Typically, when a professional skier is fortunate enough to earn his or her own pro model ski, the ski's shelf life doesn't last more than a few years. In other words, in theory, it's a fun idea, but the skier and brand lose interest pretty quickly due to competing ideas and motivations.
But Chris Benchetler and his Atomic Bent Chetler pro model are reversing the stereotype. As of today, Atomic released a limited number of the completely revamped Bent Chetler, the sixth iteration of the top-selling ski. After five years of a relatively similar shape, construction, and aesthetic, the Bent Chetler looks and feels dramatically different from the five before it. Using what Atomic calls HRZN Tech, the new Bent Chetler features boat hull tips and tails with shaved edges, which is supposed to provide more playfulness and stability by blending ABS sidewall construction with across-the-ski (yes, horizontal) rocker. In turn, HRZN Tech is supposed to add 10 percent more surface area in the tip and tail without increasing swing weight. The 27-year-old Benchetler conceived the innovative concept from a surfboard design that soul shredder Rob Machado used in one of his boards. After years of testing, he and his Atomic teammates found the sweet spot, with a 120mm waist (3mm thinner than years past) and a lighter wood core.
In an era of ego-minded athletes, it's indicative of the humble yet eager sensibilities of Benchetler to not only retain a pro model but also to evolve his craft alongside Atomic. He weighs in on the new design from Japan, where he's undoubtedly putting his new shredsticks to the ultimate fun test.
POWDER: Six years ago, when Atomic approached you with the idea of a pro model, did you know right then what you wanted to design?
Chris Benchetler: I think the idea of a pro model was something we created together, but by Atomic actually trusting in me and being able to work with such an amazing team of developers and engineers, it really allowed the ski to be taken to a higher level.
Describe how difficult (or maybe it wasn’t?) to redesign the construction of your ski each season. Was it something that you wanted to tinker with every year or leave alone?
I would say the difficult part for me is understanding the engineering side. Wanting to make adjustments to materials, flex patterns, etc., comes with the evolution of my skiing, but changing it properly is hard. The more I ski a specific shape the more ideas I have, the more conditions I’ll ski, the more feedback I can get from other riders, and the more there will be limitations that dictate change. With that being said, I generally try to change whatever I think will make the ski perform better.
Talk about the evolution of Bent Chetlers from year one to year five? How much changed?
The evolution has been rad. To create the very first generation was a huge honor and hurdle. We knew we wanted to build a ski that allowed for more freedom in pow, more fun, playfulness, agility, and flotation. And after a year of development, we achieved our goal. The next generations to follow were more or less small adjustments to enhance the performance. The earlier changes were with flex. Then we moved to lighter materials. Then we moved to the SPBs (carbon stringers) in the tip and tail to help stabilize the chatter in the rocker areas. And now, we have come up with HRZN Tech, which is a whole new ball game.
Now tell me about year six, as this is obviously the most dramatic shift in design. Is this—the hull design—something you’ve been thinking about for some time? How did you conceive this idea? What’s the goal with it?
The HRZN Tech has been in the works for a while. I knew I wanted to increase flotation without bringing out the waist width. The design itself was inspired from a surfboard I saw that Rob Machado shaped. He took a standard short board thruster and basically put a fish shape on top of it to allow for the best of both worlds. So the hope was to make powder skiing easier and more enjoyable once again. HRZN Tech allows the ski to move effortlessly across the fall line, through the chop, and schmear turns all while remaining in complete control. We narrowed the waist by three millimeters, and brought the length from 183cm to 185cm. And I can happily say it has far exceeded my expectations.
A lot of skiers, including myself, remain blown away how a ski so large (at 123mm underfoot) can be this versatile. Do you think this new design will take away from that or add to it?
It absolutely adds to it. I’m still blown away. The ski is even more effortless to ski.
What’s your ultimate goal with this design? Certainly Atomic wanted it to evolve, but it couldn’t just be design for design sake. Give me your ideal run for this ski.
I wanted to create a ski that has very little tendency to dive in really deep snow, allow for even less limitations with butters and getting hung up in the tips or tails, and move with ease through any chop. My hope was to make a ski that would do exactly what I envision, even if it’s not realistic, whether that be holding a nose butter at 90, or reverting back and forth from switch to regular… Ideal run would be a 1,500-foot face with endless features…maybe Travis Rice’s Ultra Natural course.
Obviously your graphics have a lot of personality and caricature imagery derived from Japan, Mammoth [Benchetler’s hometown], and surfing. But this is your least designed graphic for the ski. Did you tone it down on theme and colors on purpose?
It's actual probably my favorite graphic. There is still a ton of detail; it's just very much on the tonal side. Atomic recommended we make a departure from the years past to really allow for it to stand out, and since my previous years were standing out in the other direction we landed on a tonal graphic.
Watch six years of Benchetler in action on the Bent Chetlers: