I am asked quite often: what is the best ski length for me? My answer is typically "well, it depends...." Therefore, I wanted to share a recent experience of 2 different width of skis that I own, in new snow conditions. I had 2 distinct skiing experiences, depending on what ski I was on. Feel free to add your own insight. This isn't really a dedicated ski "review", more like a "width" review of different skis in the same conditions. Of course, just because a ski has this width doesn't mean it will ski like either of these. With that said, I think both of these are fairly representative of the each category; both are among the best skis made for their width range, and typical of their category.
One word about width: for my mountain, in typical snow conditions, it seems the "break even" width is around 100mm underfoot. Under that, I am not getting too much float; above that, I get plenty in all but the deepest, heaviest days. Seeing pics of me on various skis shows that I am really "in the snow" on skis narrower than 100mm, and "on the snow" on skis 110mm or wider. Even on a recent deep day, you can see my tips (and most of the ski) in nearly every shot. Another guy we were skiing with was getting face shots (on the camera) on his 90mm skis, whereas we weren't on the wider skis; too much float. I think waist width "break even" point varies for snow conditions, mountain, and skier weight. A bigger guy may need a 120mm+ ski to truly float, and a light 110lb woman may be fine on a 90mm ski.
Conditions: 6-8 inches of new snow, maybe more like 5 inches in the trees, 22 degree air temperature, underlying layer was soft. Untracked for around 2 hours, then got cruddy and eventually bumped out. Very good skiing.
90mm sample: Stockli XXXL 178cm, 89mm waist, 22m radius ski, standard camber, no rocker at the tip
110mm sample: Kastle MX108, 108mm waist, 30m radius, rockered tip and tail, tapered tip
First off; the 90mm ski: funny enough, but due to lots of recent snow, I hadn't been on a "narrower" ski such as this in a couple of weeks, the MX108 being the ski I had been skiing recently in most any new snow condition. I knew I was going to sell the XXXL to free up some funds for other stuff, and wanted to get a few more runs on it before letting it go (it is a great ski, BTW).
First couple of runs were uncut new snow, up to 8" deep. Immediately, I was surprised how quick the narrower ski was. I was ripping around tight trees. Turning was not an issue; this ski turns easily, releases like a champ, and can do any radius turn. In big open spaces, I could let it run, but it was more fun to do 20 meter turns, as the ski would almost explode out of the snow and dive back in on the backside. It wasn't a feeling of skiing the new snow as if it was a groomer (as on a bigger ski) but instead, being in the pow, then popping back out upon the release, just like skiing bumps. Really fun, gave me the impression I was doing slalom turns (not really, of course) in the pow. Once in the trees, this ski was a breeze to pilot. It was active, easy to initiate, not demanding, and really fun. There was only around 4-5 inches of new in there, and it was scratchy underneath, so the ski really hooked up and held well. Super fun, forgiving, quick. I had a ton of fun. Then, into the crud; I had to work a bit on this ski. The tip is fairly narrow, if you load up the tip too much, you can dive it pretty easily. This ski rips crud, has no speed limit, but likes to be on edge more than the 110mm ski, and likes a bit of core tension. It takes "better skiing" to pilot; it won't suck up mistakes like the longer, softer 110mm ski; you have to stay centered, and use the backside and frontside of the crud piles to your advantage when turning. In soft bumps, it was easy, forgiving, and smooth. Again, very quick edge to edge, really fun. This ski just motors in any condition; a great width for all-mountain skiing.
After several runs, I went back to the car and swapped out for the MX108. Luckily, there was plenty of fresh snow to be had still, and the crud was in great shape.
The MX108 felt completely different. If I was making shorter radius, 20m turns on the 90mm ski, then I was making 30m+ radius turns on the longer 110mm ski. This is the ski to be in a hurry on; it will get you to the bottom in short order. Not only does it feel more at home in big arcs, but in 6" of new snow, it is completely on top of the snow; like skiing a groomer in uncut snow. So, it is fast; you cover a lot of terrain. On the same run, I probably did 20 turns top to bottom on the Stockli. On the MX108, it was about 12 turns. It likes to run. Once I dove into the trees, I could easily ski the MX108, but having a 187cm and width, vs. the 178cm and narrower feel of the XXXL, made the tree skiing a bit more work and less fun. I had to be really on top of the ski; otherwise, it could get away from me. The Stockli was effortless, the MX108 wasn't. Probably a combination of the long ski and width, but the narrower ski wins out here.
In big crud turns, again I had a completely different experience on the wide ski. I had to ski crud differently: If I just let the skis run, I was a bit out of control; the ski was long enough to skim over the top of the crud, but not long enough to be a smooth ride. So, I had to work the ski more: ski dynamically, move my feet, tipping and keeping the feet on the same lateral plane. Doing that, and I could work this ski tip to tail, and make it do anything I wanted; flow through, over, or around crud piles. But, it took a bit more technique, but in a different way, than on the 90mm ski. Staying completely centered and under body tension wasn't as important: pulling the feet back wasn't as important. Staying out of an A-frame and working the ski side to side was even more important: big radius doesn't come around quickly, and you need that PMTS-style phantom move to work the ski into tighter arcs, along with keeping the inside foot pulled back; that is, at least to ski the crud smoothly and aggressively. That is OK, as those are key moves used by all good skiers, but it is worth noting that neither ski will ski crud for you. The bigger 110mm ski was more forgiving of fore-aft mistakes (especially backseat): the ski won't toss you into the air like the 90mm ski if you really blow it and load up the tail. In soft end-of-day bumps, I would take the 90mm ski here: the big MX108 was a bit of a tank, and it did bumps OK. The narrower ski was really good in bumps.
In summary, it was like having 2 different skiing experiences.
90mm ski: work the ski tip to tail more, get more pop and energy out of the ski in soft snow, more precise in trees and bumps, takes more body tension to ski, probably a higher skill level as well for good performance. Rewarding.
110mm ski: work the ski side to side a bit more, longer softer tip to work with, more like skiing a soft groomer in uncut snow, ski faster, bigger arcs, less energy; a bit more work in trees and in bumps, and skiing the crud with a bit more lateral dynamic movements and not as much fore-after movements. Also more forgiving fore and aft, harder to correct if you do get off balance though. Also better in the air than narrower, shorter skis.
I would sum it up by saying I enjoyed both experiences. It was like riding 2 different mountain bikes: a carbon race bred full suspension 29er with 100mm of travel at 26lbs, and bit burlier 120mm alloy 29er full suspension that clocks in at 30lbs. One is sportier, more crisp in handing, and takes a bit more skilled pilot to get the most out of it in gnarly terrain, but is unparalleled when you get the "Return of the Jedi Speeder Bike" moments: the other is a bit smoother, more forgiving, will bash gnarly terrain with nary a whimper, and has a more rugged character.
For a day such as I was skiing, I would enjoy either ski. It was fun to trade out mid-day, just to get a different experience skiing the same runs back to back.