For Judy Pond the steepest, most difficult trails at her favorite ski resort, Vermont's Okemo Mountain, might as well have had off-limits signs. Whenever the 54-year-old schoolteacher happened upon a run that was precipitous, icy or decked with large moguls, "I'd just become this frumpy lady, this timid soul," she says. "And I'm not that way at all. I started to feel old."
In December 1994 Pond, who had been skiing for three years, got a chance to test the prototype of a curious new ski. She quickly realized that her days of snow-plowing down the bunny hill were over. "At first I thought, These are stupid-looking things," she says of the hourglass-shaped skis, which were 4? inches wide at the tips and tails and a mere 2? inches wide underfoot. "But by my fifth turn, I thought, Oh, my. You just stand on them, and they turn."
Pond attempted to purchase a pair, only to find that the manufacturer had none for sale yet. "I was hot for them," she says. "Ordinarily I don't ski the expert trails. But with this ski I'd go to difficult runs and think, I can do this."
Soon a lot of people will feel the same way. The skis Pond tried—called super-sidecuts, hourglasses, parabolics or goofies—can make life easier and more enjoyable for almost anyone on the slopes. Turning with super-side-cuts is easier than with traditional skis because of the super-sidecuts' curvy shape and abbreviated length, which can be four to six inches shorter than conventional skis. The shape helps less-than-expert skiers make tight, stable, speed-controlling turns even under difficult conditions.
"This is the most significant ski-design development since Howard Head put metal in skis in the late '50s," says Tim Petrick, vice president and general manager of K2 North America. At least 60 ski schools around the country have bought super-sidecuts and are using them as teaching tools. Most of the world's ski makers will build super-sidecuts as soon as their factories can be retooled. And many followers of the ski industry are so impressed, they think that within a few years traditional skis will be as scarce as rope tows. "We believe this is the Big Bertha driver or Prince tennis racquet of skis," says Mike Adams, president of Monark Sporting Goods, Inc., the company that distributes Elan SCX parabolics in the U.S.
"With traditional equipment, only the most advanced skiers could carve a turn," says Ivan Petkov, president of S Ski, which produces only super-sidecuts. "It was the type of turn you could make if you had the time, skill and money to learn it. These radical skis allow people to carve right away."
Petkov, who raced on the Bulgarian national ski team from 1970 to '76, came up with the idea for his skis four years ago while teaching at Aspen Mountain. Frustrated by equipment that he felt was hindering his pupils, he dreamed about building a ski that could enhance the students' efforts to be more balanced and comfortable on the hill. "I wanted to make something that would help people ski better," Petkov says.
While super-sidecuts have mostly been built for intermediates, by next season there will be more than a dozen models meant to appeal to strong skiers. World Cup racers haven't jumped on the bandwagon, though the shorter, rounder skis they've been competing on for several years were an influence in the first super-sidecut design.
As Petkov tinkered with his design, other ski manufacturers were developing their own super-sidecuts, in part to capitalize on the meteoric growth of snowboarding. While it is generally believed that hoarding has attracted participants because of its antiestablishment reputation, in reality its ranks have swelled because snowboarding is surprisingly easy to learn. It might take a novice skier years to learn to negotiate a steep run, but a new boarder might be able to do it after a few months.
"Super-sidecuts open up a whole new avenue of fun on skis," says Doug Buteux, a Washington-based ski instructor. "There's no definitive, right way to ski them yet. It's skiing for fun, not form."