Peter Shelton

Code White

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

My new skis are German-made Völkls, the Völkl Code Speedwall S. I leaned them against a wall downstairs and admired their sleek shape, felt their supple flex – every time I walked by, day or night – before I took them out for a ride.

The S stands for slalom, I’m pretty sure. They are built like a slalom racing ski – without actually being a race ski – sandwiching stiff titanium top and bottom sheets around a laminated wood core. They are small-waisted, just 74 mm underfoot, and curvy. (Back in the 1990s when I was part of the annual equipment test at SKI magazine, someone correctly described the then-new “shaped” skis as having a figure like Betty Boop.)

The Speedwall in the name refers to the skis’ sidewalls, which can be be waxed. 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 high-speed bend in the road than a mountain 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 skidding, 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 little wall with each turn, anywhere you want, anywhere you’re confident 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. It felt like what an engraver must feel, working soft silver. 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 now . . .

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. If Albert Einstein had skied, he’d have understood the Code. Riding them I can bend space-time.

My atoms get excited just thinking about it.

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Hot Buttered Corn Snow

Posted in Ski evolution, Ski racing, Watch columns by pshelton on April 5, 2013

Powderhorn’s closing day on Easter Sunday delivered perfect corn. Corn snow, that is. (more…)

Messing With Ski Shapes, Part Three

Posted in Uncategorized by pshelton on February 4, 2012

In case you thought the Fédération Internationale de Ski wasn’t crazy enough remanding ski shapes back to the 1980s, here they came a couple of weeks ago to tell Tina Maze that her underwear is too fast. (more…)

Messing With Ski Shapes, Part Two

Posted in Ski evolution, Watch columns by pshelton on January 5, 2012

The battle continues over new ski shapes dictated for 2013 by the International Ski Federation.

The debate blows hot on the slopes and in the blogosphere. (Although we haven’t heard lately from American giant slalom specialist Ted Ligety, who protested early in the season that the FIS was attempting to “ruin” his sport.) (more…)

Turning Back the Skiing Clock

Posted in Ski evolution, Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on December 8, 2011

My mother says she doesn’t always “get” the things I write about skiing. Full disclosure, Mom: Look out! This one’s about sidecut and turn radius, and what some World Cup skiers – most notably outspoken Americans Ted Ligety and Bode Miller – see as an attempt to send ski racing back to the Hickory Age. (more…)

Mastering space and time

Posted in Olympic Games, Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on December 9, 2010

Last weekend was a very good one for American ski racers skiing on American (at least North American) snow.

Up in Alberta, Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso put on a show in the speed events. Vonn finished second in two consecutive downhills, to her good buddy and chief rival Maria Riesch of Germany, then won Sunday’s Super G just ahead of Riesch with Mancuso third. Julia finished fourth and sixth in the two downhills.

At Beaver Creek, the U.S. men didn’t fare so well. The downhill got cancelled due to wind. In the Super G all of the top Americans were ambushed by the same small bump and missed the next gate. One after the other. Keystone cops. Looked like a coaching/inspection/line error to me.

But then on Sunday, Ted Ligety of Park City won the giant slalom for his first World Cup victory on home soil. Er, snow.

Both tall, blonde Vonn and dark-haired Riesch are dominating their tour, have been for the past three years. Funny, though, the images of Vonn don’t look dominating. I know, that’s a stupid thing to say. She’s winning, or coming close, in just about every speed event. But, in still photographs, her position looks a little desperate: her head is tipped, the eyes aren’t level with the horizon; her hand is flying up; she’s leaning in more than she’s angulating; the skis are off the snow.

Bode Miller can be wild, as we know, and still be fast. He doesn’t finish many races these days. When I think of dominant skiing, I think of skiers in gorgeous control of all the forces acting on them painting their way down a blank canvas. (more…)