This Jaded Local originally appeared in the September 2015 (44.1) issue of POWDER.
Just as ski engineers have spent the last year secretly developing the cutting-edge new technology on display in this magazine, ski industry marketing staffers have been carefully crafting cutting-edge new terminology to market it with. Like the linguists employed by “Game of Thrones” to make up entire languages, marketers have created snappy-sounding words out of thin air to describe things like, “The front part is extra bent,” or, “It’s turny.”
The jargon is terrible, but there’s no denying the challenge of selling skis is miles more complicated than making them. We are, after all, talking about glued-together strips of wood, metal, and fiberglass. No moving parts (or at least none needed), no electronics (see previous parenthetical), no need at all for cutting-edge “technology” in the sense that most people use the word.
Yes, skis are amazing spirit-freeing wings that clamp to your feet, but in a more practical sense, they are actually very much like tires. Thus, applying dynamic phrases like “all-mountain free-rocker technology” or “piezo-electronic dampening system” to inert planks is like saying fence posts are laser-powered devices from the future. And for that matter, “rocker” is not technology, or if it is, it’s a technology seen in stone-age skis pulled from bogs in rural Norway.
Marketers never seem to promote stuff that skiers would care about if we weren’t too sidetracked by all the techy terminology to know what we should care about. “The bases are flat.” “We speak German and wear lab coats at work.” “These skis were not pressed the morning after a big Taco/Tequila Tuesday.”
In the marketing department’s defense, it’s not as if you can tout some metric like horsepower or speed, and real innovations are few and far between in the ski world. The things that ski companies are doing well, like refining their shapes to perfection or making a really consistent product, don’t exactly jump off the page. And they can’t really say that one ski flexes better than the other ones, or is more slippy-slidey.
More from the Jaded Local: The Goatpack 9000
Which explains why Vibration Dampening—judging by every ski catalog for the last 20 years—is the most important thing ever. The fight against vibration keeps ski engineers up at night, but beyond that, the vast amount of advertising, catalog copy, and jargon-invention devoted to winning that battle may consume more budget than actual ski production.
Without extensively engineered and marketed Vibration Dampening, your legs might just vibrate right the hell off, and also most of the ski industry’s marketing staffers would have nothing to write about.
In this paradigm of vibration-control paranoia, it’s easy to overlook the real causes of ski vibration. If your skis are chattering and bouncing all over the place, there are only three probable scenarios: The snow is awful and you should just go to Happy Hour; you’re skiing wrong, and you should throttle back a little; or you need a tune. Regardless, a lack of piezo-electronic dampening is not the issue.
But it’s undeniable that buying yourself a new pair of magic wings for your feet is psychologically more rewarding than taking a lesson. Unfortunately, that still leaves an imposing thicket of vibration dampening-related terminology to hack through.
If you are in the market for some new skis, here’s a simple shortcut to avoid melting your brain on all the vibration-dampening stuff. When you look at promotional materials about a ski, rather than reading the text, just skim and note how much space is devoted to the associated Vibration Dampening Technology. Ski weight and price will correspond proportionally.
While we’d all love to see meaningful innovations in ski technology—like bases that self-repair or cores that stabilize the snowpack with microwave emissions—it’s not going to happen. Instead, we’ll get a torrent of made-up words to describe planks of wood, fiberglass, and glue that we’ll use for clattering across rocks and into tree stumps. Still, I want poetry. I want art. I want something more interesting than dampening.
Maybe marketers can tell me which pre-1900 U.S. president a ski would be (Rutherford B. Hayes!) or how it slashes GS turns like the smell of rain hitting the desert. Instead of talking about torsional stiffness, they could say the new Supershredder X9000 is like a mighty herd of wildebeest thundering majestically across the savanna, or claim that it was inspired by the sultry staccato of the Flamenco, and mimics the sinuous grip of a squid tentacle.
They’re just boards: Why not get weird with it?