Ski Guide 2011

For skiers, January is the best month: There’s plenty of snow and the Alps aren’t swarming with tourists. It’s also a great month for getting deals on equipment, since various shops offer post-Christmas discounts. If you haven’t been staying up to date on the latest gear and techniques, you’re in for a surprise: High-tech innovations have made skiing a whole new sport. We tell you what you should buy, what you can rent, and then where to go to try out all your new stuff.

Skis and boots

These days it’s all about Rocker skis. With this technology, the rear and tip of the skis are curved slightly upwards, giving you better performance in deep snow and turns. Many manufacturers combine Rocker with other high-tech innovations. Blizzard’s new “R-Power FS IQ”, for example, uses hydraulic shock absorbers (yes, like the ones in cars), which reduce vibrations and make the skis easier to handle. Head’s latest, the “i.Supershape Titan”, comes with integrated computer chips: They recognize when you finish a turn and automatically stabilize your skis for better traction and higher speed.

Unfortunately, these high-end models can cost upwards of 600 Euro. Markus Hirnböck, an Austrian ski instructor from the Hochkönig area, recommends renting skis if you’re on a budget: “It’s cheaper and you can try different types.” For about 100 Euro a week, you can rent skis and boots, but Hirnböck advises buying your own boots. “If they fit comfortably, you can drive every kind of ski”, he explains. “If not, you won’t have fun even with the best skis.” For price to quality ratio, the experts recommend boots by Dalbello (an Italian company) or Fischer.

If you do have the money to invest in skis as well, the first thing you want to do is check the length. “Beginner skis should be at least ten centimeters smaller than the driver is”, says Hirnböck. Beginners should also opt for all-round carving skis, which move well on all slopes, and ask for a model with a curve radius of 15 to 19 meters. Anything smaller will be too aggressive.


Safety gear

Without a doubt, a helmet is your most important piece of safety equipment. All the arguments against them -- they obstruct sight, they make it hard to hear -- are nonsense. Modern versions are lightweight, fit comfortably and have perfect ventilation. “Apart from that, many modern helmets really look cool”, says Hirnböck. “My favorites are by the Swiss company Movement and POC.”

If you drive in the backcountry, you should also invest in professional avalanche rescue equipment. “You’ll need a transceiver, a probe and a shovel”, says Mathias Brugg, a freeride professional and mountain guide in the Austrian Kaunertal. “It doesn’t matter, which transceiver you choose. Most important is to be well versed in its usability.” For the best value for money, try current models by companies like Arva or BCA (around 300 Euro). Or grab the new “Vector” by Pieps, the first receiver with GPS.

Fun stuff

If you have some Euros left to invest in a fun gadget that has absolutely nothing to do with safety, the ATC9k digital camera by Oregon Scientific lets you make HD-videos of yourself. It’s fixed at the helmet, and with its 130-degree-wide angle it captures every stunt. Or take a look at the Aiptek3D i2, one of the world’s first compact camcorders for 3-D movies. It costs 200 Euro and is small enough to put it in your breast pocket.


Where to go

No doubt, the Swiss and French resorts with 4000-meter mountains and endless slopes offer extraordinary conditions. But if you’re on a budget, you’re best off staying right here in Germany. According to a recent analysis by the ADAC of more than 1500 Alps resorts, the German ones are the cheapest. A one-week ski pass plus mid-level hotel costs an average of 924 Euro. In Switzerland or France you’d pay upwards of 1400 (not to mention travel costs).

At 660 Euro a week, the absolute lowest-cost Alps resort is Lenggries in Bavaria. Its “Garlant” downhill is exciting, but you will know every square meter of it after a weekend. You’re better off at Garmisch, with its legendary “Kandahar” slope. It was completely rebuilt for the Ski World Championships, taking place from February 7th to 20th. Avoid those weeks, since the town will be packed, but check it out afterwards. Hotels will be cheaper, and for kicks you can try to break the records of the new world champions.