What You Need to Know About “System” Skis

We started a series of posts intending to discuss the various makes and styles of skis we have at Avie’s Ski / Sport, and pairing them up with boots (see Blizzard system skis). But after posting it, it seemed there would be too much repetition. So we decided to morph it all  into an occasional “Gear Knowledge” series that will cover, eventually, all areas of the sport. Here goes.

There are two basic ski set ups — “system” and “flat.”  In this post we are going to give you an introduction to system skis, highlighting some advantages and drawbacks. The intent is, if you are thinking about a new pair of skis—and don’t kid yourself, every skier is always thinking about a new pair of skis—this information might be useful. A future post will look at flat ski set up.

A SYSTEM SKI has a slot molded into its mid-section that the binding slides into. The ski and binding were developed together, as a unit, to achieve best possible performance for the type of skier it is designed for—beginner, intermediate, or expert. Because of this, you can focus on things other than ski-and-binding compatibility. Another advantage to a system ski is that if you get new boots, or if you sell them, a certified ski technician can almost always adjust the binding for the new user with a minimum of fuss and cost. This is a major advantage for parents, making it a whole lot easier to pass skis along to siblings.

Because the binding extends along the entire mid-section of the ski, it stiffens it. This may or may not be a disadvantage, depending upon where you ski most of the time. The extra bulk from the system binding does add weight, which again, can be a positive or negative. For example, either might be a positive by providing greater stiffness and stability on icy slopes, but may be a negative while skiing in the woods because of the added weight and reduced flex.

System skis in a general sense fall into the “front-side, carving ski” category. These are the “go to” setup for anyone who spends most of their time on the groomers. Because of their great versatility, and availability in a wide variety of lengths and waist widths, the system ski is probably the most prevalent type of ski on the slopes today. That’s especially true here in New England where we tend to see crustier and icier conditions than out west where light, fluffy powder is more prevalent.

We suggest that all beginners, and especially rapidly growing youngsters—beginner or otherwise—consider system skis. For beginners, the design of most system skis makes learning easier, so progression to intermediate level happens faster. Ease of resale will be an asset that will offset outgrowing your “beginner” skis in a season or two. Rapidly growing youngsters will outgrow ski boots before skis, and the system ski can readily be adjusted to a larger boot size at little to no cost.

Beginning skiers, who need a ski that is forgiving of faults as they learn and progress, should look at a narrow-waist system ski in the lower price range. A beginner ski is designed more for skidding on the snow than carving. The beginner is able to get used to the mechanics of skiing without falling down all the time. Such a ski will serve well on the “green” trails and milder “blues” as skills develop. Skis in this category at Avie’s Ski / Sport are, for men: Blizzard Power X3, and Nordica Avenger 75; for women: Blizzard Viva X3, Fischer Inspire and Pure, Nordica Alexa, and Volkl Adora.

Intermediate skiers are attacking the slopes more aggressively, hitting the steeper “blues” and an occasional “black.” These skiers need to step up their game and be on a ski with a full wood core, perhaps containing some metal—steel or titanium being the standards. Intermediate and expert level skis are designed for carving, not skidding. Intermediate skiers may want a slightly wider-waisted ski as the added width provides greater stability in turns. The addition of metal plus increased ski width, provides the stability needed to handle the speed that will come with spending more time on steeper slopes. Skis in this category at Avie’s Ski / Sport are, for men: Blizzard Power X7, Fischer Progressor F18, Volkl RTM 77, and Volkl RTM 78; for women: Blizzard Viva 770, Fischer KOA 75 and Trinity, Nordica Drive 78, and Volkl Viola.

Advanced intermediate to expert skiers really must consider a ski with metal to give the stability and grip needed to ski steep slopes where the force of gravity creates high speeds. Titanium becomes your best friend, and carbon should be your nirvana because if it’s supreme lightness. Even wider waists may be welcome as they provide increased stability. Skis in this category at Avie’s Ski / Sport are, for men: Blizzard Power X7Ti, Fischer Ranger Ti, and Volkl RTM 81; for women: Blizzard Viva X7Ti.

As a general rule of thumb, as price goes up so does performance. Two things are happening on a system ski—and in fact most all skis and bindings—as price increases. The internal core of the ski is changing to make it stiffer and more stable—generally through the addition of steel, titanium, and/or carbon fiber. The binding is changing to ensure that more capable skiers are retained in the binding on the steeper slopes that generate higher speeds.

For example the Blizzard X-Power 7 vs. Blizzard X-Power Ti (see Blizzard post for details). The “Ti”, which is shorthand for titanium, has sheets of that metal sandwiched into its core, making it stiffer and therefore more stable. Titanium costs a bit more because it is lighter than steel given the same amount of “toughness.” This is a very important feature for those skiers that really want to ski fast and not have their skis chattering all over the slope. The bindings on the Ti have “dampening” mechanisms built in to help the ski become even more stable at higher speeds over crusty, icy slopes. Bottom line is, you pay more for those premium features.

So, is a system ski right for you? If you are a beginner—Yes. If you are a fast growing youngster—Yes. If you spend most of your time skiing the groomed slopes—Yes. If you are building a two to three ski collection and want one pair that absolutely excels on the front-side, carving up the slopes—Yes.

Now that you know enough about system skis to be dangerous, stop into Avie’s Ski / Sport and challenge us to help you find the perfect ski for your needs and desires. We like that challenge very much!