Great new skis, but what will the season hold?
Stephen Wood is the man who skis all day
Saturday 19 November 2011
When writing last month about this season's hottest new ski, the Salomon BBR, I undertook to report on its performance as soon as I got the chance to try a pair. It is possible that other matters, the eurozone crisis, perhaps, have distracted you from fretting about just how hot the BBR is; nevertheless I did my duty, setting off in search of snow on which to test the skis.
I found some just above a Snow+Rock shop, on the south-facing slope of the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, which, according to its website, has "the closest real snow to London", a claim it may have to reconsider in the depths of winter.
Snow+Rock loaned me "demo" BBRs in both styles, the milder, narrower 7.9 and the hardcore 8.9, and I stomped upstairs with them to the ski slope.
On the choppy mid-afternoon surface (I should have gone in the morning for the fresh snow, said a couple of regulars on the slope) it was quite difficult to discern the subtleties of the skis' performance, but there was no doubting the effectiveness of their wide, streamlined "spoon" at the front. Initiating a turn was almost effortless. The softer, springier 7.9 (that's the ski's width beneath the boot, measured in centimetres) took a little longer to respond, but the 8.9 positively leapt into action.
The skis' short, rather rudimentary tail is intended to help the skier power out of the turn by shifting his or her weight backwards a little, but a snowdome's narrow piste is no place to experiment safely with fast exits. And obviously an indoor slope cannot, unfortunately, replicate the experience of skiing in deep powder, conditions in which the BBR reveals the full potential of its front-end shape, created by designer Bertrand Krafft.
Incidentally, although I knew that the ski's name (pronounced, approximately, "bay bear" in French) was derived from Krafft's nickname at Salomon in France, it puzzled me why his colleagues called him that. The answer, apparently, is that it is a common French diminutive for Bertrand.
ppp The week in which the former Prime Minister of Greece put the eurozone in a tailspin was also tough for some in the UK ski business. A spokesperson for one of the big tour operators said that sales this season were slightly ahead of last year's, until that first week of November. Then the market ground almost to a halt: only bookings to Andorra and the USA were up, year-on-year.
A spokesperson for the other big tour operator suggested the problem with the sales pattern could be that, although this year's substantial pre-season discounts did stir the traditional early bookers (families, large groups, the chalet crowd) into action, less committed skiers are sitting tight, waiting for better deals and, quite possibly, worrying about the spectre of double-dip recession, raised once more by the eurozone crisis.
The managing director of another tour operator despaired of finding a reasonable explanation for the way sales have been going because "there haven't been predictable patterns for a couple of seasons now". As he put it, the market is flat but everything else is up and down.
Looking at all this from the other end of the telescope, punters will conclude that there should be plenty of bargain holidays this season. Some of the early-season deals, including the Crystal Ski Plus packages and the two-for-one Swiss lift-pass offer with Inghams, are still available, the former until the end of this month; but the late-booking discount season started in earnest last week, with Inghams dropping prices for December trips to Arabba and Sestrière, and Courchevel and Lapland, by as much as 40 per cent, and Crystal offering similar deals.
ppp After several descents at the Snow Centre, I took off the BBR skis and slipped on a pair of Yaktrax Pros. These are muzzle-like, rubber-and-coiled-steel contraptions that you wear on your feet in icy conditions to avoid falling on your face. Last winter, Snow+Rock sold out its entire stock; this year it has broadened its range with the Walker model, at £14.99, and the £19.95 Pro, although I am not sure turning pro is actually an option.
In our very residential part of north London, where the council doesn't clear snow, these devices are popular; Postman Keith, who delivers our mail, has a couple of pairs. Ignoring the "Not for indoor use" warning on the box, I attached the Yaktrax to my brogues and ascended the lower slopes of the Snow Centre without a slip or a slide.
Stephen Wood is Executive Editor of Condé Nast Traveller magazine
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