NISM Ski Test - Less Is More

Posted: Monday, 31 March 2014 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , ,


The British can't help but love an underdog and in many ways NISM, based in the USA, are exactly that. Their approach to skibike related design is unconventional, in a market heavily biased towards a few big names, with a conservative attitude to skibikes. So I was very "chuffed" to be asked to give an opinion of the NISM brand skis and really wanted them to perform well. That said, I have always tried to be honest with my articles and if I rated something highly across the board, you would no doubt smell a rat and question my credibility.

About The Riders

I was to be one of the riders and my friend, who I shall simply refer to as Mr A, the other. Without wanting to cause offence, it might be worth noting that we most likely weigh less than the average American rider. I am probably just a smidgen below average weight for a European male of the same age, but Mr A is definitely in the Bantam class of rider. We have both been riding about the same amount of time, we enjoy all-mountain riding and cruising. We would generally keep out of the snow park and avoid icy black mogulled runs. Below are listed our vital statistics.

About the riders

About The Skibikes Used

For the test I would be riding a vintage Marin East Peak full suspension frame, fitted with Suntour XCR forks and a Fox coil spring rear shock. The skis were mounted to a pair of Russian made Ski-X-Bike adapters, which pay great "homage" to an earlier American design. The front adapter has been modified with a link to the fork's brake arch to limit the pitch of the ski when aggressively carving turns, the system was inspired by one of America's premium skibike brands and works admirably. This skibike is neither a race winner, nor an example of the state of the art of skibike design; but is a safe, user friendly and robust lightweight cruiser that covers many miles over the season without issues. Furthermore, it is very much the sort of skibike that many people will create in their sheds and garages for simple, low cost, winter fun.

Marin conversion - the sort of skibike that people build for low cost  fun

Mr A would be riding a totally self-built skibike from the ground up, but I'm not talking about something held together with bungies, blocks of wood and glue. He is a master of artisanal metalworking and the build quality is on par with anything made by the top manufacturers. The components are all top quality too, the front fork is a modified Canondale Leftie and the rear, a DT Swiss Air Shock. It should be noted that even though it has 130mm of suspension travel, it weighs just 9 Kg. The skibike is also fitted with a "Bear Claw" style rear brake, but it wasn't employed bar a couple of emergency situations, more about that later.

ATSB - a totally self-built skibike from the ground up

About The Riding

We had arranged to spend a day at Valmorel, a mid-sized resort in the Savoie region of France which proved to be very skibike friendly. You can read more about Valmorel here. We had so much fun on day one that we extended it into a two day trip and on the third day took the skibikes on a gruelling back mountain expedition at La Turnette. We covered all grades of run and off-piste that ranged from easy traverses, through gullies to some tricky big mountain steep sections. On piste the snow varied from; European icy hard snow, through firm to buttery and finally slush. Off-piste we encountered; frozen crust, through powder to heavy snow and slush. Before we continue, I should qualify what I mean by European icy snow, as I suspect it might be illegal to ride it in the U.S.A. If you have ever stayed in a low budget hotel or apartment and opened the refrigerator's ice box, the stuff that grows on the cold metal surfaces is a bit like European icy snow, only softer and more yielding. I hope you get the picture now.

We covered all grades of runs and off-piste in all types of snow conditions

The Test

As this was a new resort to us, we needed a couple of hours to scope the place out and work out a test circuit. We could then follow the same route after changing skis and baring the effects of the sun, we would be as scientific as was practicable. We found some nice easy cruising pistes that lead to some very interesting off piste bowls and gullies. With the route decided, we headed back to the van to fit the NISM skis to our skibikes.

We found some very interesting off piste bowls and gullies for the test

Mr A got first pick and chose the larger NISM skis, running them in the "correct" orientation, I did likewise with the smaller model and we eagerly headed towards the chairlift. At the top we mounted up and had an easy first descent on a blue (intermediate) grade run down to the next chairlift. My first moments of "ooh this feels weird" soon morphed into "wow this is fantastic". Within a minute I was throwing my skibike around like never before, in the soft snow it was almost too easy, I could head down the fall line and wag the tail around like an eager puppy or rock the handlebars and carve like a slalom champion.
Meanwhile Mr A was having a lot less fun than I. He too had discovered the skis superior carve quality, but then found himself getting locked in at ever increasing speeds unable to break free and drift to loose speed. I saw him rocket off-piste and tentatively followed in his wake, I eventually tracked him down. The girth of the skis meant that he couldn't use his braking system and he just had to let gravity establish an equilibrium.

With the route decided, we headed back to the van to fit the NISM skis

Our next uplift took us to some delightful off-piste we had discovered earlier and nick-named "The Mountains of the Moon", large dome shaped hills that lead into natural half-pipe gullies. For some reason we appeared to be the first to have discovered this area and set about leaving plenty of tracks to mark it out as our own. The little NISM skis ripped through the smooth, but crusty surface making a noise like tearing calico. The gullies were a hoot to play with, inviting you to go ever higher and faster on a roller-coaster ride from side to side. There were occasional obstacles, like rocks and streams to dodge and the little skis gave the impression you were on wheels and not boards. Mr A had dialled in a bit better by now, but was still finding the long skis somewhat ponderous and unwieldy in comparison to mine.

Exploring the "Mountains of the Moon"

We then played alongside a black run with the snow making sudden changes from fresh powder, to skied out crud, to heavy and back again in moments. The skis performed exceptionally well in such situations, unperturbed by the rapid change in quality. At will I could dive out of the rough stuff, wiggle around some small moguls on the piste and whiz back into the rough.

On our final descent back to base camp. Some sections of the piste were now shaded and the snow had re-frozen into icy hardness. This proved to be both NISM skis Achilles' Heel and for some sections all one could do, was make massive slide slips and just try to hold everything together till the snow became softer again. It only needed a centimetre of scrapings to achieve a bit of grip, but without it you didn't have a hope of any meaningful control.

The following morning we followed the same circuit, this time Mr A had reversed the orientation of his rear ski to see if it would improve its ability to skid. He was pleased to report some improvement but was keen for us to swap over skis so he could get his turn on the little ones that had delivered so much fun yesterday. With my grown up skis fitted, I soon began to appreciate why you so often see SnowScoot riders with pained expressions of grim determination heading tentatively down the icier runs. It wasn't impossible, just very, very difficult to stay in control and on more than one occasion I ran out of slope and found myself thrust off-piste. A novice skibiker could really make a mess of things, flailing around wildly, in such conditions.

Back on the safety of the soft snow, there were no such problems, with these NISM skis you hardly need a piste map. You just look at the mountain to plan a route, look for the base station of the nearest chair-lift and head for it. At the top you don't need a piste, you build your own as you go, pretty much wherever the snow lies.

Our final challenge of the day was a huge un-patrolled bowl area left completely as nature intended. One again these skis made it easy, although I still found it very difficult to turn quickly in the heavy snow and had to opt for lots of wide traverses. Finishing late in the day, in order to make it back to base camp we had to make a huge traverse to a high point for the final descent. Mr A pointed out that the glide quality of these skis was poor and we lost altitude in order to make them glide forwards and had to climb about 30 meters back up the hill to compensate.

On the last day we visited a natural back country area and climbed 1400 meters on snow shoes to make our descent. Every gram counts when you have to carry it on your back to the top of the mountain. In this respect the NISM skis were the ideal choice as they are very light. We knew by now how good they would be coping with all types of unprepared snow and they delivered admirably. There were some big bumps and tumbles and the skis took it all in their stride.

Every gram counts when you have to carry the skibike on your back

Our Verdict

Sat in Mr A's comfy Alpine chalet over a glass of Anisette, we set about grading both types of NISM skis ability for the variety of situations you might encounter with them. We both gave our appraisal as a score out of ten and the results presented are the average.

NISM ski test - the judges' verdict


Both Mr A and I both preferred the smaller 90cm NISM skis over the larger version. Very little in the way of performance was sacrificed with the small ski, but the fun factor was so much higher. You could stand on the pegs and flick the tail around, sit down and carve at silly angles or head into a half pipe eager to push ever harder and faster. The large skis felt ponderous at times and although a tad quicker, you tended not to use the extra performance because you lacked the assurance that you could speed check later with a quick tail slide.
We both agreed that the durability of the skis was something to cause concern, after a few days the graphics were wearing off in places and where they had touched parts of the frame or fittings, light damage had already occurred. Mr A is even more of an anorak than I and felt that the quality of the material used for the base material could be improved, compared to our regular skis they were more prone to collecting scratches. He also noted that the quality of glide was below par for skibike specific skis at this price point.
We both concurred that the smaller 90cm ski could be beefed up with perhaps; a wood core, better base material and cap sheet protection. Providing the price stayed the same, it would be a market winner and first choice for a novice skibiker or perhaps for a more experienced one looking for a fun tool for off-piste or wherever soft snow was in abundance. It is currently such a competitive market that you will have to weigh the pros and cons carefully. That said, going into those gullies with those diddy 90cm skis was something from another universe, with those babies less really is more.

Before this report was published I let Royce MacDaniel of NISM see the draft copy, here are his comments and observations.

I talked with the manufacturer and he informed me that the top sheet damage should just be cosmetic. They were trying a new method for graphics this year, which is a direct print on graphic. They are seeing, across the board on all the skis using this method, that the graphics are not holding up and will not use it on future ski orders. The scratches will not effect the skis longevity unless you have gouges. In spite of their low weight, the skis are wood cored not foam cored. They are vertically laminated poplar cored with double layer of fibreglass for strength. There is also an urethane layer for the sidewall all the way around, to protect the wood core. The skis both have a 20m shared sidecut between the front and rear ski. The skis also have a universal hole pattern including both a 40mm x 40mm pattern which fits most current ski bikes and kits. As well as a 50 mm x 100mm pattern that will fit a Lenz Sport without any adapter plates needed.


  1. tjbb says:

    Thanks for that entertaining and informative report Mark. I'm no pancake expert but from my limited experience and knowledge of ski biking,I would have thought that although the skis are vitally important to the way a bike performs, the actual frame, materials and geometry have a similar effect on ride and performance. The riders commitment, experience and aggression are also factors to bear in mind. Try before you buy seems to be my conclusion to the choice of skis.

  1. Jibs says:

    a little long for a product review, but informative.

  1. tjbb says:

    Jibs. Is that all you have to say? A bit short for a critique and not at all informative:-)