One of the many classic technique ski types now available from numerous manufacturers is the “zero”, a ski specifically designed to give good to excellent kick at and around 0 degrees C (32F) in new wet and morphing snow conditions. Since the introduction of these skis over 5 years ago, the “zero” has become a requisite part of any competitive skier’s fleet of skis.
The Sun Valley area was visited by a true “Cascades” type weather pattern in late November and early December 2012. A super wet, near 0 centigrade snow storm coated the entire upper Wood River Valley (it was all rain in Sun Valley) with dense, wet snow to depths up to about 4 feet. The conifers have the classic totally “plastered” look, just like one sees in the Cascades. This weather pattern lead to snow conditions in the Galena Lodge area that were classic “zero” conditions. I had just received a pair of Salomon Equipe 10 Classic Zeros and this was an ideal time to try them out.
Many classic technique skiers in the inland Rockies, have been reticent to invest in a “zero” ski because they (incorrectly) contend that conditions in such areas seldom call for the “zero”. In typical bucolic “blue hard wax” kick days, thoughts about “zeros” quickly disappear but, come race day and a warm front with wet snow and suddenly you are “up the creek”, so to speak, if you do not have a pair of “zeros” in your quiver. This happened a couple of years ago at the Teton Ridge 28 km classic race in Tetonia, ID. The only reliable kick that day came from “zeros” and the drop-out rate (and associated “frustration rate”) by competitors was high as the “hard wax over klister” solution was either marginal or not sufficiently durable for the entire race. Those who showed up with “zeros” had a great day. Now, consider that you might have trained specifically for that race and you quickly realize the value of your investment in “zeros”.
Here in Sun Valley (which is known as a “dry” snow area, although it seems to be getting wetter and wetter) over the past few years we have used “zeros” at least 10-15 times per 150 day season, or 7%-10% of the days. On many of these days no ski of racing grade would work and this would have resulted in a lost day of classic skiing. One could use crowns but we all know the drawbacks there. I have heard similar comments about the usefulness of “zeros” from other skiers in numerous other inland, “dry” snow areas. Simply put the “zero” ski is an essential element to your ski fleet, even in such “dry” snow areas.
Salomon S Lab Equipe 10 Zero ski
I switched from Fischer skis to Salomon skis after a long conversation with our ski adviser and the improving capabilities of Salomon in the ski design and manufacture arena. He convinced me that Salomon had come a long way and as of the 2011 model year was entirely in control of the design and manufacture at the Austrian ski manufacture facility shared with corporate sibling Atomic Ski.
Salomon is starting to put their stamp on Nordic ski design with the softground skating ski (review forthcoming) being an example and this “zero” ski being another. I have always had faith in Salomon’s ability to challenge the leading edge of technology and design and it is good to see they are following through with their Nordic skis.
One consequence of switching from Fischer to Salomon is that I have a ready supply of hand-picked Fischer skis for comparison testing. In this case a pair of 2011/12 Fischer “zeros” are used in 1-to-1 testing with the 2012/13 Salomon Equipe 10 “zero” ski. Comparisons will be referred to throughout this review.
Salomon have designed different flex distributions for their cold and warm classic skis. The warm condition skis have a more “peaked” pressure distribution fore and aft than the cold conditions ski. This presumably allows for more water displacement and perhaps better glide in wet conditions. The zero ski, of course, has the “warm” condition flex pattern. This flex pattern is partly achieved by utilization of a full carbon fiber layer in the build-up stack.
Important note: Flex, as many of you know, is by far the most important aspect of choosing a ski. Choosing the proper flex for your weight and skiing style is not, however, a straight forward process. Although it might be possible to select a pair of symmetric, well-matched flex pattern “off the rack” skis at a ski shop, it is highly improbable and therefore best avoided.
There exists a growing business of experienced “hand pickers” who go to the ski factories over the summer and pick skis out for their clients. This process begins by selecting through the designated “race stock” to a group of as few as 20% 0f the initial number to find true “race stock” quality and symmetry. From this much reduced group of skis, the proper flex for each client’s weight, aggressiveness, and style are chosen by the pickers. As I understand it , after this hand picking, the rest of the race stock goes to warehouses around the world. Often when a ski shop informs you that your skis will be “hand picked” for your parameters by “their guy” at whatever ski company, it is this stock that they are choosing from. Obviously, it is not necessarily the best stock to be choosing from. Worse still are the “rack” skis in the shop. If you are serious about your skiing do not buy “rack” skis or even “company guy” skis; absolutely stay away from store rack skis (if you are serious you probably already know this but there is no problem with stating the obvious). Invest in skis “hand picked” by experts for you. You will otherwise risk paying list price for “dogs”. Handpicking, which costs about $100/pair in addition to the list price, is a very good investment as these properly picked skis will be be your best friends for many years. In fact, I know many Nordic Olympians who are still using their race stock classic skis from as far back as the late 80’s and early 90’s- and they are still competitively “fast” skis (they are not as stable as modern skis but if your skills are sufficient such skis can be as fast as anything out there).
These Salomon Zeros were “hand picked” for me this past summer by our ski adviser. These skis are compared to a pair of Fischer RCS classic zeros also “hand picked” for me last year.
There appears to be nothing new here as all of the major manufacturers have utilized some version of the same technology to obtain grip in these difficult waxing conditions. The grip area consists of a rubberized, “hairy” or “fuzzy”, base region made of rubber mixed in with normal base material. This area needs to be “activated” with simple random circular sanding with 100-150 grit abrasive paper (aluminum oxide grit papers seem to work the best). The professionals use a random orbit electric sanding tool with the same paper but it is not necessary to use such a tool to obtain similar results- the hand sanding works just fine. Once you gain experience with the zeros you might want to start trying them in “non-zero” conditions. This will require utilizing different degrees of “hairiness” and therefore different grits of abrasive paper and aggressiveness with the paper. Some report the zeros as useful down to the -7C (20F) range, depending on snow conditions. Others have used the zeros as a waxable ski and just sanded off the wax when they are to be used in a “hairy” state. I have not experimented with any of these extended range uses so I will not comment on the efficacy, but I might give some of this a try and report back here.
The grip area must be treated with some sort of deicing compound. Swix sells a flourinated spray product specifically for this purpose called, appropriately “zero spray”. They sell two types a 100% flourinated “zero” and “zero 70″, the 70 is the “economy” version and I have had nothing but issues with the “economy” product. The 100% flourinated “zero” product works quite well but is very expensive (about $80 at BNS). The “economy” version is much cheaper (about $30 at BNS) but based on my experience I cannot recommend it, just invest in the 100% product. It is quite frustrating to be out there about 15 km into a ski and have icing on the grip area- it not only reduces the grip but it severely detracts from glide to the point of making the skis unskiable.
I have been told that there are numerous other durable and cheaper treatments for the glide area including use of 100% flouro-block rubbing, etc. Having not tried anything other than the zero sprays I will not comment further on these alternatives. I do know that many of the elite racing techs will use some version of alternative methods to prevent icing.
The glide area is no different than on any other warm conditions Salomon Equipe 10 ski. The glide areas are treated just as you would a conventional classic ski. I had a warm weather grind put on these skis but Salomon provides the product with their own grind. Although these factory grinds are getting better, the custom grinds available at ski tuning facilities nationwide are, in my experience, typically superior in most conditions where an objective test is employed.
As I indicated at the outset, we have had ample opportunity to use the zero skis here in Sun Valley this season and I have done just that. I have been on these zeros for six sessions and a total of about 150 km. The longest training session was 42 km. In each instance the grip was solid and the glide remarkable. In 5 of the 6 sessions no waxed-ski alternative was yielding reliable grip. In the one session that a waxed ski could perform, the waxed ski was significantly slower than the zero. In all cases I would probably have opted to not ski classic given the difficulties in waxing. The zeros were a true solution and allowed me to continue with classic skiing independent of the conditions- something that is very important to me.
I tested the Salomon Equipe 10 zeros (2012/13) against the Fischer RCS zero (2011/12) in a head to head comparison in “classic” zero conditions with identical grip prep (including “zero spray”) and glide wax on a timed 1.5 km loop (with two hills and numerous slow speed and high speed turns) repeated 3 times for each set of skis. This type of testing is preferred when comparing two sets of skis because you generate both analytic data (lap time and max downhill speed) and subjective data like which pair felt faster and skied the transitions more smoothly. Although the skis were close I will give the edge to the Salomons as they had consistently faster loop times, max downhill speed, and they “felt” faster on the ups. Suffice it to say that the Salomon Equipe 10 zeros are at least the equivalent of the Fischer RCS offering. Given the success of the Fischer ski, it is safe to conclude that the Salomon ski as good as any “zero” ski currently on the market.
Salomon have produced a top quality, very fast zero ski offering that can compete with any other version currently available.