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Nov 23 2015

Waxless Metal-edged Ski Roundup

Fischer fans the flames of phat XCD that Voile leads the charge on.

Fischer fans the flames of phat XCD that Voile leads the charge on.

 
It was over a decade ago that Fischer broke the mold with waxless metal edged skis when they introduced their S-Bound series. In the interim, Karhu pushed the envelope with their 78mm wide Guide, then Voile picked up the ball where Karhu left it, and kept expanding the waistline to 115mm with their Charger BC. As with alpine and telemark skis, waxless metal edged has been infected with waist inflation and I’m here to confirm, unlike the national debt, it’s a good thing.

Not only are today’s full fat, waxless metal edged skis gaining girth, they’re also building a loyal following. In do so, they’re shining example of how, when properly done, even a milquetoast, middle of the road ski that isn’t excellent at anything but is good at a lot of things can be good for something, like becoming the most popular ski in your quiver because it works in so many situations.

Going Waxless

Waxless patterns have always had inferior grip and glide compared to nordic wax when you’re kickin’n’glidin’, but they’re good enough without having to get a PhD in waxology and they don’t require an extra ten minutes to apply what may inevitably be the wrong wax anyway. In the case where you’re earning turns and heading steadily up, skins are grippier in more conditions, yet a waxless pattern on a fat ski can hold a pretty steep line if the surface snow is soft or fresh.

One thing the XCD crowd has done to improve grip has been to use a positive pattern, which means the scales of the pattern rise above the plane defined by the ski base. Fischer made a big deal of creating a negative base, where the scales were recessed beneath the plane of the ski base when they first developed their Crown pattern. It yielded better glide for a waxless pattern, but in the waxless metal-edged world, grip is the preferred game, so you should look for a positive pattern. This has the inevitable consequence of causing you to slow down with each turn.

Going Metal-edged

On firm snow the metal edges are a welcome ingredient, but most of these skis are not that stiff, so you wouldn’t want to rely on these when you need to hold an edge going mach-schnell on icy groomers or frozen bumps. Add a touch of softness to the snow and maintain a reasonable speed and even though the pattern might cause you to bleed speed in every turn, if the slope is steep enough you’ll be smiling.

Application

Where waxless metal edged skis rule is when the situation is changing regularly, repeatedly, like on a cross-country trip that includes creek crossings, bushwack zones, rolling terrain, and short pitches up and down. One can hardly go wrong with any of the skis available in this category. As detailed above, none of ‘em are great at anything, but they’re all good at a lot. Which one is best for you is probably determined most by how wide you dare to go.

Fischer

S-Bound Series
Fischer got the whole thing going in the late 90s with their S-Bound series; a pairing of their renowned Crown pattern which gave above average glide for a waxless pattern, with the turning power of a metal edged ski. The only real limit to these skis was their width, which rendered them better for firm snow or groomed cross-country tracks, except for their widest model, the S-Bound 110 with a 78mm waist. With competition from Voile and Rossignol pushing the bounds of acceptable waist widths for a WME ski, Fischer finally upped the ante this year with their S-Bound 125 that sports a full 95mm of girth at the waist.

Smooth transition from base to grip with Fischer's Easy Skins

Smooth transition from base to grip with Fischer’s Easy Skins

This isn’t the only change. Fischer recognized the need for the superior grip of climbing skin when turns are an integral part of the tour, so they developed a slick attachment system for what Ascension coined “sneaky skins”, short climbing skins that only cover the classic kick zone of a XC ski. Fisher calls ‘em Easy Skins. The difference is the clip at the front of the skin sticks through a dedicated slot in the ski to create a smooth transition from ski base to ski. Sneaky skins always had a slide killing bumper right at the transition.

In addition, Fischer S-Bound skis now come with a postive pattern called an Offtrack Crown pattern.
 

Model Sidecut (mm) Lengths Available Weight/pr/length MSRP
S-Bound 98 98-69-88 mm 169, 179,189 2390 g / 179cm $
Fischer's S-Bound 98. 98 at the tip, 69 at the waist.

Fischer’s S-Bound 98. 98 at the tip, 69 at the waist.

S-Bound 112 112-78-95 mm 169, 179, 189 cm 2590 g / 179 cm $
Fischer's S-Bound 112. 112mm at the tip, 78mm at the waist.

Fischer’s S-Bound 112. 112mm at the tip, 78mm at the waist.

S-Bound 125 125-95-120 165, 175, 185 3150 g /175 cm $
Finally, a full-fat waxless from Fischer. 125mm at the tip, 95mm at the waist.

Finally, a full-fat waxless from Fischer. 125mm at the tip, 95mm at the waist.

G3: Genuine Guide Gear

XCD Stinger
G3 joins the waxless world with the classic dimensions of the Karhu Guide, plus a few millimeters at the tip with a bit of rocker for improved flotation in soft conditions or when breaking trail. They also used what has become fairly standard construction for G3 to deliver a ski with the chops to deliver some decent turns even in challenging conditions.

Model Sidecut (mm) Lengths Available Weight/pr/length MSRP
Stinger 112-78-100 mm 157,166,172,177,185 cm 2500 g / 172cm $
G3 joins the XCD ranks with the 78mm wide Stinger.

G3 joins the XCD ranks with the 78mm wide Stinger.

Madshus

Annum

Nothing is broke with the Annum, so nothing to be fixed. A classic shape with good performance, uphill and downhill. Perfect for long spring ski tours where you want to minimize weight and not bother with climbing skins.

Model Sidecut (mm) Lengths Available Weight/pr/length MSRP
Annum 109-78-95 mm 166,175,185,195 cm 2622g/185 $ 370

Rossignol

BC Series
Rossi has made a big fuss over their full-fat backcountry skis, but those who are looking for a wider waxless ski have been satisfied with what Rossignol is making. The only significant change for this year are new graphics and a slow rise early tip for better trail breaking or turns in powdah.

Model Sidecut (mm) Lengths Available Weight/pr/length MSRP
BC 110 110-78-95 mm 169, 179, 189 cm 1359g/169 $ 395
Rossi's moderately fat BC110.

Rossi’s moderately fat BC110.

BC 125 123-95-120 mm 157,166,172,177,185 cm 2500 g / 172cm $ 440
Rossi's full fat BC-125. It's only 123mm at the tip, but still 95mm at the waist.

Rossi’s full fat BC-125. It’s only 123mm at the tip, but who’s counting? It’s still 95mm at the waist.

Voile

As with everything Voile, their orientation is for harvesting powder. Wally was impressed with Karhu’s Guide, but lamented the lack of flotation. So they stepped it up with the Vector BC, a waxless version of their award winning Vector ski with a 95mm waist. That was such a hit that they figured if mid-fat is good, full fat would be better, and the Charger BC was born. And this year, they add the V6 BC to fill in the gap.

One thing that is different with Voile’s waxless offerings is the core design of these skis. They share the same internal muscle and construction as their non-BC version skis, meaning they were designed to make turns and hold an edge even in hardpack. About the only difference is the addition of a waxless patterned base underfoot.

Model Sidecut (mm) Lengths Available Weight/pr MSRP
Vector BC 115-92-104 mm 160 cm 2480 g/pr $575
Vector BC 118-94-107 mm 170 cm 2720 g/pr $575
Vector BC 121-96-110 mm 180 cm 3120 g/pr $575
First of the full fat XCD skis, Voile's Vector BC

First of the full fat XCD skis, Voile’s Vector BC

V6 BC 116-96-103 mm 163 cm 2690 g/pr $650
V6 BC 121-98-107 mm 173 cm 2980 g/pr $650
V6 BC 124-100-109 mm 183 cm 3350 g/pr $650
V6 muscle, XCD versatility: Voile's V6 BC

V6 muscle, XCD versatility: Voile’s V6 BC

Charger BC   134-110-123 mm 171 cm 3200 g/pr $625
Charger BC   137-112-126 mm 181 cm 3540 g/pr $625
Charger BC   140-114-128 mm 191 cm 3740 g/pr $625
Fattest of the phat. Voile's Charger BC.

Fattest of the phat. Voile’s Charger BC.

Summary

Now that there are so many choices in waxless metal-edged skis you might think you have a bit of a dilema. Perhaps but only if you’re planning to win a race or something with these, in which case, you need to recognize these are the ultimate compromise ski. They aren’t great at anything, but they’re good at a lot of things, and dang convenient when you just want to get out and get skiing with a minimum of fuss. For that, just figure out how fat you want to go, and find a retailer who carries that ski. Then haggle a little on price just to make yourself feel like you didn’t get ripped off, and buy ‘em, mount some bindings to ‘em, and go use ‘em. Once you get used to their convenience you’ll forgive their compromise in performance and be glad you did because now you have an easy way to increase your time gliding on snow.

© 2015
 

  • LightRanger

    Hey Craig,

    Nice article. Thanks for collecting all of the various options together in one spot.

    Looks like a typo in the Rossi BC125 description: 123-95-129 mm

  • Ziggy

    Actually Karhu and Morotto are two brands that preceded the S-Bounds and indeed Fischer had pattern-base skis before that range. I skied the K Kodiak and the M Light Step Tele (and it was anything but light) in the 90s. Little has changed in essence since the Kodiak except perhaps the odd -ve base.
    Some skiers Down Under take their own waxing base and cut a -ve pattern in them – say two columns of half moons. That can yield good glide and grip in most conditions where the snow is heavy but they are of course a pox on hardpack.

  • Dostie

    Ja, you’re not the only one to point out Karhu’s presence prior to Fischer’s S-Bounds. It was Fischer’s adoption of that idea that helped propel greater acceptance. In reality, what Karhu did was modernize their original, waxable metal-edged XCD concept with a waxless pattern. A great idea any way you cut it. And thank Voile for adding phat to the equation.

  • Dostie

    Whaddya mean typo? Those are waxless metal-edged switch skis. Oh, er, right, thanks for catching that.

  • Ziggy

    Another variable is camber. So eg. the Annum doesn’t have a lot and with its sidecut it’s quite a good tele ski. The S-bound, at least my 112, has quite a lot as well as an aggressive pattern and so it works best as a kick ‘n glide tourer. It’ll tele but you’ve got to work it.

  • Goodie

    Excellent round-up on these skis. I have transitioned my two ski quiver (Madshus Epoch and Voile Vector BC) to waxless metal edged and really enjoy this class of ski.

    The Epochs (old Karhu 10th Mountains) are a great ski. They are my weapon of choice for low angled terrain and getting out for fun. Paired with an old set of leather Alico boots and some Voile three-pins, they are a great way to get a Tele blast from the past. I skiied them last year at Crested Butte on the lifts and had a hoot. There is nothing like this kind of ski for getting out and skiing with my (little) kids at the area where I can quickly move around the mountain to pick them up and can have fun on even the simplest terrain.

    The Vectors are a serious, big mountain ski that will handle pretty much I throw at them. I skiied Pike’s Peak with them last year and had a ball. They may not glide as well as a non-waxless at the area, but I don’t notice the scales on anything but the cat tracks and very low-angled terrain.