February 14 2011
I’m not one of the world’s most confident skiers and one reason may be the skis themselves. Even the expert fittings of leading ski brands leave me feeling as if I have a couple of unwieldy planks on my feet. So it came as something of a revelation on a recent ski trip to Davos to experience Zai skis. These niche, upscale skis are quintessentially Swiss, being manufactured in the Alpine town of Disentis by a small team of hardcore ski fanatics. Zai’s chief designer Simon Jacomet was a former ski instructor and previously a developer for Völkl and Salomon, before setting up Zai in 2003.
A combination of a late breakfast and a misplaced set of keys at a Klosters ski-hire store meant that I was given an upgrade and furnished with Zai skis rather than those I had ordered. A wide-eyed store assistant assured me that I was now on the Bentley Continental of skis at a Nissan Micra price.
Three hours later I was a true convert. Never before had I felt closer to going down the slopes with wings on my back rather than the usual batons on my feet. In fact, I could hardly feel anything on my feet – something I found disconcerting at first, but then got more than used to. I wanted to find out everything I could about Zai, which also manufactures helmets and ski goggles. The first thing I discovered was the price: Zai skis start at SFr3,300 (£2,150) for the Classic variety that I used and which are best for all-round skiing.
Such high prices are justified. Zai, which is the official ski supplier to the 2011 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, is a pioneer in the use of new materials and manufacturing techniques. Its skis come in five different types and are all handmade (though using state-of-the-art machines; see second picture). Materials include carbon fibre, rubber and granite, which, together with wooden cores, provide flexibility while ensuring stability and handling. The are also incredibly light so that – at least in my case – I felt stronger in the legs and for much longer. I am, in short, completely sold, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to face skiing again with those cumbersome batons on my feet.