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
No other brand introduced as many new models for 2019 as Atomic, and only a couple can point to any new technology, much less one deployed over so many waist widths and price points. In Atomic’s case, the new tech is called Prolite, a minimalist design in keeping with the global trend towards lightness in all things.
The Prolite design relies on either Carbon Tank Mesh, introduced a few years ago to considerable acclaim, or new Titanium Tank Mesh to provide the principal structural support. Both the Carbon Mesh rectangles and the large-loop Ti chain mail are visible where the ski is thinnest, between the raised ribs of the Energy Backbone that communicates pressure to the edge.
Just how much any skier may cotton to the new Vantage series depends on how he or she factors in the relative importance of lightweight design, clean cosmetics and attractive pricing. In the critical All-Mountain East and All-Mountain West genres, both the men’s and women’s versions of the Vantage 86 C and 97 C are exceptional values with distinctive performance properties that fit the target skiers to a tee.
Atomic continues to be a value leader where value is king, the first price point. We don’t examine entry-level skis because they are rarely, if ever, demoed by shop personnel and their sale usually depends on price and decoration rather than technical merit. Based on what we know Carbon Tank Mesh can deliver, we strongly suspect the first-time buyer gets an outstanding bargain from Atomic.
The speeds this ski is ready to assume demand precision; events come at you quickly once you exceed 50mph. The relationship between ski and skier was like that between maestro and musician; when we work together, the music we make would make angels lay down their lyres to listen. Which of us was in charge didn’t seem to matter in the moment, as long as the notes we strung together formed a lilting melody. If you’re a former racer, you won’t need any introduction to the Redster G9. It will feel like what you used to race on, only smoother, less perturbed by rutted terrain and quicker on and off the edge when faster reactions are called for. If you’ve always loved the feel of a GS race ski, you’ll be head-over-heels over the G9.
The new Atomic S9 is as close as a civilian should get to a true race slalom. Set it to a high edge once at the top of steep face and it will go off like a string of firecrackers, striking and recoiling with every pop, pop, pop. Despite the intensity of its grip, there’s nothing nervous about it; the ski remains calm, even at its fastest and most furious. Like its stable mate, the G9, the Redster S9 is considerably slimmer than the Atomic that preceded it. This helps keep its orientation in the fall line even though its 12.7m radius sidecut (165cm) can pivot on a dime.
It’s unlikely that the new Atomic Redster X9 will instantly make you a better skier; it’s a certainty it’ll make you feel like one. The Redster X9 is built to turn speed into more speed by maintaining edge contact no matter how hard you try to make it fly. It’s signature technology, Servotec, is meant to impart the impression of power steering by making it easy to find an early edge and holding it for as little or as long as you like.
To bring out its best qualities, the Vantage X 83 CTi needs to run at a respectable speed. To help encourage acceleration, the ski cuts a relatively shallow arc when riding a low edge. To cut a tidier corner requires the skier to commit to a higher edge angle, which brings out the ski’s best behavior. If this sounds like the Vantage X 83 CTi is geared for the experienced skier who likes to have some wind in his sails, well, it is. With only a dab of tip rocker, its baseline is made to connect with hard snow and its Carbon Tank Mesh and Titanium Backbone ensures the integrity of this connection throughout the recreational speed range.
The Atomic Vantage 90 CTi is the perfect candidate to represent the All-Mountain East category, a genre that occupies the middle ground in a ski market segmented by width. The Vantage 90 CTi exemplifies this “does-a-bit-of-everything” personality. It can’t be quicker than a Race Slalom nor as floaty as a Big Mountain model, but it does a decent impersonation of both, which is a pretty neat trick in itself. Like a musician who can play any tune you can name, the Vantage 90 CTi will move to whatever rhythm you care to set.
The key components that allow the Vantage 100 CTi to feel less like a barge and more like a broad missile are its Titanium Backbone, a whittled-down vertebra of metal that aids damping in the jolt-inducing terrain that prevails off-trail, and Carbon Tank Mesh, a carbon fiber matrix that improves the strength of the entire structure with minimal weight. Like an XXL-size dancer blessed with agility and grace, the Vantage 100 CTi makes sinuous moves that belie its broad-beam dimensions.
At Realskiers, we contend that one definition of a great ski is how well it performs in conditions for which it was not intended. The Vantage 95 C is ostensibly an off-trail ski with plenty of flotation for forays into two feet of fluff. Yet it’s scorecard suggests a ski with a high hard-snow IQ, able to stay connected to the snow at any edge angle. It can make slow, short turns or long, fast ones, take your pick.
What the Backland FR 102 wants to dine on is a buffet of off-trail conditions. Its double-rockered baseline fits in the twisted troughs of today’s mogul fields. The cambered midsection gives the ski extra energy between turns, inviting the skier to move to its rhythmic beat. The sense of automatic weighting and unweighting is particularly evident in powder, where the Backland FR 102 would just as soon spend 100% of its time, but then, who wouldn’t?
Atomic’s Bent Chetler is a delightfully off-the-wall ski that turns out to behave like the most normal kid in its class. You fear it will roll edge to edge with the reflexes of a locomotive, but it actually responds to tipping and bending with the pliability of a yogi. Created by Chris Bentchetler to facilitate terrain park tricks in the backcountry, the Backland Bent Chetler biggest trick maybe the way its midsection stays anchored to the snow whether it’s hard or soft.
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. .
If you’re going to adapt a women’s model from a unisex template, the first place to renovate is the core. Atomic swaps ash for poplar to reduce weight without losing the damping benefits of wood. Atomic’s second modification is subtler, reining in the widest point in the tail so it isn’t as insistent on a cross-hill turn finish and reduces stress on the inherently more vulnerable female knee. The third alteration elevates the heel in order to tip a women’s more rearward center of mass into a balanced stance, with more weight directed to the ball of the foot as in a natural athletic position.
For the beleaguered skier on a budget, it must seem like every highly rated model has a core made from Caspian Sea caviar. Thank goodness for the Atomic Vantage 85 W. With a down-to-earth street price of $399, it’s perfect for the intermediate woman who wants to ski more of the mountain. 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.
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 Vantage 95 C W’s shape strikes just the right balance between the surface area needed flotation and the sidecut that facilitates carving. This is why this model feels so easy to ski regardless of the conditions. The Vantage 95 C W passes the acid test of an off-trail ski: how well does it handle conditions it wasn’t made for? One of our testers encountered just such terrain and came out smiling. “This ski was great, especially going over the ice cookies. I felt like I could cruise through anything.”
In its prior life as the Century 102, the Backland FR 102 W offered the best cost/value relationship in the genre; last season, 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.
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 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 skis that any member of the ski culture can climb on and relate to immediately.
When you examine a pair of Black Crows Daemon’s base-to-base, you can’t help but notice the baseline is so rockered it could be marketed as “endless rocker.” How can a ski with so little snow contact manage to earn a solid overall score and high Power rating? The Daemon’s secret is its pre-bent shape means it’s arcing before you are. As long as the snow isn’t bulletproof, the full curve underfoot grips the snow from just behind the shovel to the very end.
The traits that are anathema on hard snow are rejuvenating elixir in the off-trail habitat. The Anima’s soft extremities and limited camber zone create a compliant ski that would rather follow terrain than fight it. Its mutable tip may be mobile, but the Anima imparts a sense of secure edge grip underfoot that endures exposure to ratty terrain. The Anima doesn’t require much impetus to bow into a trustworthy arc that holds its trajectory in rough-and-tumble conditions.
Black Crows has fat figured out. Despite being 122mm across at its narrowest point, the Nocta feels light enough to toss around all day. It’s torsionally fairly soft, which helps a ski this wide be more manageable. If you want to do a short turn, you’ll have to swivel the Nocta rather than carve it, as it’s gradual, long-radius sidecut isn’t cut out for short-turn duty. To compensate, the Nocta responds with a little pop off the edge when its glass laminates are compressed.
It’s hard to imagine Blizzard doing much better in the freeride domain, so in 2019 it applied its innovative energies to enhancing its prospects in the race and carving categories. The new Firebird series of race skis embellish their classic wood-and-Titanal sandwich with vertical carbon inlays dubbed C-Spine, intended to energize the end of the turn. On the SRC and WRC models, edging power underfoot is augmented by a bi-directional carbon mat in the middle that Blizzard calls C-Armor. The Firebird Competition is a combi sidecut with C-Spine (but without C-Armor) that should tickle the fancy of technical skiers with no intention of running gates.
The Rustler 10 and 11 that were introduced last season were sufficiently successful to inspire a little brother, the Rustler 9. Built with the same, softer-flexing chassis as the Big Mountain models, the 92mm Rustler 9 delivers off-trail expertise in dimensions suitable for all-mountain skiing. The new Sheeva 9 does the same for women in a segment that is the women’s market wheelhouse.
You wouldn’t know it from our results, sad to say, but Blizzard reincarnated the Bushwacker, a name we haven’t seen since the Freeride All-Mountain series was introduced about eight years ago. Essentially a Brahma without the Titanal, it’s peppy and playful, a marvelous reminder of how much fun a non-metal ski can be. While we didn’t garner enough scores to Recommend it formally, we’re lower-case “r” recommending here regardless.
The singular trait of the Blizzard RC Ti that sets it apart from other Non-FIS SL 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.
Feeling quiet while sitting in an activated catapult is no mean feat, but the SRC pulls it off with such equipoise that it makes its pilot feel as confident as it clearly is. A big, badass plate imparts impenetrable security from any vibration or tendency to wobble, whether one’s stance is relatively upright or laid over like Ligety.
The Blizzard Brahma underwent the same modifications this year as its big brother, the Bonafide, growing fatter at tip and tail. The new radius of the shovel brings a tipped ski in contact with the snow earlier, and the extra shape trims 2m off the turn radius in a 180cm. The net effect is an improvement in carving performance on groomed terrain without detracting one iota from the Brahma’s appetite for off-trail skiing. Its performance in moguls is as good as any ski in the genre, bearing in mind that mogul aptitude is a skill that depends more on the skier than the ski.
The newest Bonafide earned gushing accolades from veteran testers like Bob Gleason of Boot Doctors: “As the Bonafide has displayed for years, this ski is dynamically versatile. They play like a symphony at various speeds, terrain, and snow conditions. The subtle difference of the new Bonafide is the lengthened side cut in the ski’s forebody. The new Bonafide enters the turn earlier with stronger initiation. It feels like suspension tuned for charging into the turn.”
If there’s one condition in particular the Cochise would most like to play in, it’s crud, in all its many manifestations. A snowfield that been riven by countless tracks still looks like fresh fodder to the Cochise. You can try to ski the Cochise slowly or push it around at low edge angles, but it isn’t likely to cooperate in these endeavors. This bad boy was built to gallop, not to trot. If you want a more compliant off-trail companion that isn’t geared so high, try the new Rustler 10 instead.
Our testers adore the Rustler 10, particularly for its Finesse properties. Here’s a sampler: “The mix of underfoot grip with ease at the extremities is unmatched. Another home run for Blizzard!” “Rustler 102 is playful, loose, poppy, yet still has that Blizzard feel underfoot. It’s going to be easier for more skiers to deal with.” “Centered and well balanced.” “Super fun in soft stuff, quite forgiving, yet good power on the groomed.”
What was old is new again, as Blizzard returns the Bodacious to its original construction, replete with a double dose of Titanal. With the new Rustler 11 available as an option for the less aggro skier, the Bodacious could revert to the badass, big-turn ski envisioned by Arne Backstrom, the big mountain phenom who came up with Flipcore idea. The 2018 Bodacious is once again an absolute beast. I’m reasonably sure that if a 196cm Bodacious hit a brick wall at 40mph, there’d be nothing left of the wall.
The Quattro W 8.0 Ca we recommended last season returns in the guise of the Alight 8.0 Ca, renamed to fit into an umbrella rebranding of Blizzard’s women’s Frontside collection, part of a company-wide initiative, Women to Women, intended to better differentiate its women’s line. The Alight 8.0 Ca remains a featherweight that punches in the middleweight division, holding a secure, unwavering arc on the hardest artificial snow.
Last season Blizzard pulled off a coup that was, as far as this ski journalist is aware, a singular one in the annals of ski sales: a women’s ski, the Black Pearl, emerged as the top selling ski in the specialty channel. The reason the event was unprecedented is that women make up at best 40% of the new ski market. To be the number one ski means the Black Pearl had to dominate women’s sales. What voodoo did Blizzard do to make the Black Pearl so supernaturally successful?
The Black Pearl is such a runaway hit that Blizzard applied the name to every model in its All-Mountain Freeride collection, rechristening the Samba as the Black Pearl 98. More than just the name is new: the Black Pearl 98 has considerably more shape than the Samba and the front rocker is made to connect a little earlier. These changes elevate the new ski’s hard snow performance without diminishing its natural predisposition to ski anything else but.
At the heart of every lightweight design is carbon, and the Sheeva 10 has plenty of it, both in stringers in its glass laminates and in unidirectional inserts at tip and tail that help lower swingweight. Its signature feature is a Titanal laminate that runs nearly edge-to-edge underfoot but tapers to a blunt tongue that doesn’t quite reach either tip or tail. The intent is to add stability underfoot but keep the rest of the ski looser, so it can contort to absorb irregular terrain.
Dynastar’s investment in its future didn’t manifest itself in many new models for 2019, but in behind-the-scenes improvements in quality control measures that will pay dividends for many seasons to come. The only model to undergo a meaningful makeover was its team rider Powder ski, where the Proto Factory supplanted the Legend Factory. Unless you’re decimating big lines on big mountains, this development won’t rock your world.
For the everyday citizen skier, Legend X and Legend W models are plenty fresh enough, having only been introduced last year. This year, we were lucky enough to get more data on the Legend W series, filling in some blanks in our coverage of a year ago. Dynastar doesn’t differentiate between its unisex and women’s constructions, putting women on exactly the same platform and position as men. Our 2019 results suggest that the smooth-skiing, metal-free design of the Legend might be ideally optimized for the female skier.
The Dynastar Speed Zone 12 Ti is the current 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.
The signature feature of the Legend X 96 is called Powerdrive, a multilayer sidewall that uses TPU, Paulownia and ABS in a vertical sandwich. The reinforced sidewall remains separate from the laminates in the central core, which can move more easily in relationship to one another. This allows the forebody to follow terrain rather than banging off of it, creating a sense of connection that is, in the words of Sturtevant’s of Sun Valley’s Peter Nestor, “predictable, comfortable and confidence inspiring.”
The key to the Legend X106’s unique snow feel is a feature Dynastar has dubbed Powerdrive. It consists of a 3-piece sidewall, which in the case of the Legend X series is made from vertical layers of TPU, Paulownia and ABS on the outside. Its principal purposes are to provide a dampening element and to liberate the laminates in the core from their bond with the outer sidewall. Free to shear in response to shocks delivered to the forebody, the ski is better able to stay on the snow. And the Legend X106 does it without using a drop of Titanal.
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.
No other brand in our sport owes as much to the records and legacy of single athlete as Elan. The athlete, of course, is the incomparable Ingemar Stenmark, winner of 86 World Cup wins, all on Elan. There would be no second act on the World Cup for Elan après Ingemar, but shortly after the indomitable technical master retired Elan found another means to spread its brand far beyond the borders of Slovenia.
The pivotal product that would alter Elan’s fortunes was the SCX, for “Side Cut Experiment.” About the time Ivan Petkov envisioned his “S” ski, Elan floated a few pairs of these hourglass-shaped skis to instructors and influencers requesting feedback. The dramatic sidecut was given a name, Parabolic, that consumers would swiftly adopt. (Only later did yours truly propose the generic term “shaped” in dispatches filed for Snow Country Business. But I digress.)
While the major French brands dismissed the first wave of carving skis as a fad, Elan seized the marketing high ground. The SCX and its immediate successors of the same ilk provided Elan with entré to ski schools and rental shops along with the cachet that comes with a concept that not only elevated the brand to international prominence, it altered the way skis are made forevermore. The term “parabolic” may have vanished from the popular lexicon, but Elan’s identity as an innovator was validated, big time.
Elan wasn’t finished setting the industry on its ear. The SCX was still finding its commercial footing when the Slovenes backed up its success with the launch of monoblock, a new shell construction that closely resembled the monocoque that Salomon was touting in its new ski line. Once again, Elan was in the vanguard of a movement that would require every competitor to re-tool or die.
Elan was a force to be reckoned with in every market sector. It used its cost advantage to grab market share at the first price point, the monoblock innovation to attract the middle of the market, SCX to pull in new rental numbers and the lingering presence of Ingemar to maintain a share of the race market. It cultivated a thriving OEM business making skis for other brands. Elan had the Midas touch.
Innovations that transform the entire market are hard to come by, and gradually the golden touch tarnished. The Stiletto, a 45mm-waisted contrarian folly, never caught fire. Other brands articulated stories about freeride and fun that drew the public away from carving. The culture of carving carried on in central Europe where Elan had established deep roots, but in America carving lost its mojo.
Elan’s Next Big Idea is called Amphibio, a carving-centric concept that assures early connection to the inside edge by leaving it fully cambered, while rockering the outside edge so it doesn’t get any silly notions about hooking suddenly uphill. What the public didn’t grok at first is that Amphibio can be applied to any shape or style of ski, not just fusty old Technical models hardly any Americans skis anymore. The complete Ripstick collection of off-trail skis is Amphibio’d, just like the Frontside family that continues to form the core of Elan’s current collection.
By the way, Elan’s latest Technical Amphibio, the Black Edition, is a revelation. You probably can’t afford it, so don’t ask ($1,400), but if you can get a hedge funder to indulge your carving cravings you’ll discover another way the rich live better than you.
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
Faction is a 10-year old brand that hasn’t lost its youthful passion for staying close to the snow culture. As is the case with many start-up ski brands, Faction originally focused on making skis the big manufacturers weren’t, which a decade ago meant making wide, athlete-driven, off-trail skis. Now that the brand has achieved early adolescence, with production handled by a modern, well-equipped factory partner, it’s extending its reach into narrower shapes like the new Dictator 1.0. That Faction’s first foray into the All-Mountain East genre is a success shouldn’t surprise, as the Dictator collection (née Standard Series) to which it has been appended are serious skis with two Titanal laminates sandwiching a lightweight poplar/Paulownia core. Every ski supplier is trying to make a lighter ski that holds like a heavy one; Faction has nailed it. If it weren’t for the tapered tip design that the 1.0 inherits from its
If there’s one word that captures the Dictator 2.0’s personality it’s “combi.” It feels quick edge to edge like a slalom, yet as you increase turn radius and speed, it morphs into a GS ski. No matter how you like to ski, you don’t have to change to love the Dictator 2.0. You can just go ski. Bob Gleason of Boot Doctors pinpoints the Dictator 2.0’s profile: “A bit more traditional in feel than other Faction models. Smooth and substantial. Strong at speed. Powerfully predictable yet not overbearing.”
Skiers looking for more of a more fall-line-oriented Powder ski that’s suited for backcountry touring as well as resort skiing should consider the powerful CT 3.0. The CT 2.0 skier is more likely to be found in bounds, hunting for lines that incorporate as much air time as possible. Those who wish to add the extra thrill of taking off and landing switch should center mount their bindings to take full advantage of the CT 2.0’s symmetrical shape.
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.”
The morning runs couldn’t have been much more ratty, with traces of blown-in snow filling the hollows of week-old tracks. The Dictator 3.0 let me use my bases to feather my line or switch to crisp edges as the moment warranted. They felt inherently light and agile yet whenever the edge hold was challenged, it passed with flying colors. A run that looked as inviting as the seventh ring of Hell turned into a jolly romp. What appeared perilous the Dictator 3.0 turned into a playground.
The Dictator 4.0 isn’t the lightest ski in the category, but it feels exceptionally feathery on the snow. With a square tail that’s an endangered species among Powder skis, the Dictator 4.0 stays connected to the turn until it’s pulled off the assignment. This gives it a sense of connectedness on-trail that eludes others of the Powder persuasion.
If one were to distill Fischer to its 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.
Fischer’s fortunes in the American market found a fresh foothold when the brand introduced its first boot a couple of decades ago. Fischer capitalized on its opportunity when it created a moldable shell material it could vacuum-fit around the skier’s forefoot. Overnight, Fischer went from being a bit player in the boot world to a market force. As other brands with more market penetration entered the heat-molding fray, Fischer gradually lost ground to more convenient methods.
A brand is only as good as the people it can attract, and Fischer recently added one of the most admired men in the equipment world to its roster, Mike Hattrup. (BTW, this winter marks the 20th anniversary of Greg Stump’s magnum opus, The Blizzard of Aahhhs, in which Hattrup teams up with Scot Schmidt and Glen Plake to create celluloid magic. Catch the revival tour when it comes to your town.) Hattrup is well known for his work in the backcountry arena, and his connection to American ski culture can only improve Fischer’s product development.
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.
It’s not necessary to have competed alongside The Curv’s designers, all World Cup veterans, to appreciate The Curv DTX, but it’s fair to say it favors those with some race training on their resume. The best Technical skis recreate the sensations of racing without the complications imposed by FIS-sanctioned shapes and World-Cup-level flexes. The Curv DTX makes it easy to carve like a champ: the triple radius sidecut pulls the skier into the arc on autopilot, and its softer flex allows it to be decambered by someone who doesn’t train every day.
For Fischer fans who follow the brand’s fortunes, The Curv GT will bring back memories of the early Progressors. Fischer has a long-standing commitment to the Carving category, going back to the days when the brand first embraced the concept of shaped skis. Its experimentation with deep sidecuts has resulted in mastery of World Cup slalom construction, knowledge that always bleeds into consumer products at some point. The triple radius sidecut that dictates the skis’ on-edge trajectory is a product of years of experience making skis that turn fast at high speed without spinning out.
One of the major market trends over the past few seasons has been a “Lighter is Better” movement, a competition among manufacturers to see who can make the lightest ski that still retains high performance properties. No other brand is as well positioned as Fischer to capitalize on the LIB frenzy, as it has spent decades astride the cross-country ski market where lightweight has always been a fetish. At 1,750g in a 175cm length, the Pro Mountain 86 Ti is by far the lightest ski among our Power picks in the AME genre.
What Fischer retains from its racing heritage is how to optimize the union of wood, Titanal and fiberglass. This combo provides the power to keep the skis tracking cleanly in broken snow or etching grooves into hardpack. The influence of the Lighter is Better movement is apparent in the Air Tec Ti core, an intricate whittling-away of much of the ski’s center material, and the selective use of Titanal to deliver the optimal vibration dampening that is metal’s métier.
Fischer puts all its top-shelf technology into the new Ranger 115 XTi: Air Tec Ti, an intricately milled-out wood core with Titanium reinforcement; Carbon Nose, a carbon fiber weave up front that lessens swingweight; and Aeroshape, the dome-shaped top that helps the ski slash sideways in deep snow. Despite all the weight-saving tech, the Ranger XTi remains a granite-solid ski predisposed to big turns, behaving like a GS ski on PED’s.
As predicted in this space last year, the arrival of Kore augured the demise of traditionally made, wide-body carvers like the Monster 98 and Monster 108. Head has pared down the Monster series accordingly, reducing it the Monster 88, Monster 83 and 83X, the 83 minus two sheets of Titanal. The trend is clear: in the battle between classic construction and lighter weight alternatives, the Lighter-Is-Better side is winning.
Head is betting heavily that the LIB trend isn’t a fad but a here-to-stay reality. The V-Series of (mostly) Frontside skis, featuring LYT Tech, replaces the Instinct system skis that were built along the same Old School lines as the Monsters. The V-Series combines New Age materials like Graphene and Karuba (aka, carbon and wood) with a mix of glass and carbon fiber to create a parallel universe of carvers utterly unlike its established Supershape series of burly carvers.
The contrast between the two carving collections (Supershape vs. V-Shape) couldn’t be more stark. When Head added Graphene to the Supershapes a couple of seasons ago, it used the weight savings to add more metal to the mix. The V-Shapes eliminate metal everywhere but in the edges. The Supershapes aim exclusively at skiers with elite skills; the V-Shapes hit every price point from coach to first class. The new models also have companion LYT Tech boots, a high degree of product integration often seen in backcountry ensembles but not much elsewhere in the current market.
Another major differentiator of the V-Series is announced in its name: compared to Supershapes, the V-Series tail is considerably narrower, allowing the less skilled skier to scrub the end of the turn with impunity. That Head should continue to offer two families of carving skis with contrasting personalities speaks to both the popularity of on-trail skiing in Europe and the brand’s long-standing commitment to carving as the cornerstone of the recreational market.
The other big news in the 2019 Head family is the arrival of the Kore 99, a necessary fill-in between the 93 and 105 introduced just last year. The All-Mountain West genre (95mm-100mm underfoot) is too important to overlook, and with the passing of the Monster 98, for a major brand like Head to leave a void in this category is unthinkable. For a brand historically wedded to wood and metal constructions to euthanize the classically built Monster 98 in favor of a ski made from honeycomb, fleece and an almost invisible material speaks volumes about the current strength of the LIB movement.
When it comes to building a better slalom ski, Head never takes a day off. Every year it tirelessly tinkers with the perfect formula, trying to solve a riddle that continues to vex them: why is it Head makes the best speed-event skis in the world but can’t come close to producing similar results in slalom? And every year I face a parallel-world conundrum: why does a ski that comes up short on the FIS level continue to thoroughly bedazzle our crew? Every tester who tries it steps off it in a trance, hypnotized by its across-the-board excellence.
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 will 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 the 177cm.
To the short list of life’s certainties – death and taxes – you can add the security on edge of the Supershape i.Speed. Although it’s shaped for short turns, it can bolt down the fall line in a heartbeat and never break a sweat. The Sport Loft tester who goes by colorful sobriquet Rico Suave anointed the Supershape i.Speed “the funnest Super Shape of all! Sweet, playful and butter smooth.”
If you take a close look at the scores for the Power Instinct Ti Pro for all ten criteria (available on our members’ site), you’ll see above average scores for every criterion and a brilliant result for stability at speed, a benchmark of excellence. There’s only one area where it gets beaten up, literally and figuratively: off-piste performance. Little wonder. The Power Instinct Ti Pro is totally dialed for on-trail heroics: a system ski, it comes with a fairly high plate, the binding bumps up the ramp angle and it has a well-scalloped sidecut. These features contribute to uncanny control on groomed runs – the Power Instinct can hold an edge at speed alongside the best in the genre – but it’s as manageable as a moody cat in knee-deep crud.
The i.Rally is dying to demonstrate proper carving technique. Just tip it on edge and it immediately gets the hint, settling into an arc with the ease of cat curling up on a sofa. If you want a tighter arc, all you have to do is ask by adding a measure of edge angle to the otherwise effortless process. The ski seems to gain energy as it accelerates, so the faster you go, the quicker the i.Rally responds. As long as the terrain is groomed, the i.Rally drives with precision, energy and confidence-building stability at speed.
One way to encapsulate the i.Titan’s personality is as “combi carver,” a ski with the stability at speed of a GS race ski and the quick reflexes of a slalom. It would take an avalanche to knock it off edge yet it can make serpentine S’s in an unending spool. What we wrote about the i.Titan last season still pertains: “This is what a perfectly balanced ski is all about, absolute power with fingertip control. It’s exhilarating to let the i.Titan run, leaning into the belly of big, bodacious arcs, feeling as carefree as riding first class.”
In the golden age of incremental change that we’re currently experiencing, it’s rare to see a major manufacturer commit to an all-new ski construction. When that manufacturer is Head and the new lay-up includes no metal laminates – a cornerstone of Head design for decades – the implementation of a unique use of materials is particularly noteworthy. While the Kore 93 reminded a lot of our testers of the Enforcer 93, the Kore isn’t out to imitate anyone, but to set a new standard in lightweight performance.
The central concept behind the new Kore series is that fat skis built along traditional lines, like the Monster 108, weigh a ton, thanks to all the extra material they lug around. The trick to pulling off a crash diet is to strip away ounces without paring away all power and personality. The Kore 105’s Graphene, Koroyd and Karuba construction kicks butt yet weighs as much as an egg carton filled with butterflies.
Some skis just aim for the next turn; Head’s Kore 117 aims for the bottom of the mountain. If skis were golf clubs, the Kore 117 would be an illegal driver. Head may have finally found the combination of materials that delivers the damping and torsional stiffness that only Titanal has provided up to now. Crud is powerless to deter the Kore 117’s dominating will. On hard snow, the Kore 117 begs to be laid over. The tapered tip isn’t much interested in this condition, but the rest of the ski grabs the snow like Gorilla glue.
The guiding principle of Head’s Joy collection can be succinctly stated: make light right. In the case of the latest addition to the Joy family, Wild Joy, this means applying the same ultralight carbon/Koroyd/Graphene construction used in the 85mm Total Joy to a 90mm footprint. Not lost in this translation is the typically deep sidecut favored by Head engineers, imparting a predilection for precise, carved turns on freshly tilled slopes.
No doubt K2 is tired of hearing about the success of the Blizzard Black Pearl. Just who was it that practically invented the women’s ski? Who for 20 years has insinuated women into its prototype-testing loop? Who made made-for-women skis a viable genre in the first place! (Sorry, we’re a little verklemmt.)
You know who. K2 is out to retake the high ground in the Frontside women’s market, from the first price point to the top. From the pavement to the pinnacle (a K2 key word), K2 has a women’s model at every C-note stop from $399 to $899. From First Luv, past Secret Luv, via True Luv, onto Endless Luv, veering into Tough Luv (a Realskiers fave Luv) hence into the Technical territory of the Luv Machine 72Ti, K2 demonstrates its undying affection for the women who collectively embody the full spectrum of female aspirations on the frontside of the mountain.
Please consider this bouquet of floral prose a token of my esteem.
One notable upgrade that crosses the gender divide is the addition of an all-wood core to the Pinnacle 88 Ti and its sister ski, the Alluvit 88 Ti. The All-Mountain East genre is far and away the most significant genre in the American women’s market (witness the over-the-rainbow success of the Black Pearl 88), and its importance is almost as pivotal in the men’s department. It’s the appropriate place to switch from Nanolite to no Nano at all.
All these alterations make the new iKonic 80ti a much more competent carver than the ski of the same name a year ago. It’s particularly adept at short-radius turns, but will make bigger turns if asked. All these performance improvements haven’t altered the quintessential K2 trait of forgiveness. Turns flow intuitively edge to edge with a reliable grip that inspires confidence. For providing a first-class carving experience in return for a tourist-class expenditure of effort, we award the iKonic 80ti a Silver Skier Selection.
Bob Gleason of Boot Doctors sensed the change in the new iKonic 84ti, calling it, “a new feel for K2, a true all mountain carver. The elongated sidecut connects immediately with substantial power. A top contender among all mountain carvers,” he concludes. By “elongated sidecut,” Gleason is referring to the fact that the widest point in the iKonic 84ti’s forebody is up in the shovel, so the edge behind it provides a continuous rail all the way into the tail. In other words, neither tip nor tail is tapered as they would be on a Big Mountain model.
K2 didn’t change the Pinnacle 95’s basic Konic lay-up, nor did they alter the ski’s essential character traits. However the K2 crew tinkered with the particulars, the net effect is a ski with a bit more of everything: more stable on edge, more connected at the tip, more tranquil at speed, more lively out of the turn, more confident in sketchy conditions. “Much more power than its predecessor,” professes Pat Parraguirre, major domo chez Bobo’s in Reno. “Earlier turn initiation than the old ski, too,” he adds.
The Pinnacle 105’s better grip isn’t all due to tweaking the baseline; a construction change that added 20% more mass over the edge is a major contributor to the ski’s clean, continuous snow connection. Every tester attested to this K2’s expanded performance envelope, citing its groomer chops as the unexpected bonus that elevated the 2018 Pinnacle’s overall score and shifted its style from Finesse to Power. But don’t worry K2 fans; the Pinnacle 105 is still ease incarnate.
The most notable feature of the new K2 Catamaran is its asymmetric tip profile. As the Catamaran is a twin-tip, naturally the tail is likewise asymmetric. In action, the uphill ski engages less with the snow. The asymmetric effect is somewhat mitigated by the Catamaran’s full Powder rocker that keeps its ends off the snow.
The contrast between how the Pinnacle 118 looks and how it skis is striking. It looks like another big barge of a Powder ski, but it handles like an acrobatic All-Mountain model. Unlike most Powder skis that prefer to bank off a wall of snow on their bases, the Pinnacle 118 will hold a carved turn with only its edge in the snow. Because its edge grips so well and its core isn’t too torsionally rigid, the Pinnacle 118 skis feels quicker edge to edge than other skis with its XXXL dimensions.
It’s interesting to see a K2 on a list of Recommended Technical skis, as the brand devotes most of its energy to off-trail, freeride models. But the Luv Machine is the real deal, a carving utensil with a deep commitment to laying down ruts in groomage. It all starts in the shovel, which in contrast to the usual rockered and tapered K2 tip, connects quickly to the snow. The deep (12.5m @ 160cm) sidecut runs past the forward contact point, so if you’re tipping, you’re carving.
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 OoolaLuv gets its determination to excel from a Titanal laminate that significantly augments both edge hold on hard snow and stability in choppy off-road conditions. Its All-Terrain Rocker is tuned to tackle whatever you find off-trail and K2’s signature, ginormous sweet spot helps keep the pilot centered in the turbulence encountered in crud. When the skier breaks back out on the well-traveled trail, the OoolaLuv’s substantial sidecut (14.6m) takes over, linking long, medium and short turns on demand.
The FulLUVit 95 is the original Pinnacle 95 with a slight change in the wood used in its Konic core. All the qualities that make the Pinnacle 95 a home-run Finesse model for men apply in spades to the FulLUVit 95. Its primary virtues are mindlessly simply steering, a mild temperament and a sweet spot that seems to run end to end. “No change this year,” notes Liz Elling of Gravity Sports, “but what an amazing, all-around, versatile ski it still is. Does it all with ease.”
Kästle isn’t what it used to be, and that’s a good thing.
Not to dis the current Kästle’s ancestry, but Kästles of yore could be clumped in two camps: race skis it took a god like Zurbriggen to bend, and kooky creations that should have been euthanized in development, like the Echo Thesis and B-52. All of which has zero intersection with the Kästle of today except that both have a dominant strain of Austrian DNA.
The current Kästle camp relies on modern execution of a traditional construction, with a signature damping system called Hollowtech adorning every tip. Colorful Hollowtech inserts catch both the eye and the snow, as they’re meant to dissipate shock faster than a conventional shovel. Not many brands are concerned with early contact any more, but a ride on the MX84 will remind you not only of what camber does, but why you ski.
Kästle has moved back into the facility in Hohenems where Anton Kästle created the first skis to bear his name, where its engineers can concoct prototypes and execute small production runs. Its choice of production partner for its mass production needs (rhymes with “red”) is telling, for without scrupulous quality control, Kästle would lose the cachet and acclaim that come with being one of the best finished skis on the market.
The current Kästle line is clearly segmented, which allows it to cross category boundaries among its several series without confusing the intended audience. The RX SL and GS models breathe the same air as race skis; the fully cambered MX series are on-trail skis with the identical properties as liquid mercury; mega-rockered FX models absorb off-trail irregularities like terrain sponges and BMX behemoths are best behaved where no “X” has tread before.
Because Kästle cuts no corners, its skis command a premium at retail. This means most skiers will never know what they’re missing. It also helps explain why Realskiers’ testers can’t wait to ski them year after year. They don’t get re-skied because testers forgot how they skied; they’re re-skied every year because skiers can’t forget how incredibly they ski. It’s like a designer drug: once you try it, you’re hooked.
There’s no way that Kästle can build a bad GS ski. In fact, it would almost be impossible for it to make anything less than a superb one. That’s because Kästle’s stock construction – vertically laminated poplar and beech core, prepreg fiberglass and top and bottom sheets of Titanal – starts race ready. Add a tip and tail design meant to wrench every last millimeter of edge contact possible and a cambered baseline that’s on the same page, swirl in Kästle’s signature Hollowtech to smooth out the forward suspension, and you have a winning formula.
When Kästle chose Head to be its partner in production, it was a wise investment that continues to reap dividends. Just imagine all the experience in Head’s Race Department, all the different iterations of a wood/fiberglass/Titanal construction it has concocted, just in the last few seasons, in order to service its international stable of stars. When Kästle elected to revitalize its RX12 series this year with new SL and GS models, the team with which it collaborated not only could build anything it wanted, it probably already had.
Take a peak at the MX74’s turn radius measurement: 14.7m in a 172cm. That’s cobra quick. With a whopping 50mm of width differential between tip and waist, the MX74 sucks the skier into the top of the turn with the irresistible authority of a black hole. Once on edge, your trajectory is predetermined by the angle of the base against the snow surface plus whatever pressure you apply. The more energy you put in, the more you get out.
Part of its cachet is the allure of the unavailable. As a Sport Loft regular sighed, “I’m so happy. I wish I was made of $.” We always overrate what we know we can’t have, right? Maybe it’s the fully cambered, no rocker, no early rise, no crutches-for-the-technically-infirm baseline that devotes its full attention to holding one arc, then another, then another, all in perfect harmony with the terrain, in a string as endless as this sentence. It leaves the skier feeling, as another Sport Loft tester confided, like “I’m the best skier in the world.”
There are plenty of choices in the market for skiers who want a shorter camber zone, something easier to swivel, maybe a little fatter so it will float better. The MX84 is the antidote to all that. Its absurdly high Finesse score isn’t because it’s easy for anyone to ski; it’s because the experts who tested it fell in love with its line-hugging power and imperturbable calm. This is why testers who rarely write comments start decorating their test cards with hearts.
One way to make a fundamentally strong construction more docile is to rocker it, which reduces the amount of ski that operates on hardpack conditions. Because the ski tip and tail bend away from the snow surface, for there to be ski/snow contact in these areas the snow must rise up to meet them. This makes a ski like the Kästle FX85 HP feel more at home in a patch of day-old crud than it does on an acre of crystal carpet.
While it’s possible to quibble over the MX89’s Finesse score, there’s no equivocating when it comes to its Power rating. It’s clearly the most carve-centric ski in its class, responding to a high edge angle by tearing a new aperture into whatever terrain it encounters on its bull-rush to the bottom. Skiers who can execute turns with a lot of upper/lower body separation will indeed find the MX89 relaxing because the ride is so secure the skier doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain a clean trajectory.
Numbers exude an aura of rectitude and certainty that mere words must struggle at length to contradict. The Finesse and Power averages say the Kästle FX95 HP is a Power ski with a kind disposition; this copy will seek to persuade those who peruse it that this ski is, by virtue of its baseline, inherently a Finesse ski, albeit one with a rich construction that allows it to pose as a Power potentate.
Like all Kästles, the BMX 105 HP comes alive when it’s raked over, giving it all the motivation it needs to knock crud to the side and pummel wind drifts to pieces. Just because its baseline allows it swivel sideways doesn’t mean that’s how the BMX105 HP prefers to get the job done. In the clash of personalities, the carving character has the upper hand.
The Kästle BMX115 must be a Gemini, for it seems to be inhabited by two polar opposite personalities. If you’re railing it on a surface like corn snow, it handles like a Frontside ski, albeit one without short turns on its resume. When it has a chance to settle into soft stuff, it acts like it invented slarving, a controlled drift that uses banked bases to direct trajectory. This two-in-one character is really helpful in the trees, when it may be necessary to aim precisely and brake suddenly in the same instant.
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.
Like a benevolent despot, the new Kästle LX85 has power in its bloodlines but mercy in its heart. A look at its components suggests a ski with all the rigor of a race ski, with a vertically laminated wood core encased in glass and twin sheets of Titanal. The cap construction of the earlier LX’s has been replaced with the square sidewalls associated with more powerful skis. But its tip and tail are tapered to take the edge off their reactions and the forebody has the slight elevation that is considered essential on an off-trail ski.
Every mainstream ski brand can trace its roots to a founder, a visionary who nursed a fledgling idea to life. If we’re aware a brand’s history (a big if), we’ll associate the brand’s formative years with the sepia-toned photos of its first factory.
But new brands still in their tweener years are an abundant breed, whose founders – often two or more bros rather than a single pater familias – are still very much alive and making skis. In recent years Realskiers has profiled three such brands, SkiLogik, Black Crows and Faction. This year we’re pleased to present a sampling of the 2019 Liberty collection.
Liberty, the brainchild of Dan Chalfant and Jim Satloff, was born 15 years ago from the urge to develop a lighter ski that would reduce fatigue and return more energy to the skier than the relatively dead planks of the day. They were on the leading edge of the Lighter is Better (LIB) movement in consumer goods that has come to dominate the current equipment landscape.
If you’ve ever heard of Liberty, you probably think of it as the “bamboo ski brand.” Actually, according to Chalfant the first material they considered was carbon, which remains elemental to the line to this day. As experienced fly fishermen, the founders knew bamboos possessed many of the same properties as carbon. Their interest piqued, Chalfant and Satloff set about seeing what carbon and bamboo could do together.
The original plan called for Frontside as well as broad-in-the-beam Freeride slats, but the best market opportunity lay in the latter course, so that was the line’s first focus. A lightweight mission is well-suited to the women’s market, and Liberty has offered made-for-women models almost since its inception. All Liberty’s women’s models have their own core profile, center of sidecut, mount position and all-Paulownia cores.
Over the years, Liberty’s line has expanded its reach to more categories and skier types. It popular Origin series, for example, began with a 116mm; Origins now run as fat as 122mm and as skinny as 90mm at the waist.
The intention to make something special for the Frontside skier has been realized with arrival this year of a new V Series, featuring Vertical Metal Technology (VMT). VMT adds two vertically inlaid strips of aluminum to its wheelhouse carbon and bamboo construction, creating a series of three skis that are strong, secure and preternaturally easy to ski.
(In an echo of the simultaneous discovery of calculus by Leibnitz and Newton, Liberty unveils VMT the same season that Blizzard debuts C-Spine and Rossi trots out Line Control Technology. Is this proof that ideas exist in the ether? Discuss.)
We wouldn’t be profiling Liberty in these pages were it not for a decision Liberty took about six years ago to commit the resources necessary to support specialty retailers. The brand has three other attractive credentials: it’s dedicated to rigorous quality control, as evinced in its tag line, “Details Matter;” it offers a 3-year warranty; and it prices its line aggressively so the customer gets more bang for the buck. Liberty also wisely keeps it attention squarely on making skis and skis only.
One advantage of being small is that ownership, design and manufacture are all in the same hands. We like the fact that Chalfant doesn’t just consider himself a ski maker, but a “brand guardian.” In Chalfant’s words, “Liberty makes skis for committed skiers.” Or as we might rephrase it, for real skiers.
Fishermen love to spin yarns about the one that got away, which is how I’ve come to think of the Pescado, Eric Pollard’s fish-decorated, double-fin-tailed, whale-sized Powder model. I’ve been pining to hook up a pair for two seasons, but somehow I’ve never been able to boat one. Now I can add the new Sakana to the list of skis I’m pissed I missed. The Sakana (105mm waist) is shapelier than the Pescado but retains its signature forked tail and fish scale motif.
The Chronic has been a go-to Line model for everyday shenanigans whether in the park or out of bounds. It has a symmetrical flex pattern, early-rise tip and tail and a relatively high camber line. Line ran it through the makeover machine for 2019, giving it a slightly wider footprint and adding a little more sidecut, making the Chronic a better all-condition tool than ever.
Line’s expertise has always leaned to the light, so its comfort-zone design is a natural fit with the preferences of the women’s market. In 2019 Line presents 3 new Pandoras, all with an off-piste point of view. The Pandora 104 and 94 employ the same Magic Finger™ carbon filaments Line engaged to rejuvenate the Sick Day series last season. As is the case with most of Line’s line, while the accent falls squarely on rebellious youth, the reality is their parents are at the same party and digging every minute of it.
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.
The simplicity of the Supernatural 100’s construction contributes to its playful attitude and easy-steering properties. As a cambered, all-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. It seems like an odd adjective to apply to a ski, but the Supernatural 100 is more comfortable to ski than other skis of equal width. We attribute its ease of operation in part to its more torsionally soft lay-up, allowing a ski this wide to roll up on edge gradually and conform readily to irregular terrain.
You might expect Line to make cores from hemp stalks and use ayahuasca as a base treatment. But there’s nothing particularly avant-garde about how Line builds its skis. Yes, there are full-length carbon stringers in the new Sick Day 104, always a nice touch, but this hardly qualifies as cutting edge. The wood core is all aspen, a nod to the current obsession with lightness. Wood layered with glass and a dash of carbon is as traditional a recipe as pot roast. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just more mainstream than you may realize given Line’s anti-Establishment posturing.
Any ski called Sick Day sounds like a slacker, but the Sick Day 114 shows up for every turn. It may not execute each turn the way The Man would prefer, but whether by smearing the turn or sticking it, the Sick Day 114 gets it done. To keep its well-rockered tips and tails from flapping like pajamas on a clothesline, Line has stiffened them up and increased security attributable to a new core made of alternating stringers of maple and Paulownia.
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.
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 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, 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 were strong skis that all but required the skier to drive them from a high edge.
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. The first Enforcer spin-off, the Enforcer 93, immediately became a benchmark model in the crowded All-Mountain East market. In 2018, Nordica completed the Enforcer family, adding the Enforcer 110 and Enforcer Pro, both avatars of excellence in their respective categories.
Nordica has always taken the women’s ski project seriously. The eternal quest for a lighter structure began with I-Core, with a central wood stringer replaced with foam, followed by WI-Core, with 2 foam channels, then Balsa Core CA, with balsa microlaminates as the ski’s core component. In 2018, Nordica rolled out its latest innovation, Energy 2 Titanium Balsa, which uses the weight savings inherent in carbon to slip two sheets of Titanium into several women’s models. Nordica is now hitting on all cylinders in its women’s collections, whether the on-trail Sentra series, all-mountain Astral models or off-trail Santa Anas, all of which come in at least 3 iterations. It’s as complete – and powerful – a collection of women’s models as you’ll find anywhere.
Start a string of slalom turns and the GT 80 Ti shines brighter with every arc. As it picks up speed the ski becomes more energetic, moving from edge to edge with quiet assurance. The GT 80 Ti is an edge angle agnostic, willing to respond to a skier with an upright stance but ever ready to get down to business if the skier starts to lay it over. Pretty, powerful turns are second nature.
The buzz at Nordica is all about the Enforcer series, off-trail wonders that are reviewed elsewhere in these pages. The clamor over the Enforcers has shifted attention away from what has been a Nordica wheelhouse, its Frontside carvers. That’s a pity, because Nordica continues to make some of the finest carving tools on the hill. The GT 84 Ti’s most lovable trait is how natural it feels, as though it was custom made for you. At a moderate edge angle it produces a moderate, medium-radius turn. The daily activity this rhythm most closely resembles is walking. Right. Left. Right. Left. You get the idea. It feels that simple.
No question the Navigator 80 is softer than its burlier kin, but that’s hardly a demerit to the skier who just wants an everyday tool that lets him dine from the all-the-groomers-you-can-eat menu. What’s groomed in the AM is often bumped up by afternoon, when the Navigator 80 can bend its way around bumps with aplomb. While the Navigator 80 is perfectly attuned to the Finesse skier who prefers to ski in an upright stance, it’s ready to tip into big, laid-over arcs whenever duty calls. For its unbeatable ease of operation, accurate steering and category-killing value, the Navigator 80 is a Realskiers Silver Skier Selection.
One peek at the baseline of the Nordica Enforcer 93 tells you all you need to know about the ski’s terrain preferences: this is an off-piste utensil with an elevated snout that on hardpack looks like it could be sniffing for snow. If fed its preferred diet of crud, the shovel gets busy absorbing the sudden impacts of broken snow, more than making up for its uninvolvement on the groom. It more than holds it own on hardpack, popping off its cambered midsection as if it can’t wait to get to the next turn.
The Navigator 90 borrows the Enforcer tip radius, but substantially shortens the distance from the widest point in the shovel to the forward contact point. In other words, the Navigator is designed to stay more connected to the snow, improving its Frontside performance. Both models are cambered underfoot, but the Navigator uses a square tail that’s turned up only at the very end. This creates a more solid and responsive platform along the full length of the ski.
The Enforcer 100 remains one of the most powerful skis in the All-Mountain West category, a fall-line charging engine with a penchant for pulverizing crud. Of course it’s great in powder; what Recommended ski in this genre isn’t? Powder is never the problem. Battered, inconsistent crud, particularly when it’s as heavy as lava, is the problem. The Enforcer 100 tears through a corrugated crud field like it was an old cotton sheet.
The new core created for the Enforcer 110 (and Enforcer Pro) embodies several more clever ideas. The central core uses a relatively thin laminate of poplar, beech and balsa around a channel of foam that it sheaths in top and bottom sheets of .4mm Titanium. To compensate for the added weight of metal, the Enforcer 110 core replaces heavy glass layers with laminates of carbon fiber prepreg. The resulting structure weighs no more than the Patron, the model the Enforcer 110 replaces in the Nordica line, despite sporting two sheets of Ti the Patron lacked. Quite the coup.
It requires all of twenty feet of travel to realize the Enforcer Pro takes its name seriously. You may be out on the slopes for pleasure, but the Enforcer Pro is all business. It arrives ready to roll and attend to the first agenda item, getting up to speed. Once it hits about 30mph it spreads its wings and puts its momentum to work, leaning into medium to long arcs as if it owned them.
The Blizzard Black Pearl and Völkl Kenja have company at the top tier of women’s models, the new Santa Ana 93 from Nordica. The springboard that launched the Santa Ana 93 into this elite company is a new construction built around a poplar/beech/ balsa core with a center channel of foam. Sandwiching the new wood core are laminates of prepreg carbon, a significant weight savings over glass, and .4mm sheets of tip-to-tail Titanal, in essence re-investing the weight savings in a power account.
While the Soul 7 once out-sold every other model, not just in its own series, but in the entire market, the steady heartbeat of Rossi’s collection has been the Experience 88, in a series of iterations that spans a generation of skiers. The latest E88 is in several ways utterly unlike its ancestors yet totally in keeping with their spirit. It’s the first E88 with metal in it, but instead of dual slabs of Titanal there’s but a band down the middle, swathed in viscoelastic goo. The carving-centric sidecut of the past has yielded to the all-terrain necessity of a tapered tip and tail. The E88’s even-tempered attitude remains intact.
Line Control Technology (LCT), the keynote tech of the new Experience series, wasn’t made for the masses but for racing, in order to maintain snow contact under the most adverse conditions. Our team essayed the Non-FIS Race Hero Elite LT Ti and ST Ti, as well as the Frontside Hero Elite Plus Ti. All are remarkably easy to ski, with a subtle roll on and off the edge instead of the abrupt, light-switch edge change of many race skis. The slalom (ST Ti) has a particularly large performance envelope, notable for a ski with such a tidy turn radius (13m @ 167cm).
The Elite LT Ti is so mellow it permits you to drift without protest, but it’s so exhilarating to give it the gas that you won’t want to scrub speed until the lift line. For the strong skier, the Elite LT Ti is probably the best of the hard snow Rossis. As Matt from Footloose observes, “Comparatively speaking, this ski has more to offer than the Pursuit 800: more performance, dampening, horsepower and versatility.”
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.”
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.
Just because a ski has a sidecut suitable for carving doesn’t mean it must be pigeonholed as a groomer-only ski, any more than having a mustache means you’re a cad and a bounder. Presented with a foot of fresh powder, the E 88 HD doesn’t realize it’s not supposed to be particularly good at navigating freshies and dives into the fluff without hesitation or a hiccup. It doesn’t flinch when crossing old tracks and if it gets to go first, all the better.
If the EXP 100 HD sounds like an over-sized carving ski, well, it is. Most of the skis in the All-Mountain West genre reside near the middle of a series of decidedly off-trail skis, whereas the EXP 100 HD sits at the top of an Experience family that’s comprised primarily of Frontside models. As befits the leader of the Experience clan, the 100 is the most powerful, with two sheets of Titanal under the hood, and the most demanding.
Although the new Soul 7 HD looks dramatically different from earlier editions, its basic shape and character haven’t changed. While the sexy-looking tip gets all the attention in the store, the Soul 7 HD’s most distinctive feature on the snow is its springy camber pocket that unloads with an elevating pop off the bottom of every arc. This gives the ski its energetic personality that persists in all forms of powder, from Sierra sludge to Wasatch Champagne.
Rossi’s Super 7 HD is one of those skis with nothing wrong with it that they keep on improving anyway. This time Rossi revamped its Air Tip so its surface is an extension of the same topsheet that covers the rest of the ski. The new Air Tip 2.0 is not only better integrated, it’s also thinner, which seems to help it roll to the edge with the willingness of a svelter ski. On edge at the top of the turn, the attitude of the Super 7 HD is all business, but at the bottom it throws a party, releasing the energy coiled in its fiberglass and carbon core.
Rossi’s Famous 10 doesn’t fiddle around. It has carving on its mind, and doesn’t care who knows it. Set it up to turn and it’s going to deliver; as fast as you can tip it side to side, it’s ready to etch miniature parentheses in the snow. Unlike All-Mountain skis, whose dreams consist of endless prairies of powder, the Famous 10 maintains a laser focus on its métier, applying high edge angles to hard snow and letting its nervous-twitch-quick reflexes whip it in and out of simulated slalom turns.
Rossi declines its Experience/Temptation series, which is marketing babble for presenting a hierarchy driven by a relationship between price and performance. The Temptation 84 HD is a step off the pinnacle of the women’s product pyramid, so it isn’t geared to impress experts but to coddle intermediates. The un-tapered sidecut is made to maintain continuous edge contact, the Grail of on-trail technique. With its new HD embellishment, the Temptation 84 has the stuffing to withstand the buffeting inherent in off-trail travel, but it still prefers to engage its tidy, 13m sidecut (162cm) on more consistent terrain.
For 2018 Rossi gave the Temptation 88 the HD treatment, adding its Carbon Alloy Matrix – a weave of carbon, glass and basalt – to the ski, bringing it up to par with its unisex wingman, the Experience 88 HD. This means the new Temptation 88 HD has more bite on hard snow, more energy off the edge and more stability at speed than its earlier incarnation. As was the case with the Experience 88, the HD upgrade raised the performance range of the Temptation 88 by several notches.
As the fate of the Soul 7 HD W is inextricably linked to that of its unisex twin, the improvements made to one apply equally to the other. For 2018, this means the tip, while remaining rockered and tapered, is now integrated into the main body of the ski and makes contact with the snow closer to the widest point on the ski. The net effect is to improve edging effectiveness on those irksome occasions when hard snow is all there is to ski.
Any doubt that C/FX3 would be Salomon’s foundational technology for years to come has been eradicated with the 2019 collection. Crosshatching the original longitudinal, carbon-and-flax fibers supercharges edge grip and stability to such a degree that skis can be made lighter and stronger at the same time. Except for the lowest price-point models, C/FX3 permeates all the new models in the QST, XDR, QST Women’s and Aira series.
Continuing a tradition we’d prefer to discontinue, we didn’t cull enough women’s test cards to concoct reviews on most of Salomon’s women’s models. We’ll keep swinging at this piñata until we hit it.
There’s little doubt that the QST series is Salomon’s star product segment. The QST’s blend of ease and power fits the requirements of a great many big mountain skiers. The XDR’s have their place as Finesse Frontside skis and Salomon’s women-specific system skis have always been good. The most overlooked models in the 2019 Salomon fold are its Technical skis, the S/Max Blast and S/Max W Blast. That’s what happens when everyone can’t wait to try your new off-trail skis; the Technical models get the short end of the stick.
The top model in Salomon’s Frontside Performance family of X-Max carvers, the X14 Carbon is easier to steer than a GS race ski, but it has the same notions about how to attack a fall line. (We interrupt this review to report that Salomon’s X-Lab 175, a state-of-the-art non-FIS GS race ski, requires the skier to commit to every turn like it was a 30-year mortgage; relatively speaking, the X14 Carbon only requires the involvement of a one-night stand.)
If you take its integrated bindings out of the equation, the XDR 84 Ti would only weigh 1,620g at 170cm, which is not a lot for any ski and really featherweight for a Frontside model. That it still holds a solid edge on hard snow is testament to how well C/FX helps dampen vibration without the added heft of metal. One advantage of lighter weight is the ski automatically feels quicker, able to flip from one edge to the other on a whim.
While the QST 92 isn’t daunted by firm snow, flat terrain isn’t its native habitat. It’s most at home in about of foot of new, or at least recent, snow, where its tapered tip and double rockered baseline do their best work. As I mentioned in last year’s review, that it’s as light as a salad for lunch makes the QST 92 all the easier to toss around in tight quarters like trees and chutes.
For the Finesse skier, the Salomon QST 99 has a lot to offer. It has a big sweet spot, it responds to relatively low doses of skier-applied pressure, the forebody pulls the skier into a comfortable, medium-radius turn and the tail releases automatically. Best of all, it has the chameleon quality of carving like a champ on groomers yet as soon as it detects soft snow it morphs into a surfy, terrain-absorbing off-piste ski.
“Stable in all conditions,” coos a member of The Sport Loft coterie. “Carves well for a big ski; holds edge very well.” After a season on the QST 106, I not only concur with this assessment, I can expand upon it. I was so confident in the QST 106’s capabilities that I took them to the MasterFit Boot Test, where they skied all manner of chopped-up powder, from the wind-hammered moonscape of the upper mountain at Bachelor, to the stash-filled glades that were on our regular route, they delivered the sort of even-tempered support that made them such a solid reference ski.
The Salomon QST 118 is like the A student who doesn’t want to go to class; it knows how to carve, but it would rather skip all that carving pedantry and smudge its way through life. If challenged to etch a series of clean, long-radius figures it can rise to the occasion, but why carve when you can smear? The QST 118 is so crazy-simple to foot-steer, drifting from turn to turn feels like being carried down the hill.
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 its best women’s powder ski ever, the QST Stella 106, that proudly sports “Full Sandwich Sidewalls 360o” or expressed in generic terms, a square sidewall, the very design feature that the monocoque cap obsoleted for several seasons.
How do you un-rocker a rockered baseline?
Stöckli has always maintained an arms-length enthusiasm for rocker, and probably wish the whole idea had never been born. For 2019, it’s modifying the tip shape and baseline on the Laser SX and Laser AX – perennial Realskiers’ tester favorites – to effectively nullify any negative effects of the already minimal tip rocker on these Frontside powerhouses. Full Edge Contact (FEC) refers to a slight widening behind the shovel that creates early edge connection as soon as the ski is tipped. The increase in effective edge Stöckli refers to as Adaptive Contact Length (ACL), which effectively re-integrates the early rise tip with the rest of the ski, as if it were never rockered at all.
Also new to the Laser X models is a nubby, Turtle Grip topskin that’s more durable than an untextured surface. Among the Stormrider family, which underwent a major makeover just last year to thin its Titanal laminates, the 88 receives a new, damper sidewall material and the Motion 85 women’s ski comes in a more appropriate size run that includes 154cm and 161cm sizes.
Paul Jacobs of California Ski Company waxes rhapsodic about the Laser SX: “Simply put, the best on-piste ski for the advanced skier. Quick, smooth and stable at any speed, with gobs of rebound energy. The harder the surface, the more remarkable this ski becomes. If you know how to carve a ski, it will put a smile on your face.” Note the emphasis on rebound energy, an oft-overlooked trait among shaped skis. Raw, unrefined power oozes from the Laser SX’s every pore.
Skiing the Stöckli Laser AX is an experience unlike any other. A lot of skis in this genre, particularly among our Power Picks, borrow from race room technology; the Laser AX skis like it is a race ski, only wider. It seems to beg the skier to go a little faster, find a little more speed at the top of the turn, hold a little cleaner arc at the bottom, be fearless. It wants you to go faster if only to prove that it will remain utterly composed, cutting deep into hard snow as if were trying to make it bleed.
The reason the Stormrider 83 can hold its own against a field of skis designed expressly for the Frontside milieu is because it’s a typically rich, metal-laden, Stöckli construction that wasn’t built to caress the snow but to subjugate it. It doesn’t have to change its normal behavior just because the snow under its bases switches from fluffy to firm.
Last season the Stormrider 88 perched atop our All-Mountain East Power rankings; this year it slipped a bit, a sophomore slump attributable to the initial euphoria inspired by 2017’s significant improvements wearing off. The giddy scores of last year were inflated by the excitement of skiing a model that was more than a pound lighter than its predecessor of the same name, yet still retained Stöckli’s legendary stability. If you’ve ever driven a high performance luxury sedan, you know that 85mph feels as mellow as 45. That’s the Stormrider 88.
By trimming the thickness of its Titanal laminates, Stöckli made the 2018 iteration a little softer tip to tail. This makes the new Stormrider 95 feel more forgiving and easier to bow into an arc that cuts as clean an arc as a Technical ski. Paul Jacobs of California Ski Company composed this panegyric to its virtues: “Stable, powerful and precise. The faster you go, the smoother it skis, yet not difficult to ski at lower speeds. Feels like a Mercedes AMG Hammer, composed over the worst surfaces. Probably the best executed ski on the planet.”
“Powerful GS turns,” purrs Pete from California Ski Company. “No speed limit. Felt stable at Mach ∞,” he notes admiringly. It’s not the raw speed per se, that’s so enthralling, but the ease at which the Stormrider 105 attains it and the uses it to fashion turns short enough to tuck into couloirs and long enough to ravage open bowls. “Killing it!!!,” exults the even more exuberant than usual Bob Gleason of Boot Doctors. “Surprisingly nimble ski for its waist size. The cross breeding of quickness, agility, and stability is in a class of its own.”
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.
The Mantra has a small army of adherents, many of whom have been waiting for this moment: the fifth-generation Mantra M5 signals a return to its roots as a cambered ski with a mid-90mm’s waist that loves to be loaded and released. Equal in importance to the changes in baseline and sidecut is how Völkl breaks up the top sheet of Titanal. Called Titanal Frame, it consists of long U-shapes of Titanal that wrap around the tip and tail and extend down the sidewalls. A thinner (.4mm) Ti laminate runs edge-to-edge in the binding area, slightly overlapping with the tip and tail pieces but not connected to them.
Breaking the top laminate of Titanal into 3 pieces allows the full-length glass layer beneath to respond to pressure with a lively recoil – the wonderful rebound quality the Mantra has been missing of late. The M5 is so solid on edge it could be a skilled skier’s daily carver yet it has the dimensions of an off-trail ski. The same elite performance is offered for women skiers in a slightly slimmer package called Secret.
For elitists who’d rather not ski the M5 Mantra made for the masses, there’s a new Mantra V-Werks (135/99/117, $1,350). If you’d like to cruise in comfort for less coin, the new Deacon 76 ($1,065) is as smooth as XO cognac.
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.
You expect a race slalom ski to be comet quick, and the Völkl Racetiger Speedwall SL UVO doesn’t disappoint in this signature department. What you don’t expect is the grace to accept longer turns when requested and a ride so polished it feels like the ski is doing all the heavy lifting. 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.
Völkl has found the ideal upgrade for its 3D.Ridge construction, itself a relatively recent innovation that trimmed away significant swaths of ski core material to make several key models, like the RTM 81, lighter and more flexible. Called 3D.Glass, it’s essentially the bottom half of a torsion box. Just adding a glass laminate to a ski would probably have helped, but Völkl went a step further and therein lies the trick that makes the addition of 3D.Glass instantly evident: in the center, the glass layer runs up and over the top of the sidewall, essentially demi-capping the core from the bottom up.
3D.Glass is like a blend of ski Botox and blow: it makes everything about the RTM 84 smoother, with no visible sign of surgery, and the ski is preternaturally more energetic, ever ready to respond to athletic input. 3D.Glass is all the more effective because the RTM 84 baseline includes a cambered patch underfoot. Applying pressure on this glass arch is what has injected a few cc’s of pure energy into the RTM 84’s routine.
Of all the skis in the very well populated All-Mountain East genre, the Völkl Kendo exhibits both the best balance of Power and Finesse properties and the perfect blend of hard snow and soft snow performance. Of course it can’t be as quick as a 72mm Technical ski or float like a 108mm Big Mountain model, but it manages to feel at home in any habitat. The Kendo kicks butt because it combines a traditional wood and Titanal structure with a modern, rocker/camber/rocker baseline and a shape that favors off-trail conditions.
While 3D.Glass upgraded every model it touched, none rose higher in our test team’s collective appreciation than the RTM 86. The model went from being a good on-trail ski to being an all-world carver. The cambered zone underfoot is supple, allowing the midsection to bow so it matches up with the baseline of the rockered tip and tail. This makes edge-to-edge carved turns a treat, with a little energy boost from the compressed camber to carry some speed through the transition.
3D.Glass would be nothing fancier than another base layer of glass were it not for a clever modification: in the binding area the glass extends vertically up the sidewall and over the top of it. It’s sort of a demi-torsion box, with much the same effect as this time-honored glass molding technique: the ski becomes both more torsionally rigid and livelier, as the hard-wired memory of the glass will dominate the rebound characteristic.
Brilliance on a high edge comes at the price of making a short arc, with the ever-accelerating speeds bigger turns engender. You’ll never get a ski with the 100 Eight’s sidecut to carve a tidy arc, but it has the solution on demand: a fully rockered baseline without a whisper of camber to interfere with a smudged slide. If you want to aim the other way RIGHT NOW, just turn your feet. No unpleasant contortions required.
You won’t find another ski with a 112mm waist and 23.5m sidecut radius that would rather carve on a high edge angle than smear like a putty knife. It’s not that it won’t drift – of course it will – but it feels predisposed to carve on its razor-thin 3D.Ridge of compressed carbon. The V-Werks Katana was the test pilot for the 3D.Ridge design that has since permeated Völkl’s high-end All-Mountain and Frontside models. The V-Werks Katana proved that the concept could apply equally well to deep-sidecut carving skis and broad-beam powder surfers.
The Bash 116 is the top model in Völkl’s twin-tip series. This conjures images of swimmy baselines and flopping tips, and there’s some validity to these apprehensions, as the Bash has a fully rockered baseline and a tapered tip. But everything else about this powerhouse is as solid as cement. Once you put it in motion, there’s no sensation of its twin-ness; it behaves 100% like a directional ski. Why anyone would want to throw a freight train like the Bash in reverse is beyond my understanding.
Völkl has been making superior powder boards since the days of the Snow Ranger and Explosiv. The Confession is the modern version of a venerable wood-and-metal construction with camber underfoot, a retro touch that gives the ski liveliness to go along with its power. As a concession to the Confession’s 117mm waist width, the metal contribution is only one laminate and is confined to a central band rather than running wall to wall.
Unleashing the Flair 78’s point-guard quicks is close to effortless, making this Frontside femme fatale a suitable mate for the ambitious intermediate. Its stability and liveliness are largely due to the combined contributions of spring steel, which reinforces its Dual Wood Core, and XTD Transmission, raised shoulders over the edges that help keep them connected to the snow for the full length of the ski.
While the changes to the Kanjo-type construction have palpably improved the Yumi’s performance, it remains an excellent choice for skiers of modest skills. “A little stiffer, but skill forgiving enough for a moderate skier,” confirms Mary Geddes of Sturtevant’s of Sun Valley. Now that it’s been modified to improve its off-trail aptitude, the Yumi provides a better introduction than ever to off-piste skiing.
The Kenja doesn’t require aggression, but it rewards it. Most women back off the gas pedal when they transition into cut-up off-trail conditions, but they only way to subdue irascible old snow is to motor through it. If your skis don’t have the guts to resist the resulting vibration, you’ll be compelled to curb your ambitions. You’ll never have to hold back on a Kenja.
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.