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15 January 2013

Could this be the next big thing in skiing?

A revelation or just a gimmick? Al Morgan, Ski Club kit and equipment expert, tests this new ski design, intended to help beginners and intermediates get into and progress in skiing.

Could this be the next big thing in skiing?

Rony Shirion had an accident in January 2009 on this first ever ski trip and tore his ACL in his knee.

He felt that the skis available to help him to learn were not as good as they could be for that level of skier, using designs and shapes filtered down from top-level skiing instead of being conceived and designed specifically for lower levels of skier. He also felt that as the skis did not make skiing as easy as it could be that they may have been a contributing factor to his accident.

Rony happened to be watching a shark swimming when he was back in the UK and was inspired by the tail action of the fish in the tank, and this led to his revolutionary ski design; the fishtail ski!

RS1 brochure image
RS1 brochure shot

I first received info about the RS1 Ski some months ago and at first was sceptical, to say the least. The brochure had an image of a guy wearing a climbing harness (an image normally associated with ski mountaineering and ski touring) and backpack, jumping off a cornice. I thought that this ski surely cannot be something for an advanced to expert skier wishing to ski in that type of terrain.

I was lucky enough to be invited by Rony to have a go on this unusual ski, and when I met him I asked him about this, and I was right (thankfully, otherwise people could seriously doubt if I do know about ski kit). This ski is very much aimed at beginner and lower intermediate skiers and the fishtail action is designed to stop the tail of the skis catching.

RS1 pivot assembly
RS1 tail pivot assembly
The pivoting tail makes turning the skis much easier and predictable for this level of skier, and hence increases their enjoyment of the sport. As you turn, the tail of the ski pivots and allows you to easily control the ski through the turn and also to release from the turn without hindrance.

The other advantage of a pivoting tail is when trying to turn in irregular snow on piste, where a pile of snow could catch the tail and not allow you to control the skis as easily. The tail pivot means the back of the ski can be moved without deflecting the rest of the ski and hence the line the skier wishes to make.

For more advanced skiers they want the tail of the ski to help with grip during the turn and acceleration out of the turn, and they are more able to control the skis in variable snow so the pivoting tail is not necessary for them, and a regular ski is better for a more advanced level of skier.
 

So, how do they ski?

RS1 tail pivot when skiing
RS1 when skiing

 

I went to test this ski at The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, and this proved to be a great setting to see how these performed and to test them against a regular ski aimed at the same level of skier ability.

Not only was there grippy, groomed snow  to ski on but there were also mini-moguls (soft, irregular piles of snow) to throw you off course from the line you may have planned to take – exactly the kind of thing that can feel very daunting to those new to skiing.

The ski comes in two versions and this is basically to do with the stiffness and range of movement of the pivot. The softest flex is for beginners and has a range of movement of around 22° each side and the slight stiffer one is for those with a little more experience with around 15° of movement to each side. This subtle difference does actually make a tangible difference to the skis and how performance orientated they are.

RS1 tail pivot and return to centre
RS1 tail movement
The beginner version is ideal for those new to skiing, releasing from turns with ease and being very predictable in its actions – even with your weight very far back you do not feel as though you cannot make a turn when you want to, rather than when the slope and/or skis allow you to. Snowploughing and control and low speed is a breeze.

The slightly stiffer spring in the intermediate version makes the ski better at speed and you can carve on them too, as this level of skier will hope to progress to do.

Both versions return to centre naturally due to the spring on the pivot, so it is not as though the tail of the skis just flaps around uncontrolled.

RS1 tail flex
RS1 tail flex
One major concern I had about the design was that if you found yourself in the back seat (weight really far back)  the ski feel would be unstable and tip over backwards due to the pivot location and action. I needn’t have been worried though, as despite the pivot the skis are stiff enough in the tail for you to actually be able to put a lot of weight onto the tails without tipping over backwards (and you can pivot back up onto the tails, after a bit of trial and error). The tail does have slight upwards flex too, of around 10°, and this is crucial to the ski tail pivot being manageable and predictable, whilst maintaining ski stability.

The real test in these skis for me was what they skied like when compared to a regularly shaped and constructed ski. I stepped into a pair of normal skis and headed up the slope to see how these could compare to the surprising RS1 skis. First run was pretty much enough to cement my thoughts – the tails did not release nearly as easily as the RS1 (as you would expect), and this made the skis less predictable and harder to manage for the level of skier that the RS1 is aimed at.

Now do not get me wrong – I do not think the RS1 is a go anywhere ski to suit all skiers. Then again it does not claim to be. For higher intermediates through to advanced and expert skiers, regular ski shape and construction is very much the way to go, providing enhanced grip and performance at moderate to high speed and if you want to carve out trenches in the groomers then there is no question - regular skis are best.

The RS1 ski is a niche product but for a very sizeable and important part of the snowsports market; new and nearly new skiers.

There is lots of chat at the moment in snowsports about getting people into the sport, making it more accessible and fun – and this ski could be a key part of this initiative and could definitely help to make skiing more accessible and fun for beginners. What is worth saying though is that I am not an instructor and do not teach people, so it will be interesting to see what instructors do think of this ski too when they get to test and review it.

The find out more about this exciting development check out the RS1 site at www.rs1ski.com.

This ski is not yet commercially available but could hit the stores or hire shops for next season (2013-14).

 

For more information about kit and equipment, as well as Ski Test videos, visit Ski Club TV.

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