The objective of on-snow ski testing is to pinpoint the behavioral matrix of any given ski so skiers can match its performance to their needs and expectations. This process requires a skier as well as a ski, and further requires all data to be filtered by a fallible human interpreter. We doubt there are enough qualified skiers in the US to create a sufficiently massive sample size to allow test results to rise to the
Skis have two primary exterior systems—bases and edges—which fulfill two primary functions: Bases are like pressure distribution devices that take the weight of the skier and distribute it over the snow so that they reduce friction and allow the skier to slide smoothly over the snow. Edges are like rudders that cut through the snow in such a way that it changes the hurtling skier’s line of travel. They’re what make you turn when you’re
[This series of articles was written in the fall of 2015 and reflects the technology available at the time. It will be undated in the fall of 2017 to include the latest developments in the field. – JH] Back Story Allow us to peel back the veil of time to an epoch 20 years ago. Fat, powder-specific skis were just finding a following on the fringe of the sport and carving skis, still unknown
Everybody Wants a Deal . . . . . . So here’s the deal: Instead of using the Internet’s attributes to search for price, you should be using it to search for service. (Think Angie’s List™ for skier services.) We don’t say this because we’re one-percenters who are beyond haggling over price; far from it. We make this claim because the minor disparities one may unearth in sale price are far less significant than the
Atomic can’t help being obsessed with speed. They’re Austrian down to their toes, thereby making it a patriotic obligation to assist Austrian natives in winning World Cup titles. They’ve been very good at meeting expectations, delivering a horde of gold to Austrian athletes. An interesting side development occurred on the way to the podium: non-racers discovered the amazing tranquility at speed that Atomic’s race-room skis exude. At one ski area we frequent, hardly a racing hotbed, there is a knot of very fast, talented skiers who crush the groomers on Atomic GS sticks, and every one of them said “aloha” to their 50th birthday several seasons ago.
Point being, if you understand when and how to tip a ski, if you realize skiing is an active verb, you may decide when conditions are firm to pass over the entire flotilla of Atomic all-mountain skis and attach yourself to their nearest race model. We don’t review true (FIS) race skis here because we have too much respect for the coach-racer relationship to pretend we ought in any way to intervene, but if we did delude ourselves into declaiming on the subject, we’d tell you to try an Atomic.
On the race course, precision is paramount and compromise is unthinkable. In the freeride world of buttered turns, imprecision is part of the program, and some compromises better be made or the skier is in for a very rough ride. So when Atomic creates what we would call an All-Mountain West ski (or fatter shape), they tune the entire ski to be more amenable to broken snow. Atomic also has made a conscious commercial choice to offer competitive product for less, pricing some of their off-piste skis several schillings below the competition. If you’re looking for good value in a very well made ski, Atomic is a sensible place to start your search.
For several seasons, the centerpiece of the Atomic collection was its Nomad series of All-Mountain East and Frontside skis, headlined by the Crimson Ti. As the curtain rises on the 2017 season, the last of the Nomads has wandered off, replaced with a new, Frontside-focused Vantage X Series.
The close tie-in to the successfully relaunched Vantage family of All-Mountain skis is both technical and promotional. Two performance additives first combined in the Vantage series, Carbon Tank Mesh and Ti Backbone 2.0, are repurposed in the Vantage X collection to improve grip on hard snow. Both series also share the beefy Firewall sidewall construction and an all-wood (ash and poplar) core.
The biggest differentiator between Vantage and Vantage X, aside from waist width, is in baseline, or how the ski meets the snow. The All-Mountain Vantage models have a longer front rocker and a dab of tail rocker; the Frontside Vantage X models tighten up the turn connection up front and dispense with any elevation at the tail.
Like many Frontside families, the Vantage X series is large, with five men’s and four women’s models covering price points from entry-level ($399 with binding) to throat-clearing ($1,100).
At the other end of the waist-width spectrum, Atomic is adapting and extending its Backland series of Big Mountain and backcountry skis. Realskiers ignores the models made primarily for hiking, but Atomic still makes 6 wide-bodies bearing the Backland name in its Freeski collection. The Bent Chetler is back with a different form of carbon reinforcement but the same super-surfy feel.
For 2017, the Chetler’s HRZN Tech forebody that’s rockered every which way has been applied to the men’s Backland FR 117 and Backland FR 109 and the women’s Backland W FR 109. We wish we’d received enough test cards on these models to cover them all as we suspect they’re a gas to push around in the pow. What little time we spent on HRZN Tech models, we spent grinning.
Like everyone else, we have no idea why Michaela Shiffrin is so preternaturally talented and unflinchingly poised, but we’re pretty sure of one thing: her equipment isn’t holding her back. As with the Head iSL RD, to ski the Atomic Redster Doubledeck 3.0 SL is to fall in love, hard. One tester felt a 10-point scale couldn’t do the Redster justice, awarding it 11’s for rebound and short-radius turns, two traits that epitomize what makes race slalom skis such a kick to cut loose on.
Atomic knows a thing or two about high speed carving and have a few thoroughbreds in their race stable to prove it. The only problem with just adopting an Atomic race ski is acquiring the strength to bend it. Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin work out year round to be fit enough to be in absolute command of their equipment. This level of dedication isn’t normally found among amateurs who never intend to kick out of a starting gate.
Like all race Atomics, the Redster DD XT is made to accelerate. As soon as it’s laid over, it hits the after-burners and rockets into a simulated race run. All you have to do to feel like Marcel Hirscher is hang on. Once up to cruising speed, anything seems possible, even staccato slalom turns. The sense of unlimited power percolating under the skin of this Redster gives the skier the confidence to push it, secure in the knowledge that the DD XT can’t be flustered. To keep it on an even keel, the DD XT likes to be driven at a high edge angle, virtually obliging the skier to widen his stance and commit to every turn.
The Atomic Cloud Nine earned its way to the top of our ladies’ Power Picks pile by staying focused on the Frontside. It doesn’t feign interest in off-trail pursuits so it can put all its talents to bear staying connected to the groom. Its tip has only a hint of early rise so it latches onto a carving edge much earlier in the turn than is the norm. The tail is all business, never quitting early but always hanging onto an etched arc until closing time.
The Vantage X series debuts this season, finally retiring the Nomads to their tents. The improvements are many and manifest, making the Vantage X 83 CTi, lighter, stronger and more connected to the snow than the Crimson Ti on its best day. The single most significant new component is the Carbon Tank Mesh, a full-body weave of reinforcement that punches way above its weight class. Another new feature that intensifies edge grip without adding many ounces is Firewall, a square sidewall that’s extra-high underfoot, increasing torsional rigidity and energy transmission.
The Vantage 85 W is so affordable because its construction sticks to the essentials and eliminates the extraneous. A light wood core encased in a slip of fiberglass provides support and energy; a thick vertical sidewall puts direct pressure on the edge, giving the Vantage 85 W the tenacity of pricier rides.
Every product line needs a star, and for Atomic’s Vantage series, that star is the 90 CTi. Its lightweight construction belies a deep power reserve, capable of cutting into Vermont marble-hard boilerplate or turning aside a boulder of ossified Sierra cement. It’s a ski seemingly without preferences, willing to make short turns or long, at putter-along speeds or with the gas pedal floored. Perhaps best of all for the skier who hopes to ski 50 days a year and ends up with 20, the 90 CTi isn’t an elitist that requires top-shelf management to release its potential. It doesn’t care where or how you like to travel, and won’t place limits on your opportunities to explore off-trail conditions.
Unlike most made-for-women skis, the Vantage 90 CTi W pulls practically no punches compared to its men’s counterpart. Its all-wood core is a little lighter, that’s it. The women’s ski still sports a cutout Titanal sheet called Titanium Backbone 2.0 that’s a principal contributor to the ski’s success in cruddy conditions. The other special sauce that elevates this Vantage’s versatility is the Carbon Tank Mesh. Covering the length of the ski, the carbon component pumps up the performance in every criterion. The 90 CTi W’s relative quickness to the edge for a ski 90mm wide at the waist is directly attributable to the torsional rigidity delivered by the Carbon Tank Mesh.
“Light and agile for 100mm underfoot,” notes the perspicacious Matt from Footloose. “It carves like it’s narrow, but has a big platform for versatility in soft snow.” One reason this 100 skis like a more petite model is that, despite the obligatory front rocker, it hooks up early as long as the skier is in an aggressive, forward-pressing stance. Several testers noted the need to stay forward in order to get the most of the Vantage 100 CTI’s potential.
It’s not an exaggeration to say the Vantage 95 C isn’t just the best value in the All-Mountain West genre; it’s 2017’s best ski for the buck, period, end of story. Or, as in this review, the beginning. For the Vantage 95 C is so good, it earned its podium position among our Finesse models on technical merit, not the come-hither appeal of a price point. The technology that elevates the 95 C above its presumed peers is called Carbon Tank Mesh, a grid of carbon strands that covers the entire ski and contributes considerably to its grip, stability and pop.
Often “wider” translates as “less maneuverable,” but Atomic’s Vantage 95 C W confounds the conventional in more ways than one. The widest of the women’s Vantage series, the 95 C W manages to mask its width by being more effervescent, coming off the bottom of a powder turn as light as a Champagne bubble rising upwards to the surface of a flute.
The Backland FR 102’s blend of agility with stability give it an All-Mountain accent with Big Mountain dimensions. It hooks up earlier in the forebody than wider Big Mountain models and its cambered midsection, in conjunction with its absence of metal laminates, injects energy into the end of the turn, an uncommon sensation in the Big Mountain armada of floaty boats.
In its prior life as the Century 102, the Backland FR 102 W offered the best cost/value relationship in the genre; for 2017, Atomic sweetened the deal. The addition of the Carbon Backbone adds more muscle and pop without any negative side effects. The Backland with a Backbone is still a superior choice for the lighter weight woman, such as a teenager getting her first off-trail ski.
What’s really strange about the Bent Chetler is how weird it isn’t. It takes about two runs to adapt to life à la Chetler, rotating around the multi-axis tip to start a turn, riding the solid midsection for a touch of directional influence and spinning to a conclusion. When it can’t be in the powder that it’s natural habitat, the Chetler keeps its composure where it’s cambered underfoot, so you can ride it comfortably on just a sliver of edge.
Founded ten years ago by disgruntled freeride competitors from Chamonix, Camille Jaccoux and Bruno Compagnet, Black Crows is making a push to expand its toehold in the American market. The two friends demoed every attempt at a Big Mountain ski then extant, culling ideas that would eventually be embodied in the Corvus, a big (194cm) fat ski that expressed the wide-open spirit of the Mont Blanc massif.
As the center of the international freeride movement, Chamonix was ready for a ski like the Corvus, and soon its distinctive pink and black chevron pattern was popping up all around the Alps. Black Crows fortunes spiked upwards about five years ago when they landed the big-ski shaper Julien Regnier Lafforgue, the mind behind the Armada JJ. Lafforgue’s first model for Black Crows, the Nocta, was an instant hit, the first in a series of ultra-wide twin-tips (“double beak” in Black Crow lingo) made for the big mountain skier. A follow-up to the Nocta, the Atris, is a Realskiers Recommended model for 2017, so we can confirm there’s some real ingenuity in Lafforgue’s juju.
Being French to the core, Black Crows isn’t just a ski company, or even a lifestyle brand; it’s first a philosophy – one that combines design, pleasure, freedom and a toes-in-the-snow passion for skiing – and second, it’s an expression of community, a vehicle for bringing the spirit of mountain life to like-minded souls everywhere.
The foundation of any community lies in family, so Black Crows now makes skis that can be enjoyed by any family member. Lafforgue’s latest creations, the Camox and this year’s sensation, the Orb, are All-Mountain skis accessible to a very broad range of skiers, from highly skilled to considerably less so.
In its ten years of existence, Black Crows has never lost sight of its origins – the Corvus and the Black Crows distinctive chevrons are still part of the line – yet it has gradually shifted its design focus to embrace all skiers who fit into the fabric of mountain life.
Black Crows released 6 new birds for 2017, 3 of which are in the “freebird” family of touring/mountaineering skis and ergo outside our orbit. The biggest news among alpine skis – literally – is the 122mm Nocta 2, a double-beak (twin-tip) banana and the first Black Crow to sport a reverse-camber baseline. The Nocta 2 should be able to turn on a centime despite its obese belt size. The Captis and Captis Birdie (Black Crows’ designation for a women’s ski) are double-rockered twins with camber underfoot. Trimmed to a 90mm waist, the Captis and crew are easily tipped on edge, giving them a better attitude about skiing on-piste.
The star of the newbies, in our humble opinion, is the Orb, a “single beak” model with front rocker, a trifle of tail elevation and most importantly, Titanal laminates in its lay-up. Its 91mm waist places the Orb in the hotly competitive All-Mountain East genre, where major manufacturers play every trump card in their hands. The Orb emerged shining brightly, second in our Finesse rankings and a Silver Skier Selection. Overall, Black Crows enjoyed a most auspicious debut for M. Jaccoux and his Chamonix crew. Bravo et bienvenue!
If everyone in skiing is part of a family, then the Orb is for the young uncle who only gets out on weekends. He spends most of his precious ski time inside the resort boundary but prefers to get off-trail if conditions are decent. He’s a good skier and would be great if only he skied more. If he gets a pair of Black Crow Orbs, he may chuck work all together. The tapered forebody and mildly rockered baseline are ready to party off-piste, but with two Titanal laminates on board, the Orb is so strong on edge it doesn’t really care where you send it. Its tip design obliges the Orb to be loose at the top of a laid-over turn, but once it settles into the arc it’s as solid as the Mont Blanc massif. The once rebellious boys of the Chamonix backcountry now are making perfectly balanced
If you’re an Old School powder skier who pushes off his tails at the bottom of the turn, the Black Crows Atris is going to feel like home. Of course its double rockered baseline – “double beaked” in Crow-speak – can smear a turn to correct line or shed speed, but the Atris is essentially a directional ski that surfs as a hobby. There’s a trick to skiing crud: it’s called, “speed.” A powder ski that wilts under pressure discourages the requisite acceleration. The extra support the Atris delivers derives from its classic, cambered baseline underfoot and a tail meant for driving forward, not swiveling sideward. The Atris is a cool combination of youthful, Big Mountain attitude paired with the calm, focused aggression of the experienced pilot.
Blizzard’s fortunes began to turn around several years ago when the Tecnica Group acquired the brand and factory in Mittersill, Austria, and pumped a few million euros into an overhaul. It’s often the case in the world of industry that he who builds the last factory wins, as it will have the most modern machinery and latest technical capacities. Tecnica management backed up their bet with the movement of some top design talent from Völkl to Blizzard, and the stage was set for a rejuvenated Blizzard to show what it could do.
They probably would have done just fine if they never signed Arne Backstrom to ski on their brand, but the world-class big mountain skier did more than just represent the company, he helped transform it. It was Backstrom who first conceived the idea of rockering a ski by simply flipping the core over, so the tip and tail naturally curved up instead of down. The recently anointed Blizzard engineers figured out how to execute the idea and presto, the Flip Core was born.
The short history lesson matters because this flipping-the-core business makes a ski with a remarkably large behavioral envelope. In category after category, the Flip Core skis deliver elite performance with all the rough edges removed. Most skis with a limitless top end don’t suffer fools gladly – in our jargon, most great Power skis don’t exhibit many Finesse properties – but the Flip Core skis aren’t finicky. Many models with pronounced front rocker don’t ever feel connected in the forebody, but the rocker on a Flip Core ski blends with the midsection when flexed, so the edge feels engaged tip-to-tail. This intoxicating blend of behaviors has seduced countless ski testers, thrusting models like the Bonafide, Cochise, Samba and Brahma into the first rank in their respective genres.
If the ski market as a whole were healthier, it’s hard to say just how big Blizzard’s turnaround would be. As things stand, the brand’s rise has overlapped with a ski sales recession driven by a few seasons of lousy weather and a nervous economy. If the ski market rebounds to anything like its previous glory, Blizzard is poised to reap a bounty.
2017 was supposed to the year that Blizzard’s Frontside and Technical skis capitalized on the runaway success of their All-Mountain Flip Core models and recaptured market share among on-piste skiers. But somewhere between the drafting board and the end of the production line, some part of the complex calculus of building a high performance ski/binding system didn’t add up. An aggressive new product launch plan couldn’t overcome perceived performance pitfalls, putting a 16-model, pivotal product segment at risk.
But the last chapter of the story of Blizzard’s Quattro series is far from written; in fact, it’s only halfway through the introduction. Blizzard has had several months to sort out whatever glitches confounded their initial efforts and the stakes are too high to fail. Realskiers will try to get an on-snow re-assessment into these pages as soon as circumstances permit.
If you were shopping for a women’s All-Mountain ski last spring, you may have noticed new Sheevas, Sambas, Black Pearls and Cheyennes gradually infiltrating the inventory at specialty shops. While some of the cosmetic changes in the 2017 models are subtle, the overhaul under the topskin is comprehensive.
Blizzard has dubbed the suite of changes to their women’s Freeride collection Women’s Specific Design (WSD). Principal among them is the adoption of a technology originally developed for Blizzard’s Zero G line of backcountry touring skis. It uses a unidirectional carbon frame running the length of the ski for structural support and added torsional rigidity. Because the frame is so light, Blizzard actually switched to denser wood (poplar/beech) in the core for added strength and snow feel.
The WSD makeover lightened the women’s Flip Core line by 15-20%, while increasing resistance to twist by 11%, augmenting edge grip. The brilliant Carbon Flip Core baseline remains intact, allowing these well-rockered skis to stay connected to the snow in all conditions.
Somehow, Blizzard figured out how to put sneakers on a freight train. The SRC rolls out of the station like it was hauling lumber, but once this implacable platform is in motion it develops the reactions of a mongoose. “Crazy fun quick!” exulted Eric Smith from Footloose, compressing into three little words what the SRC Racing is all about.
The singular trait of the Blizzard RC Ti that sets it apart from other elite Technical skis is the light caress it applies to a short turn. Most powerful carving skis earn their bona fides by being burly trench diggers, ripping up the corduroy carpet with the subtlety of a Sherman tank. Relatively speaking, the RC Ti is a waterbug, creasing the snow surface but not disfiguring it, zipping back and forth with the accuracy of a Chopin étude.
So how does this little pixie hold its own in a rugged crowd like the women’s Frontside genre? To begin with the baseline, yes, its Carbon Flip Core is substantially rockered, but it takes almost no load to tip and press it into a continuous arc. The Cheyenne fits in among our Finesse Favorites because it’s unapologetically easy to ski whether the snow is groomed or classified under “Other.” Women who are intimidated by bumps yet can’t resist the challenge of confronting them will find the Cheyenne in their court.
If we were to categorize skis according to their attitude as opposed to their actual dimensions, the Blizzard Latigo wouldn’t even be in the Frontside family. The grandchild of the burly Cochise, the Latigo’s lineage is all about adapting to off-road conditions. That it still connects so well on groomers is testament to the clever inversion of conventional wisdom embodied in Blizzard’s Flip Core.
Part of the Quattro concept is to offer a choice of waist width, length and sidecut for a given construction and price point. The Quattro W 8.0 Ca has a sister ski, the 7.4 Ca, with the identical build, baseline and sidecut radius for each size, but an overall narrower silhouette. That both skis feel stable yet flexible is partly attributable to Blizzard’s IQ binding system that centers the integrated binding between two shoulders and fixes it to the ski with a single screw in the middle. A shock-dampening suspension system keeps the ride calm but doesn’t inhibit the Quattro W 8.0 Ca’s unusually sensitive snow feel.
While the 2017 Pearl is assuredly lighter and flexier, it’s essential character hasn’t changed. By nature an off-trail ski, it has enough torsional rigidity to cut crisply into hard snow. Its ability to instantly adapt to changes in terrain and snow conditions make the Black Pearl the perfect pick for the woman who is ready to try off-trail skiing but also expects to partake of an equal measure of groomers.
As befits the AME class, the Brahma is at its best when lingering near the border of powder and prepared slopes. Its ability to shift on the fly to 4-wheel drive is attributable to the subtly of its Flip Core tip rocker. Like any elevated shovel, the Brahma’s tip will find a way over whatever lies ahead, but unlike most models with this much rocker, it remains in contact with all snow surfaces, not just powder. Even on hardpack, the built-to-be-rockered Flip Core forebody is unflappable.
Now in its sixth year, the Bonafide has earned the right to be considered among the greatest all-terrain skis ever made. It rolls to a precise edge with the languid ease of a ballerina, then grips the snow with the tenacity of an arm wrestler. Best of all, its determination to cut a clean arc is unperturbed by whatever lies in its path. If it’s in the snow/ice extended family, the Bonafide can overpower it with the aplomb of an invincible superhero. If you don’t know what conditions are going to prevail on any given day, or if you’re taking a trip and can only take one pair of rides with you, taking a Bonafide along provides maximum fun insurance.
The key to the Samba’s go-anywhere attitude lies in its Flip Core baseline that predisposes the forebody to ride over anything in front of it without disconnecting it from the rest of the ski. As soon as the Samba is laid over, the skier can depend on every centimeter of the ski supporting her. Secure enough on edge to carve all day, the Samba saves its best moves for soft snow, where it helps the uninitiated learn to mix smearing and steering into a lively downhill dance.
If you drop the reins and put the Cochise in charge, “no terrain can stand in its way,” as Eric from Footloose confirms. This is one ski that won’t back down in the face of adversity, no matter what form it takes, be it wind crust, corn that’s turned to porridge or simply whatever’s still left to plunder after 11:00 AM on a powder day. If this sounds like the Cochise hasn’t changed much after a couple of make-overs to thin the core and add carbon to the ends of its Flip Core, well, it has changed and it hasn’t. There’s no question it’s become more user-friendly as far as its pilot is concerned, but it continues to want to dominate whatever off-road condition it confronts.
The new Sheeva is an example of an increasingly common phenomenon: the intersection of women’s ski design and the recent explosion in backcountry R&D. Both domains depend on lightweight as a central feature, but you’re unlikely to see the all-business Zero G collection adopt Sheeva’s sassy twin-tip attitude. Its surfy baseline is insanely easy to push around in powder, but there’s enough camber underfoot to keep it on course when the powder is kaput.
A year ago Blizzard drank a dram of the “Lighter is better!” Kool-Aid and stripped the metal laminates out of the Bodacious. A more visible amendment was the substitution of carbon extensions at the tip and tail to trim further fat and lower swing weight. The Bodacious went from a battleship to a destroyer, still a formidable vessel, but one more able to maneuver in tight quarters, such as chute entries and trees. Its crash diet notwithstanding, the Bodacious still skis big; it’s hard to overlook a 118mm waist at the heart of a 27m radius sidecut. But it doesn’t ski “look out below!” large; the “Biggest Loser” trim-a-thon it endured last year was a massive ease infusion, giving the Bodacious more fast-twitch muscle.
If you are an aficionado of twin-tip design, then the Blizzard Gunsmoke is your kind of ski. Characteristic of the genre, the Gunsmoke maintains a loose connection to the snow whether it’s soft or hard. Compared to the down-the-fall-line orientation of the Bodacious, the Gunsmoke is a swivel stick. But compared to many other twin tips, the Gunsmoke is a paradigm of stability. It pushes piles of set-up crud aside like a super villain parting a crowd of civilians. Skis 114mm wide at the waist aren’t particularly easy to hoist up to a high edge, but if you have the skills to get the Gunsmoke there, it holds.
When Laurent Boix-Vives acquired the distressed fledgling brand Dynastar, he already had Rossignol in his portfolio. Thus was born a sibling rivalry that persists to this day, with the elder trying to establish an untouchable record and the younger always looking for a way to upstage the first-born.
While we can’t say for certain that the Cham series Dynastar launched in 2013 was a conscious effort to outperform Rossi’s successful S7 model, it’s a plausible assertion. Dynastar’s powder skis had always been beefier than whatever Rossi had in play; consider the Jeremy Nobis signature Dynastars versus Rossignol’s Bandit XXX, for example. Heavily rockered, the S7 skied shorter than it measured and without any metal in it was kind of a noodle.
Retaining the idea of the shorter effective platform, Dynastar gave the Cham a stiff front rocker that was segregated from the main structure of the ski by moving the widest contact point well down the ski. Then they tucked the last several cm’s of tail in so they also wouldn’t interfere with turn radius. Finally, they turned up the torsional rigidity so the ski could handle higher speeds. The result was a whole line of S7’s on steroids, christened the Chamonix series in honor of the resort just down the road from Sallanches, where Dynastars are still made.
With an appetite for hugging the fall line, the Cham 97 and Cham 107 developed a strong – literally and figuratively – following in their debut season, but they came across as a bit too aggressive for the weekend warrior. Overlooked in the excitement over the powerful Cham series headliners were their metal-free doppelgängers, the High Mountain versions meant for true alpinists. The Cham High Mountain 107 in particular proved a better choice for those who ski less than 50 days a season and mean to use it primarily as a powder ski. By “better,” we mean you won’t have to work as hard, which is the main rationale for skis this wide in the first place.
In 2015, Dynastar began the transition to a metal-free Cham collection when it modified the Cham 117 to make this monstrous ski more maneuverable. The new design, dubbed Cham 2.0, lessened the severity of the front rocker and smoothed out the transition zones in the 5-point sidecut. The following year the entire Cham line was given the 2.0 treatment, so all the Chams are now mellower and easier to ski for those who don’t attack straight down the fall line.
Dynastar shook up their Cham and women’s collections last season; in 2017, the innovation spotlight shifts to its Technical skis, Speed Zone for men and Intense for women. The sexy new signature technology that gives the Speed Zone and Intense models their stellar grip is called Powerdrive, a 3-piece vertical sidewall comprised of Titanal, a viscoelastic strip and ABS directly over the edge. The idea is to give the edge its own suspension system so it follows terrain without ever losing edge grip.
Our test crew was able to validate Powerdrive’s effectiveness as plenty of testers took a spin on the Speed Zone 12 Ti. We were looking forward to filing a parallel report on at least one of the Intense series, but alas, none of our lasses latched onto any, an omission we’d dearly like to redress this season.
The Dynastar Speed Zone 12 Ti is the 2017 incarnation of what was once a popular genre, the cruiser. Not as brutish as a race-ready GS ski, the cruiser nonetheless shares the same interests and terrain preferences. It isn’t ashamed to admit that it hates moguls and anything that looks like them, not so much because it couldn’t find its way around the cursed obstacles if so required, but because anything that slows it down is an unwelcome interruption in its course.
Every key feature of the Cham 2.0 W 87 is tuned to hit its high notes in new, or at least recent, snow. The short-radius sidecut for tight trees, the long-ski surface area for flotation, the rockered baseline to facilitate a quick swivel, are all better suited for choppy snow than groomage. It’s Paulownia core is also lightweight, so lithe lasses can push it around in heavy spring snow.
One thing that hasn’t changed about the Cham is the shape, which houses a turn-on-a-dime slalom-turn skill set inside a longer frame that assists flotation without inhibiting pivoting. This allows the Cham 2.0 97 to smudge a turn in a tight couloir or gallop headlong down the fall line with equal facility. The way its pintail rearbody is tucked in, the Cham can be counted on to readily release the turn to avoid any awkward hang-ups.
Cham 2.0 W 97 is essentially a fat ski with a slalom sidecut (14m @ 172cm) that skis shorter than it measures without resorting to smearing sideways. As with any of our Recommended models, it can cope with the monotony of groomed slopes, but these aren’t the moments it lives for. Like its prospective owner, it would prefer to make first tracks down a pristine pasture, but if all that’s left is a mishmash of old tracks with scattered powder pockets, the Cham 2.0 W 97 will make the most of the situation.
The lower rocker profile of Cham 2.0, which brings more ski into snow contact sooner, was a pure improvement, a product tweak without a downside. As applied to the Cham 2.0 107, it means a greater connection to earth without losing the ability to swivel out of trouble. As Bobby from Powder House pens, containing his enthusiasm considering his 98/100 score, the “Cham 2.0 107 is attached to the ground.” This may sound like faint praise, but Bobby knows that many Big Mountain models are so intent on swiveling and surfing that the small platform they work from feels connected by a base layer of ball bearings. That sounds easy until you try to tame it.
To cut it as a Power Powder model, a ski has to be stable at speed, not in the static society of homogenous groomers, but in the wild, ever-changing world that is crud. (If Heraclitus had been a freeskier, he might have said, “You can’t traverse the same crud field twice, bro.”) The Cham 2.0 117 is a certified crud stomper, with settings from “Smear” to “Slice.”
Ten years ago, a ragtag bunch of self-described ski bums from Australia, Canada, England and America who had traveled the IFSA circuit together formed The Faction Collective in Verbier, Switzerland. As freeride competitors, they were dissatisfied with the tools at their disposal, deeming the skis of the era too narrow, too stuck on making square-tailed skis with cap constructions meant for on-piste skiing.
So they spent some time making prototypes, familiarizing themselves with modern production technology and quality control measures. Eventually they formed a partnership with family-owned production facilities in eastern Europe that were able to source materials from around the EU. Product design and testing remained, then as now, in Verbier.
Considering its origins, it shouldn’t surprise that the Faction collection is heavily weighted towards wide-bodies, deploying a multiplicity of core constructions with a variety of lightweight components. One of its most innovative concoctions is a balsa-flax laminate found in the surprisingly stout CT 3.0, although most cores in the 2017 collection use more conventional poplar/ash or poplar/beech cores.
With most of its models concentrated in the Big Mountain and All-Mountain West genres, the Faction line can be confusing to sort out. The most traditional collection is the Standard Series, headlined by the relatively narrow Nine.5. All 3 models are wood core, glass laminates embellished with a sheet of Titanal, with minimally rockered, square tails. A dual radius sidecut helps the skis’ on-piste carving control.
Faction has been making a Signature Series for Candide Thovex for a few seasons. This often center-mounted quartet offers different degrees of rocker elevation and soft-snow flotation. We find the CT 3.0 maximizes the versatility and in-resort applicability of Candide’s featherweight, twin-tip design.
In contrast to Candide’s signature series, the baseline and sidecuts of the twin-tip Foundation Series – home to the popular Prodigy – are decisively directional. In terms of snow connection the Foundation models lie between the more traditional Standard Series and the looser CT Signature Series.
While no new SKU’s were added to the line in 2017, so many models received significant updates that it’s easier to list the few who didn’t change shape and/or construction. The Standard Series was refashioned across the board, all models infused with a sheet of Titanal, a major performance upgrade for all-terrain skis.
The only one of Candide’s Signature Series that didn’t endure a change in baseline or sidecut radius was the collection’s already perfect cornerstone ski, the 3.0. In the Foundation Series, the Prodigy underwent a substantial renovation while the Chapter 106 and Chapter 116 hit the “Replay” button.
The Faction Nine.5 is an All-Mountain ski that favors any Finesse skier from intermediate to advanced; its broad ability range could be attributable to Faction’s unique transition zones between the rockered tip (10mm elevation) and tail (5mm) and the cambered (2mm) center section that make a long, strong ski feel shorter and easily re-directed. If the Nine.5 has a particular affinity for off-trail conditions, the culprit lies in its baseline that pulls the front rocker back 20cm from the tip and keeps the tail off the snow for 10cm. What remains in contact with mother earth is fairly stout, bolstered by a full sheet of Titanal that won’t let the Nine.5 get bossed around in set-up crud.
The CT 2.0 remains a glass laminate ski, which is where it gets its pop, but for 2017 the glass sandwiches a poplar/beech core and the whole stack is capped with a protective shell that rests on the sidewalls. The effect, according to Ty from California Ski Company, is “like a stiffer, better Gunsmoke (narrower of course).” Michael from Footloose pegs the CT 2.0 as a “playful ski for the aggressive skier.”
To create a ski that will charge all day without exhausting its pilot’s energy account, Faction uses its innovative balsa/flax core to keep the weight down, an issue that grows more ponderous with each additional size. (Note that the CT 3.0 can be had in a 204cm, a length not seen in a ski brochure since the last millennium.) Amply rockered fore (10mm elevation declining over 200mm) and aft (5mm of loft receding 150cm from the tail), the CT 3.0 is an every-terrain ski with a particular aptitude for deep snow. Its shallow sidecut (20m @ 182cm) isn’t made to steer very far out of the fall line, inspiring Bob Gleason of Telluride’s Boot Doctors to inscribe, “For a skilled skier, a great charger. Strong carve with a crisp turn release, with good hold and smooth at speed.”
If one were to distill Fischer’s essence, the resulting elixir would be made of equal parts precision and speed. Rigorous quality control is the driving force in the corporate culture, a comforting thought for a brand that also makes components for aircraft. The infatuation with speed comes with the territory, namely Austria, where winning World Cups is considered a national necessity on a par with strudel and snow.
Despite the recent spectacular results of American racers on the World Cup, American interest in alpine racing remains a pale shadow of Austria’s national obsession with the sport. As skiers, we gravitate towards models that are more forgiving than precise. Except where Fischer is concerned. The models our panelists prefer from this brand run contrary to the Zeitgeist of the smeared turn; they are unapologetically accurate and geared to run smoothly on the Autobahn. In the language of realskiers, Fischer excels at making Power models that reward speed and technical skill.
In an odd twist of fate, Fischer’s alpine boot division has led a resurgence of interest in the brand. Fischer has been making skis practically since the era of barrel staves, but didn’t elbow its way into the boot market until roughly a decade ago. A few years ago they commercialized a means of vacuum molding the ski boot shell – not just the inner boot – to the skier’s foot. The technology earned instant accolades and swift market acceptance as boot fitters discovered the effectiveness of this breakthrough in customization.
When the same people who are flocking to Fischer boots for their precision realize that the same brand specializes in Technical skis every bit as precise as their malleable footwear, Fischer skis will earn an ever-widening circle of fans.
This season marks the end of the trail for two of Fischer’s mainstay model families, Motive and Progressor, replaced respectively with Pro Mountain and The Curv. The Pro Mountain series follows the lead the Ranger collection took last season, adopting the Air Tec Ti core that’s been whittled by a 5-axis milling machine to pare away every gram of excess mass. Razorshape replaces square sidewalls with sloping shoulders that slice easily through 3-D snow. Free-milled Titanal sheets and carbon stringers ensure that the Pro Mountain models retain the edge grip that was a Motive hallmark.
The Curv series is so cool it will make old Progressor fans switch their allegiance to the new generation of Technical skis. The creation of the combined input of World Cup stars Michael von Grünigen, Kristian Ghedina and Hans Knauss, The Curv is all about the carve. Essentially a race ski unfettered by FIS restrictions, The Curv uses a multi-radius sidecut to accentuate turn entry and exit, plus carbon and Titanal to keep it connected to any snow condition. The longer lengths make full-bellied GS turns; the 164cm will whip its way through slalom arcs without ever taking a timeout.
If you pay any attention to the World Cup, you might notice that Austrian GS skis are on the podium ad nauseum. The RC4 Worldcup RC isn’t as powerful and fall-line focused as a genuine FIS-sanctioned GS, thank goodness, but it gives us mere mortals a sense of what it would be like to have that level of control and authority. It’s particularly exhilarating to drive through a long, banked turn that can’t be broken loose by boilerplate, wind-blown berms or heavy spring slush.
The Fischer RC4 Worldcup SC is the slalom counterpart to the Worldcup RC (reviewed above), built to identical specs except for sidecut and length. As befits a slalom specialist, its turn radius of 13m in a 165cm mimics the mandated shape of a World Cup SL, and it’s available in sizes small enough to make a complete turn inside a cubicle.
The Curv Booster isn’t for an advanced skier looking for technical training wheels. It expects the pilot to have one leg extended and the other tucked up tight, with hips suspended just above the corduroy, setting up for the next exercise in total commitment. Skiers who want carving control that doesn’t require quite this level of athleticism should look at The Curv DTX, built with the same amount of muscle inside but without the supercharger effect of the Booster.
“Excellent carvability!” exclaims Sturtevant’s of Sun Valley’s Olin Glenne. “Solid feel, yet quick and very precise,” Glenne added, ranking the Pro Mountain 86 Ti his favorite all-mountain ski for Frontside conditions. Greg Whitehouse, the affable owner of California Ski Company also declared his love for this Fischer, calling it, “very solid and smooth as silk for high speed cruising in a variety of terrains.” Noting that its interest in short, slow turns was also of short duration, Whitehouse opines, “Hard to reel it in but if you don’t care to slow down, just hang on and grin!”
Every brand, large and small, foreign or domestic, has to make a choice about how they want to build a ski. Once they settle on a construction and the equipment to execute it is on premises, they tend to stay with it for the long haul. Head’s wheelhouse construction could not be more fundamental or more sound: while other brands have obsessed with making a cheaper, higher margin ski, Head has stayed with what it knows will never fail them: a stout wood core, two sheets of titanal and carefully calibrated, pre-impregnated fiberglass to wrap it all up. To those who might quibble some of Head’s skis are over-built, we would counter, wouldn’t you rather own a brand that errs on the side of excellence?
As an Austrian brand, Head has always placed a premium on race results, and their investments in this area are paying impressive dividends. Lindsay Vonn has already eclipsed the considerable achievements of Bode Miller; both are Head skiers, as is Ted Ligety, who may be the second best technical skier in the world today. In a sport where wins can be measured in the thousandth of a second, who comes out on top may appear serendipitous; when athlete after athlete is holding up a crystal globe recognizing a season of superiority, something other than serendipity is afoot.
While Head’s victories on the World Cup cannot be ignored, they’ve had their issues translating gold on the racecourse into dollars in the register in the US. To put it mildly, the American market is not race-driven. Americans want to go where they wanna go, do what they wanna, wanna do; we’re all about freeride, dude! Head, to their great credit, is all about technique. They were the first major brand to treat the Carving trend seriously and make it part of their identity. Hooking into the top of a turn is part of their essential make-up. The idea of an edge breaking loose mid-turn makes their product designers break out in hives. Even their off-trail Monster series have a baseline and tail design more like a carving ski than the typical smear sticks found in the Big Mountain genre. Head understands what freeride skiers mean when they say they want the ski to smear; they just don’t understand why anyone would want that.
Two seasons ago, Head built a new women’s line from scratch, making the first ski collection to use Graphene™, carbon reduced to its single atom essence. The Joy series was an immediate hit and Head followed up last season with two new lines using the miracle material, Instinct system skis and Monster off-piste models for men. The tactical deployment of Graphene along the ski’s length allow for variations in pressure distribution so that skis can be softer or firmer flexing while retaining optimal torsional rigidity.
Head was the first major brand to embrace carving skis and has spent the last 20 years honing their craft at making models that carve continuous arcs. The highest expression of this art is the creation of race skis, a domain Head continues to co-rule with Atomic. Somehow a few members of the Realskiers test team manage to find Head’s World Cup Rebels i.SL RD every year. For 2017 this iconic model received a dose of Graphene along with a few tweaks of the sort that go on every year in the ceaseless effort to be faster.
This year Head is adding a new combi race ski for the citizen racer, the Rebels i.Race. I recall the two runs I spent with the i.Race as if our time together was a brief but passionate affair. We were instantly in sync, not needing to speak to know one another’s thoughts. I love fully cambered skis that remain unapologetically glued to the snow, so it’s no surprise the i.Race and I got along so well. Alas, no other members of our far-flung crew recorded any i.Race test cards, so you won’t find this exquisite Non-FIS Race model reviewed here.
What you will find are all four members of the rejuvenated Supershape series, the i.Titan (80mm underfoot), i.Rally (76), i.Magnum (72) and i.Speed (66). Head took advantage of Graphene’s absurd strength-to-weight ratio to make these models easier to bow without losing a scintilla of edge hold. The Supershape series was already the most formidable foursome spanning the Technical and Frontside categories; the new editions have re-set the bar even higher for both Power and Finesse properties.
For 2017, Head has incorporated the miracle material Graphene™ – carbon reduced to the irreducible one atom – into the i.SL RD’s make-up. One might be forgiven for thinking that adding Graphene would ipso facto reduce the ski’s weight, but racers aren’t looking for lighter skis, but ones with perfect flex distribution. Because of its absurd 300-to-1 strength advantage over steel, Graphene strengthens the ski as well as stiffens it, an important feature among fragile slalom race skis.
There’s a misconception about short-radius skis like the i.Magnum (13.1m @ 170cm) that they won’t do a long turn without getting wobbly and lose all composure off-piste. Poppycock. Of course it’s not a Powder ski, but the i.Magnum is no more perturbed by common off-trail conditions than it is by blue-tinted boilerplate. It will eat whatever you feed it. If you want a little more stability at speed and a slightly longer radius arc, don’t be shy about stepping up to the 177cm.
The Supershape i.Speed takes all of the considerable talents of its predecessor up a notch or two. The new sidecut is even more shapely that the already Betty Boop silhouette of the i.Supershape Speed it replaces in the line, so tight corners are even more of a kick. It bows more easily because it has a thinner core profile, particularly underfoot where its Graphene™ reinforcement is concentrated. Once tipped and pressured into its very tidy 14m arc, its grip is World Cup quality, intensified by two end-to-end slabs of Titanal.
This year’s jury was unequivocal: the Power Instinct Ti Pro belongs on the Power podium. Its everything-including-the-kitchen-sink construction isn’t impressed with any snow condition found on this planet, tearing into terrain like piranha with edges. A wide circle of skier types is able to steer it, in part because it adds a dab of Graphene™ – how do you measure a material reduced to atoms? – through the midsection of the ski, making the tip and tail more pressure-sensitive.
No brand is more obsessed with carving accuracy than Head. The Super Joy is right in Head’s wheelhouse, a Frontside ski that isn’t interested in experimenting with conditions that ruffle its featherweight construction. The Super Joy is at its most joyous on freshly groomed trails where, if the skier slows the pace to a trot, she can feel the snow ripple underfoot. The Super Joy’s extraordinary snow feel is attributable to Graphene™, as this absurdly strong material allows Head to eliminate heavier materials that muffle this sort of subtle feedback. If there’s a trade-off for this sensitivity, it’s a prejudice in favor of the petite; bigger skiers can overload the Super Joy.
If you don’t instantly fall in love with the i.Titan, it might be because you also want to date her equally attractive sister, the i.Rally. In skiing as in real life, you’re asking for trouble, for once you’ve gone out with both you won’t be able to chose. Forced to chose on penalty of agonizing death or never skiing again, we’d probably pick the i.Rally. The deciding factor would be the i.Rally’s slightly more automatic response to turn initiation; it’s shovel connects earlier to the snow, augmenting the sensation of never-ending contact and imparting confidence in the ski’s imperturbable predictability. As noted by one of Peter Glenn’s stalwarts, “This ski turns itself on groomed slopes.”
It’s considered axiomatic that a ski that bends more easily is best suited to lower skill skiers who need the help. While it’s probably true that the new, softer i.Titan is more accessible to the average punter, don’t imagine for one second that it isn’t also an ecstatic epiphany for the expert. For here’s the truly brilliant element of the new design: when Head engineers added Graphene to the i.Supershape construction, they didn’t reduce the amount of metal in the ski, they increased it. A lot, as in wall-to-wall, tip-to-tail thicker sheets. There’s your power plant, the reason that once the i.Titan is tipped on edge, there’s not a trace of shimmy in its soul.
Much about the Monster line from Head is contrarian in nature: they want to engage early (the tips aren’t tapered), the tail holds onto a carve (they’re only rounded enough to avoid hang-ups), they use absurdly light materials but don’t obsess about overall weight, and every ski is built the same and priced the same despite wider skis having higher material costs. Every Monster could also give a hoot about what’s it’s flying into. The Monster 88 would make a good ski for a Marvel™ Avenger: it’s not afraid of conflict. Aim it at snow with the consistency of fluff or foie gras; it could care less.
Some carving-centric skis are built beefy, the better to handle the shocks of riding hard snow at speed. But the Total Joy feels sensationally light and responsive, thanks in large part to Graphene™, the only material measured by the atom. Graphene allows the Total Joy to be both super light and torsionally stiff so the edge stays calm in all but the roughest terrain. Skiers looking for a skills-improvement pill in ski form should take two Total Joys and go skiing every morning. All a lightweight skier has to do is tip it and the Total Joy takes over. “Easy peasy,” purrs Kelli Gleason of Boot Doctors, “it’s forgiving and light yet maintains a big sweet spot for recovering from a backseat turn.”
The most prominent impression left by the Venturi 95 is of smoothness that remains unruffled no matter where it’s led. It holds an edge even when there’s no surface to edge into. When all semblance of softness has been pounded away, the Venturi 95 doesn’t bat an eye but continues to spool off medium-radius arcs as easily as a Vegas dealer spins out cards. The Venturi 95 pulls off this neat trick by using a proprietary design that adheres a matrix of shock-sucking elastomer covered in a fiberglass shell to both the tip and tail. This feature is to shock what black holes are to light.
Head built its Joy women’s line from scratch, without borrowing so much as a gram of Titanal from the hundreds of men’s models it might have cloned and declawed. The weight reference is apt, for Head’s undeniable advantage of being the first and only ski brand to use Graphene™ – carbon reduced to its single-atom essence – gives its women’s skis amazing snow feel. Its one thing to experience the already significant joy of skiing powder; it’s another whole level to feel the Big Joy as it transmits the pearly brush of snow on its bases to your arches, as if you were skiing barefoot.
The Cyclic 115’s ample tip and tail rocker not only disengage the extremities for easier swiveling, their soft flex lets the ski bow in soft snow, compressing the cambered center section and energizing the turn exit. The Cyclic 115 knows how to set a rhythm even white guys can dance to, using its coiled rebound energy to guide the skier into the next move. Whether slashing through freshies or crushing crud, the Cyclic 115 slithers through the snow with the confidence and grace of a professional hoofer.
Until recently, K2 reigned over the US market for so long its leadership had practically become a cliché. The keys to their sustained success were manifold, but from a product standpoint it’s not hard to summarize: K2’s are easy to ski. Regardless of your skill level, your terrain preferences or your gender, there’s a K2 for you and chances are you’ll love it. Given K2’s longstanding preeminence, just about every American with 20 years on the snow has owned a K2 at some point, creating a groundswell of skier-to-skier endorsements that has kept the K2 ball rolling even when, on occasion, it’s been deflated.
Such is K2’s strength that you probably didn’t even realize it’s currently on the ropes, the result of several successive crunching body blows. The brand switched manufacturing facilities last season, which contributed to late or cancelled deliveries. Concurrently, the ski line made its most significant change in basic construction since the turn of the century, a concatenation of events that can’t have been helpful. Meanwhile, back in the boardroom, Rubbermaid, a brand with no previous – or even imaginable – connection to ski culture, acquired K2’s parent company, Jarden. Management who had for years successfully guided K2 to profitability despite a declining market, widely respected people with deep roots in the ski trade, are now back to being toes-in-the-snow skiers.
Forgotten in the ensuing hullaballoo was the departure two years ago of Rich Greene, a K2 cosmetics consigliore who played no small part in the brand’s growth. Among the features absent in the collections since Greene’s departure is an energetic visual style, otherwise known as rack appeal.
When you’re only able to ship a fraction of your orders for the previous season, said season then delivers a stillborn New England market, and you have new owners, adding a lot of new SKU’s to the product mix probably isn’t a priority. So K2 limited their off-season ambitions to extending the Pinnacle product line down to a 88mm-waisted model, a touch-up to the pivotal iKonic 85 Ti, and the re-injection of a Pep Fujas pro model, the Marksman.
For the fairer sex, a K2 focus since before a women’s market existed, K2 has applied the Pinnacle treatment to its wider, Freeride models, the altered Luv Boat 105 and FulLUVit 95 and all-new AlLUVit 88. The cores of these models are a fusion of K2’s Konic technology, with a central channel of Nanolite; and Bioflex, a women’s specific wood core made from Aspen and Paulownia. The result is a lightweight off-trail design that works best in its wider incarnations.
K2 learned from past mistakes not to overload a women’s ski with metal, but a single dose of Titanal gives any ski more bite on hardpack and superior serenity at speed. The Luv Machine has a Titanal laminate to reinforce its Channel Light Core, made from fir, bamboo and Paulownia with milled out sections to further trim away ounces. A fully cambered baseline gives the Luv Machine extra zing, carrying the skier effortlessly through the turn transition. Light as cotton candy with the gripping power of caramel, the Luv Machine 74Ti is one sweet ride.
K2 has made a tidy living by making performance skis that don’t flaunt their talents but tenderly embrace the less talented and encourage them to be better. People who are already struggling don’t care to be berated for their shortcomings by a ski that behaves like a bully; they’d rather find a friend who can coach them into competent players. The K2 iKonic 80 Ti is such a companion, wise in the ways of the carving world and eminently approachable. If it feels lighter than the norm it’s because it is, K2 having pared away every gram of unneeded bulk and concentrating the remaining mass directly over the edges. Stripped to its essentials, the iKonic 80 Ti delivers better snow feel, the ineffable quality that doesn’t try to mute or homogenize every skiing sensation.
Meet Ms. Mid, aka the K2 Luv Sick 80Ti. Her waist width is in the middle of the Frontside bell curve. Her tapered tip and tail and all-terrain rocker gently disengage her extremities so she can concentrate her efforts on the middle. While her sidecut is capable of making a tight radius arc, she’d rather ride at a lower edge angle and peel off medium-radius turns to keep her speed – you guessed it – moderate.
The all-mountain skis K2 introduced last year looked nothing like the 15-year parade of models that preceded them. The older generation of K2’s earned a huge following by being super simple to ski and as damp as soup. The new K2’s, christened iKonic, stripped away a decade’s worth of embellishments in search of a leaner, more sensitive ski that would be both lighter and more reactive. To make a possibly inappropriate extended metaphor: compared to skiing, say, the Aftershock, skiing the iKonic 85 Ti is like waking up inside a B movie to find your wife is suddenly 20 years younger.
“Ridiculously easy to ski,” diagnoses Galena Gleason of Boot Doctors. It’s this quality that makes the OoolaLuv one to grow on. As the skier’s skills develop, the OoolaLuv will continue to provide succor and support. One quality the OoolaLuv doesn’t shared with Luvs of yore is its noticeable light weight. “Unbelievably light skiing with all the smoothness and stability you could want,” coos Shirley from Footloose, concluding, “it’s forgiving with a lot of performance.”
Its focus on ease and maneuverability in the rough and tumble of off-trail conditions disguises the power the FulLUVit holds in reserve. Kelli Gleason, who tears up Telluride when not taking care of business at Boot Doctors, assures us, “it still holds at Mach 9.” For its kindness to women who aren’t looking to crack the Mach scale ceiling, we award the FulLUVit 95 a Silver Skier Selection.
A typical encomium from one of the Footloose faithful encapsulates the Pinnacle 95’s personality: “Stable, responsive, very lightweight, not bulky. Holds edge through crud but remains playful and can change directions in an instant. Loved this…” Note the aptitude for instant direction change: the Pinnacle 95’s lightweight core contributes to lower swing weight, reducing turning effort, and its well-rockered baseline offers no resistance to foot steering.
K2’s Luv Boat 108 had only been afloat for a year when it was scuttled and replaced with the Luv Boat 105, a modestly modified spin-off of the Pinnacle 105, itself only a year out of R&D. K2’s merger of the women’s specific Luv Boat 108 with the unisex Pinnacle 105 was inevitable, as the raison d’être of the Pinnacle was to pare away as much weight as possible without impairing performance, a women’s market mission if ever there was one.
K2 earns our eternal admiration for keeping their focus on making off-trail skiing easier. This is particularly apropos in the Big Mountain arena, where the best skiing isn’t on the groomers. The Pinnacle 105 possesses the magical quality of making previously unplayable terrain part of the daily routine, like playing the forward tees allows the average golfer to enjoy a tough course. The Pinnacle 105 might be the best application of K2’s Konic technology that concentrates practically all mass over the edge. The Nanolite material used in the central core fans out at the extremities, forming the tip and tail entirely from this featherweight stuffing. The reduction in swing weight is one reason the Pinnacle 105 steers like a narrower ski.
The Remedy 102 prevails in soft snow because it puts up no resistance to the stem-turn entry and smeared exits of less skilled skiers. It’s been bred to overlook the foibles of those who can’t wait to develop technical skills before tackling the backcountry. A twin-tip by temperament as well as design, the Remedy 102 thinks every class is recess.
If memory serves, Seth Morrison was the first freeride athlete to have a signature model. He’s been flying the K2 flag for over two decades, often upside down into a crevice of powder surrounded by a rock garden. After a jaw-dropping aerial entry, Seth doesn’t clear out the bottom of couloirs with a sideways smudge but skis a clean line using classic technique. Just as Morrison is a remarkable hybrid of Old School skills and New School bravura, his ski, the Pinnacle 118, is responsive to conventional, directional ski technique despite an amply rockered baseline. There’s no need to adapt your style to fit the ski or the situation; just aim at the deepest pile of snow you can find and go get it.
Today’s Kästle has adopted one of skiing’s venerable names, but behaviorally the skis they are crafting in the present share zero DNA with the skis the brand made in the past. We know whereof we speak because we skied the Austrian Kästles of thirty years ago and they were beastly things to bend. (Kästle also formerly concocted all kinds of cockamamie skis, too numerous to mention here, including the hilarious, hollow-core B-52. But we digress.) Where their flagship skis of yore demanded total commitment from a well-conditioned athlete, today’s Kästles couldn’t be more amenable. Okay, the fattest BMX models do take some persuading to tip and turn, but there’s nothing in the past to compare them to as such Powder skis were non-existent twenty years ago.
Kästle isn’t embarrassed to charge a premium for their sticks, nor should they be. They invest a premium in assuring an exquisite finish, a vital ingredient many so-called boutique brands overlook. Their exceptional on-hill comportment is attributable to far more than just a well-polished edge, however; they flow downhill like a molten, slippery liquid, clinging to terrain. Like parting lovers, each passionate embrace ends suddenly, only to be repeated in the next moment. They impart a sense of security as dependable as a mother’s love, always supporting and encouraging their charges to excel. They’re able to deliver these sensual sensations because Kästle don’t skimp on construction quality and they’ve figured out how to marry a fairly forgiving longitudinal flex – the better to adapt to terrain – to sufficient torsional rigidity to hold on granite. To which we say, bravo.
Change is inevitable. Even a ski as brilliant as the MX83 isn’t immune to the product evolution cycle that incessantly rotates through a brand’s families so there’s something new to sell each season. The 2016 season was the last hurrah for the legendary MX83 and MX88, but Kästle was careful not to meddle too much with its cornerstone collection. The MX84 and MX89 are still fully cambered, with .5mm Titanal laminates surrounding an ash/silver fir core.
The new feature that slightly alters their on-hill comportment is an extension of Kästle’s signature Hollowtech tip insert that dampens shock and lowers swing weight. Fortunately, Hollowtech 2.0 only modestly magnifies these properties, leaving the essential character of the MX series mercifully intact.
Two other new MX models appear alongside the MX84 and MX89 among our 2017 Recommended skis, the MX74 and MX Limited. The MX74 falls into our Technical category where its tidy turn radius (13.1m @ 164cm) and bombproof construction earn it a spot among the best in a very competitive genre. The MX Limited – so limited it didn’t make the catalog – took the MX84 as a starting point and gave it an all-carbon jacket, producing such a mellow ride this dark horse ended atop our Frontside Finesse rankings.
The unannounced arrival of the MX Limited marks a special moment in Kästle’s history, as it’s the first Kästle to be built in the Hohenems factory where the brand was born in 1924. Kästle will use their ancestral home for small batch production such as the MX Limited, more rapid prototype development than is possible working in someone else’s factory, and warehousing for all finished products.
At 74mm underfoot, any pretense of off-piste proficiency is pure puffery, so the new MX74 can be forgiven for losing interest in off-roading. It’s all about arcing, stringing short, round turns together as calmly as oysters make pearls.
That the CPM82 is so well mannered exposes the current craze over tip rocker as so much hyperventilation. The CPM’s ultra-modern carbon construction is built on an über-traditional cambered baseline, with a tip and tail designed to engage with the snow. It earns its crazy good scores for carving capacity the old-fashioned way: it remains connected to its round trajectory with every centimeter of edge at its disposal.
Strictly speaking, Kästle’s LX82 isn’t a women’s ski. It exists, in part, because Kästle’s stock on-piste ski for many years, the exquisite MX83, had the mass of a collapsing star. To broaden its appeal in central Europe’s most important market segment, Kästle created the 2-model LX series, so lightweights of either gender could experience the liquid flow of the MX’s. If the LX82 has a point of view, other than favoring less avoirdupois applied to its midsection, it’s that carving is cool and other pursuits are peripheral. Its character is written in its baseline, a fully cambered affair with a Fast Grip Shovel, so the instant it’s tipped it begins to carve an arc that seems to last from takeoff to landing.
In brief, it’s a beauty. Built on the bones of the MX84, it’s covered in carbon, enough to absorb shocks measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale. The only other ski in its league in this department is the Stöckli Laser AX, our top Power pick. The power pumped out by the MX Limited is like that of a placid river: it seems to move calmly and effortlessly while it’s cutting its way through solid stone.
Anytime a ski as ridiculously good as the Kästle MX83 is retired, a ripple of concern spreads through Kästle’s cadre of fanatically loyal followers. Will its replacement, the MX84, be as good? Dare one hope it will be better? We’re relieved to report the MX84 is every bit as good as the MX83, but whether it’s better or not is a more a matter of taste than technicity. The MX84 retains one of its predecessor’s principal virtues, a fully cambered baseline, but the softer forebody of the MX84 puts up less resistance to pressure.
Kästle’s reputation for otherworldly edge grip was established by its MX models, fully cambered assault vehicles that tore groomed terrain to tatters. The FX series, here represented by the FX85 HP, despite using all but identical materials used in the MX mix, could not be more different. Where the MX89 tries hard to adhere to terrain, the FX85 HP works overtime to keep the connection loose. Its pivot-friendly attitude begins with the baseline, a double rockered affair dubbed Dual Rise by Kästle. On a 173cm, the forward contact point is pulled back 361mm and the tail begins to elevate 217mm before it’s done. (We know these numbers because Kästle helpfully prints them on the topskin.)
It’s tough being the offspring of a genius. Someone is always comparing you to Dad and it’s impossible to measure up. So it must be for the new MX89, taking its place in the Kästle line in the tracks of the MX88, indisputably one of the greatest skis ever made. It’s not that the MX89 is a slacker; if anything, it might be an over-achiever, trying so hard to earn top grades for technical merit that its social skills suffer. There was an effortless quality to its predecessor associated with how quickly it tucked the skier into the turn; the slightly softer forebody of the MX89 doesn’t engage as aggressively, leaving it to the skier to seek a higher edge angle with a more aggressive move of his own. This phenomenon, we surmise, lies at the root of the new ski’s dip in Finesse scores compared to illustrious antecedent.
The Kästle FX95 HP isn’t just an all-terrain, all-condition ski; it’s also an all-attitude ski. This odd elocution means that the FX95 HP doesn’t care if your style is docile or dominating, the FX95 HP is going to hold on to every medium-to-long radius arc as if the fate of Austria hung in the balance. There is one caveat: it helps to go lickety split . This is never more true than in still-crystalline, crisscrossed crud, when the Dual Rise baseline of the FX95 HP feels most appreciated as an aid to maneuverability over and around submerged obstacles. The trade-off is that its rockered tip and tail feel less motivated when confronted with crystalline groomage. Because of its two layers of Titanal, the FX95 HP never feels unstable at speed, but its baseline unquestionably favors variable terrain as long as it’s not the consistency of haggis.
A ski gets its courage from its core and its affability from its baseline. The Kästle BMX105 HP never cowers in the face of crud, for it knows that behind its loose baseline lurk the innards of a race ski, with a Silver Fir core encased in two sheets of Titanal. Its construction is intent on domination; its base profile is devoted to reconciliation.
Line has come a long way in its brief history without ever straying very far from home. We can’t think of another well-distributed ski brand that began life making handmade skiboards, which in case you’ve forgotten, were the super-shorties barely long enough to contain a boot and a rudimentary, non-releasable binding. But Line wouldn’t be here today if Jason Levinthal hadn’t first decided to make a sliding device that was as easy to point backwards as forwards. All Levinthal had to do was elongate his platform and a ski brand married to the twin-tip concept was born.
If the idea of carving every inch of every turn remained as popular as it was in the hey-day of super-shaped skis in the 90’s, Line probably would have gone the way of the dodo. Despite being a fairly diverse brand today, they still don’t make anything one could seriously call a Technical ski. Happily for Line, the market shifted its emphasis to skis with better performance in soft snow and crud, which moved a good deal of the market right into Line’s wheelhouse.
Line is owned by the same people that bring you K2, yet the feel of the two brands on snow couldn’t be more different. Lines always feel light and playful, like puppies that can’t wait to chase a stick. They’re less interested in promoting technical proficiency than they are in permitting shenanigans like pivoting off your shovels; what other brand has a “Butter Zone” fore and aft of the binding?
If all Line made were spiffy Pipe & Park skis, you’d find no reviews of them here as that is not Realskiers’ domain. But Line makes some directional All-Mountain models that have a definite place in the mainstream market and their Powder skis are so much fun, kids shouldn’t be the only ones allowed to have them. Because Line tends to make thin-profile skis that are lightweight and easy to bend with minimal effort, their women’s models are well suited to the fairer sex.
The biggest news from Line in 2017 involves both product and personage in the form of Tom Wallisch and his new Pro model. Regarded in freestyle circles as the best at translating Pipe & Park maneuvers to environments as opposite as urban concrete and bottomless backcountry, Wallisch is the ideal ambassador for a brand that exudes fun wherever it goes. Realskiers testers who are into the Pipe & Park scene gushed over the Tom Wallisch Pro, like Scott from Sun & Snow who was “shocked such a short twin tip could be this stable. Great in and out of fast turns, solid off jumps and nice landings.” What more could a freeskier want?
Well, since you asked, a steal of a deal would be nice. That role falls to the new Honey Badger ($399.95 in most markets), a surfy twin that’s ideal for teens. Elsewhere in the 2017 Line line-up, its other signature-model athlete, Eric Pollard, has cooked up the Pescado, a 125mm-waisted surfboard with edges. Among skis more likely to find an audience among Realskiers’ readers, the redesigned Supernatural 92 gets our testers’ nod over the latest Supernatural, the 86.
Most ski manufacturers wouldn’t regard “fun” as a technical term, but it’s a precise appellation for Line, as it fits both the personality of the brand and the attitude of the more carve-y of its all-mountain collections, the Supernatural series. The Supernatural 92 gets its unapologetically playful personality from a cambered baseline that gives its mostly glass structure a spring-like quality that pounces turn to turn. There’s just enough metal laid down the ski’s middle to give it more grip on hard snow without dulling its agility. This combination of shape and structure creates a ski that’s surprisingly comfortable whether driven with a feather-light touch or a lead foot.
If the Line Pandora 95 had a theme song, it would be “Surfer Girl.” When she isn’t surfing she’s swimming sideways, setting up for the next wave. Asking it to carve a clean arc on hard snow is like compelling an adolescent to stay after school and clean the erasers. It will do it, but only at her own pace and she will resent you forever for it.
Concealed behind Line’s devil-may-care attitude is a serious ski maker who manufacturers more traditional, cambered, directional models than they do center-mounted twin tips. Its Supernatural and Sick Day series are actually old-fashioned in their wood and fiberglass constructions, with just a touch of tip and tail rocker to qualify as off-trail tools. The simplicity of the Supernatural 100’s construction contributes to its playful attitude and easy-steering properties. As a cambered, glass ski, the Supernatural 100 pops out of the turn even in powder, giving it a lively but controlled rebound that carries the skier into the next turn. (Note its highest technical score is for Rebound/turn finish, an unusual result that highlights this ski’s special property.)
Nordica’s opportunities as a ski brand took a fundamental turn for the better when the Tecnica Group bought the Blizzard factory and shifted Nordica production over to their new, refurbished facility. Prior to this happy development, Nordica skis had endured a checkered history. It began when the self-important sweater-maker Benetton owned Nordica – an investment they would live to rue – and decided to acquire the venerable Austrian ski manufacturer Kästle. As Benetton managed to do with all their sport properties – it single-handedly destroyed the in-line skate market with its shred stewardship of Rollerblade – it drove Nordica and Kästle directly downward. By the time Nordica was re-acquired by its original ownership for dimes on the dollar, the Kästle brand had been euthanized and replaced with the first Nordica skis.
Nordica’s sustained importance as a boot brand allowed the ski line to survive a rocky adolescence. Now that it has a permanent home, it also has emerged as a major player. As Nordica developed as a ski brand, it earned a foothold in the Carving world with a series of exceptional Frontside models, then busted into the critical All-Mountain categories with the Steadfast and the Hell-and-Back, two of the best all-fiberglass skis we’ve seen in recent years. They proceeded to hit a series of home runs – technically if not commercially – with the Big Mountain models Patron, Helldorado and El Capo.
He who sits still gets run over, and so Nordica modified their all-terrain construction by adding a latticework of Titanal on top of their already torsionally rigid I-Core construction in the NRGy series introduced in 2015. In keeping with Nordica’s technical heritage, the NRGy models are strong skis that all but require the skier to drive them from a high edge.
Nordica’s ability to make lighter weight, non-metal skis gives the brand the inside track on making a great women’s ski. The eternal quest for a lighter structure has seen the creation of the I-Core, with one wood stringer replaced with foam, the WI-Core with 2 foam channels and the Balsa Core CA, with microlaminates of balsa wood as the ski’s central component. The persistent focus on weight reduction has won Nordica a faithful following among women of all skill levels.
2017 is shaping up as a banner year for Nordica. Last year the Enforcer earned an avalanche of accolades, prompting the inception of spin-off models, the Enforcer 93 for men and Santa Ana 93 for women. They join an already crowded field of Nordica models in the pivotal All-Mountain East genre, alongside the established NRGY 90 and the new NRGY 85 and Soul Rider 87.
At Realskiers, we don’t pay much attention to twin-tip models as they tend to be Park & Pipe specific, but Nordica’s Soul Rider models are all-terrain skis that happen to have turned-up tails. We regret that we didn’t see more cards on the Soul Rider 87 as we suspect it of excellence we can’t quite confirm.
Nordica has a strong following in the carving community attributable to several superior Fire Arrow models, setting the stage for Nordica’s newest carving implements, the GT 84 Ti EVO and GT 80 Ti EVO. Both models get their sublime power from the Torsion Bridge Titanal matrix first applied to the NRGY series of All-Mountain skis. The difference between the GT 84 and the retired Fire Arrow 84 EDT is deeper than a geologic fault line; the latter felt like being strapped to a missile, while the new ski is infinitely subtler and responsive without surrendering an iota of edge grip.
Realskiers is fortunate to have a high percentage of women readers, so it pains us to report we didn’t see any cards on Nordica’s new Sentra series of Technical and Frontside models. We’ll try to do better next time.
If you’re a Big Mountain skier, you may be wondering, whither the NRGY 107 or the redoubtable Helldorado? Gone the way of the El Capo and Vagabond, to that big powder field in the sky. The Big Mountain category is a second-ski market, so while it’s worth it to compete in the genre, overloading it with choices only diminishes the production run for each option. The Patron planted Nordica’s flag in this genre and its exceptional receptivity to hard snow skiing has kept it relevant in a category awash in swiveling planks.
When Nordica was first trying to find its feet as a ski company, it found a toehold among the firmament of A-list brands in the Frontside genre. A case could be made that, for a few years running, Nordica was making the best carving skis in the world. Among the major brands, Head probably holds that distinction now, but Nordica’s new GT series serves notice that it would like to reclaim its crown. The new construction of the GT series is a major departure from Nordica’s more recent Frontside family, yet it’s already familiar to Nordica fans. Essentially, it doubles down on the Titanal Torsion Bridge used in the All-Mountain NRGY collection, adding a sheet of the cut-out titanium to the base and replacing the foam core channel with poplar and beech.
There are moments in life when you recognize an instant rapport, be it after a few minutes of dinner party banter or when you sink into the first few arcs of an inaugural run and your skis respond as if your connection were telepathic. This is how the new Nordica GT 84 Ti EVO introduces itself, as accommodating as the most obsequious servant, unassumingly tearing the mountain to ribbons while ferrying its master, unperturbed, to the end of the gravity stream. Before this season, no one could have ever skied the GT 84 Ti EVO as none existed, yet taking it for a spin feels like coming home.
The new Enforcer 93 is a spin-off of the widely lauded Enforcer 100, with whom it shares an appetite for all recipes for crud. One look at it’s amply rockered baseline tells you that no matter how well it performs on prepared slopes, it’s personality is definitely inclined to travel off-trail where the broken, irregular terrain actually has a calming effect Like many skis with two sheets of Titanal in its guts, the Enforcer 93 likes to have some wind in its sails before its helmsman tries to maneuver. Once rolling, it’s relatively short contact area makes it feel quicker edge to edge than expected from a ride with a fairly portly 93mm waist.
When Nordica opted to add an 85mm ski to its NRGY line of All-Mountain skis, they could have elected to downgrade the product to meet a lower price point. Blessedly for the skiing public, it elected to eschew this option, instead lowering the price without diluting the product. The NRGY 85 uses the same I-Core Torsion Bridge as its big brothers, the NRGY 90 and 100. But while the big boys are fairly rigid beams that take energy to deflect, the NRGY 85 is terrific at short turns, bowing readily into a slalom-radius arc tighter than you’d expect a 19.5m ski to engender.
The Enforcer’s on edge authority derives from a no nonsense construction – all wood core filling in a metal sandwich – applied to a cambered baseline. It’s the shape of this baseline that’s the Enforcer’s special sauce: the forward contact point is pulled back 25% from the tip and the rear contact retreats 5% along the tail. While the rockered areas are pronounced, they are relatively low-angle so that any act of tipping and pressuring is sufficient to put the extremities back in snow contact. A blunt, low-profile “Hammerhead” shovel design keeps the tip closer to the surface, thereby reducing tip flap on hard snow.
Any ski with the geometry of a typical AMW model, including the NRGY 100, will handle well in powder; the more challenging conditions will be everyday hardpack and the heavy glop that is the aftermath of corn. This is where the NRGY 100’s latticework of Titanal shows its mettle, boosting stability on edge on firm snow and imparting sufficient strength to push slush berms aside. Like many skis this wide, the NRGY 100 takes a moment to connect at the top of the turn, and its innate turn shape is giddy-up long. These properties suggest that the preferred pilot for an NRGY 100 be someone who is comfortable hewing close to the fall line and isn’t perturbed by higher speeds. But the NRGY 100 doesn’t feel like a runaway train; it’s more like a family-friendly roller coaster that feels securely connected to the track.
If you think of the Soul Rider 97 as a skinnier Patron, it’s appearance among our Recommended models for the all-mountain Finesse skier should come as no surprise. Its twin-tip design, a rarity among our Recommended models, descends directly from the double-rocker DNA of the Patron. The turned-up tail isn’t an invitation to ski backwards – the Soul Rider 97 is a directional ski – as much as a silent plea to be taken off-piste, where this poppy, playful ski is in its element.
A case could be made that Nordica has been building the best all-glass (i.e., non-metal) skis on the planet for the past several seasons. Models like the Steadfast, Hell & Back and Patron raked in best-in-show awards in their respective genres since their introduction. Nordica’s La Nina is cloned from the Patron, purloining every aspect of the unisex model but two center channels of its wood core, which La Nina replaces with foam.
For most of the 1970’s, 80’s and into the 90’s, Rossignol was king of the roost, the most recognized trademark in a market crammed with brands that did not survive this epoch. It built a race department that was the envy of all, with stars like Alberto Tomba and what seemed like every significant female racer in the world. Eventually, maintaining its race stable became too expensive, other companies innovated while Rossi held eroding ground and Quicksilver’s brief flirtation with ownership did neither brand any favors. Now Rossignol’s star is ascending again.
For brands that make technical gear like skis, a successful renaissance is always led by product. A couple of years ago, Rossi shored up the core of their All-Mountain offering with the introduction of the Experience series, headlined by the terrific E98 and E88. In 2013 it re-staked its claim to Carving excellence with the HP Pursuit. In 2014 it knocked the cover off the ball with the Super 7, Squad 7 and Soul 7. It’s rare for skis this forgiving to also deliver OMG performance, but Rossi has found a fresh way to deliver the stability only length provides without making a Big Mountain ski feel big when flipping edge to edge. With the Super 7, Rossignol restored the word’ “playful” to the Powder ski lexicon, a nearly forgotten attribute among these tanker-sized skis.
During their brief tenure in the wilderness, Rossignol gave up rack space in the women’s market to arch rivals (in the US) K2 and Völkl. As has transpired in every other category, Rossi has regained a lot of lost ground among women. Counting all categories, Rossignol is now once again number one in unit sales in America, and its still growing.
Rossignol was already riding a hot streak into 2017 when it opted to double down and extend an innovative new product feature throughout its entire non-race collection. The element it gambled its immediate future on is called Carbon Alloy Matrix, identified by the “HD” suffix appended to each affected model’s name.
Most of Rossi’s Experience and 7 series models were built without metal laminates, so the addition of a structural component with the chops of the Carbon Alloy Matrix had a profound, palpable effect on performance. Unlike Titanal, the Carbon Alloy Matrix didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the fiberglass with which it co-exists, allowing the trademark liveliness of models like the Soul 7 HD to shine through.
Where the new HD mesh is most noticeable is in enhanced edge grip, resulting in a calmer ride wherever its magic touch was applied. The acid test of its effectiveness was its incorporation into the Experience 88, already a highly decorated veteran of the All-Mountain East brigade. The results are exhilarating. Everything feels tighter and firmer, like plastic surgery that worked for once. (“Say, have you lost weight?”)
Rossi showed brass you-know-whats by changing nearly every ski on which its commercial success depends. After enduring a dreadful 2016 snow year in both central Europe and the eastern US – potentially devastating blows to market leaders like Rossi with so much to lose – Rossi is fighting back with its strongest line-up ever, top to bottom and side to side.
Like the Völkl Racetiger GS, the Rossignol Hero Elite LT is a muscular ski that obeys turning commands with the obedience and precision of a dressage horse. If groomers are your territory and speed is your best friend, the Hero Elite LT Ti belongs in your ski locker. There’s an ineffable ease to the Elite LT’s flow down the hill. As Zac Larsen of The Lift House noted, “Easy to ski great,” which is one way to describe what everyone is looking for in a new ski. Larsen added, “Held at speed!” with the exclamation point evidence that a ski so simple to guide shouldn’t be so unbudgeable at ballistic speeds. It’s literally effortless in long radius turns.
“Super quick, almost too quick!” exclaimed Pat from Powder House, indicating that what the Hero Elite ST wants to do it does very, very well. The question is, are you up to it? For the wheelhouse of this slalom are turns that dive in and out of every arc with the staccato speed a ZZ Top guitar solo. “This ski lives up to its name: SHORT TURN,” opined Zac Larsen. “Your legs run out of turns before you run out of mountain.” Brother Luke Larsen was on the same page, advising prospective ST skiers to “buckle up – it’s got a lot of rebound.”
It’s a natural impulse to compare any ski to the model that immediately preceded it in the same family, so the arrival of Rossignol new Famous 10 invites one to contrast it with the Unique 10 that came before. The two skis are surprisingly quite different. The Famous 10 has considerably deepened its sidecut to accentuate carving action and short-turn facility. The new ski’s construction trades the Unique 10’s Air Core for an all-Paulownia core supporting the same Sandwich Duracap design used in the men’s Pursuit series.
Rossignol created the Hero Master for Masters’ racers who, as in their adolescence, have to economize and use one ski for two events. But the Hero Master could live a long life without ever seeing a start house or a finish gate and still pass on to the celestial podium fulfilled. For this sweetheart loves to open up the gas line and burn fuel by the barrel, flying down America’s groomed highways with its sirens on and lights blazing.
Built like a GS race ski but with a shape closer to a slalom stick, the Pursuit 800 Ti bites into the top of the turn so decisively that it’ll bury if the snow is too soft. It filed teeth were meant to sink into snow that’s racecourse hard, which is where Scott Sahr rom Aspen Ski and Board took it before penning this report. “One of the fastest none-WC skis on the market. Unreal edge hold, power transmission and stable as a brain surgeon. This ski dissects any Frontside trail and will leave all your buddies with an “I can’t keep up!” attitude.”
Rossignol’s Temptation 84 Carbon is geared for the gal who isn’t trying to overload her Fitbit™. She’s hoping for a reliable, responsive ski that will take care of her on all the trails she prefers. The Temptation 84 is this sort of Goldilocks ski, comfortable operating between the extremes of absolute power and delicate finesse.
No single ski benefited more from the addition of the Carbon Alloy Matrix (designated by the HD suffix in the product nomenclature), than the Experience 88 HD. There’s nothing about this ski it didn’t make better. It grips hard snow with more tenacity. It deflects clumps of day-old crud with more contempt. It tosses aside the occasional deflection that occurs in the belly of a 40mph GS turn, something the Olds 88 – excuse us, the old E88 – didn’t have the stuffing to resist. Pay attention, Dear Reader, for this is one of the more significant shifts in product behavior we’ve seen in the last several years. The previous E88 had limits that might not have been perceptible to all Finesse skiers, but the 2017’s Experience 88 HD has moved the boundary over the Power skier’s horizon.
Once upon a time, Secret deodorant’s slogan was, “Strong enough for a man… but made for a woman.” The same could be said about the Rossignol Temptation 100 Ti, a poplar and Titanal powerhouse that demands to be driven at high edge angles and higher revs. An examination of the Temptation 100 Ti’s shape reveals its predisposition to carve on firm snow. The sidecut extends all the way into the Air Tip, allowing edge contact to commence as soon as the ski is tipped. Edge hold in the belly of the turn is all but assured by two Titanal laminates. The tail is shaped to hold on or let go, according to the pilot’s bidding.
The Carbon Alloy Matrix proves to be the perfect partner for the metal-free Soul 7, magnifying its playful properties and stiffening its resistance to chatter without adding heft or stifling snow feel. The overall reinforcement of the Carbon Alloy Matrix gives the new Soul 7 HD more stability when traveling through day-old crud and more edge grip on those occasions when it has to cruise a groomer. But please do not confuse “better on groomers” with “made for groomers.” While there’s no question the alterations to the Soul 7 HD palpably improved its stability and edge grip, they didn’t alter its width or the deliberate disengagement of its pretty Koroyd tips and tails.
Rossignol recognized some years ago that their off-piste unisex skis came out of the mold ready for the women’s market. What hadn’t Rossi already done to the Soul 7 (or Savory 7, as renamed for womankind) to make it female-friendly? The tip and tail were fashioned from Koroyd in see-through patterns reminiscent of stained glass, so swing weight was already low as basso profondo. Every shred of metal not named “edge” was omitted a priori.
The elusive elixir Rossi’s quest hopes to capture is in essence the peppiness of fiberglass, so turns practically finish themselves, married to the calming qualities only metal seems able to provide. Yet marriages of metal and glass often flounder when metal tries to stifle fiberglass’s free spirit. What alchemy will allow metal to maintain its firm hand while giving glass the latitude to frolic down the fall line? The answer is the Carbon Alloy Matrix Rossi has concocted to boost the Super 7’s power quotient while maintaining its effervescent nature. The stiffer structure can sustain high velocity impacts with calcified crud, yet the Super 7 HD still feels light and maneuverable.
In the interests of full disclosure, both the Founder and current Editor of realskiers once served in product management roles at Salomon, although our tenure was so long ago that the company we toiled for bears little relation to the Salomon brand of today. All that remains on our end is a lingering respect for Salomon’s meticulous R&D methodology, which resulted in a series of landmark product introductions that completely upended the established order. Their first boot, the rear-entry SX 90, introduced to modest applause in 1979, morphed into the SX 91, which led the brand to overtake Nordica in total dollars by 1985. By the end of the decade, there were hardly any overlap boots left in the market: the Nordica line was down to one 4-buckle boot and even Lange made a couple of half-hearted stabs at a rear-entry configuration. Meanwhile, Salomon’s SNS Nordic boot-binding system caught the sleepy XC market by surprise, running up a dominant market share. When Salomon debuted their monocoque skis they made such an impact that within two years, if you were a ski brand without a cap ski, you didn’t sell any skis.
Today, while Salomon remains a dominant player in the alpine boot market, their mantle of market leadership in skis has lost some of its luster. Their last shot at a game-changing ski, the BBR, didn’t achieve the traction they hoped for; instead of creating a whole new genre of surf-inspired skis they were treated as curios and largely overlooked by ski buyers. Salomon error-corrected with their second- generation BBR 10.0, a more relatable ski for the traditional, technical skier, but it still got lost in the well-stocked, viciously competitive 100mm-waist market. So in 2013 Salomon introduced a 98mm All-Mountain ski that didn’t try to outperform the world in some newfangled way. Instead, Salomon shot to outmaneuver the market by street pricing models like the Q-98 at $499, $200 below the leading models in the category. It was like getting a free binding, always a powerful sales incentive.
The Salomon product development juggernaut of the 1980’s was financed by a simple idea: make a ski binding easy to step into and out of. If there is a unifying trait underlying almost all Salomon gear, it’s an emphasis on convenience and ease of operation. The accent on ease, coupled with an aggressive pricing policy, continues to be the primary Salomon ski family trait.
Salomon had one, eye-on-the-ball mission this past season, and that was to ensure the market acceptance of its replacement for the Q series, the all-mountain suite of 5 men’s and 4 women’s models christened QST. The French have always had an affinity for skiing hors piste, a passion not shared by most of central Europe. It shows in the QST line, which seems to get better as it grows wider, as if growing into its role as a powder and crud specialist.
The QST cohort is not a peerage. They aren’t all built the same, nor do they all match up with skiers of similar skills. In contrast, Head makes all their off-trail Monster models the same way and sells them at the same price. Salomon intends QST to serve all recreational skiers, not just experts.
Where you feel the sweet spot in the collection lies depends on whether one is procuring a second ski or a single ski that must serve all masters. As second skis consecrated to powder days, the QST 106 and QST 118 have few peers. They smooth out rough terrain like Botox; no matter what’s going on beneath the surface, all you feel is white velvet.
The best QST for the single-pair owner is unquestionably the QST 99. There’s a perceptible step down in power properties as the line drifts to the QST 92 and QST 85; there’s a reason each model shaves another $125 off its MSRP. Skiers who until now only dabbled off-piste should vault over the discount options and strap on a QST 99. You won’t find an easier ski to inform the uninitiated in how to tame rambunctious off-trail terrain.
If the Cira were a young heroine in a Disney movie, her tale would begin with an underprivileged youth. Judged by how she appeared on paper, with her simple components humbly assembled, Cira faces an uphill battle for acceptance. She’s told to do the jobs other skis won’t, like spend time carving out the inside of a slow-motion arc. People begin to notice that she’s a natural. A skilled technician pulls Cira aside and offers to mentor her. While her gently rockered forebody made her hesitant at first, Cira quickly adapted to being tipped and pressured like a sophisticated carving ski with expensive appurtenances like Titanal and carbon fiber. The plucky Cira, undeterred by her presumed disadvantages, goes on to compete against the best women’s Frontside skis in the world and, while she doesn’t win, she proves to everyone what’s she made of: spunk, skill and a heart of gold.
Crisp turn entry, clear snow sensations shining through the turn midsection and confident finishing power are traits any Frontside ski would be proud to possess. Salomon’s X-Drive 8.0 FS is built on these principles and it lives up to them every day it’s allowed out to ski. The X-Drive 8.0 FS gets its gumption from a blend of three dampening elements. Like it’s big bro, the 8.8 FS, it uses basalt as a base layer, then adds a sheet of Titanal and an X-shaped structure over the rocker zones to keep them from acting up. This creates “a great combination of edge grip (torsional stiffness) and off-piste versatility,” pens Sturtevant’s Olin Glenne, placing it on his personal podium in the Frontside category.
If you’re in a quandary over which X-Drive to chose, the 8.3 or 8.0 FS (reviewed above), relax. It’s a simple matter of structure and shape. The 8.3 is wider in the waist, but it’s wider still at tip and tail, so despite having more surface area, it actually scribes a shorter radius arc than the X-Drive 8.0. This doesn’t change its off-trail competence as much as it snugs up its natural turn radius, controlling speed by issuing more arcs.
Two modifiers keep coming to mind as we ponder the predominant traits of Salomon’s new QST 92: lightweight and value. At a most probable price of $499, the QST 92 delivers confidence and a measure of competence to eternal intermediates and early-stage advanced skiers who want to break the bonds of boring groomed trails and tackle off-trail terrain. That’s it’s as light as a salad for lunch makes it all the easier to toss around in tight quarters like trees and chutes.
Last season Salomon pulled off a bit of sleight of hand when it slipped in a layer of basalt, the most common mineral in the earth’s crust, in lieu of the Titanal (less common) laminate that the first year 8.8 deployed to improve high performance. Our test crew barely batted an eye, because the material that actually rules the energetic response of the X-Drive 8.8 is carbon, the key component in an X-shaped matrix of fibers that mellow out the ride longitudinally and stiffen it torsionally.
With a forebody that’s both amply rockered and tapered, the QST 99 is screaming, “I wanna go off-trail!” as loudly as a sugar-addled urchin ululating from his parent’s shopping cart. What it’s craving is a large dose of cut-up crud or wind-crusted berms it can chop into mincemeat. Taking it off trail is the best way to get the QST 99’s tips to settle down. While hefty lads and hard chargers might crave more metal than the dollop Salomon places underfoot, skiers with a slightly more mellow attitude will appreciate how maneuverable the QST 99 is for a ski in this category.
When Salomon concocted the QST line, it didn’t just make one construction cut into 4 different silhouettes; it made 4 distinct skis, each with its own, adapted construction. In our panel’s opinion, the QST 106 is the best among unequals. We don’t just recommend the QST 106; we believe it’s moved to the head of its class in the Big Mountain genre. If you attack the fall line like a German Shepard attacks his dinner, then you’ll probably find one of our Power picks to be preferable. But if you’re like most powder skiers well past their adolescence, you like to enjoy the embrace of every turn, sinking into a sequence of soft swooshes as gently as you’d slip into a warm Jacuzzi.
Making lighter weight skis has been a Salomon specialty since it concocted the first commercially successful monocoque skis many moons ago. Now Salomon has made what is probably its best women’s powder ski ever, the QST Stella 106 and, rich with irony, it proudly rides on “Full Sandwich Sidewalls 360o,” or in more conventional terms, square sidewalls.
The Salomon QST 118 is all about the drift. It likes to smudge the top of the turn, swivel a smidge in the middle and pivot as it drifts to the finish. If a turn were a performance of Hamlet, the QST 118 would show up near the end of Act II and leave before Act IV. Aside from its smear tactics, the most noticeable trait of the QST 118 is its light weight, less than 2kg in a 185cm, which is a blessing considering its surface area, roughly the same square mileage as Montenegro. All you have to do to guide the QST 118 through powder is push it around; advanced technical skills aren’t required.
Our spider sense tingles when we hear the term “handmade” applied to skis, as the implication is that such slats will receive extraordinary care in manufacture no mass-produced ski can hope to receive. One reason we look sideways at the “handmade” adjective is that all quality skis are to some degree handmade and some processes – even at “handmade” plants – are best managed robotically. In fact, there’s no obligatory reason a “handmade” ski should be superior, and likewise a “mass produced” model can be exquisite. While the “handmade” handle hopes to convey scrupulous craftsmanship, it’s just as likely to be a euphemism for “outdated, inefficient production technology with slack quality control.”
Of all the brands that hang their hat on a handmade reputation, Stöckli represents the best of what we associate with the term and avoids all the potential pitfalls. Perhaps all we need to say is that they are Swiss to the core. If they are inefficient, it’s because they choose to be; who else changes their production several times mid-season as new ideas are tested and adopted? Sure, other brands are also refining their products throughout the year, but they don’t usually make such midstream improvements available to the public. But if Stöckli concocts a faster race ski and their athletes confirm it, the next model they make – whether for a racer or a consumer – will incorporate those improvements. If that sounds special, it is.
Stöckli doesn’t condescend to their buying public. They assume if you want their race skis, you want the same race skis the amazing Tina Maze deploys, so that’s what you get. They don’t compromise on construction and the finishing steps applied to all Stöckli skis are state-of-the-art and beyond meticulous. Most companies would fire any engineer who recommended a method that took a week to produce a finished ski; at Stöckli, they’d probably promote him.
The only downside to Stöckli’s no-compromises approach is they have a habit of investing racing genes in every ski they make. They don’t try to pamper the clueless but reward the highly evolved. Thankfully for all concerned, they’ve finally figured out that freeride, all-terrain skiers have other, legitimate needs besides fierce grip at rocket speeds. The subtle changes they’ve made, such as adding rocker and softening the extremities, have expanded what we might call the “comfort range” of the latest series of Stormriders.
You’ll notice one consequence of being Swiss and made with the care of a Rolex is that they cost about the same as a Rolex. And as with Rolex, with Stöckli you get what you pay for.
You have to give credit where credit is due: Stöckli works overtime to make improvements to skis that require no improvement. Stöckli’s latest exercise in lily gilding is the application of a technology based on turtle shell construction to several of its Laser models. Developed in a joint research project with an independent laboratory that first conceived the idea and the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos, Turtle Shell technology mimics the function of how a turtle’s plates interlock, a joint that can either be elastic or rigid. As applied to skis, Stöckli cut two longitudinal squiggles into a Titanal top sheet and filled the gap with an elastomer. In straight running, the gap is loose and the ski is easy to flex; once tipped and pressured, the joint is impinged, stiffening the ski and accentuating edge grip.
The test pilots for the Turtle Shell tech are the Laser SX, CX and AX, all skis with a well-established reputation for excellence that presumably didn’t require burnishing. While the Laser CX isn’t often in the demo fleets we depend on for our testing, we received sufficient feedback on the SX and AX to confirm that turtle tech is the real deal.
The other development of note is the significant weight-loss program applied to the popular Stormrider 88, making it not just lighter but noticeably easier to ski without gutting its performance properties. The 88 also got a younger brother, the new Stormrider 83, that’s a little softer and uses a tad less metal in its Titanal laminates.
A test card from South Lake Tahoe’s Powder House paints a telling portrait of the Laser SL’s strengths and limitations. The written remarks could not have been more complimentary: “Awesome! Best ski I’ve ever skied.” But the accompanying scores were deeply divided between Finesse and Power properties, with no score above 3 for off-piste performance, low-speed turning, forgiveness and drift and no score below 9 for carving accuracy, rebound, stability at speed, short turns and Finesse/Power balance.
When most ski companies modify an existing model, they make some effort to expand its audience by pulling a claw or two. Leave it to Stöckli to tweak the Laser SX so this already spirited ski is even less approachable by skiers of merely advanced ability. The 2017 Laser SX incorporates Turtle Shell technology that stiffens the ski as it bends so it’s got more bite on edge. When the ski is flat, the Titanal sheet with the Turtle Shell wiggle down its middle returns to its relaxed position, so the ski flexes more easily in straight running. Raw, unrefined power oozes from every pore in the Laser SX’s new topskin. This is a serious ski, ready to settle down and commit to a long-term relationship with every turn it meets. But when pressured, the Laser SX cuts cross-hill as if stung by a wasp, slinging its partner into the
How to describe perfection? Is it a list of all the ingredients the perfect thing contains? Is it the meticulous construction that assembles all the pieces into a fluid whole? Is it the action the product makes possible, the interconnection between man, snow and gravity? It’s all of these elements, of course, but to Matt Finnegan of Footloose, perfection entails the alchemy to make their amalgam evaporate, leaving only sensation behind. “This ski just disappears underneath the skier,” he marvels, capturing the sense of unfettered freedom the Laser AX inspires. Nothing is impossible on an invisible ski.
The newest edition to the Stormrider family is also its narrowest, but don’t get the idea in your head that the 83 is Stormrider Lite: it still built with 2 ½ layers of Titanal and is heavy enough to knock down castle walls. In Stöckli-World, the frontside of the mountain is Laser country; Stormriders belong off-trail or somewhere out in the backcountry. That the Stormrider 83 performs so admirably on groomed runs is testament to Super G genes; Stöcklis always seem to ski like every run is being timed.
Most of the skis in this genre lean more to the off-trail side of the terrain ledger, but the Stöckli Stormrider 85 Motion is partial to hard packed powder. Skiers familiar with Stöckli’s history know that its roots are in racing, so much so that for several seasons some of their Stormriders skied more like obese Super G skis than freeride models. But the Stormrider 85 Motion has trimmed down since that era and the current incarnation is, if anything, too flexy in the forebody for some of our crew who’ve essayed the Motion for years. But comparing the 2017 Motion to previous editions isn’t as useful to the current ski buyer as comparing it to the rest of today’s market and in that context, the Stormrider du jour comes across as a powerful carving machine.
The new and improved Stormrider 88 would win top honors in “Switzerland’s Biggest Loser,” as it shed 570g from its 2016 frame. They say fat equates with happy, but getting lighter seems to have made the Stormrider 88 mellower and easier to handle at low speeds. The Stormrider 88’s crash diet raised its scores for Finesse properties across the board, and its global Finesse grade from B+ to A+. That the 2017 model became so much easier to ski cautiously without paring away the high-octane performance with which Stöckli is synonymous, is a remarkable feat of ski engineering.
The Stormrider 100 Motion doesn’t like to wait. It’s as eager as every other Stöckli to show its owner what happens when a nation of watchmakers applies its fetish for precision to building a performance ski. It aims its prow into powder with the enthusiasm of a kid rope-swinging into a pond. It exudes an all-in attitude that inspires aerial entries. Crud skiing requires courage. The herky-jerky gait of slow-speed struggles through the slop doesn’t auger well for ramping up the aggression. Yet stomping on the accelerator is the only way to make manky crud manageable. Some skis fold like a lawn chair under this stress. The Stormrider 100 Motion lives for it.
The Stormrider 95 holds so well, in fact, the pilot may not feel incentivized to slow down. On test card after test card, still-awed evaluators noted, often in all caps, “NO SPEED LIMIT.” They might have added, “No terrain limits, either.” Like most Stöcklis, this Stormrider doesn’t lack for confidence. It knows it’s better than whatever sort of frozen water you plan to plunge into, and it has a tendency to transfer this preternatural calm to its pilot. If the true measure of a ski is how well it performs in god-awful conditions it wasn’t meant to endure, the Stormrider 95 is an all-star.
Average test scores don’t always align in lock-step with the on-snow behavior they’re intended to reflect, but if you look at the highs and lows of the Stöckli Stormrider 107’s scores, a clear – and accurate – image appears. Looking at the lows, slow-speed turning has never been a Stöckli priority; you only have to ski a pair once and you’ll discover why. Short-radius turns are tough for any 107mm ski and the multi-level metal structure doesn’t make the Stormrider feel any quicker. It would be earlier to the edge if Stöckli hadn’t rockered the 107’s tip in a rare kowtow to conventional wisdom for the Swiss.
Völkl didn’t actually invent the concept of quality control, but denizens of our little corner of the universe can be forgiven for thinking so. They 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.
Once the new Gotama with the flat baseline was accepted, Völkl applied the same technique with their Frontside carvers, with the same result: the RTM 84 won instant adherents. With each passing season another venerable model passed through the modernization machinery.
The process finally wrapped up last year, as the Kendo and Kenja were brought into the New Age fold with double rockered baselines with just a remnant of camber underfoot. The power that was once the exclusive province of highly skilled athletes is now accessible to the nearly skilled, as well.
Last season Volkl invested its R&D Euros in extending the 3D.Ridge design to its RTM family and All-Mountain newcomers, 100EIGHT and 90EIGHT. This year Volkl turned over their women’s Frontside family, retiring the Essenza series and ushering in the 6-model Flair collection. Each ski/binding system has a different shape, construction and price point spanning the full range of recreational abilities.
Female freeriders have flocked to Völkl’s Kenja and Aura for many years, and rightly so, as their metal/wood construction doesn’t condescend. The new 90EIGHT W uses the 3D.Ridge construction to create a lighter, softer off-trail option for the fairer sex.
The only movement among men’s models was a big one, literally. The new Confession fills a void once occupied by the Kuro, and while the Confession isn’t quite the aircraft carrier the Kuro was (132mm underfoot), it’s still battleship wide (117mm) and built for conquest, not coddling. Significantly beefier than the V-Werks Katana and not as surfy as the fully rockered One and Two, the Confession retains enough camber underfoot to attack the fall line head-on. Ill-suited to the weak or insecure, the Confession is built for today’s Über-mensch.
A good ski tester, like any conscientious evaluator, 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.
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.”
The Flair 78 combines several stalwart Völkl features into a new package made largely from recycled materials. If ecological awareness is high on your priority list, 100% recycled sidewalls and edges ought to earn at least your admiration, if not your ducats. To win your heart as a skier, the Flair 78 devotes itself to a life of abstinence: no sloppy turning habits, no flinching in the face of hard snow and no whining about doing all the work. As the Flair 78’s pilot, all you have to do is tip it and smile.
The RTM 81 was made for marauding groomers and while its composition has evolved over the years, its preferred pathways and mode of transport haven’t. The RTM 81 is every centimeter a carving ski; well, make that every centimeter minus a sliver of tip and tail rocker to maintain street cred as a do-it-all model. At one point in its journey, the RTM 81 was flat underfoot, and flat best describes how it skied. While it’s comforting to have some smear-ability on board even in a carving ski, if drift is its dominant trait then the ski is in the wrong genre. Last year the camber genie re-appeared, granting the RTM 81’s wish to be a real carving ski again. It’s been ripping up the Frontside ever since.
Völkl’s RTM 84 UVO is a gentleman’s carving tool, a secure ride that can summon acceleration when a dollop of pressure is applied to its camber zone underfoot. Its rockered tip and tail are already partway bent into an arc, so the pilot doesn’t have to exert a lot of oomph to extract a smooth, continuous carve. While the RTM 84 UVO enjoys rocketing down the hill as much as any other elite Frontside ski, it’s better at slalom turns than our short-radius score suggests. It also deserves more praise for its Finesse qualities for it isn’t hard of steering and its light enough to toss around a turn if need be. (Without its Marker bindings, the RTM 84 UVO weighs in at 1958g.)
The Yumi can play several different roles in a woman’s life. It can be the first new ski for a teenager who has grown up on hand-me-downs. For the mother who’s watched every other family member get new skis while she’s soldiered on with relics, it can be her first experience with a modern ski. The Yumi is also a great catch for the woman who’s spent her humdrum ski life on groomers and is ready to try an occasional foray off trail. The Yumi works wonders as a step-up ski for the intermediate skier of any age. It can be skied skillfully or somewhat crudely; the Yumi isn’t judgmental. It’s in the self-esteem business, building a woman’s skills. Once the skier acquires technical talent, the Yumi is ready and able to perform at higher speeds and more exaggerated edge angles.
Some day, there will be a museum for everything; in the History of Ski Design Museum, the display devoted to today’s All-Mountain East genre will showcase the Völkl Kendo. The ski beneath the name has subtly mutated every few seasons, most recently last year; the consensus among Realskiers’ testers is that the current incarnation is the best suited to, well, everything. What makes the Kendo so well admired by so many skiers is that it’s truly ready for anything. Powered by two sheets of Titanal around a multi-layered wood core, the Kendo retains enough camber underfoot to generate energy at the end of the arc, propelling the skier from turn to turn. This is the key to the Kendo’s confidence-building behavior on hard snow.
One can make a case for the Völkl Kenja being the best ski ever made for the advanced woman skier. Its Titanal laminates – rarely found in women’s skis – give it unparalleled bite on hard snow and the resilience to fight back in heavy crud. The Kenja excels because it doesn’t condescend. “From year to year the Kenja continues to be the perfect ski for any condition,” writes Skylar from Aspen Ski and Board. “Outstanding edge hold on ice and easy to turn at higher speeds while still maintaining control. I’d recommend it for any advanced woman who loves it all!”
If you’re fortunate enough to catch first tracks, it almost doesn’t matter which All-Mountain West model you’re on. They all offer approximately the same flotation, and fresh snow is so consistent that skis sustain relatively little shock. It’s on runs 2 through 20 that you’ll be particularly pleased you’re on an Aura. Cut-up snow is utter bliss if you ski it right and pure hell if you don’t. Whether you spend the day upright and smiling or upside down looking for your goggles depends a great deal on the tool you use.
Over the unusually long arc of its existence, the Mantra has morphed every few seasons, putting on a few mm’s of girth one year, adding a dab of early rise to the tip another. The latest stage in its evolution, which debuted two seasons ago, was also the most dramatic, resulting in a significant change in the Mantra’s personality. Völkl didn’t change the Mantra’s composition – it’s still a classic combo of wood and Titanal – but they changed everything else, going from a fully cambered ski to a double rocker design that is bone-flat underfoot and rockered at tip and tail. The alterations allow the new Mantra to swivel around in soft snow, making it much more forgiving in the off-piste conditions. The premium previously placed on pilot proficiency and precision no longer pertains.
It’s only natural that a ski like Völkl’s V-Werks Katana would shine when evaluated according to our Realskiers methodology. Our criteria are biased in favor of skis that scribe a continuous arc, a rare sighting in the Big Mountain menagerie. The V-Werks Katana’s presence atop our Power rankings is a testament to its unique capacity for applying carving characteristics to ungroomed terrain. The new-age Katana skis like a very wide razor. What it doesn’t plane over it slices into with the confidence and panache of a fabulous fencer. Other wide skis don’t ski like this because they aren’t built like this, with 11 sheets of compressed carbon formed into a shape Völkl calls 3D.Ridge. It creates the long-sought balance between longitudinal softness and torsional rigidity that allows the ski to bow easily yet hold with the assurance of an anaconda.
If the Confession feels guilty, it might be because it knows where all the bodies are buried. With two sheets of Titanal in its guts it doesn’t so much float as burrow, blasting its way through wind crust, spring porridge or ragged crud. After a run on the Confession, you’re looking for other worlds to conquer. It’s like have an army of earthmovers on each foot, rolling over once powdery pastures and turning them into pavement.