones, describing the Volkl Mantra's changes for the next ski season.

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