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A REVIEW OF Ski BLADES and SHORT SKIS and my advice and conclusions as a user.
by Technical Director Rick Paris
All the skis and blades we sell are made and designed for adults and teenagers. Most of them can be used by taller/heavier/older children as well, but we don't sell any children skis and.small/short children should never use snowblades especially the non release binding versions.
Hopefully this brief guide will help you discover the delights of sking with blades or short skis. Checkout the You Tube video to the left of the home page, it gives a quick insight into the joy of skiing blades. The ski used was the Buzz ATOM MAX, altough the video applies to the whole Buzz Atom range as they are all made the same, only graphics differ.
Short skis are known by many other names, including the name "SNOWBLADES", this was from Salomon's once very popular model of mini ski. It had a very catchy name and it stuck in the memory. They no longer make them by the way. Short skis are also known as "Mini skis", "Blades", "Skiblades", "Ski blades" Skiboards", "Ski boards", "Mini skis", "Short skis" "big foot" and so on. Most skis under 100cms long are called blades and between 101-136cms long are referred to as "short skis" or "long blades". Big Foot was a short ski made in the late 1990's by Kneissl of Austria, it has not been made for many years.
So why use a short ski?
That's a very good question. There is no one answer but if you want a one sentance answer from me, then I would have to say that short skis make skiing easier for most people in most situations. Now some people could disagree with that point of view but turn it on its head and ask, why use long skis, the same nay sayers would splutter and scratch their heads and may eventually come up with a varity of answers but the main one is that its tradition that dictates we use long skis. 100 years ago, the guys trudging up mountains to ski one run used long skis and we have continued ever since. Ok, the last few years have seen standard lengths come down from between 180-210cms to 150-180cms but its still a couple of long planks with fancy writing. Fact is, skiing has changed beyond all recognition since the founding fathers first strapped on skis. Those guys were sking deep snow with very crude equipment. They would have needed the length for stability over the poor terrain, or because the materials available were pretty low tech but things have changed. Yet we still accept with blind faith that skis should be long. Read on to discover the advantages of short skis and you may well change your mind.
Short skis/Blades verses normal skis ?
Its very difficult to compare these two totally different types of ski but I will try to do this here. The information given has many twists and turns and the answers will differ too depending on the actual ski too. But as a general rule, most holiday skiers and beginners, which is most of the UK skiing population, would ski better on short skis. There are several reasons for this.
1. Long skis do not feel natural from the get go. They require weeks of practice to gain enough skill to be able to use them to something like their capacity and even then most skiers barely scratch the surface if what they are capable of. There is no doubt in my mind that long skis are the perfect tool for the accomplished, well skilled skier. The trouble is that most UK based skiers do not have enough "slope time" to get to the skill level required to be able to use long skis in the way they were designed to be used. Period! Shorter skis offer an ideal solution to this problem giving them a short cut to skiing better in a short learning curve. Some skiers who use shorties to start with go onto ski longer skis as it cuts their learning time, others stick with the short ones their entire ski life.
2. Right from the outset It takes several days to get used to the feel and length of a long ski especially if you are a beginner or if you are coming back to skiing after a long layoff, even of you have skied before. For most people on a 6-7 day ski holiday, thats 1/3 of your holiday gone right there. If the weather and snow conditions are not perfect, it may take longer just to reach a basic standard or at least the same standard you were at the end of your last ski holiday. If the weather is poor then you may struggle this time round too even get back to that standard,
3. Some long skis feel more or less like long planks, having hardly any sidecut, this makes the ski almost impossible to turn for the average holiday skier. You will spend many hours trying to get them to work for you, when they are simply working against you, as only the technically gifted can make some long skis perform and this takes hours,days or weeks of practice.
4. Beginners normally feel awful using long skis, they feel huge and they are very easy to cross tips and fall. Learners are taught to snowplough, why? As its virtually impossible to teach skiing in any other way with long skis. So why use them? Lessons create jobs, lots of jobs. Long skis are the main reason why beginners struggle for so long. They are difficult to handle, not natural at all.
So why do you think that blades and short skis are easier/better?
It is very important to understand why short skis and blades work better. Its two main things, Length and sidecut and both are equally important in my opinion. As not all short skis and blades will ski the same. Obviously all short skis are short! So the next most important bit is the turning radius of the ski. This is fairly easy to check out, as most skis will have this printed on the top of the ski somewhere. This figure has to be small, in single figures.
What's a Turning radius and how is it important, I hear you ask?
The turning radius is one of the the most important bits of information on a ski. Its stamped on most skis somewhere, usually near the middle or the back. It is worked out from a number of factors, the length of the ski and the width of tip, middle and tail measurments.This radius measurement is measured in metres and is the radius of the circle that would be drawn if you were to extend the edge of the ski indefinitely outwards. So it is effectively the turning circle of a ski, and is suggestive of how long it will take the ski to complete the tightest turn possible.
Now a typical rental ski of around 160cms long will have an average radius of anything between14-22 mts depending on the brand/model, etc.. This means that when the ski is set upon it edge, (WITHOUT ANY OTHER OUTSIDE INFLUENCE) that particular ski will a long time to complete a turn. So lets say its 20mts, put that 20 mts into real perspective on the slopes and you can see why some people struggle with longer skis when the slope gets steeper, as you get faster coming out of a big turn.
So, imagine being confronted with an unexpected steep slope on an otherwise fairly innocuous piste, (yes its happened to all of us at one time or another) and you need to throw in some short tight swings to control your speed to the bottom. A ski with a large turning radius will be a real handful to control unless you have the skills to make that ski perform differently, (to help it out) as Its natural turning circle is way out of your safe zone. So what happens, you put the ski on its edge, it will be slow to turn in to the fall line (the fall line is the straight line down a slope). The skis natural wide radius is like turning an oil tanker, unless you can help the ski out by jumping or skidding the ski, you are going to carry on turning slowly until you are facing straight down hill. At this point you are unbalanced and one of 3 things can occur. 1. You hang onto your edges and pick up speed, that's not good as the skis are running at an angle to the fall line and you are in effect still traveling downhill, and if you do not complete the turn are no longer in control. 2. You try to help your skis around by lifting legs or rotating your upper torso and shoulders. 3. You sit back on your tails and hit the snow. None of that inspires confidence or fun. I have seen this scenario thousands of times on every blue, red and black run in the mountains every second of every day.
Now lets look at the Buzz Atom that we sell for example, this has a radius of 6.2mts. You can clearly see that the Buzz Atom will literally run rings around a standard length ski, roughly 3 rings around it in fact. So how does this help you. Easy, same piste, same you, different ski. You put the ski on its edge and the ski will turn quickly, no nonsense, much much tighter, (3 times tighter) than any standard ski. You are able to control your speed and descent, you will feel more balance and as a result much happier to let the edges do there thing. You can see instantly that the skis are steering you away from the horrible fall line and back across the piste and as a result your confidence rises.
All our blades and short skis brands are hand picked by us to help you ski your best, so look out for the specific information regarding radius when comparing brands/models and ask us for advice if you are unsure.
How did you get into blades?
I had skied for many years on long skis. I had bad arthritis in my spine from the age of 17 years old, I am now 55. I have a condition called Ankyslosing Spondilitis, which basically ends up fusing your spine together. Its very painful too. So afte years of pain and fusion, my ski technique was poor, even though I had skied for decades., I was stiff and could not move very well to help my old long skis turn properly. In 2003 I met a few people on holiday who used blades, they encouraged me to have a go. I rented a terrible old set and had the best fun in years. I also skied better than I had done for 10 years too. It was a EUREKA moment and I was a convert. i set up a business shortly afterwards to promote the benefits of shorter skis.
So, when can I see results?
Once you use blades, you will see decent results in a few hours and as your confidence rises, the blades will inspire you further. The shorter the skis the longer it may take you to get used to the feel and to trust them. But persevere and you will quickly get to understand how to use them, you will soon feel at one with them, and you will never look back. Remember, the shorter the ski the faster you will start to feel positive, especially if you consider yourself a hopeless case. Give them a chance and you love them.
Even if you ski to a reasonable standard on long traditional skis, here's more reasons to switch to a shortie. Ask yourself, what standard do you ski to? In all conditions? Are you sure? We all ski our best on velvet snow under blue skis, but even the best skiers technique will deteriate in poor snow and poor weather. Skiing in poor weather and on poor snow with long skis can be very unpleasant, the same conditions have much less effect when you ski with blades, as they are so maneuverable and you are always in control. Think about it!.
What size/brand are best for me?
When you have decided that "blades" or "short skis" are for you, you wont go far wrong with any of the brands we stock, I will explain. Right from the word "go", any blade will deliver CONTROL, MANEUVERABILITY and FUN, unlike anything you have ever used before or could imagine!!! So you could just set a budget, decide on the colour, order it up and let it rip on the slopes, you will not go far wrong.
There must be something a bit more technical that that?
Yes, you can get more technical but essentially once you are into blades the differences are much more subtle than standard long skis. Some blades perform a little better in powder than other, some are slightly better suited to snoparks etc but the differences are very small, between one blade or another. Use this GUIDE to help you choose but remember. Generally the shorter the blade, the faster the learning curve. The shorter the blade the quicker they are to turn. The wider the blade the better they are in powder. The shorter the blade the better for bumps or tree skiing.
I want to buy a short ski or snowblade but don't know if i need the short blade (under 100cm) or something a bit longer, what do you suggest?
This is "the" question i get asked the most. I always try to answer it like this. It depends on where you are coming from.
If you are a total beginner or someone that skied before several times but has lost confidence or are stuck in a rut, then go for a blade under 100cms. Also if you are a slow to moderate speed skier and ski greens, blues and easy reds pistes then go for this length (under 100cms) as they will be perfect for your ability. The Buzz Atom with full release bindings is the bench mark ski I would recommend. We have several models like this, (Buzz Atom Max, Buzz Atom Pro, Sporten Flash, Sporten Stringer, Elan Freeline, Head Rod, etc) They are all high quality pieces of kit, they will, inspire confidence,and are all supplied with a choice of bindings.
Some people turn up their noses to skis under 100cms, especially big men. Don't, as its a big mistake. This length of ski is used as training aids for racers by the big alpine race teams, so they are capable of just about anything and everything, they are not for kids and they are not a joke. But thats what some big guys think!.
If you are more experienced but only get away for a few weeks a year and want a short ski to increase your fun and increase your skill level then you could move up to a 116-136cm short ski. They are very popular, I used the Buzz model 126cm ski for a few years and now use the GPO SHORT ROCKER 130CMS. I spent many years on a 99cm blade too and loved them, still have them and get them out from time to time. These slghtly longer lengths will give you extra speed over the shorter blades plus they provide extra grip on steeper and/or icy pistes. All our short skis are designed for adults and they are all very forgiving and very easy to use.
So a short ski is better suited to someone who has skied before, tends to ski a little faster and will attempt steeper slopes.
I have skied bith lengths down black runs, through bumps and had a blast, Everyones technique is a little different and its a personal choice but the above information are my recommendations.
Many experienced skiers use blades under 100cm for pure fun, so in the end the choice is yours. Whatever you do choose you will not go far wrong. They are all pure joy to use when compared to long skis.
What about bindings?
All our blades and short ski packages include bindings but there are huge differences in cost and performance. Let me explain, as they fall into 2 categories,
Non release and Full release.
The Non release versions are cheaper to produce, are very simple, are very easy to adjust to fit a multitude of ski boot sizes, have an attached leash and make the overall ski package very affordable.
The Full release bindings are a different kettle of fish, they are all DIN rated (worldwide safety standard),most are step in/step out, most have a ski brake, they contain dozens of parts, as a result are naturally more expensive and make the ultimate SkiBlade package. Our main Full release binding supplier is Tyrolia, the worlds largest producer of ski safety bindings, based in Austria.
Safety is possibly the number one issue when considering your binding options. The Non-release binding will not release, it does what it says on the tin. Which is perfectly fine if you ski on the piste, as there isn't much to snag your foot, but If you start to stray off-piste or ski in the trees you have to take more care. The Full release binding is a "ski anywhere" binding, so you have no limits. We have marked all our ski packages with either (NR) denoting Non release or (FR) denoting Full release codes, so look out for these easy to follow codes whilst you browse..The choice is yours.
What do you recommend for beginners?
The shortest blades are the easiest to learn on, your progress is rapid and sometimes lessons are not required. If you know how to skate, you will pick up skiing with blades very quickly. In a word, any Buzz Atom 99 model with full release bindings.
Are short skis or snow blades the same as kids skis?
No, Kids skis are totally different in design and construction, they are too soft for adults, Do not confuse proper adult short skis or blades with kids skis All our skis and blades are for ADULTS although they can be used by teens and older/heavier/taller kids. Some kids are as large as adults these days.
I am very tall and/or heavy, are they suitable for me?
Blades are not like normal skis, they suit more or less every weight and height of person, so in reality any of the blades we sell will suit you, but see the relevant blade for details.
Do you use poles with blades?
This question is the most difficult to answer. I personally do use poles and have always done so, this is possibly because I was already a reasonably accomplished skier and used poles for years and learnt with poles. In reality the choice is yours, many people do not use poles with blades but I find them useful, especially on flat sections of piste and in lift queues or for stopping boards sneeking into the lift queues! So its up to you.
Why do the big ski manufactures not sell more of them if they are so good, as you claim?
Good question, Heres my theory, money!
Big ski brands are BIG BUSINESS and want you to part with a thick wad of cash, £400-£800 for a set every few seasons if they can. Every ski brand I have ever heard of will claim a new innovation at the start of every season, "that will make you ski or carve better than on last years model"!!!!!
Rubbish IMO, they have been claiming that for many years, yet most people barely improve from one year to the next, not because the new innovations are no good but because the people using the skis are not good enough to enjoy the upgraded technology. You have to get very good first, which is our point!
Also most normal ski retailers have to maximise there profits as its such a seasonal business, they don't want to stuff there shelves with short skis that give them less return as they enjoy from selling long skis for more money.. Blades are much cheaper to sell = less profit.
The marketing hype that surrounds a new ski model makes skiers want to trade up every few years. They cannot do this with blades as the technology rarely changes (as it doesn't have to, as they are so easy to use and do not need altering) so the repeat sales are much less. Customers keep their skis longer = less sales = less money.. Like turkeys voting for Christmas!!
Long skis are excellent tools and do have there uses (racing, deep powder, speed, etc) but they are not required for the majority of holiday skiers
So why do you continue to push blades if there is more money to be made selling long skis, are you mad?
No, its simple, we are fans and long time users of blades, we have seen friends and family improve very quickly. Its a travesty that others are forced to slog on year in, year out, taking lessons etc, etc and not getting the maximum enjoyment from their holiday in the mountains. Its a niche market that we have made into our specialist subject. We sell them all around the world.
You do sell a few long skis, why is that ?
We are not long ski "haters", far from it, as they do have a purpose, they are the perfect tool in some circumstances, so when we are offered a ski that is right for the job, we sell it. Also, we are not on a crusade, some people are very happy on their long skis, they ski well and like them. Some people who use long skis ski badly on them too, but just want to use a long ski. So we do stock a small selection of hand picked long skis that we consider are the best bang for your buck. Long skis that are as good as they can be and that will work for you, as opposed to against you. Smallish turning circles and easy to use features, making them as easy to use a humanly possible, for people who want long skis.
If your are just starting out, if you have only skied a few times, if you are a once/twice a year holiday skier, if you are coming back from injury, if you have reached a plateau in your skills or just lost your nerve. if you want to have fun, if you want to improve and ski the best you can, then try ski blades.
These fantastic little skis will help you get the most out of your skiing potential and your expensive holiday. YES, Your will suddenly find that you are a better skier than you ever imagined, you will find that your blades respond to your commands. They will inspire confidence right from the outset. Confidence breeds confidence and you will have the most fun ever on a ski slope ever.
But you will have to be prepared for some jealousy from other skiers and friends who have always been better than you. They may have always been very encouraging in the past when you struggled on long skis but that was when you were not a threat! Skiing can be very competitive. Some "good skiers" do not like it when somebody who has struggled for years is suddenly leading a group down the mountain. Is taking the spotlight off them in the bar and Is improving day by day. TRUST ME ON THIS They will accuse you of cheating because you are using blades, they will try to persuade you that "long skis" is "real skiing". Just smile as you blast past them, we do.
Fast improvement with blades is not some sort of black magic, some sales hype, its using the right tool for the job. Why use a fork to eat soup when a spoon is the better tool. Same principle here. Leave the long skis for the experts and instructors, save your money on lessons and get a set of blades, it'll be the best decision you ever made. The right tool for the job, that'll be blades.
I hope you have got something out of this informative guide, they are my views based on experience over a long period of time. We hope to see you on the slopes in the future, you can't miss us, we are the ones with the big smiles.
Take a look around our website and enjoy.