NIS Xcelerator Wedge - Details and Photos

I got my hands on a pair of the new NNN/NIS Wedges that are designed for use with the Xcelerator skate bindings.       Here are some details and some photos.    You can click any of the pics for a bigger view.
Profile of the Xcelerator Wedge on a 2011 Xium WCS skate ski.
Wedges have been showing up for a few years on Salomon bindings.   Also they've been seen on screwed-down NNN bindings.    The NIS bindings were difficult to adapt, so Rottefella made an adaptor for skiers who want to use the wedge.

Unlike the Atomic and Salomon versions, the Xcelerator Wedge is only under the front part of the binding, and the heel plate sits on the ski in the normal position.    The effect is the same.

The Rottefella NIS Wedge is a molded plastic piece and outlined to match the Xcelerator's  shape.
The Rottefella Xcelerator Wedge is injection molded plastic (my sample has a mold date of Dec 2010, so it's pretty new).    The photos make the wedge look red, but let me tell you, they're PINK.    They almost look like promo items for Fast & Female.       They're functional and stand out brightly against any ski.
First adjust the wedge fore/aft on the NIS plate, then install the binding.
Interesting to note that the fore/aft adjustment takes place with the interface between the wedge and the NIS plate.     The binding-to-wedge attachment locks in to a single location.     Thus, when you want to adjust the position of the binding, you first adjust the position of the wedge, then install the Xcelerator binding on top of it.    Very simple, no redundancy.
There is approximately 3.4mm rise in 145mm run; an angle of about 1.3 degrees
The very front tip of the binding sits about 8mm higher than the NIS plate, but it's a little less further back under the middle of the foot, of course.  I did a little trigonometry to measure the rise angle on the wedge - it's about 1.34 degrees.   For those of you who haven't played with binding wedges yet, the wedge places the rise in the FRONT of the binding, not in the back.       Children of the 1960's will laugh when I compare skiing with a wedge to the feeling of skate skiing in Earth Shoes, although less pronounced (more angle on an Earth Shoe).
At Nordic Ultratune, I do a lot of measuring.
The Rottefella Xcelerator wedges aren't available in shops yet, but I'm sure they'll be available for the 2011/2012 season.     If you've got a sharp eye and look closely at the pictures, you'll see them on a few skis at the World Championships in Oslo.

I've discussed wedges in previous articles.  (Look HERE and HERE).   On snow, the Rottefella Xcelerator wedge has the same feeling as other wedge versions, but it's set up to use with NNN boots and especially with NIS plates.   The effect, while skating, is that the wedge lifts the toes very slightly, which encourages weighting of your foot a bit further back, unless you consciously roll further forward on the foot.

For me, after using them for a few days, I don't notice them any more... ...but for a few sessions they feel different under the foot. For a skier who is accustomed to making continual adjustment of their position on the ski for optimum performance, I personally don't feel that they offer a huge advantage.

However, if you get used to them, then you'll probably want them installed on most of your skis (if not all of them) so that they will have the same feel under your feet.

Overall, just like the wedges for Salomon bindings, you might like them or you might not.     But you should try them for yourself to see if you feel like they help you.

One nice thing with the NIS version - if you decide to remove them, or try them on another pair of NIS skis, then it's a quick fix. No screws, no glue, no muss, no fuss. Click-click! All done! With the NIS bindings, you can try them forward, or further back, and now with or without a toe lift.    Customized, optimized. With no screws and no drilling. This is definitely a good thing.

Odds and ends.    The wedge doesn't affect how you get in and out of the binding.   The wedges do add a bit of weight.        I've discovered that in a pinch you can use one as a door stop.

NEW Atomic World Cup HT skate ski

Atomic is bringing a new skate ski to the table that should have everyone licking their chops.   
Atomic World Cup HT

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.

This new ski is differentiated from the “regular” Atomic World Cup Red Cheetah Featherlight (now designated as the “ST”) in the following ways:
  •      Firmer tip flex - more pressure further forward in the ski.
  •      Straight edge profile for more edge engagement on hard, icy, tracks.
  •      Greater torsional rigidity, especially in the fore-body of the ski
  •      Double groove base, for better tracking
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!'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.

Want some?
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.

Mid-Winter Ski & Structure Testing

During mid-winter and late season, there are more opportunities for in-depth ski testing.    By this time of year activity in the shop has settled into a steady (busy) pace and there's time to prepare and test grinds and new grind ideas.
Ski testing with factory-matched identical test skis.
This season, I'm placing some focus on carefully dialing-in the range limits on some of the existing grinds, and I'm also testing a couple of effective broad-range structures for classic skis.     Temp range, new snow vs. old snow, etc.

Testing and introducing new structures is not a simple business.    First of all, anything "new" needs to be very good and very versatile.    It needs to be better than something that's already on the menu, which is a tall order, since the grind menu at Nordic Ultratune has very good, very verstatile grinds.

The on-snow part of ski testing is much less than half of the work.    The test skis preparation takes more time than the on-snow testing, and the data entry and data analysis is a bit of time.    Documentation, carefully, creates a record of testing and processes that is very important.

Good results depends on good data;  I use factory matched test skis that are identically prepared in order to minimize the possibility of false results due to the influence of uncontrolled or unanticipated variables.

But the testing continues.    It's one of the most fun parts of the job.

Weighing in on wing wedges

There has been a bit of buzz about the 60mm wedges that can be used with Pilot bindings.    Here's some info and pics.

Wings provide a wider base of support under the forefoot.
The "wing wedges" have been seen on the World Cup for the past 3 seasons.    I first saw them on Atomic skis while working at the World Cup events during the winter of 2008/2009.      There has been plenty of experimenting and tweaking in the past couple of years to give the manufacturer confidence that they have some merit.    And finally they make it to the consumer so that anyone can give it a try.

The intent of the wings or outriggers is to provide an extended platform under the forefoot, providing better control of the ski.     This has been the premise of the NNN binding design since 1998 when they introduced their wide platform R3 skate binding, and it has shown over the past decade that it's a good idea.    

The wing wedges provide a space for the Pilot binding to sit down in a channel so that the wings are at the same surface level as the foot platform of the Pilot binding.   Because of the inset dimensions, the wedges work very, very nicely with the Pilot but are not compatible with any other version of Salomon binding.   It's not intended for use with the Profil, ProPulse, or Pilot Classic binding.

The wings - the lateral support extensions - seem pretty obvious and intuitive in their benefit, yet the idea of the wedge that lifts the toes by 5mm seems less clear-cut.        While some marketing articles claim that the ski will spurt forward like a wet bar of soap ( ?? ) if you simply add this wedge, I find that the effect is subtle.     It has 5mm lift over a length of 300mm.    Sharpen your pencil:  that's about a 1 degree angle.

How much toe lift?   The wedge is about a 1 degree angle.   
With the toe lifting wedge, I think there is some initial accentuation of the sensitivity to fore/aft foot pressure on the ski.   But competent skate skiers will adapt quickly and really won't notice much difference in feel after a few days on the skis.      The wedge component of the setup seems to have received a mixed reception - whether it helps or doesn't - but the consensus is that at least is doesn't harm performance.

My opinion after testing skis with the wing-wedge, and without them, is that the wings definitely improve the feel of the skis.     The wedge (toe lift) aspect, to me, is somewhat inconsequential.

The wing wedges are not an expensive item, they're less than $20/pr and include longer screws to replace the front-end screws on the Pilot binding.     If you're retrofitting skis, the change-over is simple and quick and doesn't require any drilling - you can use the same holes as long as you don't mess anything up when removing the bindings.    

At the relatively modest price, and with such minimal impact on the ski setup, it's something that anyone could try themselves and make their own decision on whether wing wedges are a benefit or not.

Weights and Measures - Skis and Bindings

Last week I weighed some skis and bindings.

I used the "2nd largest size" in all the brands as a good representation.    These have different lengths listed by the ski manufacturer, but when they're on the rack they all are within about a centimeter of each other in actual tip-to-tail length.

The FIS allows skis down to 750 grams per pair, with no limitation on mass distribution.    None of the ski makers is anywhere close to breaking that rule.

The measurements are in grams, and were made using an Acculab VI-4800 digital scale (with 0.1g resolution), using actual skis.   Weights are for one ski, or one binding - not per pair.    All of the skis listed are skate skis, but both skate and classic bindings are shown.   In most cases I weighed 4 individual skis and averaged the results, rounding to the nearest gram.   All the skis are 2010/2011 models.

You can see that the Atomic World Cup FeatherLight is about 10% lighter than nearest other offering.    In fact the Fischer Hole Ski is 20% heavier than the Atomic.   That's significant.

But it is worth taking a quick look at the "ski + binding" combinations, since that's what we actually ski on.

This is where things turn upside down.   The lightest real world combinations is the Rossignol Xium WCS with the Xcelerator binding.    The Atomic FeatherLight with the NNN R3 (screwed down binding) is only a few grams more.  The Madshus Nanosonic with Xcelerator binding is close behind.

It's possible that you could skate on an Atomic FeatherLight with a ProPulse binding, and that would get you a total weight of under 600 grams for one ski+binding.     But so far I haven't seen anyone use that setup.   (Note:  I called Salomon in October to ask if they've got firmer bumpers for the ProPulse, they weren't able to provide an answer - it was clearly,  "I don't know...")    With or without a firmer bumper, the ProPulse might be a possible skating option.

The "Pilot + Wedge" option with any ski makes a relatively heavy choice.     And of course, the super-light Xcelerator binding will only fit on skis with an NIS plate.

Overall, you can get a ski+binding selection of a little over 1200 grams per pair if you're careful.    While none of the brands are anywhere near the FIS limit,  skis this year are quite a bit lighter than choices from just a few years ago.    It does make a difference.