Pros: Highly maneuverable, stable at speed, blows through crud, carves like a ski 20mm narrower
Cons: Topsheets aren't really my style, not as damp as other skis in this class
This is the ski I've been looking for my entire life.
I'm 6'2", around 190 pounds. I tend to be more of a finesse than a power skier, which is another way of saying that I rip the groomers, but I get a bit tentative in the trees and tight spaces, and end up riding my tails more than I should. Up until recently, I've been skiing mostly on a pair of Salomon XW Furies from 5 or 6 seasons ago. They're I believe 85mm underfoot, so not the absolute worst ski in deep conditions, but they certainly don't blow your mind.
I live in Seattle, so this was a fine ski for the mixed conditions we get out here - meaning a fair amount of somewhat dense powder (oh who am I kidding, I'm never up early enough for that - it's all chopped up crud by the time I ski it), and not too many out-and-out groomer days.
So, this year I decided to start looking for something a bit wider, more of a true crud-buster, that would also shine if I ever did manage to stumble across a virgin stash. I was targeting around 100mm underfoot, and my original plan was to specialize for those conditions, thus saving the Furies for the pure groomer days.
I first tried these guys (the Hell & Backs) at Stevens pass this January. It was a Sunday, with a couple inches fresh in the morning, and a big dump (maybe 8 inches?) the day before. The dump from the day before was now reduced to soft piles through the trees, as expected. Although it ended up snowing heavily throughout the day, so I got to experience the gamut from fluffy piles of day-old to crud to some decently deep fresh. The pair I tried were 177cm, which is right in the sweet spot of what I usually ski (although the Salomons were a bit shorter at 172cm.)
Based purely on the topsheets, I was a bit dubious when I left the shop, as these are definitely intended for more aggressive types, which is not me. But once I got them out on the snow, I became a believer. The first thing I noticed is how easy they were to turn in tight spaces. I'm pretty sure this is a combination of their weight (these things are the lightest skis I've ever owned) plus the light rocker in the tips (Nordica seems to call it "early rise" and "camrock"), but hey, I'm hardly an expert. What I DID know was that I immediately felt more confident on these guys than I ever have in the steep-ish trees. I found myself not being tentative at all, just skiing like I know how to do. Through lap after lap through the soft stuff we were ripping through tight spaces, and my legs never once started feeling fatigued.
After lunch, I also tried a Blizzard Cochise in a bit longer length (188 or so?), but those just weren't doing it for me. I found myself tiring out quickly on every run, and having a bit of difficultly swinging them around each turn. Although to be fair, it's just as likely that was due to my greasy lunch than anything about the ski.
Regardless, after that first half day, I was sold. I had never felt that good on a pair of skis in my life, so I immediately proceeded to the nearest ski shop (Evo here in Seattle, as it were), and picked up a pair of my very own.
The next opportunity I had to ski them was a couple weeks later. A few friends and I headed out to Whitefish, MT for a few days. I brought these guys, as well as a pair of Salomon Tornadoes that I had borrowed from a friend to serve as my groomer-specific ski (I was thinking about picking up a pair to cover that end of the spectrum, and the forecast was suggesting that fresh snow may be hard to come by.) After 4 days there, in a variety of conditions, I really have a feel for these skis now.
So, the first big surprise that I discovered the first day there, was that these suckers can CARVE. It's true that they chatter a bit at lower speeds (more so than my buddy's Volkl Mantras that he let me try out for a couple runs). But it turns out that most of the chatter is along the lines of "Hey buddy, why you
goin' so slow? What are ya', afraid??" Once you get up to a decent clip, they handle like a dream. After trying for 4 days, I was unable to outdo these skis. My thighs gave out way before these edges. And the rebound, god the rebound. I certainly didn't buy these skis for their groomer performance, but I'm so glad I did. I tried the Salomons a few times, but they felt flaccid and unreliable after the H&Bs. Could have just been a bad pair (they seemed much worse than my significantly older Furies, and nothing like the Tornadoes that I had demoed a couple times years ago), but I found that the H&B's outskiied everything else I've ever tried, in any condition I tried them in. We didn't get any fresh, but they handled chop, crust, soft piles, trees, and small moguls with ease.
The only conditions I haven't tried these guys on yet is "real" moguls (we don't see too many of those in the PNW - and when we do, I certainly avoid them), ice/hardpack, and true, deep powder. I don't expect that they'll be great on the first two. As for the third, they have less pronounced rocker than a lot of other skis in the category, so I'd expect that they may not shine head-to-head. But, I expect that they'll perform well enough for me, especially given how they ski in crud and chop.