I'm in the hunt for a new middle ski, or daily driver. (Now that I'm over 55 and weigh only 155 pounds, my six-year-old 183cm Head Monster 82's have become too much ski for me.)
Sturtevant's annual demo day at Crystal Mountain-- with nearly all of the 2011-12 skis-- was a terrific opportunity to sort out the candidate skis. Among the major manufacturers, only Elan wasn't there (and even Ski Logik and Line were).
Eventhough La Nina has returned, we hadn't gotten much new for a week, but one could find just enough powder and crud, along with plenty of hard piste, to make quick (3 runs) but fair evaluations.
BLIZZARD BUSHWACKER-- 88mm wide, 180cm long, full tip rocker
I had some pretty good expectations, since all of Epic Ski has been Blizzy-this and Blizzy-that for the last few weeks. But I think, in the Bushwacker at least, they executed the tip rocker clumsily. Whether on or off piste, it feels like the ski gouges into the snow just ahead of the boot. Lean forward and it feels like the ski nearly pivots around that section of the ski. Use middle-weighting and they still feel awkward. The BWs are light, not very damp, and have very good edge grip. For me the ski itself just won't flex to an arc of a single curvature. Perhaps such a strong amount of rocker is well-suited to a wider, purely off-piste ski. Perhaps after I spend more time on skis with fully rockered tips I'll adjust my opinion. But not today.
HEAD PEAK 84-- 84mm wide, 177cm long, FlowRide tip
They remind me of the Monster series skis I was always so fond of. Just the right (medium) stiffness, a smooth carver, and very damp. It may not be a quick-initiating ski (in the Monster tradition) but at the bottom of a hard pitch I was able to tighten up the radius and steer some terrific tight turns. That FlowRide tip-- Head's alternative to tip rocker-- doesn't hurt the on-piste performance at all. Off piste the skis steered easily, presumably with the help of the softened tips. I think they'll bull through rough crud well, although I'm still a little dubious about soft tips for this purpose. These are the second best ski of the day.
ROSSIGNOL EXPERIENCE 88-- 88mm wide, 178cm long, modest tip and tail rocker
They call it "extended sidecut". What is looks like is, the shape of the ski keeps getting wider until a few inches from the (very wide) tip. What it feels like is hooky, on piste and off. At all speeds one feels the whole ski biting the snow, especially the tip and tail. It's the longitudinally stiffest ski of this collection and a strong carver. It's just soft enough to be OK off piste, but the supposed tip and tail rocker aren't evident as the ski is also hooky off piste. The rep said the Experience 83, which has significantly less sidecut, is softer. I would like to have tried it.
K2 AFTERSHOCK-- 86mm wide, 181cm long, very modest tip rocker
I've always loved the dampness of K2's (dampest of all manufacturers, IMO), but was always a little disappointed with the Apache series (Recon, Outlaw, Coomba et cetera) because I didn't like the flex much. They had stiffness under foot with soft tip and tail, and I prefer a rounder flex. The Aftershock, part of the A.M.P. (All Mountain Performance) series, and with "all-terrain rocker" fixes this. The ski feels calm, very predicable, steers nicely in crud and carves fine on piste. Both on piste and off, the ski's preferred turn radius felt longer than I'd like. The rocker is subtle enough such that it doesn't hurt the on-piste carving (it feels like the whole ski is on the snow) and presumably helps turn initiation off-piste, although the ski isn't quick off-piste.
NORDICA SIDECOUNTRY BURNER-- 84 mm wide, 178cm long, full tip rocker
Amazingly light and nimble. I could dance down rough, steep cruddy slopes. But that nimbleness also makes the ski skittery on hard snow and unstable with much speed. Quite soft, but the edges still bite well. Don't get them for laying trenches on the groomers. I think they'd be a little better with reduced tip rocker. I wish I could've tried the carbon fiber model of the Jet Fuel, also 84 mm wide. The rep says that it's not as stiff as the Jet Fuel of old.
And the winner is...
SALOMON ENDURO XT 850-- 85mm wide, 177cm long, modest tip rocker
Quick and damp. Terrific edge grip, medium stiff, and tips that seems to inuit where you want to go. Like my brother BH said, "you forget that you have skis on your feet." Salomon says they put some cushioning above the edges, and that would explain how these skis give the smoothest ride when carving on rough hard snow. They're very nimble, like the X-Wing Fury it replaces, yet very damp, quite unlike the X-Wing series. The slightly rockered tip is uncanny how it leads the turn perfectly when carving on hard piste or plunging through soft snow.
On two previous occasions I skied the Enduro of 2010-11 and thought it was about perfect except that it was a little too stiff. Guys in two different ski shops said that the 2011-12 model would be softened a bit, and that is what I've found. Nonetheless, the Salomon rep says that the ski has not been changed internally. So I'll just go with my experience.
But delivery isn't until August. Rats-- Crystal is planning to stay open into June.
Couldn't demo: Elan Apex. No one in the PNW had them to demo in early March, and I contacted over 15 shops.
Another also-ran recently demoed: Dynastar Sultan 85. Great carving, but a little too stiff to be good off piste. They replaced it with the Legend 85 for next year, and the rep said it's not softer.
Edited by crudmaster - 3/29/11 at 11:08pm