Peter Shelton

Code White

Posted in Personal History, Ski evolution by pshelton on December 15, 2013

You can’t compare skiing and sex. It’s apples and oranges, edges on snow and skin on skin. Then again . . .

Sometimes a new ski changes everything, opens the door to a new sensory paradigm.

My new skis are German-made Völkls, the Völkl Code Speedwall S. They came in a box from New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago. I leaned them against a wall downstairs and admired their sleek shape. And then I took them out for a first test ride.

The S stands for slalom, I think. They are built like a slalom racing ski, with a laminated wood core and stiff titanium top and bottom sheets. They are small waisted, and curvy. (Back when I used to be part of the annual equipment test at SKI magazine, someone correctly described the new “shaped” skis as having a figure like Betty Boop.) The Codes come with a built-in hairpin turn – if you can stay on top of them.

I bought them sight unseen. And untried. Risky business. But the guy I know at Völkl USA promised they were “outrageously fun.” So I took a chance.

Speedwall refers to the skis’ sidewalls, which can be waxed to make them more slippery. In fact, the factory supplies a little tube of fast fairy dust with an applicator lid. Just rub on and polish.

Why wax the sidewalls? Part of the Code.  You wax the sidewalls because these babies beg to be tilted up on their sides – way up – so far up on edge the resulting grooves in the snow are etched by both the base and the sidewall. You wax your ski bases, so why not . . .

My regular five-year-old skis carve pretty well. They were once described, in a gear review, as “double-wide giant slalom skis.” They are curvy, too, compared to old-fashioned “straight” skis. But they are much fatter than the Codes. Their built-in turn is more like a bend in the road than a hairpin. A gifted skier can carve them down almost any hill, but I have to apply the brakes when it gets steep. I reach a point where I can’t handle the speed or the g-forces in a long-radius, pure-carved turn. So on the old skis I’m on-carve and off, scrubbing speed, on-carve and off. Carve and skid, where the skidding can feel like compromise.

With the Codes, and their tighter natural turn shape, I learned right away I could carve more terrain more of the time. This is huge. I struggle to relay just how huge. Carving is not like run-of-the-mill steering, not like the skiing we used to do. There is no play, no sloppiness, no brushing sideways at all in a turn. The feeling is pure precision joined with perfect stability, because the ski is in fact slicing a trench in the snow, building a tiny curved wall against which you, the driver, lean. Insouciant. Invincible.

Think of a bobsled run with its banked vertical walls along which the sleds ride. It’s as if an alternate gravity were pinning them to the wall. Carving skiing is like that. Except you don’t have to ride down a refrigerated track, you gouge your own tiny walls with each turn, anywhere you want, anywhere you’re brave enough to stand firm against that knifing edge.

The Codes drew such round-y perfect lines in the snow, I could ski entire runs, top to bottom, without once throwing my skis sideways. Not until reaching the lift line again. I felt like I was cheating. Ted Ligety, the American master of giant slalom, can do this. So can Mikaela Shriffrin, the slalom prodigy from Vail whose gorgeous technique and precocious sense of touch have made her, at 18, the world’s best slalom racer. Carving has been the Holy Grail of efficient, ecstatic skiing, especially for ski racers, forever. Sixty-four-year-old guys who started late and have never raced aren’t supposed to be able to do this. To feel this controlled freedom, this giddy, pressed-against-the-wall line drawing. And yet . . .

The Code. Maybe it’s Code for cheating? Na. I don’t believe there is such a thing as cheating in skiing. In the early 1970s, when I was trying out for the ski school at Keystone, my Uncle Hal took me into his garage and showed me his Dynastar MV2s. He called them his cheaters, said they knew how to turn and somehow transferred that gift, deserved or not, to him. They were beautiful, white metal, with a small red logo near the tip. I bought a used pair in Denver and aced my apprentice clinic.

Those skis were primitive approximations, many design generations ago, of the surgical tools available today. I couldn’t have carved a turn on them to save my life.

The Codes are white, a beautiful pearlescent white, with a small red Völkl chevron. Riding them I can bend space-time.

I get excited just thinking about it.

One Response

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  1. BF said, on December 16, 2013 at 12:17 am

    ‘Bout time. You’ve been missed.

    Glad another old dog is trying new tricks. Good year to do it in . . . so far!


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