Völkl didn’t actually invent the notion of quality control, but denizens of our little corner of the universe can be forgiven for thinking so. They have set the standard for base finish for so long, if someone gave a trophy for the best QC they’d have to name it the Völkl Prize. Yet this noteworthy achievement probably plays only a minor role in why skiers who buy Völkls never buy just one pair; instead, they become Völkl junkies. Not that they become dissolute, as it takes an athlete to happily co-exist with a Völkl, but they do become dependent. Mama, don’t take my Mantras (or Auras) away!
During Völkl’s ascension to market preeminence, they earned a reputation as powerful, technical skis with a small sweet spot and an unslakable thirst for speed. Völkl came to regard their experts-only-need-apply reputation as a stigma that limited their sales potential, so they set in motion a long-term plan to change how the brand was perceived by changing, sometimes radically, how they made skis.
The trick in this transformation was how to wean their public off their ultra-traditional, thick, fully cambered skis without losing their established base among the sport’s elite. They began by tampering with the Gotama, an off-trail ski that served as a logical place to excise an Old School, arched baseline and substitute a fully rockered baseline. The process begun then has finally wrapped up this year, as the Kendo and Kenja are brought in the New Age fold. The power that was once the exclusive province of highly skilled athletes is now accessible to the nearly skilled, as well.
To continue this tale of brand transformation, once the new Gotama with the flat baseline was accepted, Völkl applied the same technique to its Frontside carvers and with the same result: the RTM 84 won instant adherents. Each passing season saw another venerable model pass through the modernization machinery. Last year the men’s Mantra and women’s Aura metamorphosed into fully rockered baselines; this year the Kendo and Kenja receive double rockered baselines with just a remnant of camber underfoot.
Maybe Völkl has finally figured out the exact formula for taming their technical properties, maybe our testers have finally figured out how and where to ski the new designs, maybe the Kenja and Kendo were great skis to start with, but the new, dab-of-camber baseline knows how to harmonize edging power with ease of operation. As their legions of current owners know, these models were already very, very good.
Well, now they’re better.
One disappointment of last spring’s test was the late arrival of two new Völkl models, the 90EIGHT and RTM 86 UVO. Along with the 100EIGHT, RTM 84 UVO and RTM 81, they form part of a posse of new all-mountain models built around the 3D.RIDGE core that first appeared on the V-Werks Katana. While we had the chance to try some of the new 3D.RIDGE models, we only got a tiny taste of the 90EIGHT and RTM 86. Without enough scores in the ballot box, we can’t recommend a model but we do know enough to issue a brief report and links to shops that carry the new 3D.RIDGE rides.
In-depth reviews of 21 models—with key performance ratings ( ? ) and genre model comparisons ( ? ) —are in our member section
Racetiger Speedwall SL UVO
Sidecut: 117/66/98 (155,160)
Radius: 12.7m @ 165cm
Weight: 2042g @ 165cm
You expect a race slalom ski to be whippet quick, and the Völkl Racetiger Speedwall SL UVO doesn’t disappoint in this signature department. What you don’t expect is the grace to accept longer turns when requested and a ride so polished it feels like the ski is doing all the heavy lifting.
As nimble as teenage gymnasts, these Völkls nonetheless never act nervous. Their imperturbable calm is attributable to the UVO dampening element affixed to the forebody, allowing the skis to maintain snow contact through any turn shape. “Turns like a sports car,” notes a Viking Ski Shop tester. “Loved to bank turns and the grip is unreal,” he adds, concluding with the ultimate compliment: “More than a race ski.”
This SL’s ability to mix easy-to-access slingshot short turns with long, lingering loops without breaking a sweat earned it a podium finish in our bellwether criterion of Finesse/Power balance. The last score a tester records on his card is also the most significant as it signifies a ski that delivers on all criteria that make slalom race skis the performance epiphany that they are, and also exhibits most of the qualities that they often don’t possess, such as ease of operation and low-speed turn facility.
A good ski tester, like any conscientious critic, ought to retain an emotional detachment while on duty, but we’re only human. Try as we might to submerge our feelings, on occasion we fall hopelessly, exuberantly in love. One spin around the dance floor with the Völkl Racetiger Speedwall GS UVO and this veteran of a few thousand test runs was ready to commit to a long-term relationship.
The Völkl GS proves that not only is power an aphrodisiac, but absolute power is irresistible. So what if it’s impatient with short turns and thinks of going slow as a waste to its precious time? If you were wooing a super model, would you expect her to do the dishes? Just let the Racetiger be itself and its UVO shock-damping device will reward you with spectacular security at speed.
Once you’re in love, you tend to overlook minor flaws. Being with this ski gives you so much confidence you want to take it everywhere, but the GS UVO isn’t a nature gal who wants to picnic in the trees. It likes the freedom of wide-open spaces where it can strut its stuff, surrendering to the sensations that only speed provides.
Code Speedwall L UVO
Radius: 18.6m @ 178cm
Weight: 2325g @ 178cm
Many skis that favor long-radius turns do so because they couldn’t be bent into a tight arc under any amount of force. The Völkl Code Speedwall L UVO lets you make a short turn if that’s what you want, even though it’s natural bent is to linger in turns that are on the long side.
The Code L doesn’t exude the power and raw energy of a race ski. It’s a more genteel carver, with a forebody that belies its aggressive exterior, adorned with the UVO shock-dampening device, by bowing at the first hint of pressure. This makes for a very easy-to-guide ski, despite its propensity for long-radius turns.
The proliferation of fat skis has upended the world of ski categories as we characterized them 20 years ago. The Code L is what we would have called a Cruiser in the misty past, made for the man who prefers long turns because short ones entail a lot more unnecessary thrashing about. It’s quite possible to get from top to bottom on a groomed run without exhausting all of one’s natural resources, and the Code L facilitates just such a voyage.
RTM 84 UVO
Radius: 17.9 in 177cm
Weight: 1958g @ 177cm
It’s been several years since Völkl set the Frontside category on its ear with the introduction of the first RTM 84, a hard snow ski with a fully rockered baseline. At the time, camber was king, Völkl ruled the carving ski roost and the rule-bending RTM 84 achieved instant stardom.
Now the revolutionary ski has itself been overthrown by a new generation of carving tool that restores camber underfoot (to the delight of traditionalists who like an energetic ski) and adds a dollop of extra damping in the form of UVO, a shock-settling gizmo that’s mounted on the forebody. The net effect is to make the new RTM 84 a more accurate ski that’s also more responsive to skier input; the skier works less, the ski does more.
Whether on piste or off, the new RTM 84 UVO is ready to bow into a round arc that uses its coiled camber to assist the turn transition. As reliable as an atomic clock, the RTM 84 has morphed into a ski that is both more interesting for an expert and more accommodating of an intermediates transgressions.
Radius: 17.9m @ 177cm
Weight: 1849g @ 177cm
Völkl has a time-honored tradition of changing every thing they can think of about a ski but its name. While the trade is obliged to follow these multiple mutations, how on earth is today’s distracted consumer expected to know that the ski he/she researched only last season is now another beast all together? The freshly metamorphosed RTM 81 is a case in point.
Völkl didn’t just tweak the RTM 81’s make-up; they virtually reversed it. A year ago this ski had broad shoulders rising up over the edge; now all the elevation is in the middle of the ski, the padded perimeter replaced with a thin sliver of ski. A baseline that had been fully rockered when these pages issued last season has been sent back to camber school and returned with enough arch underfoot to give the new RTM 81 the sexy sensation of rebound to go along with its firm-handshake grip.If the generally open-minded RTM 81 can be said to have a predisposition for one activity, it would be spooling precise, medium-radius arcs down an avenue of undulating white carpet without losing grip for a beat or once straying off course.
Radius: 17.1m @ 161cm
Weight: 1385g @ 161cm
If you’ve already achieved genuine all-mountain expertise, Völkl has you covered six ways to Sunday with powerhouse models like the Kenja and Aura. The Yumi is for those who aren’t quite there yet but want to sharpen their all-terrain skills until they shine.
The woman who is going to spend the vast majority of her time on trail will be better served on the Charisma or another Essenza series carver, but if wanderlust is in your genes, the Yumi will take you more places in comfort. Note that the Yumi scored best at continuous carving and ease of operation, which together make for a great set of training wheels. The Yumi also scored well at one of our best metrics for overall performance, the rating for Finesse/Power balance; a high score indicates a ski that delivers power with a minimum of provisos about how fast and hard it needs to be skied.
The Yumi scores well in this bell-weather statistic for it’s a purposeful pussycat, developing proper technique with supportive encouragement rather than the stinging lash of über-precision. The Yumi is less accurate at speed than its big sisters, but it also doesn’t ask you to perform perfectly to deliver a delightful ski experience.
Radius: 15.2m @ 156cm
Weight: 1551g @ 156cm
One of Völkl’s charming marketing quirks is their preference for keeping a name – such as Charisma – intact while making wholesale changes in the ski’s make-up. The Charisma of 2016 is still a lightweight carver with a passion for short turns, but a year ago it purloined its wood core structure from the avant-garde V-Werks series, making it lighter than ever before.
The Charisma is adorned with a dollop of tip rocker, but it’s so well integrated into the ski’s camber line the only noticeable effect is an improvement in ease in all conditions. A bundle of Charisma features bear the “Bio-Logic” stamp, all of which work together to not just improve comfort but add to skier safety.
The tail is a little narrower and not as stiff as the forebody, so the culprit in the caboose that plays a factor in some knee sprains will release the load on the rearbody of the ski. The ski’s top profile elevates the toe piece of the (Marker) integrated binding so the skier’s stance is level, helping to equalize the strain on quads and hamstrings, where an imbalance can likewise contribute to knee injuries.
In short, a lot of thought went into making the Charisma truly a women’s ski and not just a paint job with a forward mounting mark. The Charisma is comfortable running occasional raids into ungroomed environs, but it still struts its best stuff when lacing short slashes together down a pitched patch of crisp corduroy.
Radius: 20.8m @ 177cm
Weight: 1931g @ 177cm
Völkl kept the model name and basic construction, but altered just about everything else about the new and noticeably improved Kendo. While the baseline retains a cambered profile underfoot, the tip and tail are now emphatically rockered. The sidecut has been tweaked a tad dimensionally, and the new tip has the elongated taper associated with off-piste skis instead of the traditional sidecut that has been a Kendo staple for what seems like an eternity.
While it hasn’t been quite that long, the Kendo has been around long enough that it’s become a reference ski, meaning it sets the performance bar for the entire category. We’re pleased to report that hasn’t changed; the Kendo remains the standard against which other All-Mountain East skis are judged.
The Kendo is programmed to spring into action when it’s rolled to a high edge angle, where the energy coiled in its compressed camber can propel the pilot on a precise trajectory into the next turn. Scott Sahr of Aspen Ski and Board noted how it “holds a great edge at high speeds, with good rebound for maximizing turn transitions.”
The last paragraph could just as easily been written about Kendos of yore, but there’s more to the new Kendo, for as Matt from Footloose observes, “The evolution of this ski keeps getting better and better.” What’s getting better are its all-terrain temperament, its adaptability to 3-D conditions and its willingness to get off the edge and drift. The half-drift, half-carve turn known as a stivot is second nature to the new Kendo, an indication that it’s more open to suggestion about turn shape and snow conditions than its predecessors. In a word, it’s smoother.
Radius: 16.8m @ 163cm
Weight: 1751g @ 163cm
The Kenja is one of the last iconic Völkls to go through the modernization process that inevitably added rocker to what was once a traditional, fully cambered baseline. Being the youngest child can have its benefits, for Völkl learned from its elder siblings that retaining a soupcon of camber underfoot accented the agility that makes the new Kenja feel responsive despite the often energy-sapping presence of tip and tail rocker.
“The changes to this ski are all good,” reassures The Boot Doctors’ Galena Gleason. “Nimble and easy to initiate, yet it charges. I was blown away by how stable [it was] at speed.” While Galena was describing the new Kenja, she could have written the same words about its progenitors, implying that the latest iteration has improved without losing the essential properties that made the Kenja practically a brand unto itself among women’s skis.
The 2016 Kenja has a little more surface area to assist flotation off-piste, plus a bit of a boost to its tail dimensions, which helps it see a carved turn through to completion. Both alterations are beneficial to average skiers, but the Kenja sill saves her best moves for the experts who, like Galena, know how to tilt and push her to extract the most from her potential.
If there’s a condition the Kenja can’t master, it probably doesn’t involve snow. If you’re an advanced to expert woman who skis everything the patrol will open, you should own a pair of these skis.
Radius: 23.7m @ 177cm
Weight: 2072g @ 177cm
Last season the Mantra underwent a radical transformation, switching from a fairly traditional, cambered baseline to a double-rockered profile that obliterated any hint of camber. Overnight, the Mantra went from a ski that etched turns with the accuracy of a wide race ski to one that treated carving and drifting as equally viable options.
The net effect of the Mantra’s metamorphosis was an elevation of its off-trail adaptability. The new version readily conforms to the abrupt angles encountered in moguls and follows the contours of berms and wind drifts as if to the manner born. It still isn’t enamored of tight turns and as for slow-speed skiing, it’s attitude remains, “remind me why we’re doing this?” These quibbles aside, the new Mantra is much less finicky about how it’s steered, which makes maneuvering in dicey trees less dependent on flawless technique.
You wouldn’t think that the new Mantra’s inverted baseline would grip tenaciously on hard snow or generate much energy when compressed in soft snow. You probably already know the answer: you’d be wrong. “It carves despite the [change in] camber story,” asserts Matt from Footloose. “Burly as it seems, it has a much lighter, fun feel than other wood/metal laminate skis.”
Radius: 19.3m @ 163cm
Weight: 1839g @ 163cm
The Völkl Aura underwent an end-to-end overhaul last year that altered everything but the model name. Völkl tapered the tip, moving the contact point further back, and double rockered the baseline, virtually flipping the cambered arch underfoot upside down.
The changes gave the Aura a personality transplant. It went from being a prima donna who could really sing but should you hit a false note in how you handle her you’d hear about it, to a go-along-to-get-along gal who will smear a turn without throwing a hissy fit.
The data describes a ski that is just as ready to scrub a turn sideways as bite into a continuous carve. The tapered tip has made the ski more forgiving, particularly off-trail, but hampers its ability to find an early edge on hard snow. Its best scores serve as a reassuring reminder that the Aura still has two sheets of Titanal around a wood core, as it earned superior marks for off-piste performance, stability at speed and our best measure of versatility, Finesse/Power balance.
“Incredible all-mountain women’s ski!” wrote an obviously excited Kayla from Aspen Ski and Board. She found the Aura possesses “surprisingly strong edge hold for a fairly rockered ski and [is] extremely stable even on the hardpack at speed.”
Radius: 25.8m @ 184cm
Weight: 1865g @ 184cm
Our Editor’s pick as Big Mountain Ski of the Year in 2014, the Völkl V-Werks Katana is still the avatar of excellence. Völkl must have been impressed with the V-Werks Katana as well, for they extended its 3D.RIDGE design to a new slew of All-Mountain and Big Mountain skis.
What sets the V-Werks Katana apart is a Big Mountain ski girth and a Technical ski’s affinity for burying its edge into whatever surface you care to put in its path. Blend this capacity with eye-popping stability at speeds that would sink a less stalwart ship, and you have an elite skier’s magic carpet ride.Made from 11 layers of carbon compressed into a stiff blade that cuts through powder from zero to forty-eight inches deep, it’s eerily light for its girth, which usually indicates trouble in Crud City. But the Katana is as mellow as Kenny G when pounding through broken pow. The things this New Age Katana aren’t particularly good at are attributes its intended owner isn’t particularly concerned about, such as hold-your-hand ease at lollygagging speeds.