The one word that percolates to top-of-mind position whenever testers try to sum up their experience of the Kästle MX89 is “solid.” This is a ski for serious skiers who ski not just because they can, but because they have to. It comes alive at speed where it responds to high edge angles at above-recreational rpms. At the moment when lesser skis are losing their grip, the MX89 imparts a sense of ease and serenity, as if the ski were doing 90% of the work. This is how a ski that prefers to be driven by a talented pilot earns consistently off-the-charts marks for Finesse properties. It’s not just the best Power ski in this genre, it’s also perceived by our panel to be the easiest to ski.
The abrupt curvature of the tip rocker on the Enforcer 93 creates the impression of a ski dedicated to off-trail forays into untamed snow conditions, but it’s the pronounced camber behind the shovel that gives this ski its power and grip wherever you send it. Because of its elongated camber zone the Enforcer 93 feels like at home on hard snow, yet its sharply rockered tip and early rise tail are meant to smooth over the irregularities of ungroomed snow. While double-rockered baselines are commonplace in the All-Mountain East genre, Nordica’s particular formula finds just the right balance between on-trail and off-trail requirements.
Nothing else skis quite like a Stöckli. The combination of limitless power and cushioned ride is so intoxicating that Stöckli skiers often become addicts, unable to even look at another ski. The following review, submitted by a citizen tester, captures not only the spirit of the new Stormrider 88 but the rabid enthusiasm of its fans. “There must be a GS race ski inside this all mountain east charger. It will not wash out no mater how hard you push. Grip is fantastic on firm, early season white ribbons, but it comes to life when pushed off piste whether its chalky backside bumps or day-old, chopped-up crud, they just go. They float and smear like you expect from a 88mm waist with a tiny bit of rocker. Surprising from a ski so powerful when driven by skilled operator it does not punish that same operator for relaxing a bit on
The Blizzard Brahma comes from a long line of off-piste skis that includes the wider Bonafide, Cochise and Bodacious. Its pedigree is pure off-piste. The addition of a dab more sidecut last season enhanced its hard snow chops, giving it an extra tug into the turn and more carve in its character. This small injection of carvability expanded its turn repertoire, but the Brahma remains essentially an off-trail ski wearing a corset. The most notable advantage of Blizzard’s Flip Core baseline is the rockered forebody never calls attention to itself as it goes about its job. A less touted blessing is the way Flip Core construction, like that used in the Brahma, opens up the envelope of skiers who can both enjoy it and benefit from it.
The Völkl Kendo has been around so long it should be considered the founding father of the All-Mountain East genre. True, it hasn’t always been the same ski, evolving over the years from a fully cambered, hard-snow centric model to a double rockered affair with a wider waist and tapered tip, all accommodations to improve its off-trail aptitude. The Kendo of today is indeed much more amenable to maneuvering in tracked-up powder than its ancestors of the same name. It’s become more than just a wide carving tool; it’s now the paradigm of the all-condition ski. The 2019 Kendo is a powerful ski, but not in a showy, take-no-prisoners style.
The Volkl RTM 86 is at heart an XL Frontside ski that outgrew the rest of its class, landing it in the All-Mountain East genre, where it’s a little out of place. It tries to fit in with the rest of the AME family, adopting the de rigeur tip and tail rocker that is deemed essential for off-trail skiing. But just as fat skis with floppy tips beg to be taken off-piste, the RTM 86 longs to gallop down groomers where it doesn’t have to worry about irregular terrain breaking up its beautiful carves. If we were to classify skis by their predilections instead of their dimensions, the RTM 86 would be a Luxury Carver, with the silky ride of a six-figure sedan. If it acts uninterested in slower speeds and shorter turns, it’s because it can’t wait to get up to speed and show off what it does best.
Relatively lightweight and easy flexing, the FX85 HP is also forgiving, as it doesn’t require a technically talented skier to steer it. As Rob from Boot Doctors observes, the FX85 HP is “the finest ski at the Finesse/Power balance aspect. So confident, so smooth, so fine,” he coos. The FX85 HP straddles the line between Power and Finesse properties; last year, we dubbed it a Finesse ski despite a higher Power score because it doesn’t ski like the usual Power selection. This year we’re going with the data that labels it a Power model, but one with a lot of Finesse flavor. Because it responds to a light touch without surrendering steering control, we again award the FX85 HP a Silver Skier Selection.
In the Monster 88’s evolution from unflinching rail to supple carver it hasn’t departed from its original mission: to combine race room construction with off-trail dimensions. Once the sole province of technically proficient skiers, the latest Monster 88 Ti is more accessible to the less skilled and a better overall off-piste companion. Yet it still possesses the solidity that true experts appreciate. As tester Jon Beebe attests, the Monster 88 Ti is “a charging ski that you can load up and really accelerate out of a turn.” Because it is in some ways a throwback to when most AME skis were essentially wider Frontside skis, the Monster 88 Ti is a natural option for skiers hoping to replace an earlier iteration of the genre.
What a lovely ski. This was the first season that Realskiers engaged with Liberty, catching the brand just as it debuted a new series of Frontside models with a fresh technical story. VMT stands for Vertical Metal Technology, a process that uses two strips of 5000-series aluminum alloy laid vertically between bamboo laminates that straddle the core’s centerline. Two full-length carbon sheets and a central carbon stringer create a powerful platform that’s reinforced with steel mounting plates. While other brands are busy trying to make their tips lighter, Liberty has tacked on metal tip and tail protectors that add mass and damping. Put it all together with a cambered baseline with just the slightest tip rocker and a 92mm waist and you have the V92.
By increasing sidewall height at the extremities, Head made the V-Shape V10 softer underfoot. This allows skiers who don’t visit the gym on every off day to bend a high performance carving ski. Complementing the easy-bowing action is a subdued rebound, like a slingshot in slow motion. Agile enough to negotiate most mogul fields, the V-Shape V10 would prefer not to, as it’s forte is continuous carving, as in top to bottom. This all but mandates an even carpet as the skier’s canvas, rather than the rough-and-tumble of off-trail terrain. Lighter weight skiers, like the chic Danielle Goldsmith from the shop that bears her name, will find the V-Shape V10 to be “fast, with incredible edge grip. Feels like a GS with an 85mm waist,” she notes.
Despite its emphasis on lightweight design, the Pro MT 86 TI is a heavyweight in the carving department. “Excellent carvability!” exulted Sturtevant’s of Sun Valley’s Olin Glenne when he first essayed the ski two seasons ago. “Solid feel, yet quick and very precise,” Glenne added, according the Pro MT 86 TI the distinction of his favorite all-terrain ski for Frontside conditions. All it takes to keep the Pro MT 86 TI in its traces is to keep it on edge, whether a slight edge engagement from an upright stance or a higher edge angle that cuts gashes into the groom. Its bliss is rolling edge to edge at a canter; powder up to knee high is easily defanged by the ski’s tip and tail rocker.
The Salomon XDR 88 Ti delivers what the All-Mountain East skier is looking for: easy navigation in any condition. Its behavioral profile fits that of a full-figured Frontside ski with a penchant for medium to long turns. Its relatively deep sidecut and noticeable light weight contribute to an overall impression of agility. Because it feels at once snappy and secure, it embodies some of the best properties of both Power and Finesse skis. The XDR 88 Ti gets its even flex and damp suspension from a cross-hatch carbon/flax weave and the addition of basalt to the construction recipe. Alert readers of these pages may note that last season’s XDR 88 Ti didn’t rise to the ranks of the Recommended, but that was before Salomon doubled the dose of carbon and flax and folded basalt into the lay-up.
Like most Frontside skis, the Vantage X 86 CTi features an almost fully cambered baseline, with only a smidgeon of tip rocker. Unlike most Frontside skis, it has a fairly narrow tip (121.5mm) and an overall slender silhouette that suggests it doesn’t like to stray far from the fall line. When you fire this arrow downhill, it proves to be responsive, smooth and above all, light. Compared to other skis with a carve-centric attitude, the Vantage X 86 CTi feels like it weighs next to nothing. Because it doesn’t have a lot of beef on its bones, the Vantage X 86 CTi feels easy to bow and maneuver without much effort, making it a good Power ski for a Finesse skier.
The Amphibio 88 XTI’s scorecard looks like that of a straight-A+ student, with marks well above the field average in all criteria. Considering that this ski is clearly oriented to carving on a corduroy carpet in a genre that prioritizes versatility, it’s apparent that our testers didn’t care if the Amphibio 88 XTI was predisposed to carve; it was so damn silky and easy to steer, why wouldn’t it be a kick to ski in light pow, bumps and trees? Because of its intuitive ease of operation, neck-rein response to pressure and security on edge, we award the Amphibio XTI a Silver Skier Selection.
The secret to the Kore 93’s success is Graphene, carbon in a one-atom thick matrix, that’s 300 times stronger than steel. Head combines it with Karuba, a superlight wood, and Koroyd, a synthetic honeycomb, to make a structure that’s damp yet reactive and most of all, light. For the second year in a row, testers raved about the Kore 93. “Easy to turn, light yet stable and fun for many types of terrain,” writes one. “This is the best light ski, so stable at speed. Super sick all mountain light core ski,” says another. “Awesome line of skis. Quick, light, damp ski. For the intermediate cruiser to hard charger,” chimes in a third fan. Another succinct summation: “Smooth, powerful, and fun. Makes the rider better.”
Like the Kore 93 and Enforcer 93, the new Rustler 9 from Blizzard is the narrowest incarnation from a family of fat, emphatically off-trail skis. Its signature feature, Dynamic Release Technology (D.R.T.), consists of a Titanal plate that’s edge-to-edge in the mid-section and quickly tapers to blunt tongues, freeing the extremities to twist as needed in choppy terrain. The relatively loose tip and tail conform readily to the abrupt contours of today’s moguls and generally facilitate direction change using less than textbook turns. Scott from Aspen Ski and Board sketched the Rustler 9 profile as “light, with perfect playfulness/stability ratio. Also, rocker is not over done, good loft with minimal tip vibrations.”
Rossignol completely overhauled its cornerstone Experience series for 2019, in the process slightly shifting the series’ emphasis from on-trail to off-piste. The new Experience series has a more unified construction story across the top three models, so the Experience 88 Ti now uses the same construction as the top of the line E 94 Ti. The most obvious – and influential – changes to the new generation E 88 are in the tip design and the introduction of Line Control Technology (LCT) to improve ski/snow contact. These new features contribute to a ride that adapts well to changing terrain and is tolerant of all turn shapes, from the slow, short turns favored by more conservative skiers to the hair-on-fire, fall-line charges of the unleashed expert.
Salomon’s revised QST 92 is a great model for the first-time ski buyer who is ready to dabble in off-trail skiing. The upgrade applied to the 2019 iteration consists of crosshatching the strands of carbon/flax fiber – Salomon calls it C/FX3 – so the superlight material runs both laterally and longitudinally. The improvement in edge grip is instantly evident, which contributes to an impression of greater agility, rebound and vibration damping. From a terrain preference perspective, the QST 92 is more attuned to life off-trail where its drift-ability helps smooth out the ruffles in irregular terrain. While its on-trail performance is much improved, the QST 92’s more shallow sidecut and lightweight chassis are better adapted to untamed snow than groomers.
Given Line’s anything-goes ethos, you might expect the Supernatural 92 to be twin-tipped, center-mounted and more likely to drift than carve, but you’d be wrong on all counts. As an all-glass ski with 4mm of camber underfoot, the Supernatural 92 is a showcase for what this uncomplicated construction can do: pounce from turn to turn, the glass behaving like a coiled spring when pressured, zinging the skier across the fall line and setting up the next turn. A powder ski that secretly loves to carve, the Supernatural 92 responds to light pressure and low edge angles, making it perfect for lighter skiers. Just because Line markets to the young doesn’t mean its skis won’t also perform for the 50-year old adolescent.
Most of our feedback on the Ripstick 86 W came from eastern skiers who had no chance to test it in western off-trail conditions. Considering it was somewhat a fish out of water, its scores are even more remarkable. “I felt very comfortable and confident on this ski, writes one of Willi’s Divas. “For an 86, it carved well on hard pack. Perfect ski for cruising down soft groomed powder as the ski would do most of the work. Nice, light weight too.” A major benefit of a lighter ski is energy conservation, a point not lost on the Diva who wrote, “This was the last ski of the day I tried and I really liked it. Despite being 86 underfoot, I found it skied like a more traditional sidecut ski.”
A superficial assessment of the new Völkl Secret based solely on its sidecut might conclude that’s it’s just a plumped-up Kenja with a millimeter more shape. But a well-made ski can never be reduced to just its dimensions, and the sister ski to the new M5 Mantra doesn’t take its cues from the Kenja or any other women’s ski extant. The differentiator is its Titanal Frame construction that uses .6mm stirrups of Titanal applied to the tip and tail, separated by an edge-to-edge .4mm mounting plate that lives between them. The more aggressive gals who charge the fall line are going to find the Secret a reliable companion that won’t hold them back, and its stability is a boon to those still polishing their skills.
The Nordica Santa Ana 93 is an exquisitely balanced ski in several senses. Its overall behavioral profile is split almost exactly between Power and Finesse properties. Last season we tagged it with the Finesse label and this year it barely tipped into Power country, indicating that it’s really neither, but a perfect union of both. Its flex is nicely balanced and its weight is modest considering the Santa Ana 93 contains two 4mm sheets of Titanal around a mostly wood, multi-material core. Perhaps most importantly, the Santa Ana 93 is a terrain agnostic, happy to spend its day on groomers if that’s your pleasure, just as thrilled to toddle off-piste and take on the crud field of your choice.
Some of the best female skiers in the world have been carrying on a long-term love affair with the Stöckli Stormrider 85 Motion. Women who aren’t in the position to marry one still seek it out once a year during demo season for a wild fling. Just a few minutes in its presence creates an indelible impression one can’t wait to restimulate. Testers who are accustomed to how a Stöckli Laser series model connects to the top of the turn will consider the rockered Stormrider Motion to be loose in the shovel, but most skiers won’t notice any slippage. Once settled into the arc, the Motion is tranquility itself, and its third-best aggregate score for Rebound/Turn Finish attests to its power through the turn transition. Astute readers will note that there’s something a bit odd about the 2019 Stormrider 85 Motion’s measurements. All the lengths have changed in a sizing
Sometimes simple solutions, well executed, yield surprisingly strong results. Fischer takes several measures to trim ounces off the My Pro MT 86, yet the overall impression is one of solidity and confident control. The ski is built on classic lines, with a vertically laminated all-wood core, fiberglass laminates that dictate flex distribution and rebound and ABS sidewalls for efficient energy transmission. Kimberley from California Ski Company finds the My Pro MT 86 “Responsive but forgiving. Fun and easy to ski on the whole mountain. Light,” she adds putting its lightweight in its proper place, behind its performance properties.
The Völkl Kenja has been the go-to model for expert women for what seems like a generation of skiers. While the spotlight this season shines on the new Secret, the Kenja continues to offer elite performance for skilled skiers who are on the hill in all conditions. Despite its twin sheets of metal, the Kenja is a lively and nimble. Its mass is more bonus than liability, particularly when the snow is either very hard or very chopped-up, and always when charging the fall line. More than any other trait, it’s the Kenja’s stability in all conditions that give advanced to expert women the confidence to go for it, and less skilled ladies the opportunity to move into their league.
Considering the reputation of Kästle’s formidable MX84, one might expect the LX85 to be likewise endowed with near-nuclear power. Yet this beauty is no beast, but a gracious cruiser that orders groomers for its main course with off-trail conditions on the side. Its slalomesque turn radius suggests a quick stick, but the slight tip taper and early rise on the LX85 don’t naturally dip into a short turn, allowing the skier to find a languid, GS arc that holds with minimal edge angle. “Stable at speed,” confirms one of the Footloose crew. “It does well with longer radius turns vs. short.”
Dynastar doesn’t differentiate between its men’s and women’s Legend models; goose and gander get the same ski in a 166cm and 173cm. This means no skimping on the two layers of Titanal or subtle detuning of its signature Powerdrive feature. Given the pliability Powerdrive provides, the Legend X design might be better suited to the fairer sex. Instead of a greeting an immoveable terrain feature with a stiff, coiled spring, Powerdrive reacts by flowing with it, letting the camber zone underfoot maintain the snow connection and define the turn radius. The twin Titanal layers contribute torsional rigidity, mass and vibration damping.
The Nordica Astral 88 and Santa Ana 93 both belong in the All-Mountain East genre by dint of their waist width, but they do not spring from the same soil. The Santa Ana is the slenderest of a family of off-trail skis; the Astral 88 is the fattest member of a clan of what you might call on-trail skis with off-trail benefits. The Astral 88 purloined its snub-nosed shape from the Santa Ana series, giving the Astral 88 off-trail adaptability without disconnecting the shovel from the rest of the ski. The squared-off tail traces back to the on-piste Sentra series, with a focus on sustained edge grip. The same Titanium Hex Bridge that makes the men’s Navigator series one of the best values in skiing powers the Astral 88’s crisp, accurate turns.
If there were such a tome as The Book of Ski Design Proverbs, it might contain this nugget of ancient wisdom: “Without stability, there can be no ease.” Fischer’s My Ranger 89 provides an appropriate illustration of this timeless adage’s veracity. This off-piste oriented arrow (note the slender tip dimension) earns the same marks for Finesse as the benchmark Black Pearl 88 and the New School Liberty Genesis 90, and it does so without surrendering the serenity at speed that only metal provides. That Fischer can slip Titanal around its lightweight Air Tec core and still keep a single ski’s weight at only 1620g @ 172cm is an indication of just how much material is removed in Fischer’s proprietary core milling process. The super-thin Carbon Nose inserted in the tip and tail reduces weight where it matters most.
As we have often observed, the interests of the off-trail skier and the preferences of the fairer sex converge in that both parties want lighter weight that doesn’t compromise performance. And so we find the Liberty Genesis 90 perched among the leaders for Finesse properties in a genre that prizes off-piste proficiency. Even though the Genesis 90 earned estimable Power scores as well, it’s fair to say that its principal appeal is the ease with which it travels off-trail. Liberty founder and ski designer Dan Chalfant made a few tweaks to the Genesis 90 for 2019, most notably a lower tip rocker “for more immediate tip edge engagement,” and the substitution of Paulownia for poplar. The modifications make the Genesis 90 the lightest ski in the women’s AME genre.
Blizzard’s Black Pearl 88 is the super-model of the women’s market, a mega-star that for the first time in the annals of ski sales sold more units in the U.S. than every other ski, men’s or women’s. The Black Pearl had been the anchor of Blizzard’s women’s line for several years when the brand rolled the dice and re-designed it 3 years ago. The switch to a Women’s Specific Design (WSD) was part of an umbrella initiative called Women to Women to create a community of women whose shared experiences could contribute to design directions. Anyone from a first-time ski buyer to a seasoned vet can hop on a Pearl 88 and have the time of her life. Noticeably light and silly-easy to turn, it’s easy to balance on for intermediates and a gas to cut loose on if for skiers that have the skills.
The Black Pearl 88 is the most popular women’s ski of its generation, but there’s a new gal in town itching for an off-trail showdown. The contender, the Sheeva 9, comes from another branch of the Blizzard model tree, one with a history of making softer off-trail skis that emphasize ease and liveliness over bulldozer strength. The Sheeva’s signature feature, dubbed D.R.T. for Dynamic Release Technology, is visible in outline just below the topskin. It’s a partial sheet of Titanal that’s edge to edge through the midsection and tapers to a narrow tab before reaching either end. D.R.T. allows the forebody to roll with punches delivered by off-trail terrain, leaving the reinforced middle to power its way through the rubble.
The Head Wild Joy was the first model to be added to the original Joy collection since Head unveiled the first skis – men’s or women’s – to use Graphene. Graphene has a direct impact on flex distribution, so by controlling where it’s concentrated Head can fine tune the flex to match the snow conditions the model is made for: for on-trail carving skis, more Graphene goes underfoot; for off-trail purposes, Graphene is moved to the extremities. However it works, the Wild Joy feels stable on the edge and snappy off it. Its sidecut has a lot of shape for an off-trail oriented ski, so it’s always up for carving.
K2’s new Alluvit 88Ti isn’t a mere improvement over last year’s iteration, but a major makeover with benefits for all women skiers, particularly those with off-trail travels on the daily agenda. Mirroring the moves made by the unisex Pinnacle 88Ti, the Alluvit 88Ti ditched the foam section of its core in favor of an all-wood affair featuring fir and aspen, then added a perimeter of Titanal to calm the edge and sharpen its bite. The changes flipped the Alluvit 88’s personality from meek wallflower to sassy extrovert. If the Alluvit 88Ti has a terrain bias, it’s in favor of soft snow in depths ranging from one inch to two feet.
No other ski in the All-Mountain East category remains as committed to carving as the Head Total Joy. If the Total Joy were a doctor, it would be a specialist rather than a general practitioner. Carving is it’s life’s work, as one glance at its deep-dish sidecut will tell you. Its turn radius is only 13.6 in a 163cm, and it descends to a size 148cm, which must be able to turn sitting still. The Total Joy earns its highest marks for Short-Radius Turns – third best in the entire genre – with an aggregate score will above the category average. Aside from its short-turn fetish, the Total Joy’s most tangible trait is its featherweight design, an amalgam of carbon fiber, Koroyd honeycomb and Graphene.