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Parabolic skis: revolution in downhill skiing
Parabolic, shaped or hourglass. These skis are out to settle the score.
Parabolic, shaped or hourglass. These skis are out to settle the score.
By Gloria Chang, Discovery Channel

Carving Day at Horseshoe Ski Resort an hour north of Toronto. The snow is falling steadily as representatives for all the major ski manufacturers set up their demo stations. They're here to reclaim the mountain from those who've gone to the other side - the ones who've traded in their lean steel and fiberglass swords for a fatter and wider surfboard on snow. The ski-makers have a new weapon: parabolic skis.

Set up in military lines, these hipper, groovier-looking skis have a tip and a tail that's much wider than the waist, which is the area under your boot. The result is a dramatic shape or sidecut along the side of the ski, producing an hourglass-like figure.

One of the most extreme parabolic ski is Elan`s SCX series.
One of the most extreme parabolic ski is Elan`s SCX series.
"We needed something exciting, something fun to add to skiing," says Bob Muran, a former professional skier with the Polish National Team and now a parabolic ski instructor with Elan.

Skiing has been suffering a rough ride since the surfers came on board. Snowboarders talk about how much easier and more fun it is to "ride the snow" than to downhill ski. But this new shaped ski has ski instructors and manufacturers raving about a revolution in skiing. Interestingly enough, the ski has a shape suspiciously similar to its rival snowboard.

The parabolic ski has a dramatic sidecut, but the `extremeness` depends on the model.
The parabolic ski has a dramatic sidecut, but the `extremeness` depends on the model.
"When you tip the ski on edge, it will immediately start turning because the shape already has the ski going in that direction," explains Muran. It's so much easier to turn and balance that, "whatever level you were on conventional skis, you'll go up to another level on the shaped skis," says Perry Schmunk, director of the ski and snowboard school at Blackcomb Mountain at Whistler, B.C. "Everyone's enjoyment will go up a notch." The resort has replaced their rental skis with the shaped ones last year.

Ski instructor Bob Muran shows Don how to shift his weight on the parabolic skis.
Ski instructor Bob Muran shows Don how to shift his weight on the parabolic skis.
The simple geometric technology will affect the ski industry the same way the oversized racket impacted tennis, says Schmunk. "It'll increase your sweet spot." They're the most innovative thing to happen to skis since plastic boots replaced leather ones in the 1960s, adds Muran, when the plastic allowed you to lean forward and really pressurize the ski.

Easier to turn! To balance! Less effort!

The skis allow advanced skiers to `ride the snow` close to the snow, like snowboarders do.
The skis allow advanced skiers to `ride the snow` close to the snow, like snowboarders do.
Could a simple adjustment like a curve in the ski really allow a beginner to carve in a season or two, a skill that usually takes several patient years on conventional skis? Will it make a difference for an intermediate skier like me?

I put on a pair and follow Muran out onto the slopes. My friend Donald Chong, a beginner skier, comes along for the ride.

Bob Muran says each Elan model varies according to the skier`s ability, weight and gender.
Bob Muran says each Elan model varies according to the skier`s ability, weight and gender.
Don feels comfortable immediately after strapping them on. He roughly imitates Muran's Cs down the slope, legs wide apart. My skis cross once before I realize I really don't have to work as hard to turn, and to trust the skis. The stance is the same: knees bent, chest and arms forward, shins leaning forward against my ski boots. But instead of twisting my skis into my turns by putting pressure on the front of the skis and following the turn through, I just shift my weight from side to side. The more weight I put on my inside ski, the sharper the turn. They really are easier to turn.

As I see Don grasping the technique on his third run, I feel a little cheated. I remember spending much of my time falling when I was learning to ski and here was Don, all smiles. No aches, no fear.

"Psychologically, they just feel better - they're like extensions of my legs and I don't have to worry about my skis crossing over," grins Don. "It's cool."

"Suddenly you're going to discover the joy of skiing that was reserved for someone who's been skiing for ten years," offers Muran.
"So, in some ways, this is the way the skis should have been made." starts Don.
"..to begin with." Muran finishes the thought.

Skiers and snowboarders (right) can ride the snow together.
Skiers and snowboarders (right) can ride the snow together.
The skis are shorter, about 15 cm shorter than what you would take on a conventional ski, and come in only about four sizes. The wider tip and tail make up for the lost surface area from the decrease in length. The deeper the sidecut, the easier it is to turn. They are touted to be best in powder and easier to handle in cruddy snow and moguls. There aren't any moguls to try them out on but they do seem easier for the first two conditions. They're also supposed to handle ice but from what I've seen, it depends on the model you buy. Curved edges aren't what I would choose to ski in icy conditions.

The shape of these new skis aren't completely unfamiliar to the ski industry either. Professional racers have been using custom-made shaped skis for years. The commercial designs, said to be made first by Elan, showed up last season but have come out in full force this year. According to industry experts, the parabolic skis will make up half of all ski sales this year - comprising more than 60 models from 15 manufacturers.

To introduce the skis to the retail public, manufacturers and ski stores are holding clinics across the country to allow curious skiers to try them out. Some, like Elan, offer an actual run out with an instructor like Muran. Salomon is the only major manufacturer that won't be making its own version of the shaped skis, and American manufacturer K2 is now only making the shaped ones. Prices vary greatly, from $299 up to $800.

So how do you decide if the new skis are for you? Schmunk says it's like buying a used car: don't buy them until you've tried which make is best for you. Try them at a demo clinic or rent a pair for the day.

Ski instructors and manufacturers alike are predicting that what is now the conventional ski will become obsolete, and the new parabolic ski will be known just as the ski.

The new skis won't just give skiing its needed facelift; they may end the war on the mountain between snowboarder and skier. As one "paraholic" who goes by the name J. Garcia says, "if snowboarders look like skiers and skiers look like snowboarders, it doesn't matter. All that's important is the mountain."