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"Mondiale du Freeski": Ski Testing in Les Deux Alpes

Last weekend (25th and 26th October 2008) saw the first ever Mondiale du Freeski in Les Deux Alpes. The event, which replaces the former Mondiale du Ski, offers anyone who’s up for it the chance to test this season’s free skis, ski wear and protective wear, for the small price of a summer lift pass (25 euros per day).

view of ski test areaThe difference this year with the addition of "free" to the event’s title was that all the skis there to test belonged to "niche" brands specialising in freeride and freestyle skis, leaving the big boys such as Salomon and k2 (who had made themselves at home in the previous Mondiale du Ski) to sulk in the corner. Amongst this year’s exhibitors were experienced players Armada, Line, and Black Diamond, along with Apo and Amplid (brands better known for their snowboards) and newcomers White Cristal who specialise in tailor-made skis (where you can chose the shape and design).

The beauty of this weekend was that, not only did we get to test out these brand spanking new skis and touch snow again for the first time in months, but we got to watch some of the best local (and foreign) riders rip it up much more stylishly than I can or will, in Saturday’s "Best Tricks Contest" and the same evening’s Ripcurl freestyle show. The one up shot of the lack of big money brands was the lack of big names of the likes of Candide Thorex (who made an appearance the previous year), however, with La Clusaz pro Lolo Favre pulling of some impressive wall rides in spite of a bad back and local up and coming riders launching themselves at the crowd with double superman front flips and shifty 5’s, I couldn't say I was disappointed.

A crowd gathering for Saturday night's freestyle show      The set up for the show

The ski testing took place on the sunny Les Deux Alpes Glacier, which boasts one of the biggest, and arguably best, summer snow parks in Europe. With beginner, advanced and pro lines comprised of kickers, a couple of rails and a HUGE pipe, whether you’re working on that misty back flip or taking your tentative first steps in the park, there’s something fun for you to play on. So, it was up here, high above the clouds and far far away from London, that a bunch of smiling happy ski manufacturers let me loose on their new creations…

So what’s new this season?
Here’s a quick rundown of what you can expect from this winter’s core brands:

Well, we are definitely seeing a bit of an interesting turning point here, it seems that history is repeating itself backwards. Where long, long ago in the land of the 90s we saw ski brands launch the snowboard, we're now seeing snowboard brands re-launch the ski. With veteran snowboard manufacturers Hammer launching a line of freeskis last winter, this year it’s the turn of APO, the very brand that caused the explosion of snowboarding in Europe.

  • Bigger is Better - The trend is definitely for the FAT ski with freeskis becoming on average 4mm wider. both Verbier based Faction and Salt Lake City based Black Diamond are producing some big boys this year, with Faction’s Royale coming in at 122mm across the middle and Black Diamond’s megawatt weighing in at 125mm. However, the prize for the fattest ski has to go to White Cristal’s "twintip swallow" which comes out top with it’s hefty 182mm waist line. These are true freeride skis, and are definitely best suited to the backcountry. However, after chatting to a few testers on the t-bar, I can tell you that the general consensus was that these enormous creations are actually easier to handle on the piste than you’d think.

  • Multi Tasking - This leads us to the next new "trend", and that’s the quest to create more versatile skis. Want to ride park and powder in the same day without changing skis? Black Crows, a two year old French company created by pro-riders Camille Jaccoux and Bruno Compagnet, have created a very versatile and high performing range. Their star models are Corvus, a freeride ski that performs well in all conditions and Navis, a pure back country ski that still rides fairly well on the piste.

  • It is all about looks - Graphics are becoming more and more important as the ski and snowboard world are becoming better friends. With the competition for the best looking skis hotting up, Verbier based Faction have launched a "design your own skis and win stuff" comp, looking for artists and designers to submit ideas to go into the running to win their own ski and $500 cash.

  • Reverse Camber - More brands will be launching reverse camber skis this year. Designed in this way, skis are made to bend away from the snow, rather than touching it, so your tips won't sink in deep powder. Line, Freeski pioneer and the first brand to launch the concept of twin tips, have incorporated reverse camber into their EP pro model, as have Amplid with their Choleserone RC.

  • Girl Powder - Also this year we’re set to see an increase in girl’s freestyle and freeride skis - now you're talking…

The view from the top of the park      

Tester’s verdict: Girls free-ride/freestyle skis:
Here are my thoughts on the girl-orientated skis I had the pleasure of testing:

Apo - Le Marielle (116-92-112). Pretty, playful and light, this ski is designed for park, powder and carving on piste. Generally a nice ski, although lacking a bit of stability when pushed to the limit, it’s probably more suited to the intermediate girl freeskier.

Armada -ARVW (109-89-120), a freestyle/backcountry ski that’s lighter than the men’s ARV with a bit more flex. Apart from this, there’s not much the ARV can do that the ARVW can't. Performing well on ice, crud, at high speeds and in the park, this ski is a lot of fun.

Amplid - Infrapearl (118-95-128), an ultra-light women’s all mountain ski, this beautiful creation looks like it would be a dream in powder. Bit of a lack of powder up on the glacier in autumn, but after a couple of slips on the ice, some gliding, wide turns meant the ski gripped nicely to the piste. The Infrapearl performed well on kickers but I'd be cautious about taking them into an icy pipe. A ski for the expert - take them where there’s snow!

White Cristal - Freestyle 165cm (114-80-105), this was the first ski I tested and despite not having seen snow since last Easter, I still enjoyed this ski the most. Turning with ease on the piste, gliding through crud and not faltering for a second on ice, this ski was particularly at home in the park and can pretty much cope with anything you throw at it. This was definately my favoutite ski of the weekend, and isn’t it pretty!

White Cristal has four key team members: friends Mamat and Philou (French) and Argentinean brothers Gaston and Pablo. These guys began making skis in their garage, but with demand increasing, they’ve now swapped the garage for a private factory. Their speciality is tailor-made skis where you can choose the shape and the design. If you’re going to be around Avoriaz/Morzine this winter and fancy trying some of their creations for yourself, they are happy to let you test them for free so just give them a call on: 0033(0)6 84 09 49 51 or 0033 (0)79 599 82 85 to arrange a time and place.

By Jennie Excell