Words by Matt Coté | Photos by Rick Sorenson
When I was in college, studying furiously to become a heavyweight contributing editor to an independent Canadian ski magazine, one of the first courses I took was about the “social production” of art. The premise was this: Although artists seem like solitary creatures brooding in lonely towers, only to emerge every few months with brilliant works made all by themselves, that’s not the case. In reality, someone had to train that artist, someone had to provide the paper, clay or marble for them to work with, then the tools, and then—most importantly—a critical context for the art to exist in. Thus, every work of art is innately a social production.
Skis, it turns out, are much the same. While only you will ski a given pair, their construction relies on decades of technological development and cultural context, derived from generations of skiers and ski builders. The amount of knowledge and resources it takes to get a pair of fun skis underneath just you is overwhelming when you witness it firsthand, as I got to this past October. That’s when the good people at Blizzard Skis invited me to their factory in Mittersill, Austria, to see how the all-new Rustler and Sheevas will be made.
Yes, your favourite Blizzard skis are getting a makeover for 2023-24—I’ll circle back to that. But for now let’s talk about what it takes to build a ski. Blizzard was first established in 1945 by Anton Arnsteiner, who began by making wooden skis in his family’s furniture workshop in Mittersill when he returned home from WWII. Seventy-eight years later, the Blizzard factory is still in Mittersill (having moved into bigger digs a couple times over the years), and employs 250 people. For a town of just over 5,000, that’s a big deal. The employees there enjoy some of the most worker-positive labour laws in the world, including livable wages and five-to-six weeks of paid vacation a year.
That’s important, because it takes dozens of workers to craft up the 23 different pieces that go into a single pair of Rustlers or Sheevas—from the cores to the sidewalls, edges, glass layers, topsheets and so on (all increasingly sourced from as close to the factory as possible). With that many hands in the mix, they need to care about what they’re doing. And in Austria, they very much do. Precision and quality craftsmanship have long been held as national values in this part of the world. Skiing is likewise a way of life and point of pride there. Mittersill is just up the road from Kitzbuhel, right in the historical heart of ski country.
It takes over 20 hours to build a single ski, and the Blizzard factory puts out 1,200 to 1,300 of them a day, working three shifts around the clock. Making each part of a ski in big batches, wasting as little material and labour as possible, and using highly refined production protocols at each stage is what makes ski production scalable, and the final product affordable. It’s an industrial apparatus evolved over nearly a century, just so we can go have fun on snow, and it’s awesome to witness in the most literal sense.
Now, with all that gushing out of the way, let’s talk about the new Rustlers and Sheevas, which I got to test on the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier in gorgeous mid-October corn.
“The Rustler and Sheeva is who we should be,” said Frank Shine, Blizzard’s creative brand manager, as we matched turns with athletes Marcus Caston and Anne Wangler under a glowing October sky. In other words, the brand is still positioning itself as a freeride company. The new Rustlers and Sheevas continue to be for hard-charging, big mountain aficionados who don’t want the distraction of crazy sidecuts or eccentric rocker profiles. Blizzard’s skis, quite frankly, suit skiers geared towards more traditional turns and strong, formal ski technique. The Rustler and Sheevas carry that idea into big terrain, over powder, crud and mixed conditions.
And while the new Rustlers and Sheevas are mildly tweaked in terms of shape and profile, they’re still pretty similar to their former selves. They will however see new size breaks. The Rustler 11 will now start at 168 and bump every six centimetres up to 192 (now offering a very wieldy 186 in the mix!). The Rustler 10 and 11 will cover that same spread, with a 162 added in at lower end. The Sheevas, for their part, will likewise jump every six centimetres, with the 11 spanning 168 to 180, the 10 going from 156 to 180, and the 9 going from 150 to 174. The women’s sticks, incidentally, completely out-graphic the unisex (commonly known as men’s) skis. With bold gradients of twilight tones cast across the topsheets like refracted light, contrasted with bright sidewalls, they’re a total standout. The Rustlers, meanwhile, stay safely in solid tones of yellow, dark brown and orange—which works great, but doesn’t match the flare the ladies get.
Putting that stuff aside, the really big change is inside the skis. Blizzard will swap the metal layup in the topsheets from “DRT” to “Flux,” which will also allow the company to incorporate its TrueBlend technology into the cores—which allows careful tuning of flex patterns (more on that in a second). DRT (Dynamic Release Technology), which is in the current Rustlers and Sheevas, is a layer of Titanal that tapers at the tip and tail so the ski can twist and release in soft snow while still retaining hold under foot. That works, but also creates a hinge point where the ski folds at the tip, for really strong skiers (this problem is notably absent from the Hustle line, in which the DRT sheet is carbon instead).
The new Flux layer, which is shaped like an H, eliminates the hinge point of DRT while maintaining the benefits, and also allows Blizzard to get fancier with core technology. TrueBlend laminates stringers of different stiffnesses are placed over the length of the ski, as opposed to just its width, carefully engineering power and release exactly where you want it. Combining Trueblend with Flux delivers a much more refined family of skis, with each one in the series feeling like an incredibly intuitive step up from the last. (The 11 in both Rustler and Sheeva do feel in a bit of a damper, fatter category, especially given the extra rocker, whereas the 9 and 10 are snappier.)
Waist widths and core profiles for each individual ski also continue to change according to length (just like they did in the previous versions), presuming a heavier and stronger skier for longer lengths. And, no, the women’s version isn’t just the men’s (er… unisex) ski with a different top sheet. Cores and profiles in the Sheeva line are likewise carefully calibrated to women’s specific weight and balance points, and incorporate all the data accumulated through Blizzard’s extensive Women2Women program in that tuning.
And that, friends, is what we know so far. We’re sure to see and hear more in the months ahead as the skis trickle out into our snow-sliding world, and we get a bit more time on them. Now get off your phone and go skiing.
For more information on Blizzard Skis' new Rustler and Sheeva lines, click here.