The “Complete Fleet” – Part 2: Notes on Ski Selection with help from Zach Caldwell
By: Andrew Wynd (2006/07/27)
I was lucky enough to travel with Karl Saidla and Megan McTavish down to Vermont to visit Zach Caldwell of Engineered Tuning in the hope of getting some rocket skis picked for me.
Now that Karl has been to Zach for a few years running, he is close to achieving the “complete fleet”, as you may have read in his earlier article. My own “quiver” as I like to call it, is somewhat less than complete and has quite a few sizeable holes in it. To be precise I have only 1 pair of decent skating skis, and have recently resorted to relying on Ed Mcarthy’s old skis as my best pair of classics. Hence why I was in desperate need of help with ski selection.
For those of you who are telling yourselves, “well that’s not me, I have 12 pairs of skis”, ask yourself honestly how many are suited to your weight and style of skiing and how many you actually race on? I had 12 pairs of skis, but most of them were junk, either too stiff or too soft and whilst they supposedly “hand picked” by the factory staff, I doubt they ever were. In some of my previous articles I have described a situation where I had a very good race on a pair of skis and they were without doubt, some of the fastest skis in the field that day. Since then I have struggled to find a situation where the exact same conditions were repeated, and ended up using these skis when it was close, but not exactly the same. Every time those races have ended in disaster, with a pair of skis so “squirrelly” that it was difficult to even stand on them.
I explained my situation to Zach and he set about testing my fastest pairs of classic and skate skis and it soon became obvious why I was having trouble skiing on many of my pairs. Zach’s approach to flex testing is very exact and precise, yet once I witnessed it, made absolute sense and was easy to understand.
Quite simply all my skis except one pair, were not flexed correctly for me and every time I used them, something was compromised, whether it was adding extra layers to my classical wax job to pad the pocket, or not confidently weight shifting on to my skate skis. Either way it is difficult to perform at your best when this is occurring and this is something I am simply not willing to compromise on any more. Perhaps the best analogy would be taking the fastest looking time trial bike, complete with aero-bars and attempting to take it up Alpe-d’Huez. Sure it looks fast, but it is simply the wrong tool for the job.
Zach then recommended some skis to cover a generally wide range of conditions to get started on my new fleet, which of course can than be built on over the years as I begin to decide what conditions each particular skis work best in. In my particular case my nearly all my current skating skis were well suited to wet, slushy conditions. Not really surprising given what Australian skiers experience a lot of the time. Therefore many of the skis Zach picked for me were suited to cold snow and for hard, packed conditions.
The thing that I liked the most about the service Zach provides is his guarantee. Where else can you take your skis back and say “I’m not happy with these” and you can swap them? With the extent Zach goes to in picking a pair of skis, I am confident that I will not need to swap any of my pairs and I am sure looking forward to trying them this coming winter. According to Zach’s website, he has already picked some of his skis for next season and will soon be selecting the rest of his inventory so it is not too late to get good skis selected for you and your style of skiing. My parting advice is to get to know your skis inside and out, in every condition possible. Learn from my many years of frustrating races on less than perfect equipment and get an expert to help you pick your skis. Simply picking up a pair, looking closely at them and giving them a good squeeze or two in simply not good enough.