It wouldn’t be unfair to lump all skis over 100mm at the waist into a giant bucket labeled, “Powder,” and leave it at that. Obviously, the fatter the ski the better the flotation, so pick a ski based on how high you want to ride on new snow and you’re good to go. We decided to divide the powder pie in two because there are big behavioral differences between the Big Mountain bundle of skis (101mm-113mm) and the cluster over 120mm.
The very fact that most manufacturers make (at least) one model in each genre verifies that there are reasons to make two distinct models to serve the Big Mountain and Powder categories. The best of the Big Mountain brotherhood are everyday skis for strong riders on – you guessed it – big mountains. But there are also easy riders in the Big Mountain corral; skis that will help the less talented whip their powder skills into shape.
The split personality of the Big Mountain genre is a result of the evolution of the fat ski phenomenon as a whole. Twenty years ago, when the concept of powder skis was still in its infancy, fat boys were conceived as learning aids for the uninitiated. Experts initially avoided the budding category as if they were badges of ineptitude – until they tried them. When Shane McConkey straight-lined a legendary couloir on a pair of 90mm Volant Chubbs, the collective attitude of the elite was tweaked. Suddenly a new mini-market emerged for high-octane athletes seeking first descents on previously unskiable pitches. Movies from Matchstick Productions and Teton Gravity Research showcased a new frontier in adrenaline sports, and the race was on to see who could make the best tool for these new school, big mountain athletes.
Flashing forward to today, both communities – those who want to maintain their speed in new snow and those who want to maintain their dignity – are being over-served by a brilliant buffet of options. Whether you tear into powder or tiptoe in, the right Big Mountain ski will make slicing knee-deep fresh snow nearly effortless.
People in the market for a powder ski tend to think bigger is better, that if a little flotation is good, massive flotation is better. It’s true that there’s no substitute for surface area, but flotation isn’t the only quality required for off-trail conditions. Some aptitude for moving quickly edge to edge is useful in moguls, which inevitably develop where sno-cats fear to tread. Edging accuracy comes in handy on steep traverses, and short-radius turns are de rigeur in pucker-tight couloirs. Point being, the slightly narrower chassis of a Big Mountain ski is probably a better powder ski for most skiers than the super-wide models that qualify for the Powder club by being next to useless anywhere else.
Every Big Mountain ski pries the tip and tail off the snow to some degree because there’s no better way to motor through crud – powder’s wicked stepbrother – than with a tip that won’t catch and a tail that won’t hang up. Some Big Mountain models are cambered underfoot, some aren’t. The biggest behavioral chasm in the category is the separation of models that can be trusted to hold just a ribbon of edge on hard snow and those who do their best work in the worst conditions, drifting over rubble like it was made from ice cream.
There are two major provisos that need to be shouted from the rooftops: one, acquiring an everyday ski that is too wide poses an increased risk of joint fatigue and even injury to the skier, even if he or she never falls; and two, skiers charging full speed on skis with huge girth but little effective contact area and perhaps no capacity for clean edging pose a danger not just to themselves, but every other person in their flight path.
Please pay attention, because this is why our test criteria are more important today than ever. Heavily rockered skis in the Big Mountain waist width zone of 101mm to 113mm can easily inspire the illusion that their owner suddenly has skills. After all, he can now kill it in the freshies, charging like an off-the-rails locomotive. When he rolls his act out on the groomers, still hauling, still squatting over the middle of his skis, his ultra-rockered tips and tails wildly slapping the snow, his ability to change trajectory and avoid the downhill skier is perilously close to nil.
This is perhaps the most important slope safety issue of our time. Please, people, restrict your use of Big Mountain skis to the off-trail terrain for which they were designed.
The most remarkable thing about the 2019 Big Mountain field is that there’s little that’s new to remark upon. By our count there are but 3 new models in a field of 17, only one of which earned a Recommended medallion. And even the Recommended newbie isn’t all that new; the Salomon QST was an existing model that received a palpable upgrade, a notable improvement but still not an entirely new ski.
All things considered, the fact that almost the entire Big Mountain category hit the Pause button is probably a positive development. A genre that’s comprised entirely of models that will serve as a second or third pair shouldn’t need as much turnover to satisfy demand. The leveling off of new model introductions is also a sign of the maturity of the segment: skiers already have a wide selection that is also wildly diverse.
The balance of the overall 2019 Big Mountain category is demonstrated by the relatively even split between Recommended Power (7) and Finesse (5) models. Whether you like your connection to the snow to be accurate, loose or any gradient in between, there’s a Big Mountain model to suit your fancy.
It bears mentioning that the ensemble of Finesse skis is particularly good at what they do. While they are optimal for advanced intermediates who want a second ski for powder, their mild demeanor disguises a deep energy reserve. None of them are weak skis; they’re merely easier to bend. Most of our Finesse Favorites have no metal in them and the few that do use Titanal sparingly, which makes our typical Finesse ski lighter and livelier than the burlier boys’ club on the other side of the Power/Finesse divide.
Every year there’s always a ski or two that eludes our grasp. We regret not recording enough data on the Elan Ripstick 106, Line Sakana and Liberty Origin 106. We’ll try to corral them next year.
The defining difference between our Power Picks and Finesse Favorites can be summed up succinctly: how fast are you willing to go before you steer out of the fall line? If you tend to ride the brakes and the gas at the same time, you’ve overshot your category: you should be searching among the Finesse models.
But if you love to let it rip, sending up geysers that almost engulf you as you go headlong downhill, this is your dating pool. Chances are, every one of these skis is better than you are, which is a good thing when you’re pushing the edge of the envelope. If your skills are commensurate with our Power Picks, you’ll have a partner for powder days that won’t ever let you down.
Every so often we receive a digital test card from a citizen that is detailed, accurate and composed with an obvious affection for the subject ski. These notes from Skip Ely read like an exceptionally well-informed ode to what makes the Stöckli Stormrider 105 the Power potentate of its category. Skip begins with the standard observation of all who essay the Stormrider 105. “No speed limit,” he declares. “They will scrub speed and smear in pow and crud but they really want to be on edge at speed, even in off-piste crud – or especially then. For a ski that can be pushed hard without faltering it’s surprisingly forgiving when the operator chooses to relax for a bit. Easily transitions from G-force Super G style arcs to rapid (for a 105 wide) edge-to-edge GS radius turns. Can be slid around well-formed bumps effectively. But in the end they reward the
The Big Mountain design playbook calls for tips and tails that are both rockered and tapered so they won’t interfere with the smearing action that takes the travail out of off-trail travel, and the Rustler 10 is typical in this regard. Where it deviates from the norm is through its midsection, which is capped by a Titanal plate that’s edge-to-edge underfoot and narrows to a nub that stops halfway up the forebody and tail. The Titanal delivers discernibly more power and deflection resistance than the carbon-reinforced extremities. Testers appreciated the lighter weight that helped the Rustler 10 feel quicker than most Big Mountain models.
The Cochise skier needs a full skill set to rein in its appetite for hellbent descents. The Cochise’s 27m-sidecut radius won’t cut across the fall line unless its pilot knows how to drive it from a high edge angle, and it practically prohibits turning at a plodding pace. The Cochise regards slow skiing as a sign of weakness and finds short turns as palatable as spinach ice cream. Experts who understand that the first rule of skiing crud is to charge it need a tool as stout as their style, one that will stand up to a full-on, fall-line assault. “A strong ski for strong skiers,” as Greg from Footloose sums up the crud-killing Cochise.
The story behind the 2019 edition of K2’s Pinnacle 105 Ti is a tale of error correction, optimization and resurrection. The first generation Pinnacle 105 was on the soft side, super easy to steer but showed its frailty at speed. In 2018, K2 powered up the Pinnacle 105 Ti by increasing the Titanal dosage over the edge by 20% and pumping up the camber underfoot. The resulting stability significantly improved both calm on edge and responsiveness. It’s amazing what a little more mass will do: the new Pinnacle 105 Ti now behaves more like a Power ski than a docile cruiser, although it hasn’t lost touch with the Finesse side of its personality.
The core that the Kore name is meant to call attention to is made from Koroyd, a synthetic honeycomb, and Karuba, a bantamweight wood often found in AT skis. Graphene is used in the tip and tail, making the extremities not only lighter, but inherently stronger and stiffer. This allows the center of the Kore 105 to bow more easily, a benefit when skiing on a surface that gives way when you press against it. You expect the Kore 105 to be light. But you don’t expect it be this strong. It smoothes out chunder that would treat most non-metal skis like a rented mule. Its relatively straight-waisted mid-body facilitates foot swiveling, a godsend in the trees where there’s neither time nor space to execute a carved turn. Its tapered tip isn’t itching to carve, either, but it can bank into a wind berm with the cornering confidence of a
The Kästle BMX105 HP can carve if it must, but carving usually means hard snow, and hard snow isn’t its preferred milieu. The BMX105 HP is nearly the opposite of a carving tool despite being built from the same ingredients, contorting Kästle’s customary wood/glass/Titanal sandwich into a double-rockered baseline with only a hint of sidecut. Tapered tips and tails connected by a straighter sidecut create a platform that planes evenly though deep, uneven snow, but be prepared to exert more effort if you want to initiate a tight line on hard snow. It can get away with liking its turns long and fast because its classic construction ensures that no powder on earth can withstand it.
The Völkl 100 Eight didn’t change between last season and whenever you’re reading this sentence, but it did the year before, and therein lies the tale. Prior to its transformation, the 100 Eight already was sculpted into Völkl’s signature 3D.Ridge shape that seems to pare away every extra atom of ski. 3D.Ridge first appeared on the V-Werks Katana, where it was – and continues to be – pressed from layer upon layer of carbon. As applied to the 100 Eight, 3D.Ridge is formed from fiberglass, with carbon relegated to the role of stringers through the wood core. The original 100 Eight mimicked the Katana’s structure, but didn’t match its gripping power. Last year Völkl added 3D.Glass to 3D.Ridge and a perfect union was formed. The transformation couldn’t be more dramatic, like the nerd in high school who overnight evolves into a rock star.
The original idea behind making a ski as fat as 110mm underfoot wasn’t to open previously unskiable terrain to world-class athletes, but to allow those without such skills to be able to navigate less forbidding pitches when the snow is knee deep.
Our Finesse Favorites fulfill this mission by bringing a sense of playfulness to the business of floating and smearing through powder. They prioritize ease over accuracy, allowing the less proficient powder skiers to more easily access this exciting terrain. The ulterior motive behind manufacturing such models is, of course, to sell you a second pair of premium skis. We warn you: once you go fat, you never go back. Which means, once you ski the deep on one of these plump beauties, you’ll never again foray into the pow without fatties on your feet.
The Enforcer 110 has taken possession of the top spot in the Big Mountain class, and not just based on its metal-charged power. Its edge is so stable that even at low edge angles the skier never has to fight to hold on, a common woe on hard snow with double-rockered, super-wide skis. Its performance envelope is as big as your imagination. It has the strength to batter through the stiffest crud, edge grip that can cope with hard snow and a shape that moves with ease through the deep stuff. “True to the Enforcer line, the 110 has an uncanny blend of big-ski float and directional fortitude, with a quickness and rebound that will have you tap dancing in the tight spots,” notes Boot Doctors’ indefatigable Bob Gleason.
All the qualities that made the original QST 106 such a fabulous off-trail ski remain intact in the 2019 edition. It still has a smeary smoothness that makes skiing powder and crud idiot-proof. What changed for this year is the QST 106’s comportment on hard snow, which now has more bite and energy. The componentry that adds an aggressive side to the QST’s personality include a shock-dampening layer of basalt and a cross-weave of carbon and flax (C/FX) fibers that reinforce the original’s longitudinal C/FX. The latest improvements fill the only gaps in the QST 106’s resume. It was always better than expected on hard snow; now it’s just plain better. If you have any concerns about the new QST 106’s stability, try the 188cm out for size. It will change your mind about what skis without metal in their make-up can do.
The Sick Day 104 acts avant-garde and rebellious, but it’s actually a retro design that uses fiberglass to dictate flex pattern – soft tip, stiff tail – and rebound (4mm of camber). The energy the Sick Day 104 releases as it crosses the fall line lends the impression it’s quicker to the edge than most skis its size. As befits a ski with a name about slacking, the Sick Day would rather drift than carve, a skill that’s essential in the wildly variable conditions that prevail off trail. Short turns are okay, but they’re a lot like work, so the Sick Day 104 prefers a longer, lazier radius.
The original Soul 7 debuted to instant stardom and it’s only gotten better since. We should say “better and better,” because the Soul 7 HD of today is the product of more than one makeover. Last season Rossi reconfigured the forebody into a structure it christened Air Tip 2.0. Add Air Tip 2.0 to Rossi’s long history of eye-catching visuals tied to compelling technical stories. Air Tip 2.0 has the same hypnotic effect as the first Soul 7’s translucent Koroyd tip, but it’s different in a couple of important ways. The 2019 Soul 7 HD’s shorter front rocker lets it roll on edge so quickly there’s barely time to notice that Air Tip 2.0 is calmer than its predecessors. The elongated camber pocket underfoot puts more edge in the snow for greater security in all snow conditions.
Dynastar’s Legend X 106 bears a family resemblance to the Cham 2.0 107 that preceded it. Its tip and tail rocker, 5-point sidecut and relatively skinny tail are all traits of the Cham clan, but it’s the new addition to the gene pool, Powerdrive, that elevates the Legend X 106 above its ancestors. Powerdrive is a 3-piece sidewall that extends into the core in the forebody. The TPU section closest to the core isn’t bonded to it, allowing the laminates in the Legend X 106’s sandwich construction to shear, or move relative to one another. The easy-bowing action of the forebody allows the Legend X 106 to follow terrain instead of fight it.
The women’s Big Mountain field is inextricably entwined with its unisex cousins, as this infinitesimal slice of the market doesn’t consume enough units to merit women-specific spin-offs. Fortunately for all concerned, men’s Big Mountain skis have already been put on a carbon-rich diet, the same regimen required to create a women’s ski. What’s good for the goose has already been built for the gander.
Last season we bemoaned the absence of test card data on women’s Big Mountain skis and, sad to say, nothing has happened since to change our tune. We still didn’t get enough data to post so much as a wild conjecture about skis we strongly suspect are quite good, such as the Nordica Santa Ana 110 and Völkl 100 Eight. Even the four skis that had more than single-card support didn’t reap enough results to rate them. So, as has been the case in the recent past, we don’t post any test scores or Power/Finesse ratings for this genre on either our public or members’ site.
Women and men aren’t so different, at least when it comes to what they need in a powder ski. The Sheeva 10 and wider Sheeva 11 (112mm underfoot @ 172cm, $840) deliver what both genders are after: a stable foundation that won’t wilt in a crisis and a forgiveness that masks small errors so they don’t become big ones. The imperturbable center of the Sheevas is a top laminate of Titanal that runs nearly edge-to-edge underfoot but tapers to a blunt tongue that doesn’t quite reach either tip or tail. The extremities are deliberately left loose so they can roll with the punches that crud skiing delivers.
The Gottaluvit 105 Ti is the embodiment of K2’s core competence in three arenas that fall in the brand’s wheelhouse: fat skis, double doses of rocker and skis tailored for women, each directed to the same goal: make all-condition skiing easier. K2 was the first major brand to shift its focus to recreational off-trail skiing and earliest adopter of rocker to improve ease in every snow condition. The extra stability provided by the ribbon of Titanal around its perimeter gives the Gottaluvit the juice to plunder chunder and the edge grip needed to keep a wide ski calm on hardpack.
A woman’s first turns on a Big Mountain model can feel like steering a tanker. Some have a way of swimming around when flat, others seem to wander all the time. Then there are skis like the Rossi Soul 7 HD W that provide all the benefits of extra buoyancy without feeling fat or sluggish. The reason the Rossi feels narrower than it measures is the energy housed in the glass and carbon that arches over the camber pocket underfoot. From a loaded position at the bottom of the turn, the Soul 7 HD W rebounds up and out of whatever off-piste porridge you’re in, ferrying the skier across the fall line and into another energized arc.
The 2018 QST Stella 106 was already a superior women’s powder ski when Salomon sent it to the gym to lose weight and put on some muscle. The 2019 Stella shed 60g’s thanks to a two design modifications that made it more powerful and precise. A new base layer of basalt runs the full length of the ski, helping to maintain snow contact, while side-to-side strands of C/FX fiber magnify the effects of the longitudinal carbon/flax braids already in the core. The additions make the new Stella so strong it doesn’t need extra mass to calm it down.