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.