I’m not qualified to review powder skis with any authority, given my heretofore non-existent experience. So I’m tossing this story into the Gear Discussion section rather than the Gear Review forum, for the amusement of any die-hard ice-coasters out there like me who are wondering what those banana-shaped skis feel like.
Earlier in the week we got a good dumping here in New England. I had the good fortune to be able to get out when it was fresh on the ground and still coming down. There was about a foot of snow, maybe knee deep in a few drifted areas. It was far from Utah fluff, but was reasonably light by eastern standards. It was dry enough that you would have had trouble making a snowman out of it. On the other hand, it was dense enough that if you suddenly ran into a pile of it at speed, you’d decelerate abruptly (and you’d be likely to face-plant without firmed abs and a good ready stance).
Conditions ranged from very lightly-tracked snow earlier in the day and on the edges, to well-skied soft crud forming the earliest stages of moguls later in the day and on more popular runs. There was no opportunity to test on anything resembling what I would call hard snow. :)
I was on my 165cm Dynastar Sultan 85s, but friend with a bigger quiver has the same size boots and I got a chance to ski on her 178cm Rossi S110Ws. This is the women’s version of the S7.
Me: 48, level 8, 5’ 7”, 135lbs., skiing since age 5, about 25 days a year, east coast, beer league racer.
These skis were way different from each other, obviously, but both were a total blast in these rare soft conditions. (I would almost quip “What wouldn’t be?” but honestly I’ve been on stiff, skinny skis in powder plenty of times, and … yes, it’s still fun, of course, but it’s not AS fun as being on a modern snow with some width and appropriate flex.)
In the more lightly-tracked sections, the Rossis were a grin-inducing hoot. 178 was a good length for me. At least, they certainly didn’t feel too long. Yes, I found myself adjusting my posture and turning style slightly as I experimented with where they liked me to stand and how they liked me to pressure them. But this was not hard or time-consuming to do. It was fun to ski something with a very different feel. People who use the term “smear” to describe a kind of turn that’s easy to make on these skis in soft snow have picked a good word. There was not enough depth of cover for me to experiment meaningfully with the “sinking tail” idea. Even so, there was a very noticeable difference from any ski I’ve been on in terms of how the tips handled surface transitions when moving from faster, more skied-out snow into deeper, softer, or more piled-up sections. In that scenario, my Sultans would plow through, but throw me a little bit if the pile was too deep or was a bit wind-packed. The Rossis basically treated any of these situations like a ramp, which was an eye-opener for me. The one serious epiphany I had on these skis was that they made it a total breeze to ski broken new snow FAST. I’ve never before had the experience of total confidence in tracked-up deep conditions; in the past I always feared – based on very real experience – that if I skied too fast sooner or later I would hit a pile of something deep enough and heavy enough that my feet would just come to a dead stop and I’d be ejected unceremoniously onto my nose. (Remember we’re talking about east coast snow here.) On the S110Ws, it became clear that this just was never going to happen. You get into your regular tongue-pressure stance, point those puppies at anything, and hang on for the ride over the top of it. Yee hah!
As the snow got slightly firmer and more minced with skier traffic, some of the slopes began to resemble a rough sea, with troughs and waves that were not quite moguls, but were more substantial than just loose new-fallen snow. In these conditions I began to prefer my Sultans over the Rossis. When moving along at speed, I actually caught significant air multiple times off snow mounds while on the 110s, because of the way those tips treat every “wave” of snow as a launch pad. It was like being on water skis for the first time and being surprised by how hard the wake seems. By contrast, the narrower, stiffer, unrockered Dynastars just absorbed most of the impact in a measured, gentle way that middle-aged me preferred. The way the Rossis tended to skim along the tops of things became less attractive as the surface moved from “powder” to … well, something else. More significant to me than this, though, was something about the kinds of turns the skis wanted to make in this type of snow. The Dynastars encouraged me to make essentially the same exact turn I would make on hard snow or corduroy, albeit with more equal pressure on the skis. I’d tip the skis, they’d build their own increasingly solid snow platform, and I’d get a really satisfying, smooth, controllable banked-turn rush of energy out of the tail, sending me toward an active release. The Rossis let me down when trying to do that kind of a turn. Not sure whether the tail was too soft or was too narrow relative to the waist or what, but I never managed to feel as good about the ends of my turns in this scenario as on my Sultans. Sure, the snow was still plenty soft enough to allow me to smear around like I was spreading jam on bread with the tail of the ski, but – unlike in the deeper powder – this isn’t the kind of turn that I found really gratifying in those conditions, or that I think I would be really happy making in steep terrain.
In summary, my take was pretty much exactly what you’d expect. I can see how the big boards would be totally awesome in lots and lot of snow – amounts I rarely am lucky enough to encounter, with my regular job, family responsibilities, and east coast location. In those conditions they clearly offer possibilities that my mid-fats don’t, specifically the ability to go fearless and fast over rough waters. Meanwhile the Sultans, while they would clearly suffer by comparison in truly deep snow, had a better balance of capabilities for the day we actually had, as it evolved. So the nod goes to them.