Originally created 02/08/00

Ski Science



Science has come to the slopes.

After decades of skis with sides ruled by parallel lines, ski manufacturers have turned to a shape familiar to algebra students -- the parabola.

"The traditional ski concept had not changed for 90 to 100 years," said Ron Wheatley, an owner of Neptune Dive and Ski in Augusta. "It was pretty much the same design it was at the turn of the century."

Not anymore. Walk into a ski shop these days, and the walls are lined with "curved," "hourglass" or "parabolic" skis. They have wide tips and tails, with pronounced inward curves along each side, so they're narrowest at the point where a skier's boots snap on.

The unique mold allows the skis to retain a large surface area, giving them the stability and speed of the traditional models, Mr. Wheatley said. But the curved sides take advantage of simple physics, altering how the skis flex and bend in turns, he said.

In short, the parabolic shape allows centripetal force, which tends to pull objects toward the center of rotation, to guide the skis through a turn, reducing the amount of effort required to maneuver, he said.

The skis are especially good for recreational skiers, he said.

"The shaped skis are designed for people like us who don't necessarily have a lot of skiing time," Mr. Wheatley said. "The ski does most of the work for you. You don't have to fight it nearly as much."

Once considered appropriate only for newcomers, curved skis have become so popular that it is difficult to find old-school skis, Mr. Wheatley said. Even professional racers use "hybrid" skis, which combine the shape of parabolic skis with the longer length of traditional skis, he said.

"It's very similar to when you look at oversized tennis rackets today," Mr. Wheatley said, referring to the rapid rise of large-faced rackets in the late 1980s and early '90s.

Packages that include the skis and related equipment, such as boot bindings, are available for skiers of all skill levels at prices ranging roughly from $300 to $800, Mr. Wheatley said.

The Sports Authority, off Robert C. Daniel Parkway, also sells the skis, said the store's ski technician, Tom Rossini. Prices range from about $180 to $400 for skis only. Packages that include bindings and other equipment also are available, Mr. Rossini said.

Veteran skiers who want to upgrade to curved skis should be careful to purchase skis tailored to their levels of expertise, Mr. Wheatley said. Advanced skiers who upgrade to beginner's curved skis might find the equipment ill-suited to their skiing style, he said.

"You need to make sure you are comparing apples to apples," he said.

Besides helping newcomers get into the sport, the skis also have allowed frustrated skiers to improve their performance, Mr. Wheatley said.

"I get so much feedback from people who had quit skiing," he said. "It allows them to take it to the next level. All the things they've been trying to do start working for them.

"It puts fun back into skiing."

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409