Technical skis are invariably high performance, hard-snow carving models that have race ski properties and similar dimensions yet aren’t actually intended as gate skis but as hard snow toys for people who probably had race training in the misty past.
In today’s fat-crazed market, the popularity of Technical skis has dwindled to the point of near-invisibility. Fortunately, Europe is awash with good skiers and the carving cult that incubated in the 1990’s has remained relevant, thanks to a ski culture that congregates mostly on the groom. That’s a long way of saying American skiers don’t deserve all the goodies in the Technical category, but the wisest – and most skilled – among us know what treasures they hold.
America is a nation of optimists. How else to explain why we buy wide skis on the faint hope we’ll encounter fresh snow, when Technical skis perform so much better on the groomed runs we ski every day? If skiers in the market for a second pair bought a precise carver instead of a fat swiveler, they’d not only be acquiring a more useful tool, they’ll be far more likely to improve their skills.
This will never happen, but I can dream, can’t I? With demand at a tepid temperature, suppliers have little reason to regularly renew their Technical ski offering, but the genre isn’t entirely dormant. Elan debuts a Black Edition of its top Amphibio model, adding a coat of carbon to the Amphibio 16 TI2 to create an almost liquid carving experience. Carbon also plays a key role in Blizzard’s new Firebird Competition, where tip-to-tail vertical laminates laid into the wood core add energy to the bottom of the turn.
The remainder of our Recommended Technical models is composed of veterans in this field that continue to merit the attention of skilled skiers everywhere.
The Amphibio Black Edition seems to operate on its own volition. It’s like owing a pair of animated skis that previously belonged to Roger Rabbit. Step in and you’re off on a Disney-quality ride: exciting but never scary. That’s because it’s as smooth and languid as a Southern drawl. Even when it’s whipping around a corner, it doesn’t act hurried or nervous. If you’ve ever driven a ritzy sedan, you know how 85mph feels like 60; on the Amphibio Black, 40mph feels like 20. The added ingredient that distinguishes the Amphibio Black from its template, the Amphibio 16 TI2, is a top sheet of carbon that seems to smother whatever threatens to disturb its Buddha-like tranquility.
Stöckli has a knack for making perfect skis, then improving them. Judging by test cards from prior seasons, no one could imagine a better on-piste ski than the 2018 Laser SX. “Simply put, the best on-piste ski for the advanced skier,” proclaimed Cal Ski Company veteran Paul Jacobs. And that was before Stöckli improved its clever “turtle-shell” technology and subtly altered the Laser SX tip profile, a modification it calls Full Edge Contact, designed to enhance turn initiation. The new Turtle Shell Racing feature widens the S-shaped fissure that roughly bisects the thicker, bottom laminate of Titanal. The gap is filled with an elastic material, similar to the polymer used in actual turtle shells. When the ski is loaded, the flexing action closes the gap, stiffening the Titanal sheet and magnifying edge hold. When the load is released, the Titanal returns to its rest position, making the ski softer and
The i.Speed’s receptivity to arcing with a light rein masks a thoroughbred’s temperament that longs to charge the fall line. Only speed reveals its special skill: it responds to loading by slinging the ski forward, rather than popping off the snow and – perish the thought – losing continuous snow contact. The extra energy comes from piezoelectric fibers that stiffen the tail when stimulated by high-velocity vibrations. Matt Finnegan from Footloose cautions, “This ski isn’t for everyone. It’s very technical, but that being said, it’s technically rewarding.” The i.Speed makes a better mogul manipulator than you might expect for ski with so much shape: the tip conforms to sudden terrain changes and the tail won’t wilt under any circumstances.
The Supershape series is an unmatched collection of carving machines, and the i.Magnum is the shapeliest of them all, with a 59mm drop between its tip and waist dimensions, creating a turn radius (13.1m @ 170cm) tighter than that of a World Cup slalom. The slight early rise in its shovel is shallower than the same feature on the i.Rally or i.Titan, so the i.Magnum behaves more like a fully cambered ski than a rockered one. It doesn’t just like to carve; it insists on it. If you want to moderate its mongoose-quick reflexes, consider getting it in a longer length; if you’d prefer to accentuate its short-turn expertise, stick with the shorter length you’d normally use for a Technical ski.
How is it possible to make a better Technical ski than Atomic’s Redster X9? It has the stability of a sumo wrestler and the reflexes of a fencer. If there’s a speed at which the edge breaks loose, chances are you’ll never touch it. Its imperturbable hold is amplified by a feature called Servotec, a long, thin rod embedded in an elastomer under the binding at one end and attached on the other end at a point just behind the shovel. The interaction of the rod and the elastomer during flexion both absorbs shock and actively restores ski/snow contact.
Racers are well aware of the super-charging effect of elevation, so naturally the by-racers-for-racers The Curv incorporates a two-piece plate that gives the skier extra leverage over the edge. The ski beneath the energy-enhancing Booster plate is a World Cup clone with a more user-friendly sidecut. Titanal sheets and a proprietary carbon weave called Diagotex™ provide the power source; The Curv’s triple-radius sidecut gives it the intense, addictive hook-up action you buy a carving ski for. The short-radius forebody initiates a tight turn the instant it’s tipped, the longer-radius center draws out the belly of the turn while the skier is laid over, and the short-radius tail maintains contact across the fall line.
Built for high speed at high edge angles, The Curv DTX deploys a triple radius sidecut to accentuate turn entry and exit. This makes it exceptionally agile for such a strong, stable ski. While it’s unabashedly made for experts, The Curv DTX lacks the imposing Booster plate that adorns its stablemate and so is a bit easier to bend at subsonic speeds. The elimination of the Booster plate also opens up the versatility of the ski regarding turn shape and skier style. The Booster all but requires the skier to go all-in on every arc; without it, The Curv DTX feels more playful and willing to carve from a more upright stance.
The fact that the Firebird Comp can be coaxed into a long arc doesn’t mean it doesn’t prefer to zip in and out of turns to a faster beat. Its carvilicious tip likes to pull into a new turn more than its relatively narrow tail likes to hold onto it, so the Comp behaves like a turn-seeking missile. Mike from Granite Chief portrays his experience on the Firebird as “popping between turns like a pogo stick, yet it still held its own at speed,” Mike marvels. “Very snappy and responsive,” pens another Firebird fan. “I liked this one the most out of the Firebird series. “You gotta ski it, but a nice feel for that serious carving person. Rad!!”
The singular obsession of carving skis is maintaining continuous snow contact. Any interruption to an otherwise seamless arc is an aberration to be avoided at all costs. Dynastar has found a unique way of keeping the forebody in contact by making it more supple longitudinally without compromising the torsional rigidity needed for edge grip. Called Powerdrive, it’s a 3-piece sidewall that dampens shock, accentuates edge pressure and effectively uncouples the core from the sidewall structure. This last function is particularly significant because it’s what allows the Speed Zone 12 Ti to stay smooth and accurate over rough terrain, flowing over irregularities instead of bouncing off them.
There are no women’s race skis made for consumers, only unisex skis in shorter lengths. Thus has it ever been so. If you calculated all the varieties of race models already being built at great expense by the brands committed to the category, you’d understand why creating another whole layer of duplication isn’t in the cards. Plus women who belong on these skis don’t require pandering, as anyone who has ever seen Michaela or Lindsay ski in person can attest.
Since technical skis are usually direct spin-offs from a race design, little wonder there are so few carving skis being built specifically for women. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the few sticks being made for this elite female are all excellent.
Little by little, the women’s Technical category continues to add models to its lineup, offering a nearly full field of options to women who want elite hard snow performance. But expanding the market selection hasn’t substantially altered buyers’ interest, or lack thereof, at least in the American market. Our test team isn’t focused on the category and it shows in our spotty results.
Among the myriad missing models that eluded our detection are two new Luv Machines from K2, a trio of Sentras from Nordica, Völkl’s Flair SC Carbon, Fischer’s My Curv, Elan’s Insomnia and Blizzard’s Alight Pro. Three of last season’s Recommended models return unchanged, Atomic’s Cloud 12, Kästle’s LX73 and Dynastar’s Intense 12. Data and reviews for these models are likewise unchanged. Fleshing out the 2019 field is the new Laser MX from Stöckli. Recommended models are listed in order of their Power rating.
There isn’t an ounce of condescension in Atomic’s Cloud 12. Of course it doesn’t meet FIS specs, but that’s the whole point of the Technical category, to apply race room production to more versatile shapes. The Cloud 12 isn’t made for the lackadaisical carver who wants to hang out on the tail end of a turn long enough to check her messages. The second self-evident feature that helps define the Cloud 12’s behavior is its svelte shape. This streamlined rocket thinks of recreational runs as another opportunity to win something, taking off down the fall line as if suddenly freed from a bad relationship.
Kästle wasn’t even trying to make a knockout women’s ski. It applied a square sidewall to what was previously a cap ski to give it a performance kick, in the process raising the performance bar to the elite level. It doesn’t hurt that the stock lay-up for a Kästle is a vertically laminated beech/silver fir core encased in twin laminates of glass and Titanal. There’s a reason it’s the foundation of all the best hard-snow skis being made today. The strongest women might overpower it, but the LX73 isn’t meant for them. It’s a confidence builder for those who aren’t as skilled or athletic as they’d like to be.
Powerdrive is Dynastar’s name for a 3-piece sidewall which functions as a unique damping system. Stacked on edge alongside the core, it consists of a soft inner layer, a hard center section and a dynamic outer wall. Any time a viscoelastic material, like that used in the inner piece of Powerdrive, is bonded to Titanal (center part), the resulting element will act as a natural shock absorber, so the forebody of the Intense 12, where the Powerdrive feature resides, should stay nice and quiet on hard snow.
While it’s always sketchy to over-analyze data drawn from a small sample, perfect scores are hard to ignore. The 2019 Famous 10 earned 10’s across the board for Short-Radius Turning and nearly did the same for being Early to the Edge. If you’re a slalom-turn devotee who doesn’t want to sling around the heft of a race ski, the Famous 10 is a potential life partner.
Stöckli takes racing very, very seriously. Perhaps that’s why the Swiss brand has waited forever to make a women’s Laser; if making a women’s model entails a compromise on performance, forget it. To make sure the new Laser MX would be worthy, Stöckli teamed up with World Cup star Tina Maze to concoct it. The result of collaboration with the erstwhile world’s fastest woman is a bullet that whips in and out of the fall line as if it were impatient to be another two turns ahead. “A snappy ladies carver that finishes a turn with a happy snap that put a smile on everyone’s face,” writes one ecstatic evaluator. That the Laser MX is both lightning quick to the edge and comfortable at GS race speeds is a testament to its meticulous construction. It’s only concessions to femininity are a softer flex (than a race ski) and core made