We have good news and bad news if you're shopping for a new high-end slalom ski this summer. The good news is that the 2005 sticks that were evaluated by WaterSki's test team performed brilliantly, and you can't go wrong with any of the choices on the next few pages. The bad news — you're going to have a tough time choosing your weapon.
HOW WE TEST
Our 2005 high-end ski test was conducted over five weeks on several lakes in Orlando, Florida. A six-member test team of various weights and abilities rode the Connelly F1, D3 X5, Goode 9600, HO Monza, KD Platinum and O'Brien Sixam. They used stock bindings and fin settings for one set, and then were given the option of making adjustments to cater to their individual styles. Each ski was ridden a minimum of three sets by each skier.
After taking each ski through its paces, testers immediately filled out an evaluation report on the ski's strengths and weaknesses. Among the categories, testers rated each ski's acceleration, edge change, turning ability, edge control and stability.
Before the 2005 lineup of high-end slaloms ever took to water, they were flexed with a Vertec flex tester (vertec tool.com), weighed without bindings or fin clamp, and measured at the forebody for maximum width. The flex of a ski determines how much it will bend under load, and was measured at four points: the tail (17″), mid-tail (25″), middle (33″) and tip (41″). We could make a number of generalizations on how a flex score might affect a ski's performance. For instance, a skier who rides in a back stance might prefer a stiffer tail, while a lighter skier might opt for an all-around softer lay-up. But ski flex is just one of the variables that determine whether a ski will gel with your style. For a complete list of tech measurements for all of the ski sizes we tested, check out waterskimag.com/2005skitest.
Before You Buy
Let's be honest: Ski testing is subjective. Everyone likes their eggs a certain way, and the same goes for taste in skis. While we feel our evaluations provide great insight into each ski's performance, we highly recommend a test ride before you buy. Many pro shops operate demo programs where the cost of a test ride goes toward the purchase of your new ski.
It's hard to discount a ski that owns a piece of the record books with Jamie Beauchesne's run of 1 at 43, but every stick has its strengths and weaknesses, right? Let's start the F1 review with some positives.
“The F1 hooked up really well out of the turn,” Carlson said. “It's solid and predictable with respectable acceleration out of the buoy.”
For Wadina, the big guy of the tests at 215 pounds, the F1 was a good all-around performer. “It's not as fast as the other skis I tested, but it provides a secure feeling on the water and it's predictable.”
Ristorcelli agreed with Carlson and Wadina about the F1's stability and deep riding characteristics, but he struggled to maintain speed off the second wake. “The F1 felt a touch heavy in the water, and it was hard for me to carry momentum going outbound in the pre-turn,” Ristorcelli said.
Priced at several hundred dollars below the competition, the F1 fills the void for the buoy hunter looking for a high-end ski on a budget. It also gives the intermediate something to progress on.
Meister, our 32 mph tester, really enjoyed her test rides on the F1 once she figured out her stance on the ski. “The ski worked best for me with my weight shifted back on the ski,” she said.
Biggest Selling Point: Your ski must make you feel stable if you expect to run a lot of buoys. The F1 does just that.
Biggest Concern: Lack of energy off the second wake to the buoy line.
Sizes: 65″, 66″, 67″, 68″, 70″
Price: $630 (blank)
Bindings: Double Vision XS-XXL, $340
17″ 88 pounds
25″ 126 pounds
33″ 156 pounds
41″ 181 pounds
Weight: 4 pounds 4.5 ounces
Forebody width: 6.598″
Weight: 4 lb. 1 oz.
Forebody width: 6.67″
Carbon Fiber: Since the first carbon-fiber skis came out, manufacturers have learned how better to use the materials in laying up the skis. The biggest difference is softening the ski. “The carbon has so much energy, the ski doesn't need to be as stiff as we once thought,” says Chris Sullivan of HO Sports.
Torsional Stiffness: There are unidirectional carbon fibers, those that run one direction from tip to tail, and there are woven carbon fibers that cross over each other, adding torsional rigidity to the ski. Manufacturers use a combination of both to find the right mix of stiffness to hold speed, and flex to make the turns stable. There's a Rubik's cube of configurations. “I don't know that anybody's really put the ultimate combination together,” says Andy Mapple, designer of O'Brien's Sixam. “We're only scratching the surface now.”
Edge Profile: It has become thinner, which allows the ski to sit deeper in the water. Too deep makes the ski slow, but thicker means more buoyancy and too much lift. There's a trade-off somewhere, Mapple says. “There's a happy medium between how thick the ski is in the tail relative to the front,” Sullivan says.
Core: It's foam, but Dave Goode says all foam is not created equal. “What a good core does for you is keep your top and bottom laminates separated. So the physical properties of your core are very important,” he says, adding that lighter is better. “Slalom skiing is rapid acceleration and rapid deceleration … so if something is lighter, it will accelerate faster and decelerate faster, which is excellent for the sport of water skiing.”
–Marjo Rankin Bliss
The X5 is the only ski in our evaluations that every tester agreed had exceptionally user-friendly performance. “Big sweet spot; very predictable,” Ristorcelli said. “It's extremely stable and comfortable to ride right out of the box.”
So it's easy to ride; does that make it a must buy? The answer is yes — and no. Yes because any style of skier can jump onto the X5 and ski well with its predictable edge change and smooth turning ability. The ski has no surprises; it doesn't punish your mistakes and it can enhance your strengths. No because it lacks the face-warping acceleration of some of the other skis tested. “It seemed to drag through the wakes a little,” Fenton said. “It was difficult for me to break free of the boat into the turn.”
Ristorcelli agreed, saying, “I would have loved to shift this baby into fifth gear across course, but I co
uldn't find it.”
The X5 didn't feel doggy to everyone. “Good acceleration and control,” Wadina said. Our 22-off skier also fell in love with its performance. “As soon as I initiated my edge change, the ski did the rest,” Meister said. “As a 32 mph skier, I could see myself improving with the X5.”
Biggest Selling Point: The most user-friendly ski tested, it's both extremely stable and easy to ride.
Biggest Concern: Could use a steroid injection for added acceleration across course.
Sizes: 65.5″, 66.5″, 67.5″, 68.5″
Price: $895 (blank)
Bindings: Double Custom 3D XS-XL, $260
17″ 81 pounds
25″ 102.5 pounds
33″ 129 pounds
41″ 147 pounds
Weight: 3 pounds 5.5 ounces
Forebody width: 6.86″
Weight: 3 lb. 2 oz.
Fore body width: 6.65
Weight: 3 lb. 8 oz.
Fore body width: 6.96″
HO's all-star R&D team of pro skiers and coaches invested more time and money in the brand-new Monza than any other ski the company has produced in its 23-year history. The hard work paid off. The Monza was another standout in our tests in terms of instant acceleration off the buoy and side-to-side quickness in the course. “The Monza's like a loaded gun out of the turn, and when you're ready to go, it shoots you across course with amazing energy that you can carry into the next turn,” Ristorcelli said.
The Monza has a 15-inch flat spot in the forebody, which provides a stable platform underfoot and allows the skier to maintain speed as the ski rolls edge to edge. “It has the ideal blend of hookup and angle through the wakes and smoothness/forgiveness in the turns,” Fenton said. “Easy to ride right out of the box.”
Menzel gave the ski a thumbs-up as well, saying, “Very easy to control; very smooth; good in rough water.”
But every rose has its thorn, and a couple of our testers thought the Monza required more time on the water to dial in the fin and bindings than other skis. “I didn't feel consistent my first few sets,” Meister said. “I could get into trouble easily, especially on my offside.” Carlson agreed with Meister's comments, saying, “Impressive acceleration, but I never felt completely comfortable.”
Biggest Selling Point: The Monza rolls on edge with explosive energy and is a winner with its attack angle out of the turn.
Biggest Concern: Fin and binding setup is crucial on the Monza for your individual style. It may take longer to get dialed for optimal performance.
Sizes: 63.5″ 65″, 66″, 67″, 68″, 69.5″
Price: $900 (blank)
Bindings: Double Approach XS-XXL, $410
17″ 75 pounds
25″ 97 pounds
33″ 120.5 pounds
41″ 141.5 pounds
Weight: 3 pounds
Forebody width: 6.80″
One test ride on a Goode and you'll quickly discover why the brand dominates the podium at the U.S. Nationals year after year. “The 9600 makes skiing easy,” was a recurring comment from our test team after putting this missile on water and through its paces. The 9600 is available in two flex patterns per size, and its carbon-fiber makeup makes it the lightest ski we tested, which was the No. 1 reason for its amazing responsiveness. “It's very easy to get wide on the pullout for the gates and feel under control from a speed perspective,” Fenton said.
The 9600 rewards skiers who are patient and let the ski do the work. “I was amazed at how many passes I could run without feeling run down,” Ristorcelli said. “The aging skier will feel like the Energizer Bunny on 9600. It was one of my test favorites.”
For the lower-level skiers, the ski worked just as well. Meister's test notes include: “The ski feels so light, I could turn on a dime,” and “The ski doesn't like to ride flat; it forces you to be on edge.”
Carlson, the power skier among our testers, who likes to be aggressive in the turn, loved the 9600's acceleration but felt the ski rode higher in the water than what he's used to and lacked stability: “I ran close to my normal buoy count, but I always felt a little out of control.”
Biggest Selling Point: The 9600 is a rocket on the water, and it's easy to ride without stressing the body.
Biggest Concern: This ski begs for threaded inserts for easy binding mounting and no screw hole strip-outs.
Sizes: 62″, 64″, 65.6″, 66.25″, 67″ 69″
Price: $990 (blank)
Bindings: Double Powershell 4 XS-L, $390
Flex: 67″ 220 AMP 9634
17″ 80.5 pounds
25″ 97.5 pounds
33″ 110.5 pounds
41″ 122.5 pounds
Weight: 2 pounds
Forebody width: 6.82″
Flex: 67″ 220 AMP 9636
Weight: 2 lb. 12.5 oz.
Fore body width: 6.82″
Flex: 66.25 185 AMP 9634
Weight: 2 lb. 12 oz.
Fore body width: 6.74″
Flex: 64″ 120 AMP
Weight: 2 lb. 9 oz.
Fore body width: 6.51″
Flex: 66.25 185 AMP 9634
Weight: 2 lb. 12 oz.
Fore body width: 6.74″
You could call the KD Platinum the silent but deadly performer of our tests, and we mean that in the kindest manner. It's one of the few skis that we really haven't heard much about, but deep down it's waiting to generate some buzz in the water-ski community. One of the things that set the Platinum apart from its competitors is its unique design — it has an extremely thin edge profile and features drop-down top edges on the tip and tail, which help the ski ride deep in the turn and carve.
“It was one of my favorites of the test,” Fenton said. “It has great acceleration, but it's still easy to control during the edge and through the completion of the turn.”
Ristorcelli was on the fence about his time on the Platinum. “Nothing really stood out about this ski — positive or negative. It was fairly smooth out of the turn, had decent acceleration, and skied respectably right out of the box.”
One of our 34 mph skiers, Menzel, liked what the Platinum did for his offside turn. “Great offside turning capability on this ride,” he said. “It got me out of trouble a few times quite easily. It also worked well for me in rough conditions.”
Biggest Selling Point: Versatile performer with respectable all-ar
ound skiing characteristics.
Biggest Concern: Lacks glide speed off the second wake to the buoy line.
Sizes: 67″, 68″, 69″
Price: $750 (blank)
Bindings: Double Vice XS-XL, $338
17″ 77.5 pounds
25″ 109 pounds
33″ 144 pounds
41″ 159 pounds
Weight: 3 pounds
Forebody width: 6.77″
Not only is Andy Mapple the most dominant skier of all time, the man knows how to design a world-class slalom ski. The Sixam (available in two flexes) received rave reviews from the majority of our testers. “It felt very light and responsive, and it provides a secure ride in choppy conditions,” Menzel said after his initial test ride. Ristorcelli had a similar view of the ski's performance in adverse conditions. “It's the best ski I've ever ridden in the rough stuff,” he said. “It's as if your feet and the ski become one.”
Not only is the Sixam a stable ride, it's wicked fast — especially when it explodes off the second wake and rolls edge to edge, setting you up for an aggressive turn. Fenton said: “Tremendous acceleration! The ski feels slippery and fast with very little drag, although I thought I was constantly going to blow past the gates on the pullout.” It was a user-friendly ride for some testers, but had too much oomph for others.
The Sixam can be ridden aggressively with no fear of blowing out the tail. Mapple designed an innovative shallow tunnel carved into the tail the length of the fin, which allows the ski to release exceptionally well.
Biggest Selling Point: The Sixam handles rough conditions like a champ.
Biggest Concern: If you like to make minuscule fin adjustments and tinker with your settings, the fin clamp will drive you mad.
O'Brien Sixam 1.0/1.1
Sizes: 66″, 67.5″, 69″
Price: $900 (blank)
Bindings: Double Bio XS-XXL, $290
Flex: 67.5″ 1.1
17″ 83.5 pounds
25″ 111 pounds
33″ 134 pounds
41″ 146 pounds
Weight: 3 pounds
Forebody width: 6.882″
Flex: 67.5″ 1.0
Weight: 3 lb. 4 oz.
Fore body width: 6.883
8 Must-Knows for Buying Your New Stick
Tips from Bill Porter of Performance Ski and Surf in Orlando, Florida, and Matt Rini of Matt Rini's Ski School in Clermont, Florida.
1. You don't have to be a high-end slalom skier to enjoy a high-end ski, but don't overestimate your abilities either. “I wouldn't put a total novice on a high-end competition ski,” Porter says.
2. You can grow into your ski if, Porter says, the ski is sized right and it's a user-friendly design. But if patience is not among your virtues, Rini recommends you start with a shaped ski to get to high-end ability faster: “The skier who starts on the high-end ski will eventually adapt to it, but it might take a longer period for him to do that.”
3. Choose your bindings as carefully as you choose your ski. The stiffer the better for competition skiers who demannd more support and edge control. But those are also harder to get on and off, and Porter says a softer fitted boot or an adjustable will work fine for recreational skiers.
4. Try before you buy! That's the truest test, especially when you can take the ski home to your comfort zone, away from a ski school or the pressure of skiing under supervision. “It's real-world testing,” Porter says.
5. Don't settle. Any reputable pro shop will work with you if you're not happy with your ski after you buy it. “If it's used or damaged, they might have to work with us a little bit,” Porter says, “but ultimately our goal is to help them find something that will improve their time on the water. That should be any ski shop's mission.”
6. Don't get too attached to your ski; there's a better one just around the calendar! “The way the ski industries have been advancing their products, you'd be crazy to stay on the same ski too long,” Rini says. “In the last five years, there's been a huge boom in ski design.”
7. Be realistic about what your ski can do for you. You're not Andy Mapple; don't overload it with equipment you don't need.
8. Get professional help. “Sometimes you have to step back and be open to suggestions from a qualified ski shop and people who are looking out for your best interests,” Porter says.
— Marjo Rankin Bliss