Me: 6', 165 lbs, advanced, technical/finesse, late middle aged, like to turn a lot. Ski 10-15 days a year out west, 20-30 back east. Some undistinguished rec racing.
Perfect Day: Billygoating around steep technical stuff that ends up in old growth woods with 6" of fresh.
Skis in this range that I like/own: Kastles, Blizzards, Rossignols, Elans.
Skis I don't like: K2's, Atomics, Fischers, Volkls
Thought it might be worthwhile to compare four Kastles I own or have skied on for a while, so hindsight rather than initial wow, and organized by conditions and terrain instead of model. I include the late lamented squaretail MX98 as a benchmark, since I think it's the finest all around ski ever made. Skied in 184, factory set to 1/3. The currently available MX88, also factory set to 1/3, was skied in 178. It would be decently close as a benchmark greatest, IMO, and far more folks have had a chance to ski these. The FX94, in 176 cm, factory set to 1/2, is a ski with a mission no one can seem to agree on. The Gen II MX98, set to 1/2, was skied in 178 cm.
Actual powder - Gen II MX98's are the clear winner here. Tips come up easily, tails are favorable to various kinds of turns and don't require the attention at the end of the other Kastles here. Not wide enough to be a true powder ski, but just fine for 80% of what most folks will encounter on any given day. (I'm thinking 3-6 " of fresh over some settled, drifts/pockets of wind polished up to 12"). The 98's would make a fine daily ride for bigger resorts out west and drivers who liked the backside. The ease and surfy quality reminds me of the pre-rockered Goats, but with a more reliable front end; high praise. OTOH, doesn't feel let-me-run like a big mountain ski. If you blast down the center of bowls, you might be happier on another brand, or fatter Kastle.
Close call between MX88's and Gen I MX98's for a distant second; 88's are lighter and quicker, with the nose a bit hooky but it floats up and so effortless to initiate. OTOH, too narrow for real pow. 98's are floatier and imperturbable, better in big unhurried arcs at speed, still easy to start. Ultimately, both weigh too much to be at home in powder above the boot.They're built for crud, just have tips that can rise in light pow. Oddly, FX94's bring up the rear for me. Light, lively for a Kastle, and their bullet nose sans rocker gives them nice freedom from hooking, so they should shine. But that design also means they can take a bit more energy to get things started, and they want to be in, rather than rising up in, the snow. Light pow is fine, but denser or deeper stuff begins to resemble work. Reliable but not hoot-provoking. If they had a bit of rocker, with their weight, they'd rule here.
Off-piste chalk, settled irregular, deep crud in bowls you hike to - Gen I MX98's win easily here. They iron out variable snow, from fresh over suncups to three day old chop, better than any ski I know, bite into 50 degree chalk and then release with no drama, slither through bigger bumps as long as there's some pitch. Not a tight places ski, but the tips are surprisingly easy to initiate and come up decently in old snow. Way too heavy to hike very far with these, though, and in sidebounds steep trees you will want to strip off your parka. Still and yet, Kastle gave the game back to Stockli when they stopped production.
FX94's close second. Phil has noted that the MX88's feel narrower than they are (I agree); these feel wider. They're weirdly stabile for a 94 mm in typical off-piste chop and variable snow, as long as they're on edge, and easy to pivot and drift through difficult bumps. Not enough heft to carve bad snow at speed smoothly, though, and can get bounced around if you run flat. In reality, these behave exactly as you'd expect of a real mountaineering ski; predictable and competent in no-fall zones, not going to do anything without being told to, become happier as you become more directive, not speed demons because they're supposed to be billy-goating around couloirs, not zooming down lift served bowls. If you're after a relaxing 50/50 ride, these are not it. If you like to hike for your turns, and have to take some lifts to start the morning, these are it. As in the best out there, period. Contrary to what some have said, IMO these are neither a lighter alternative piste ski, nor a replacement for the Gen I MX98's, nor a touring ski. They're a unique ride altogether. I think the name says it all; Chris Davenport Model. I now wish I had AT's on them instead of alpines.
MX88's third. Surprisingly good at cruddy chutes and steep chalk, very compliant in narrow places, although bit heavy for hiking. Tails can be a bit of a bother at the end of a turn in tight quarters; they don't want to let go. Not as freight train stabile as the Gen I MX98's, but far less work when you hit the trees at the bottom. Still, no Kastle I've skied qualifies as a tree ski (current MX98 comes closest). Maybe when they get around to twins...
Gen II MX98's last, or maybe first. Actually very nice in these conditions, but more of a good compromise than a best-in-show at anything. Wanted more bite on steep windblown scratch, more width in settled heavy snow, more looseness yet in bumps. Still, the rocker works; easiest of the bunch to swing around, and the only Kastle I've skied that I'd call forgiving. If I could only buy one ski tomorrow, and lived out west, these would probably be it.
Soft groomers, trailside trees, mild to moderate bumps. MX88's predictably first here. Nimble, smooth, no apparent speed limit but will forgive most anything except back seating. Phil thinks these are 911's; I'd pick M5's; easier around town and do more of the work for you in curves. Gen II MX98's next, easiest going and most uncomplaining of the bunch, best cutting in and out of trailside trees, very smooth, have a speed limit but it's fairly high. They don't track higher edge angles with quite the assuredness of the above, or cut into the turn as precisely, but get it done just fine. Again, those tighter radius tails are nice.
Gen I MX98's third. These prefer groomers one way: SG-SG arcs at decent speeds and angles. Think M6's. Easy to initiate and smooth as silk, but not particularly quick edge to edge, and their weight, which is a good thing north of 40 mph on used corduroy, still gets to you by afternoon. Forget trees.
FX94's in the rear, but it's a tight group. Require the most active management - Phil thinks these are an Elan, I'd say the air cooled 911's, after the snap oversteer was cured, but before they became toys for hedge funders whose previous ride was an Infiniti - but if you're willing and able, these can sing on soft groomers.
Hardpack, wind-scoured, and ice - MX88's are your only real option here - and a very nice one; I've hit silly speeds on completely scratchy pitches and felt perfectly planted, actually surprised by the lack of drama in a ski this wide. The Gen I 98's are smooth and planted on hard surfaces, but too heavy and wide for sudden, subtle adjustments (or more likely, I'm just not quick or strong enough), so marginal here. The Gen II MX98's are just OK, not very planted feeling and their rocker's no help in defining the start of the turn. While the FX94's are grippy, they require some aggressive angles to show it, and their lightness encourages getting bounced around by ruts. This was the one time I rethought recommending these Kastles as groomer skis. Most groomers end up hardpack or worse, even if they start the morning as corduroy, and most of these skis would really rather be back exploring the soft and steep.
I suppose you could do a rank order for these, but IMO it's more about where you want to spend your time than which is the "best" model. They're all good, but given the similar widths, all surprisingly different. Maybe the multiple model scheme of Kastle makes sense after all.