Ski Reviews

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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
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Alpine Ski Design

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
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The Wacky World of Women’s Equipment

  [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
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Everybody Wants a Deal

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
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2018 Recommended Skis

The Atomic 2018 Season

Atomic’s two principal product categories, Frontside and All-Mountain, receive a couple of notable upgrades, one deep inside and one applied on top. The inside alteration to the Vantage and Vantage X series is a switch to a maple/ash core to give the top models in these lines a little more power. The surface treatment is called Nano TPU, a textured topskin that’s designed to maintain the ski’s appearance. Among our 2018 Recommended models, the Vantage X 83 CTi, Vantage 100 CTi and Vantage 90 CTi benefit from these improvements.

While enhancing its mainstream models is all well and good, this development pales in comparison to the importance of introducing a new race line. From Atomic’s race-centric standpoint, all recreational skis are rife with compromise; only when building a race ski can its engineers execute their art as it highest level. Racing is the lifeblood of the brand; every scintilla of technology it can concoct that shaves a tenth of a second off the clock is worth the investment.

The sexy new feature on the G9, S9 and X9 is called Servotec, a single rod embedded in an elastomer receptacle under the toe piece and attached at the other end a few inches from the shovel. (Those will long memories may remember a generation of Salomon models with Prolink, which worked on similar principles.) Servotec keeps the front of the ski quieter when straight running and augments rebound when the ski recoils from pressure.

The second standout feature of the new 9 series is a significantly slimmer silhouette. Just sitting in a ski rack, the G9 looks like a ballistic missile on a launch pad. The sidecut radius of each 9 model still matches the expectation of the skier looking for a GS, SL or combi race model; it’s just that their tips and tails have been trimmed.

The instant you step into an Atomic race ski, you can feel its seriousness of purpose. I’ve never been strapped into an F-1 car, but I imagine it’s a similar sensation: you are now in the hands of a higher power. Buckle up; it’s going to be one helluva ride.

The Black Crows 2018 Season

Building on its foundation in the Big Mountain genre, Black Crows continues to flesh out its collection, adding an on-piste ski, the Vertis, and the all-terrain Daemon for 2108. We didn’t get enough data to rate the Vertis, a shame since our limited experience suggests it would be a fun alternative for the Frontside Finesse skier. Unlike a lot of Black Crows’ models, the Vertis is fully cambered and connects with the snow from its mildly rockered tip to its square, relatively flat tail.

The baseline of the Daemon is the Yin to the Vertis’s Yang, a thoroughly decambered ski with a flat spot underfoot barely long enough to fit a binding. With so little ski in the snow, you’d expect to have the carving properties of a bald tire, but when the Daemon is tipped, it grips. A little Titanal in its undercarriage gives it an authoritative bite that keeps the Daemon on course. It’s a strong ski with a playful attitude that simplifies off-trail skiing.

One of our Recommended models last season, the Atris, returns to the line with a few changes intended to improve its comportment at speed without deadening its lively feel and quick reactions. Black Crows lengthened the sidecut radius to 20m (from 18m), slightly softened the flex and reduced the severity of the rear rocker.

Regrettably, we didn’t get any data on the new Atris so it doesn’t appear here, but we suspect it belongs on any list of the best Big Mountain models.

The Blizzard 2018 Season

Blizzard is on a hot streak that shows no signs of cooling off. Capitalizing on the best-selling year ever for a women’s ski, Blizzard applied the Black Pearl magic to the Samba and Cheyenne, now the Black Pearl 98 and 78, respectively. What is now the Black Pearl 88 and the new 98 also received a couple of technical tweaks, namely a little more sidecut and a little less front rocker. Both alterations aim for the same target, to improve the carving connection on prepared slopes.

The Bonafide and Brahma were also off-season recipients of the “tidier turn radius and earlier edge contact” treatment. Both remain masters of off-piste terrain but now have more facility when confined to the groom. The 2018 Brahma has a new little brother, the Brahma CA, with the same shape but without the two Titanal laminates. Fans of the first-generation Flipcore model the Bushwacker will recognize their old friend in the Brahma CA.

The changes made to Blizzard’s All-Mountain Freeride family, while palpable, are chickenfeed compared to the wholesale overhaul of its Freeride Twin collection. The Gunsmoke, Peacemaker and Regulator have ridden into the sunset. Like the retiring twin-tips, the new Rustler 11 and 10 fill the need for a lighter, surfier alternative to models like the Cochise, but otherwise have little in common with dearly departed.

The Rustlers use carbon on the top, bottom and both ends of a lightweight, multi-material core, capped with a section of Titanal that’s edge-to-edge in the mid-section and narrows to nothing before it reaches tip or tail. Called Carbon Flipcore D.R.T. Technology, this construction is solid but not overbearing, allowing the extremities to conform to uneven terrain while the area underfoot is unwavering.

Waist width varies according to length on the Rustlers. The Rustler 10 has a 102mm waist up to a size 180cm and a 104mm at 188cm. The Rustler 11 is a 112mm up to a 180cm, a 114mm at 188cm and 116mm at 192cm. The D.R.T. Titanal element also is sized by length.

The Rustler’s have female companionship, the Sheeva 10 and 11, essentially the same skis made a mite lighter, softer and shorter than the Rustlers.

The biggest Blizzards, the Bodacious and Spur, both return with significant construction changes. The Spur (192cm only) applies Carbon Flipcore D.R.T. to a 124mm-waisted, asymmetric powder plunderer, while the Bodacious returns to its roots with the addition of two sheets of Titanal, just as Arne Backstrom envisioned it. A percentage of Bodacious sales will be donated to the Arne Backstrom Memorial Fund.

The Dynastar 2018 Season

The transition to a kinder, gentler Dynastar freeride collection that began with the elimination of metal laminates in the Cham series culminates in the all-new Legend collection for 2018. The Legends of yore were among the burliest powder skis ever, but having the most inflexible plank in the off-piste isn’t the calling card it once was, and today’s Legends have gotten the message. Softer, smoother, less aggro: these are the new adjectives at Dynastar.

The cornerstone technology of the Legend models is a unique sidewall construction filched from the race department called Powerdrive. Used only in a section of the forebody where vibration amplitude peaks, Powerdrive consists of a 3-piece sidewall that both dampens shock and disconnects the core’s components from the fixed outer sidewall. This allows the separate laminates in the structure to move relative to one another, so the ski stays in better contact with a snow surface that is anything but continuous.

Powerline must have pretty good juju, for the Legend X 96 landed on top of our 2018 Finesse rankings for All-Mountain Skis, and the Legend X 106 more than held its own in the competitive Big Mountain arena. Too bad we didn’t see more women’s cards this season, for the Legend W 88, with two perforated Titanal sheets, should have been a slam-dunk in the key Women’s All-Mountain East category.

Fans of the Chams shouldn’t hold a wake quite yet. The Legend skis retain the Chams’ signature 5-point sidecut, which maximizes surface area for flotation yet retains a modest turn radius (17m @ 178cm in Legend X 96) for maneuverability in the tight spots that prevail off-trail, be they in chutes, trees or moguls the size of Mini Coopers.

The Faction 2018 Season

Faction cleaned up its line for 2018, reducing its unisex offering to four series, each comprised of four models: the new Prime collection of balsa/flax-core backcountry models, a category we don’t attempt to cover; the returning Candide Thovex Signature series, twin-tips inspired by the brand’s standard bearer; the Prodigy series, a mix of veteran and new models; and the Dictator series, a new spin on the retired Standard line of square-tailed, directional skis.

The Prodigy name has been in the Faction family since its early days, and fans can still find last year’s version as the “new” Prodigy 2.0. The 2018 Prodigy 3.0 was previously sold as the Chapter 106; the 112mm-waist Prodigy 4.0 is all new.

The Prodigy 4.0 slipped through our fingers, but we took pains to get data on all the Dictators. Like the Standard models they replace, the new Dictators use a dual-radius sidecut, so they all tuck into a turn, even the 115mm Dictator 4.0.

We dwell on the Dictators because we believe it’s where most of our readers should be looking in the Faction line. Faction gets light right: the Dictators’ combo of quicks and stability is second to none. These are square-tail, cambered, metal-laminate- powered, point-em-downhill skis with the obligatory taper at the tip to signal their off-trail intentions. If you’ve never tried a Faction, pick your favorite width potentate from the Dictator series. From the Putin-thin (85mm) 1.0 to the Idi Amin-wide 4.0, they all rule

The Fischer 2018 Season

The central theme to 2018 is capitalization on The Curv name and the masterful carving capacity for which it stands. The new The Curv GT successfully extends the power and accuracy of The Curv DTX to a Frontside footprint (129/80/112). It instantly earned a spot among the best carvers in a brutally competitive category.

Women get their own Curv, called My Curv (121/68/102). (Fischer applies the “My” prefix to designate any model as made-for-women, as in My Ranger or My MTN.) A pull-no-punches Technical model with an innate ability to slice tiny turns (13m @ 164cm), My Curv’s only adaptations to make it responsive to a lighter skier (smaller sizing aside), are a thinner core profile and free-milled Titanium that’s wafer-thin.

At the opposite end of the waist-width spectrum you’ll find the new Ranger 115 XTi. Even though it’s ludicrously slower edge to edge than The Curv – it can’t help it, it’s 115mm underfoot – it still has the soul of a carving ski inside its milled-out beech and poplar core. Despite being outfitted with every weight-saving technology in Fischer’s arsenal, the Ranger 115 XTi is nonetheless a very large ski with a long turn radius (20m @ 188cm). Of course it can drift, but it would rather by guided by a skilled skier who knows how to translate technical skills to powder skiing.

As noted elsewhere in these narratives, last winter’s weather was murder on test venues, compromising our ability to capture all the data we’d normally receive. Collecting women’s results proved particularly frustrating, as we’d often get just a tantalizing taste of how good a ski could be without sufficient data to support a case for or against Recommendation.

We mention this here because among the models that didn’t get enough exposure are Fischer’s My Ranger 89 and 98. We detect intimations of greatness in the slight feedback we managed to cull from the wreckage of the test season. We hope next year they’ll have the opportunity to shine.

The Head 2018 Season

Whenever a brand offers two very different skis in the same category, it reveals how that brand perceives the needs and desires of two skiers who share the same mountain but have little in common when it comes to technique. Head’s 2018 entries in the Big Mountain genre, the updated Monster 108 and the all-new Kore 105, offer two contrasting solutions to the problem of how to make the optimal off-trail ski.

The Monster 108 puts modern tech to the task of making a very traditional ski. In addition to a tried-and-true wood, glass and metal structure, Head adds resin laced with Graphene, the lightest, strongest material known to man, as avant-garde a material as is being used today. But while Graphene is magical, it can’t actually make other materials weigh less, so the Monster 108, with all that surface area, ends up being a genuine monster of a ski. It uses all this awesome power to tear into terrain. It doesn’t try to subtly negotiate its way through a tough crowd of crud; it mows through it without hesitation.

The Kore 105 couldn’t be much more different. One immediately notices that a pair of Kores seems to weigh no more than a single Monster. In the Kore, Head uses Graphene along with its genetic kin, carbon, which is woven into a tougher-than-steel Triaxial weave, to give the Kore its directional stability and torsional strength. The Monster’s wood core is replaced with a composite of Koroyd honeycomb and Karuba, a wood best known in the AT world for its ultralight weight. The usual top sheet is dispensed with, replaced with a sheer polyester fleece.

The two models also have sharply contrasting tip and tail designs, with the Monster’s sidecut meant to latch onto the snow as if it were a ginormous carving ski, while the Kore’s tip and tail are tapered and less stiff torsionally, more intent on flotation and disconnected enough at either end to be tolerant of swiveling.

 

No doubt about it, the Kore construction is the wave of the future, at least in the off-trail terrain for which it was made. Despite all its hi-tech elements, the Monster is an anachronism; its defiance of the “Lighter is Better” mantra will likely render it obsolete in a market where LIB has become a religion.

The Kore 105 is the middle brother in a family of three (93, 105, 117), all using the same components and construction. The Monster 108 is the fattest of the returning Monsters (others are 83, 88, 98), all of which have been softened up a bit so they’re easier to bend at speeds below 40mph. The Joy sorority of women’s skis is joined by the party-loving Wild Joy, adding a 90mm footprint to this superlight collection.

The K2 2018 Season

The Konic construction introduced in 2015 drank a little too much of the LIB Kool Aid. Like a crash dieter, the K2 line lost too much weight too fast. This year K2 error corrects, changing the Konic formula to add more mass and improve snow connection.

The Konic series of Frontside skis are new in all respects. The sidecuts are new, with no tip taper to delay contact. Also gone is any trace of foam: the center of the core is Paulownia, with heavier aspen and fir over the edge. The top 3 models incorporate a shock-absorbing carbon spine to reinforce the skis’ overall ability to hold onto planet earth, both edge to edge and tip to tail.

The vector models in the Pinnacle series, the 95 and 105, followed the same weight-gain regimen: add 20% more mass over the edge, reduce the amplitude of the rocker, boost the camber zone and voilà, more muscular skis better able to stay on the snow, be it hard or soft. Also new are the Pinnacle 85 and ThrilLUVit 85 for women, off-trail training wheels intended to retail at $399.

The Kästle 2018 Season

Not a lot has changed since last year at Kästle, but once again we received so many test cards on its skis, one could be excused for thinking every one must be new. That’s because once you ski a Kästle, you’ll want to ski it again. Since the shop personnel we depend on for data couldn’t afford one without a modern-day Medici as a sponsor, when they get an opportunity to take one for a spin, they take it.

Our team’s passion for Kästle drives them to ferret out even those models that will be in very short supply. For the second season in a row, they latched onto an MX Limited, as in limited to 200 pairs available, worldwide. Technically identical to last season’s Limited, this year’s topsheet veneer is made from a local cherry tree. If this sounds like a slo-mo production, it is. The handiwork is done in Kästle’s original facility in Hohenems, where they don’t have the time limitations of large-scale manufacturing.

Even more recherché than the MX Limited is the MX88 Anniversary, a slightly tweaked version of the immortal model that introduced Kästle’s signature tip design, Hollowtech, ten years ago. The Anniversary gets an extra sheet of carbon under its glossy topskin, which is inlaid with elegant anodized aluminum at the Hohenems factory. All for only $1,999, pre-mounted with a Tyrolia binding.

We wouldn’t even mention the new RX12 race skis as they’ll be as rare as albinos at the beach, but Realskiers testers are a determined lot. They found them, skied them, loved them.

The only new Kästles you’ll actually find at a retailer outside of Lech are a redesign and repositioning of its lightweight LX series, the new LX73 and LX85. Now clearly identified as women’s models, the 2018 LX’s are no longer cap skis, but square-sidewall, wood-and-metal laminate construction. Don’t let their simulation of a burly build scare away the so-so skier; the LX73 doesn’t size down to a 140cm to serve skiing’s elite, but to coddle its less fortunate.

The only other change of note: silver fir has been added to the beech core of the FX and BMX series to create a little more solid feeling in the uneven off-piste terrain these models inhabit.

The Line 2018 Season

As an ex-marketer myself, I have to admire how Line puts a memorable spin – and hence an aroma of ownership – on a design feature as common as egg rolls at a Chinese-American restaurant. When one reads, “Magic Finger Carbon Filaments,” the mingling in the mind of coin-operated motel beds amid ropes of carbon derails the brain’s critical capacities. Just what modern marketing hopes to achieve.

I mention Magic Finger Carbon Filaments because they’re the key to what’s new in Line’s popular Sick Day series. As skiers must be sick of hearing by now, carbon’s high strength-to-weight ratio allows designers to take out heavier fiberglass. So the 4 new Sick Day models (88, 94, 104 & 114) are palpably lighter than their predecessors. (Actually, the Sick Day 88 is all new and unequipped with Magic Fingers, the better to fit the youth market’s need for a less expensive option.)

The Sick Day line-up isn’t one ski in four different shapes, but a different animal in every instance. The Sick Day 114, reviewed below, is substantially more rockered and less cambered than its smaller kin, a progression that continues incrementally down the line.  Retail price points descend as well, in $100 increments, from the $699 Sick Day 114 to the $399 Sick Day 88.

The Nordica 2018 Season

When Nordica launched the Enforcer, back before it needed the suffix “100” to differentiate it from its offspring, it was a tipping point for the brand. In 2018, Nordica completes the Enforcer family. The new Enforcer 110 combines the vibration-sucking power of Titanium with the Enforcer 100’s manageable turn radius without weighing a gram more than the redoubtable Patron, an all-glass Big Mountain model that was one of the best skis this genre has ever produced. The Enforcer 110 shot to the top of our Finesse Favorites, yet it has all the power any expert might require. The Enforcer Pro takes the power quotient up a notch, with a stiffer flex pattern, longer sidecut radius and 115mm waistline. Let’s just say it doesn’t take the term “Pro” lightly.

Nordica has always taken the women’s ski project seriously. Its 2018 women’s line presents, if you’ll pardon the expression, the most masculine, muscular collection of skis specially made for women since Völkl rolled out the Kenja, Aura and Kiku. Take the all-new Santa Anas, in 93, 100 and 110 waist widths. They use carbon in lieu of glass to save mass, then load up on Titanium laminates, so strong women skiers won’t have to back off the gas when pummeling off-piste terrain.

The same judicious use of metal and balsa makes Nordica’s Sentra and Astral model families deserving of the affections of athletic women. The Sentra SL 7 Ti EVO is probably the most powerful women’s carving model Nordica has ever made, and the Titanium Hex Bridge on all the new Astrals ought to make them among the best performing Frontside skis on the market.

The men’s version of the Astrals are called Navigators, in 90mm, 85mm and 80mm waist widths. The Navigators blend the off-trail tip geometry of an Enforcer with the square tail of a Dobermann race ski to create skis that are equally comfortable in both hard and soft snow domains. The Navigator family hits three different price points at $100 intervals, yet all retain the same basic construction, including a Titanium laminate. Guess what? The Navigator 80 skis brilliantly, and at only $399 at most shops is the best deal in the alpine ski market in 2018.

The Rossignol 2018 Season

The R&D department at Rossignol must not be conversant with the expression “resting on one’s laurels.” Two years ago, Rossi’s Big Mountain model, the Soul 7, was the top selling ski in America, despite being 106mm underfoot in a ski nation that travels mostly on groomed runs. Rather than let its star product luxuriate in victory, Rossi added its exceptional Carbon Alloy Matrix to the ski last year, tacking the suffix “HD” to the name to indicate the presence of this performance-boosting latticework of carbon, basalt and glass.

The Carbon Alloy Matrix works particularly well on models like the Soul 7 that don’t have any Titanal in their lay-up, so adding the HD feature was a significant upgrade to what was already a wildly popular model. But Rossi didn’t allow itself a season of complacency, redesigning its signature Air Tip so it’s unified with the main body of the ski. It also tweaked the forward contact point, moving it up the thinner Air Tip 2.0 shovel so it connects to the snow earlier when edging. Air Tip 2.0 is also an integral part of the 2018 Super 7 HD, Sky 7 HD, Soul 7 HD W and Sky 7 HD W.

The stunning visual appeal of Air Tip 2.0 – when lit from behind, it looks bejeweled – tends to distract attention away from Rossi’s fab Frontside skis, Pursuit for men and Famous for women. In keeping with Rossi’s insuppressible urge to innovate, the 2018 Pursuit and Famous family has also been equipped with minor upgrades that smooth the ride of these committed carvers.

The Salomon 2018 Season

With the utility of its CFX Superfiber confirmed by the QST series, Salomon is extending its reliance on the stuff with a revival of its on-trail series, now known as XDR. (The series it replaces was called X-Drive.) As is common with a series based in the Frontside category, the XDR collection is hierarchical, meaning each model occupies a different price point. The star product is expected to be the XDR 84 Ti, a Finesse ski in a den of hard-core carvers.

We received appallingly few test cards on Salomon’s coterie of made-for-women Frontside models, all of which received a makeover in 2018. One of our testers’ perennial favorites, the Cira (125/78/106), now has a wood core and still sells for only $499, with bindings.

There’s quite a bit of new model activity in domains we don’t explore at Realskiers, Touring and Pipe & Park. With its expertise in lightweight designs, we’d expect Salomon’s MTN Explore models to be well suited to the unglamorous task of alpine ascent.

The Stöckli 2018 Season

As is the case for most central European ski makers, Stöckli considers building a better race ski central to its mission. Trying to beat the clock is a year-round preoccupation, so Stöckli adopted the practice of putting new designs in production as soon as they demonstrated a nanosecond of superiority. Perhaps this is why last year it adopted a means of improving terrain and shock absorption in its top Stormrider models by inserting polyamide inserts in 3-piece sections in the tips and tails of the Stormrider 95, 107, 115 and 100 Motion.

Sometimes products that perform brilliantly during testing prove difficult to industrialize, and so it proved with the pesky polyamide inserts. So Stöckli decided to scrap the idea after only one season; as this decision entailed making new molds, Stöckli went ahead and modified the construction of the men’s models and excised the 100 Motion from the line.

Stöckli R&D needed to find another solution to soften the tips and tails of its widest, heaviest and burliest Stormriders, so it feathered the thickness of the Titanal topsheet and thinned down the bottom metal laminate for good measure. The changes have made the new 95, 105 and 115 smoother than ever without losing an iota of their innate ability to hold an edge so secure it feels impossible to fall off it.

Elsewhere in the 2018 Stöckli line, the Laser GS and SL also use a tapered Titanal laminate in new iterations, and the Laser SC, made for the lighter weight skier, has been tweaked so the tail releases more readily.

The Völkl 2018 Season

It’s difficult to overstate the benefits bestowed by 3D.Glass, the craftily configured sheet of fiberglass that elevates the edge grip of every model it touches. The secret to 3D.Glass’s effectiveness is that it doesn’t just lay on the bottom of the stack of laminated components, but runs up the sidewall and tucks over its top, essentially forming an anchored, open box with the other elements as filling.

3D.Glass makes a ski livelier because glass is the springiest material in the ski. It makes a ski more resistant to twist because it has its own sidewalls. It helps maintain edge contact on hard snow and bat away clumps of broken snow off trail. It can’t put your boots on for you, but it does just about everything else you’d want in a lightweight, responsive companion.

Elsewhere in the 2018 Völkl collection, the All-Mountain series headlined by the immortal Mantra adds a skinny little brother/sister tandem, Kanjo for men and a new Yumi that copies the Kanjo’s shape and construction. Both new models are reinforced with the same Titanal Band technology introduced last year in the Confession.

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