Mark runs Nordic Ultratune.
Atomic is bringing a new skate ski to the table that should have everyone licking their chops.
Atomic calls it the World Cup HT skate ski. “HT” is for Hard Track, and the new ski isn’t just a tweaked version of their all-around favorite, but a whole new ski, straight from the pressure-cooker testing lab that is the World Cup.
Atomic World Cup HT
This new ski is differentiated from the “regular” Atomic World Cup Red Cheetah Featherlight (now designated as the “ST”) in the following ways:
The firmer tip, combined with a more torsionally rigid construction, extends the weight distribution further forward. Add the straight profile, and it adds up to firm contact and edge engagement on a greater length of the running surface on a hard track.
When I say "hard track", I'm referring to a skating platform that's firm enough to use roller-ski poles without punching through the surface. Firm, icy, boiler-plate, concrete, bullet-proof - call it what you want, but if it's hard enough to use roller-ski pole tips, it's "hard track".
Although it is designated as a "hard track" ski, it will certainly be used in medium to hard track conditions, and also will be used as an all-around ski by skiers looking for extra stability.
Atomic uses a bit of extra material in the front end of the ski, dropping their “Beta construction” on the HT in favor of a stout flat-top box section. The ski really is noticeably stiffer torsionally. It is still a cap construction with a distinct hard edge flange that helps with edging and control; this remains a hallmark of the Atomic skate skis, dating back to the early 1990’s.
The bindings will need to be positioned with care, and probably a little further back of the ski’s balance point in order for it to feel neutral, based on my experience. My bet would be 1.5-2.0cm behind balance point, but I’ll be following up with Atomic Austria to get some guidance on their recommendation.
Two grooves for tracking. Ultratune grind for speed!
Double grooves. The double grooves are another shot at making the ski track well in tough conditions. The bottom of the HT skate ski looks like a Rossi skater! Except that the grooves are beefier – a little deeper and wider. I think this is welcome – it makes it easier to work on the ski when the grooves are more pronounced. The all around ski (the “ST”) will still keep the single groove.
The base material is the same as the World Cup Red Cheetah, and they’re very easy to work on – the bases are flat and stay flat, they hold wax well, and the p-tex is slightly softer than many of the other brands.
On the snow the HT skate ski is solid and stable. I got the opportunity to use these skis in icy, transformed conditions that included short sections of melt/freeze (water ice), and long stretches of consolidated large-grained old snow that hadn’t been groomed for a couple of days. Also, I got to use the new skis on groomed track that wasn't icy but simply firm. For me, I could really feel a more solid footing. I noticed it in the tail of the HT as much as the tip, even though the emphasis from Atomic has been on the front-end construction. I suspect they firmed up the tail as well, and there is a slight flare of the ski in the final 6 inches of the tail which helps accentuate the gliding platform while on a flat ski (V2, field skate, etc). On a flat ski, the HT doesn’t wander or squirm; it feels secure. On steep, icy, climbs, the edges stay engaged and don’t wash out.
The trade-off with the HT is that when you’re skiing in soft snow some of the lively supple feel of the standard “ST” skater is a little bit diminished. To me, I think their standard soft/medium track ST skate ski is still my preferred all around choice. But as a 2nd pair, the HT really offers an important compliment to address the realities of skiing in firm snow conditions, or in hard, transformed, crusty, or icy conditions. The fastest skis are the pair that get you to the finish line most quickly, and having a straight tracking and stable ski on a hard surface is crucial.
Oh yes, they tune up nicely
Usage for the two offerings will have some overlap. Soft/medium for the ST, and medium/firm for the HT version. But skiers who prefer an extra stable ski may find the HT to their liking as their primary ski.
The firmer tip flex on the Atomic HT should be considered in context. The HT still has a more supple fore-body than the "regular" ski from a few of the other ski brands! ...it's simply more firm than the Atomic ST version. This is definitely not a board-stiff snow plow.
Picking the appropriate flex will be important for performance, as always. The Atomic HT skate skis will need to be picked on the firmer side, I think, compared to the ST version. I’ve only had the opportunity to ski on two pairs, so I don’t have a huge base of testing data. I’ll be doing some background work to get recommendations from the race room guys in Altenmarkt in order to get the best fits for skiers
If you’re a citizen racer, the HT plus the ST make a terrific 2-pair combo. For competitors with a full bag of ski options, a combination of HT and ST choices will allow you to select flexes and grinds to handle the full matrix of possibilities without compromise.
A squared-off tip. A firm tip flex, but still more supple than some other brands offer on their "all-around" ski.
A small detail but with the squared-off tip and the double-groove base, you'll be able to distinguish the HT from the ST in the dark when you stick your hand into your ski bag!
I think Atomic has done their homework and they’ve paid attention to feedback from the racers. They needed a hard track ski, and they came through.
What would I do differently? Okay, I’ll say it again… …they would set off church bells if they’d put a NIS plate on their skis. It would make the business of binding placement much easier (at least for NNN boot users). Not likely to happen, I realize, but objectively it would benefit the ski. Small potatoes, but I find the graphics to be a little bit busy. This has no bearing on anything, and I’m not exactly an art major, but that’s my opinion
I applaud Atomic for making a true hard track choice in their skate ski offerings. Instead of two very similar skis (cold/warm), they’re offering two distinctly different skis that complement each other. One is an excellent, supple, fast, all-around ski for soft and medium track (plus sugar found in mass start races); the other is a firm, stable platform for use in medium to hard-track conditions or for skiers who place a high priority on extra stable skating.
If you'd like to pre-order some of the Atomic skate skis, either the new HT or the all-around ST version, just send an email and you'll be added to the pick list for autumn 2011 delivery.