By Thomas BeVier / The Detroit News TRAVERSE CITY -- Rob Dendrel, who runs the ski school at Nubs Nob in Harbor Springs, is used to skiing faster than most -- but not all -- competitive racers in northern Michigan.
But one afternoon late last winter, he amazed himself after putting on some funny-looking skis for a regional slalom event. Dendrel beat more than 100 rivals.
"There was an Olympic skier and some others I don't normally beat," recalled the 42-year-old. "One guy was (ranked) ninth in the nation. They called me a cheater for using those skis."
The skis were the SCX model, introduced in 1994 by Elan as a radical departure from traditional downhill versions.
They're shaped like an hourglass -- "parabolic" is the technical term -- with 41/2-inch-wide tips, 4-inch-wide tails and only 23/4 inches under the foot. Skis typically are about three inches wide at the tail and tip, and slightly narrower in the middle.
Because the center of SCX skis are more flexible, they require less leg pressure than regular skis to make a clean turn.
"It's the most exciting new product I've seen in all my years of skiing," Dendrel said from Nubs Nob. "I've seen senior skiers get on them and make major improvements almost immediately.
"The toughest thing about them is getting used to their look."
Newsweek this month said they look "like a pair of outsize Q-tips."
Still, they've become so popular in Colorado that some resorts -- including Vail and Creek -- are renting mainly the SCX style and using it for instruction.
They haven't taken hold dramatically yet in northern Michigan, partly because demand has made them difficult to buy, said Dendrel, who has been trained by Elan so he can teach others at Nubs Nob. The resort offers private lessons on the SCX and has special programs for senior skiers.
Bavarian Village, a 14-shop chain that is the state's largest ski retailer, stocks the SCX model and skis from other manufacturers that have a less radical version of the hourglass shape.
"I'm not ready to say it's the wave of the future, but they are selling very well," said Dan Reck, manager of the chain's Bloomfield Hills store. "I call them the Dodge Vipers of the ski industry."
He said the SCX is priced in the mid-range of skis, costing about $400 a pair. A style for experts sells for about $500.
Jim Evans, who teaches skiers and manages the equipment store at Boyne Highlands, said the new skis give a tremendous boost to beginners and intermediates.
"Within two years, they will account for 20 percent of the market," he predicted. "But they're not for every skier."
Experts with strong legs can overpower the quick-turning skis. "If you're not careful, you'll turn right around and head back up the hill," Evans explained.
At Sugar Loaf resort near Maple City, spokesman Pete Edwards isn't sure whether the new-generation equipment is a "passing fad or here to stay."
Other resorts are less hesitant. Crystal Mountain's ski shop at the Thompsonville resort will have demo models next month.
"People are asking for them," said staffer Sue Dussel. "They're the hottest new thing."
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