Me: Early 40's, 40 yrs on skis, ski 30-40 days a year, former racer. 5'5", 145 pounds. Love ice, corduroy, crud, trees, bumps, chutes, steeps, beaten up powder. Really love fresh powder. Never met a condition I didn't like. Ski pretty fast and aggressive. All turn shapes, but usually favor a shorter radius, especially in powder/crud and steep technical terrain. I've been skiing Mantras out west, and mostly Blizzard Supersonics back East.
Setting: I demoed @ Alta from the Peruvian Lodge, early February. They freshly tuned each pair, including my Mantras, and did a nice job. Most of the skiing was off Collins Lift, esp High Traverse: Greely, High Nowhere, Gunsight, High Rustler, West Rustler Chutes, Westward Ho ... fairly steep and never groomed. Also did some high speed steep corduroy. First day was one day after a cold 16" storm, ie cut up powder on a nonholiday wednesday so the conditions were excellent. Second day it set up a little, ie thicker cut up powder, slightly heavy/cruddy. The 3rd day was more of the same just more skied out and heavier, the most technical day (though the ski that day may have made it feel that way... more later.)
Dynastar Sultan 94 (165 cm): Skied this the 1st day and a half: great skied out powder which got a little cruddy and heavy towards the end. These skis inspired confidence. Day 1 was among the best sessions I can remember. Not sure how much of this was due to "ego snow". The Sultans turn with very little effort and handle fairly thick cut up snow with ease, even at high speeds. They prefer fairly short radius turns. Incredibly easy to initiate a turn, quite forgiving. Quick and agile too, did fine in bumps. However the snow made bump sking pretty easy: the bumps were soft and partially formed. The Sultan 94 performed well in chutes and tight spaces, not much work to get them around. You could really let these run big time in most "off-piste" situations.
A minor negative was the tips seemed like they wanted to cross a couple times as the crud got thicker and I pushed the speed limit. Other negative is hardpack: they have a definite speed limit on firm snow and corduroy, at least compared to the other skis I tried. They get a little chattery and felt a bit unstable at high speed on corduroy. They didn't grip too well on ice or hardpack. (I am used to Supersonics. Also the 172 cm may have helped with these negatives). Overall a great, fun ski, a good choice for a 1 ski western quiver. That's why I stayed on them a day and a half!
Kastle MX88 (168 cm): Skied these the second half of day 2, still a lot of cut up powder but starting to get a little heavy and technical. These skis were surprisingly similar to the Sultans. The main differences: they are more stable at higher speed, a little less forgiving, and a little less "turny". They also inspired confidence in crud and technical snow/steep terrain, but they will puinish you very quicky if you get in the back seat. You must stay right over the ski in any type of crud or you'll need to make a very strong quick recovery. Sometimes its fun to get a little back, but not on these boards. Though less forgiving in that sense I think I trusted them more at higher speeds compared to the Sultan. I trusted the Sultan a little more in trees and narrower spaces. On groomers the MX88 was a better performer than the Sultan 94: more stable/better grip/less chattery, and a more GS oriented turn shape. (However I could coax them into pretty short radius turns without much effort.) Overall another great ski, slightly more versatile and stable, but maybe less fun than the Sultan 94.
Volkl Mantras (170 cm): These are mine and they're 4 years old, but in good shape. Was back on them day 3 post storm so the snow was a little tougher. (I skied them the powder day and had a blast). Anyway, the Volkls are the most stiff and demanding of the bunch. You really need to learn exactly what turn shape and stance they like. Then of course they can really rip in these conditions. Turn initiation in crud was more difficult compared to the above skis, and tight spaces and bumps take more strength and concentration. Yet the speed limit is higher, and the ski is more stable than the MX88 and 94. The Mantras are awesome on soft corduroy at high speed, and the best of the bunch on hardpack/ice. They are unskiable at slower speeds, they just won't turn! You need to be moving fast and get them up on edge to enjoy them. Perhaps I need to weigh more too. As good as they are on grromers, they're nowhere near the Supersonics though.
Overall I'd rate them 3rd for this type of skiing. They're super fast and stable and have decent float, but simply not as quick or fun as the 94s or MX88's in most demanding Utah conditions.
1. I'm seriously considering buying the Sultan 94s as my Western ski, and wonder if the 172 would be slightly more stable and less prone to crossed tips (which was rare anyhow). Loved the MX88 but not sure it's worth the extra $. Was also thinking about the Kendo for this application, but haven't demoed them yet. I hope to try them next week @ Killington, but in Eastern conditions it may be hard to compare.
2. A good tune goes a long way. My Mantras really sucked until the Peruvian tuners corrected the mistakes my local shop made (won't name names).
3. Finally: I've never tried fatter skis, but can't see why I'd need to go any fatter than these. In powder it seems to me any ski will work. Getting in the snow and sucking up faceshots: priceless.