After many years wanting a pair, but never quite justifying the new price for a potentially dust gathering new fangled ski, I got hold of a bargain used pair og Atomic Skintecs. First day out and what is the scoop? Like I say, it seemed an expensive experiment for a system which gained as much critique as praise, the former playing to the sceptics and wax sponsored semi pros. So did the skis show their stregnths and weaknesses today?
I bought a lightly used pair of Pro skintec 4000s, 208 cm, which I presume have the advanced carbon fibre insert, more on that later, but more over it had the glued on mohair insert. This was a cheaper option launched I think in 2013 as an alternative to the very innovative and much discussed magnetic, exchangeable skin system. Now all the major producers of XC skis have come up with their own varients, with I think the expired patents going back as far as wooden ski days so no IPR to hold back copy cats. However Atomic decided to use the system on really their top training ski with the variable tension carbon camber insert. Camber (centre arc tension, spenn in Norwegian) is really the crux of the matter, but first how did it go?
The skis were obviously from our local shop who have been fitting them with quite a cheap binding in a horrible grey plastic. There is a lock lever, which I just find annoying on skis, they come open in my experience as often as sprung step ins due to icing or accidental twists. The internals are stainless steel and not ligher, stiffer alloy. Anyway that was the only real disappointment of the day. An upgrade to perhaps Atomics own binding with matching long grooved boots next year will fix it anyway.
So after getting the things onto my boots, it was out in new, wet snow with an immediate nice little hill up from the car park to test the skis, followed by our usually and quite wonderful forrest road training 7km return tour route., which often requires zero fishboning and has hills which mostly can double pole down at high speed. It is all go, a really good workout with a beaver-infested lake and natural Scots Pine and Alder hilly woodlands to make it a little more interesting.
Immediately what struck me was that the skis were really light for their imodest length, and felt immediately controllable and fast. I have never used 'straight' edged classic skis before, but I can see why very few people who use the driven tracks for training bother with side cut these days. You see many septagenarians out on sports and even racing skis with parallel edges, 40mm wide.
It would have otherwise been a difficult if not impossible day to wax for- new, wet snow on a relatively soft base, with a rising temperature and quite a few folk out in the tramlines by early afternoon. Perhaps rubbing skis would have been the pro's choice, it certainly was damned if you clister, damned if you don't as the base of the tracks got harder and wetter with the army of pensioners who seemed to appear.
First hill and as perhaps could be expected, the skis were like nailed in the kick adhesion! This is what they all talk about "Spikrefeste" with these skis. Good feste uphill often makes up pyschologically for a little less than average glide, but today it first of all seemed quite good. I was soon "up the chuff" of a light little lady who was having some slipping up the light gradietn. The narrow Atomics dug in quite a lot on the middle skating area which was really very soft, so I went over to a bit of skate padling to see how it went to get passed the dame in the lane. Suprisingly enough they were really nice to skate a little on, which is a major bonus for me because I am not a purist when it comes to either technique. In fact I would say that a good green, blue or lillac hard wax job in those -`C condtions can be judged by the ready ability to skate out the tram-lines and maintain skating on the mid lane, all eb that not as optimum as skate skis, but without catching and jittering
My old timer mate revealed to me that he actually used to compete for Minnesota State XC team, and also that he weighs in at about 59kg, which is as good as half of what I weight. He had taken off to get a head start on his clistered up sports skis. It took me about a km to reel him in.
Glide up hill was completely acceptable and I revelled in having skis which almost felt like they werent there as my trailing foot kicked back into the air. However down hill the glide was awful. I think these types of days are the very few which suit a wider, light tour ski for me, my Fischer PowerWax 2009 model may have worked better to maintain float over the soft base. My lighter tour companion had much better glide despite the first round being on new snow and him having a lillac clister job.
Uphill first round though and I was the flying scotsman. Grip and glide relatively for the conditions and I guess compared to the Start GripTape I have planked on my blue tour planks, it was a much better day out. My last tour in hardened snow ended in swapping to skate skis, while the damp weather tour before that had been a plod on my ancient jumble sale skis with little or no glide. For once I felt that I really could concentrate on both technique, power and speed.
On the flats and down hill however, it was a sad story. It was chronically slow, and not helped by the tracks being wide out on soft edges, with an overly generous skating lane as is the usual for our club, or perhaps the machine is at fault as the two pensioners who drive it both go classic not skate-style. I felt sucked of power and frustrated. Were the skis too soft a camber?
I did have a pair of these skis put on a tension machine to my weight approximately and they were just about ok in terms of the kick zone being held off the snow for 90% of its length. It is quite a lot shorter than the removable version, but wider I think, and maybe a rougher or longer strand Mohair. However on the steepest downhill the skis showed just a tiny little bit of the whirring noise people on web forums complain about.
Second round and the temperature had risen well above zero, and there had been maybe 10 skiers up and down the route. The tracks were firmer and quite wet, The skis became a little slippy in the kick and probably got sucked oin the flats and downhills, they went irriatingly slow.
Here we come then to the crux of the matter and I believe the lions share of the criticism of these skis from people who have bought them and not been happy. The camber is all important. Without the right amount of tension your skin will drag over the snow and lock the ski into suck at its plastic edges. Too little camber tension and you will struggle to activate the compliant carbon system, which gives up its relative stiffness to behave like a soft ski at the point when the threshold of kick downward pressure is maximum.
The other brands of 'skin-skis' will attract the same/ wrong camber, wrong ski criticism. They are all atleast 50% dearer than normal packet price, mid range skis and mostly to a better qaulity without hairy brasilian treatment. So the type of buyer is likely to be someone who knows they want an easy maintenance ski for training, but maybe just took the chart length for being right for height and not weight. Hence some bitching on the web forums from folk who should find out about camber and what weight they will support and what style of kicking and snow they will be best suited to. The big surprise to me is that the manufacturers have chosen mid to top end sports-training skis which can be used for racing in fact, as their launch area for a ski-idea which may suit a more leisure and fitness user.
Also you cant forget glide zone properties, Kizmun or wax, and the need for texturing for wetter conditions. My skis seem to have a very light ex works stone ground effect and I hadnt bothered re-gliding them, there was some white hairy sections but nothing more than a couple of centimeters so I just used the morning for work and threw them in the car at 1215.
Atomic actually have launched a Stiff version of this very ski in this winter's catalogue, which is maybe the ideal ski for me, but I am more than merely willing to percievere and won't be casting in the towel with my new fangled, furry skis.