2012 big-mountain “versatile skis” reviews: ~102 to 112mm waist skis
These are more or less “quick reviews”. With the exception of the Cochise and MX108, I didn't have these skis in my possession long enough for more than a few runs (the 2 mentioned skis resided in our shop all spring, we got to test them quite a bit).
Please note that I couldn't test some of the smaller brands: many of these guys don't show up to our demos. I try to get on all of the skis I can, but I have a business to run as well, so if they aren't at the show or if someone isn't willing to loan us a pair of skis for a few days, we can't always test it.
Skier: 5 foot 9, 155lbs, solid all-mountain expert, can smoothly ski most any terrain, including steep bumps. Ski 30-50 days/year
Terrain tested: Crud (of course!), new snow, steeps with tight terrain; wide open crud bowls; bumps; some groomers; bit of crusty snow
Head Inferno 104
Head Kiss of Death 110
Salomon El Dictator
Ski Logic Ullr's Chariot Rocker logic
Dynastar Legend Pro Rider 105
Elan Olympus Mons
K2 Kung Fujas
Line Influence 105 (was told it was the Prophet 105 last spring)
This group of skis would be your typical “big-mountain resort” lineup: not super huge as to be lacking versatility: but enough float to tackle all but the most ridiculously deep, heavy snow. Given 10 “new snow (over 6” days)”, I would probably ski one of these 9 of those days, and perhaps a huge 120mm ski the other 1; if you are looking for a do-it-all western new snow day ski, I would look at something in this width range. If you are looking for a true Western one-ski all-mountain quiver and also value bump and harder snow performance (meaning that you ski all days, not just new snow days), then you might want to downsize a bit and look at something in the 90-100mm range instead, as nothing in this group was anything to write home about in those conditions, save for maybe the Inferno, which is narrower than the rest. Which, is why most of us have 2 pair of skis!
Overall, one has to be impressed at the quality of these skis. Save for a couple of models here, I would own any in this group and be happy. Certainly I had my favorites, suited to my skiing style and preferred terrain, but that doesn't mean that any one of these wouldn't have made me happy. Technology and design is certainly converging; it seems like 9 out of 10 skis these days has plenty of strenghts and few weaknesses. The bigger issue is choosing a ski for your terrain, ability, and, perhaps most importantly, weight. I am relatively light, but with (according to my teammates), “whoa, dude, your thighs are huge”, so I can perhaps bend a ski a bit better than others at my weight. With that said, I am still sensitive to skis that are too stiff and that I can't pressure and bend properly, being that I am only 155lbs.
Quick hit reviews (in case you don't want to bother with the details):
Armada TST: playful, quick, easy to ski, got pushed around at speed in rough snow
Blizzard Cochise: also playful and quick, a bit more substantial than the TST
Head Inferno 104: fairly damp, very precise, powerful yet forgiving
Head Kiss of Death 110: ditto on the 104, yet softer and more for backside conditions
Kastle BMX108 177cm: sporty, fun in tight spaces, damp and smooth.
Kastle BMX108 187cm: big-mountain powerhouse, comp-level ski
Kastle FX104: more stout than the 108, confidence-inspiring, no pulled punches here
Salomon Czar: powerful big-mountain tool, best in soft snow.
Salomon El Dictator: ski made for big terrain and speed. Could be too much as a resort ski
Ski Logic Ullr's Chariot RL: light and stiff, didn't absorb terrain well, floats nicely
Dynastar Legend Pro Rider 105: pro-ride level ski, best for big skiers
Elan Olympus Mons: versatile wide all-mountain ride, can do anything on this ski
K2 Sidestash: another powerful big-mountain ride, best for big skiers, needs speed and room
K2 Kung Fujas; snappy, playful, sporty ski; easy to find the speed limit, versatile.
Line Influence 105; damp, smooth, predictable; rewards good skiing
Volkl Katana; powerful big-mountain ride, moderate quickness, no speed limit
Reviews in depth:
Armada TST: new ski for 2012: 102mm underfoot, quite a bit of tip and tail rocker.
Not an Armada dealer, so I don't have a ton of other specifics.
This ski felt quite soft, and was very playful. It reminded me of the Blizzard Bonafide (which I had skied the run before) but even more playful, poppy tip and tail, and very responsive. I mostly kept this ski in the crud (fairly beat-down by this time, some small bumps forming) and on some cut-up groomers, or what was left of them. It really shone in the crud, bouncing from cluster to cluster of snow, and in the steeps, was ridiculously quick. The tail was not too substantial; you don't want to hold onto the tail too long, or it will spin you in a 180. The key to skiing the TST is finesse and touch: it isn't a power ski. You want to stay light on your feet, using cat-like movements, being dynamic, but not overpowering anything. It takes so little to get it bent and up on edge; you want to stay relatively centered, and forget about loading the tip at the top of the turn, it just isn't necessary. Super playful, just as you would expect from a ski from a more new-school brand such as Armada. It was also a very good carver; again, playful and snappy. Not super stable though, probably even less than the Bonafide, and definitely not in the big-turn category like the BMX108. It is most at home in the medium radius, medium speed “impact turn”; just that light touch and redirect. At speed in crud, it was adequate, but one of the least stable of this group. It lacks much in the way of beef, and can get bounced a bit. Not so much that I felt sketched out on it, but I just had to pay more attention and keep it out of huge turns at speed; it didn't like that turn shape and velocity. Again, this was really cruddy, tough snow, so in new snow, it won't be an issue. Width-wise, it was a great all-mountain width for a primarily off-piste ski. Probably too wide, and definitely too soft, for mostly groomer duty. I had a lot of fun on this ski; although I tend not to be a real finesse type skier (and wouldn't normally choose a ski like this) I had a good time on it, and know that a lot of skiers are looking for this feel in a ski. Should be a good hit this year.
Strengths: easy to ski, very smooth and playful in crud, quick turner on groomers, good float, very finesse-oriented ski.
Weaknesses: not really a big-turn, high speed crudbuster; lacks the beef for more aggressive skiing styles
Blizzard Cochise 108: length tested 185cm. New ski for 2012, with flip-core technology. Has a substantial rocker tip and tail.
This ski was just a really, really fun ski be on. I had a huge grin the whole time I skied it. It definitely is a break from the harder-charging style of the MX108 or the Katana: this ski is playful, poppy, and fun. It felt exceptionally versatile. In the soft snow, it was as surfy as any ski in this group. The finish of the turn had just the right amount of bite: it didn't finish the turn for you like some rockered skis, and it didn't hold on too long. Skiing this in soft bumps was a treat (we are talking more like forming piles of crud here). It just bounced from one pile to another: like I had training wheels on, and I didn't have to work the ski to get it pressured and flexing. The ski kind of was on autopilot here. In new snow, the ski was plenty of width; it floated better than almost anything I tried. I actually felt myself preferring the Bonafide here, as the snow was light and the Bonafide was keeping me in the snow more, while the Cochise had so much float that I lost the feeling of moving vertically and getting the weightless pow release on the Cochise. In heavier snow, it would be nice to have this width and float, obviously. Groomers; performance was OK. The ski felt sporty; it has lots of camber underfoot, but a short running surface. Get it on a groomer and it feels like you downsized to a 160cm slalom lite ski. It carves and is quick and poppy. Fun, but not really my style. I like the feeling of a bigger, more stable GS ski here. Maybe that is personal preference, or a style of skiing difference, but I definitely think, that while not lacking stability, it doesn't have the bigger turn, snow-hugging feel l am looking on groomers. Also, in crud, it is stable enough, but not the “big mountain iron” that some of the others in this group are; in that sense, it feels more like a resort ski than a true pro-level freeride ski. I don't think that is a bad thing at all! Most skiers out there don't have near pro-level technical skills or strength, nor do they get that kind of terrain on their home mountain, so why be on a ski that demands so much of the skier and doesn't respond well to typical resort (often weekends) traffic? Also, it skis pretty short. 185 feels like a 180cm compared to most skis here.
Strengths: superb versatility, great bump ski, easy to ski in any funky snow condition, exceptionally quick.
Weaknesses: not as stable as some other big-mountain skis, best at shorter turns on groomers
Head Inferno 104: new skis from Head for the coming year. Skied in the 181cm length. Similar construction to the Blizzard lineup; not sure if these guys share production or what. Anyways, they ski quite similar.
Finally, Head is back with an all-new lineup. The Peak series (and the Jimmy/John/Joe) skis were kind of underwhelming the past 2 years. It seems like they have brought back the classic Monster feel, but with updated technologies. This is going to make a lot of people happy; the Monster was incredibly popular in it's day. The Inferno is kind of that tweener ski: a good width for your all-around soft snow conditions, a bit narrower, but with a sizeable turn radius. First off, it is noticeably quicker edge to edge than the other skis here, for the most part. That 5mm of width does make for a more responsive ski. Second, with that reverse construction technology, it feels quicker than it looks; the rocker on the tip and tail isn't huge, but the ski feels more responsive than the 26m radius indicates. It skied a lot like the Cochise/Bonafide; the difference was that this ski was more of the typical Austrian feel “and more typical Head”: it was a bit more grounded, less energy, bit more stable in rough snow, slightly less playful, more of a GS feel. With that said, it was impressive in that it did have quite a bit of character, pop out of the turn, ease in bumps and lumpy soft snow. On groomers, it wasn't as quick as the Cochise: more of a mid-radius, more damp, smooth GS feel; I preferred it here, as the narrower waist hooked up a bit earlier, and it was more stable. In crud, same thing: just what I was looking for: not too heavy and dead, not too much life. In new snow, at speed, watch out. There aren't many skis that will give you more meat than this bad boy. It was a hero ski at speed; I could execute any turn I wished, ski as fast as I wanted, and never feel out of place. Plus, it just blasted crud into oblivion. I do think it was a bit more ski than the Cochise: you will need to be a solid skier to enjoy this one, whereas on the Cochise, you can put a low-energy intermediate on the ski and have some fun, if not technical proficiency. This ski has a bit more of a requirement for technical skills: the feet being in the right place, a good feel for edges, pressuring the tip at the top of the turn. You can ski it from the back seat, but it was clearly designed for skiers that know how to work the ski tip to tail. With that said, it is remarkably easy to ski for the level of performance here. Kevin ordered a pair as his new snow day ski for the coming season, and I am considering doing the same, although I am quite partial to my BMX108. The nice thing about this ski is the length: 181cm, with a decent rocker in the tail, makes for a very responsive feeling ski. Honestly, my BMX108 in 187cm is more work. Not too much work, but it takes more skill and dynamic movements to get that ski through tight spaces. This ski, in the shorter length, does give up some heft to the BMX, but not much. In comparison to the Cochise, the lengths feel nearly identical. The longer running surface on the Inferno offsets the longer measured length on the Cochise. Head has a winner here; as enjoyable as any ski I tried, and another great resort ski, or pro-level freeride tool. Good for my weight too! That 104 size feels just right for the typically moderate new snow days we get, 4-10 inches overnight on top of a soft base.
Strengths: versatile, easy to ski, very stable in it's given length, good carver, great balance of energy; good width for float and versatility (for off-piste conditions). Classic Head feel
Weaknesses: not as forgiving as some, maybe not enough float for big guys for truly deep days.
Head Kiss of Death 110: similar to the Inferno 104: rocker tip and tail, quite a bit of camber underfoot, reverse camber construction (similar to Flipcore from Blizzard). 32M radius
This was quite similar to the Inferno, but if anything, seemed a bit softer and more soft-snow oriented. It was super surfy, even more than the width difference would indicate; the tip is a bit softer, perhaps? Tail is definitely less substantial than the more powerful Inferno. Other than that, it had the Inferno's feel: damp, with just enough energy to keep things fun and playful. Stable, smooth, great rough-snow ski. Definitely was a longer-turning feel on the groomers: maybe the equivalent of a non-rockered 22m ski here. The width didn't hook up as well here either; this was a passable groomer ski, whereas the Inferno was actually quite fun. I felt this ski really came alive in the soft snow; not so much bumps (although cruddy bumps were fun), but when you can let it open up a bit. It had a relatively easy low-end speed limit; you could ski this at 15mph and be totally fine, or you could ramp it up to 40+ and rip it. Likes a bit longer turn, likes crud at speed, very smooth. Hitting some windpack, it made short work of any funky tip-impacting loads. Very impressive in these conditions. Length, in 181cm, was on the shorter side; likes the moderate speed range more than warp-speed (I didn't try the 191cm). Great in trees in this shorter length, quick for a big ski. On a short steep pitch, felt as quick as the Katana I skied next; the skis did feel quite similar, with perhaps the Katana getting the edge in stability in big turns, and the Kiss of Death quicker and faster at finishing the turn. Feel, with that reverse camber construction and tip and tail rocker, was of fast entry and even faster exit; it practically turned on it's own under my feet, which made it the ski most close to the Cochise of anything tested here. Another really solid, fun big mountain ride, with more energy than the big-mountain skis of the past. I would think this length would be perfect for me if I lived on a smaller hill or skied slower: around here, I would want a bit more length. Too bad there is no 186cm, although I suspect that 95% of the people reading this board, assuming they aren't 6 inches taller and 50 lbs heaver than me, are going to find this plenty of length. FWIW, there is quite a bit of a turned-up tail on this ski. It has a fairly short running length. The rocker is longer and a bit taller rise, than on, say the Rock n' Roll (the 94mm ski in this group). Rocker length is similar to the profile on the 108. Still low rise, but probably 30cm long.
Between the 2 of these (Inferno and Kiss of Death); I am probably going to buy the former. The shorter length is more suitable to the narrower ski, and it is a bit more versatile. The KOD would be in my top 3 if it came in just a bit longer length, as I am likely to ski that model in bigger turns, at speed, in backside conditions. The again, the Rock n' Roll (94 underfoot) is the same ski as the Inferno, and might be a better daily driver, especially out of a storm cycle. Then again, there is the Peak 90, which is one of the best skis in any category I tried last year. That is a true daily driver for any conditions save for deep snow, assuming you like the precision of a scalpel knife with the power of a meat cleaver. Maybe the 90 was the best bump ski out of the 45 or so we tested.
Kastle BMX108: unchanged (save for the name) for 2012. Length tested: 187cm, 177cm
I was finally able to ski the 177cm: it is a very fun, lively ski! The shorter length, in conjunction with the fairly substantial low-rise tip, makes for a quick, powerful ski, with the trademark Kastle smoothness. It is more of a playful, popping between turns length (this is a recurring theme amongst many of these skis). Super quick in comparison to the 187cm. It does ski typical of the length, longer than say the Cochise, so keep that in mind when sizing. The 177cm is the tracked-up soft snow resort length: perfect for cruddy bumps, steeps, challenging shorter to mid-radius turns, trees. I could hardly ask for an easier ski in these conditions. It is also very solid at speed for the short length. This shorter length was perhaps the most impressive ski I tried for everything but warp speeds: it has the perfect damp GS, confidence-inspiring feel that I love in a backside ski, with just enough life to keep it interesting. And, how forgiving! Feels like the Olympus Mons in terms of it being hard to make a mistake on. Still somewhat demanding of technical skills; anyone could ski it, but it is a ski that responds well to precise technical input, and not gross steering or back-seat driving. The better you ski, the more positively it responds; that isn't true for all skis. As a carver, it is very precise, and much more fun than the 187cm. FWIW, Holiday owned this in 177cm; he is one of the only people on the board who had a pair, and is probably a good resource for info if you are considering it.
What doesn't it do? Well, it isn't a ton of length, so not the best choice in really deep, heavy snow. Also, not that long, so lacking a bit of heft at high speeds.
Strengths: lively, easy to ski, responds well to skill, stable for the length, versatile, excellent carver, superb resort ski
Weaknesses: a little short for deep snow and high speeds, expensive
187cm review: I have reviewed this a couple of times previously: the 187cm is a much different ski than the 177cm. More GS-oriented, more stability at speed, takes much more skill to put it into short turns and bumps, but the payoff is unmatched stability at speed, and power. Unshakable in crud: if you are skiing Squaw, ripping Headwall in huge super-G turns after a storm (like we got to do in the spring), you want this ski on your feet. Enough said. I changed out to my narrower skis for tracked out PM bumps. This isn't a great length for bumps; passable, but one could do much better. Then again, it is 12cm taller than I am, not to mention pretty wide. This is a crudbuster and new snow weapon, at speed, in rough conditions, where it will eat up any terrain. In new snow (there was plenty this past spring) the float is plenty, even on the deepest 2+ feet of Cascade concrete overnight, and more than enough for our 12 inches of high-quality, abnormally light snow we saw one day. This has to be one of the best big-mountain skis on the planet, for the skilled technical skier who likes speed. I own a pair, and they aren't going anywhere this season.
Strengths: best ski I have yet found for high-speed crudbusting and new snow, excellent float, pure power, versatile “for the length and capability”.
Weaknesses: quite a bit of ski in this length (+12cm over my head height), takes work and good skills for tight trees and bumps.
Kastle FX104: new ski for 2012, eagerly awaited big brother to the FX94. 2 sheets of .3mm metal, thin and light construction, typical Kastle build quality and finish (the best you will see in a ski out of the wrapper). Tested in 184cm.
I only had 1 run on this ski, so not a super in-depth review. It seems as if they took the FX94, which was just about right for someone of my weight with regards to flex, and just made it wider. Therefore, it was too much ski for me in the 184cm: I couldn't really work the ski well at the tip. The feel of the ski was exceptionally smooth and refined; everything that Kastle is known for and the reason people pay good $ for their product. Overall, it felt just like an FX94, which is slightly softer than than MX series, with a bit lighter on the snow feel. I could tell it was a “Kastle” from the first 2 turns. Unfortunately, without being heavy enough to flex the long length, I really didn't get much out of the ski. Too bad, as I love the FX94, but was craving a bit longer length and more width for a mid-stiffness crudbuster and incredible groomer ski, which the FX94 is, and undoubtedly the 104 is as well, under the right weight skier. This ski skis longer than most; no rocker tip or tail; just a mean crudbusting and big mountain machine. Maybe the 176cm would have been money for me, but it wasn't available for test.
Salomon Czar: 111 underfoot, rockered tip and tail, moderate to fairly stiff flexing ski. Not a Salomon dealer, so I don't know if this has changed or not.
Review: tested in 182cm. Salomon has really beefed up their big mountain offerings the past couple of years. The Shogun, Czar, and Sentinel are some of the better skis around at the moment; at least for the strong, technically oriented skier. The Czar plugs right in here; it was solid at speed, in every turn shape, and very powerful. In this group, it probably reminded me most of the Kastle offering, although I have to say the Czar felt a touch heavier on the snow, perhaps more damp, slightly less playful, but otherwise quite similar. This ski blasts crud at speed; it was made for bigger speeds. Not really playful at all; kind of a polar opposite of the TST, for example. I did find it to be a handful in bumps as well; this was perhaps the least suitable for everyday “resort” skiing (bumps, lots of traffic) and most suited to big-mountain skiing. It needs room to run; seems to really hit it's stride above 25-30mph. A good carver on the groomed: with a wicked, powerful GS feel; just don't lay it over to far. There really isn't any speed limit on the Czar; this is a skier's ski. I found it to be a relative good match for my weight; perhaps it could have been a touch softer, as it did make me work a lot in tight spaces and bumps, but was manageable. It was a touch stiff in crud: could have used a softer tip, I though, but it made it even better on groomers than a ski with a soft rocker tip, which don't hook up as well or can be driven as hard. Overall, it had a really solid feel; oddly, nothing jumped out at me about this ski, except to say that it is solid and can handle anything, given some speed and skill, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Usually skis that are awesome in one area get hammered in another; there is no one ski that does everything exceptionally well; there are always trade-offs. The tail is unforgiving as well; not a problem for good skiers, but back-seat drivers and those learning will do better elsewhere. The Czar is not really a “learn to ski pow” ski; suitable for good skiers only. Definitely best on Western mountains; I wouldn't buy this if I lived back East and was skiing tight trees, but would definitely consider it for Tahoe/Utah/Jackson Hole style skiing, or our local hill.
Strengths: true to a real big-mountain ski design; best at speed in bigger turns, under skilled feet. Awesome crud buster; keep the gas on and you will be rewarded with exceptional performance
Weaknesses: not super forgiving, needs a skilled pilot; not great in tight spaces; definitely oriented to Western big-mountain skiing.
Salomon El Dictator: 114mm underfoot, 195mm in length. Low camber ski, with early rise tip, which makes it fairly traditional in build.
Review: again, Sollie is making these big-mountain skis for good skiers who ski regularly on big-mountains. They are really solid. The Dictator is a huge ski; it need serious room to run. Felt like the bigger brother of the Czar, but with more tail, more stability, and a serious need to be on a mountain with lots of wide-open vertical. This is a sick ski. It is damp, smooth, and inspires confidence at speed in the roughest snow. I would say that as good as the Czar is at speed, the Dictator feels like it has an extra 10mph of stability, in the roughest snow. This is a ski that will get your ticket pulled. Lousy in bumps and trees; as expected with a stout 195mm ski, I was working way too hard here. It was meant for big turns, in any sort of new snow conditions, and even held well on the re-freeze that was exposed in spots. It must have some metal in it and be a pretty substantial ski. The tip was soft enough to just pound crud, not floppy in any way though. Again, this is for a skilled skier: the tail is medium-stiff for a ski in this category; you can get backseat and recover, it isn't easy though, and if you aren't a good skier, you can get owned pretty quick if you aren't good on your feet and balanced. In tight turns, I found it best to work the tip; there is a lot of ski, and if you pull your feet back in the transition and get it tipping early, the ski is much quicker than if you just use the park and ride technique. It finishes the turn with gusto, provided you know how to cleanly ride and exit a tail. If you really execute a turn well, start to finish, the ski moves through a graceful arc and you finish with a big smile on your face: in this respect, it is a truly rewarding ski. The cleaner I executed a turn, the more I found that the feedback was palpable and the ski responded better than I hoped. Truly, this is a skier's ski.
Strengths: perhaps as good as big-mountain ski at speed that exists today. Insane speeds possible. Lots of float; on that edge of “I am on the snow, not in the snow”. Hard to over-drive, rewarding of good skiing.
Weaknesses: not for unskilled skiers, not for finesse skiers. Responds poorly to backseat driving, not suited to many resort conditions (bumps, tight trees, heavy traffic).
Ski Logic Ullr's Chariot Rocker logic: 102mm underfoot, 182cm length; I didn't know much else about this ski, as we are not a dealer and I have never seen them before. 15M radius
Review: I was intrigued by this ski. Not less than 10 people on Epicski have contacted us over the past year, asking about the Ullr's Chariot. This model is the RL, which may be new for 2012, but I am not sure. Anyways, the ski was very light and beautifully finished. Getting it on the snow, the first thing I noticed was that it felt very light. 2nd was that it was stiff-really stiff. Instead of absorbing terrain, it just banged into crud piles and made me work all that much harder. Tons of sidecut! I didn't like that feature at all. Skis with too much sidecut have never made me happy, especially in off-piste conditions. It seems like they always want to turn, whereas I like skis that turn only when I make the movements for them to do so. Rather than relying on too much sidecut, I would rather learn to pressure my skis. A great skier can get any modern ski to bend up into a 12m arc, excessive sidecut just seems like training wheels that have definite downsides. Mostly though, this ski floated well, felt light and lively, and was easy to ski. But, it was so stiff: it skied like a Marilyn Monroe shaped piece of plywood. Not my cup of tea. My shins were sore after a run on this ski; there was no dampness, no terrain absorbing qualities. In bumps, I thought I might bend the ski in half. On groomers, this ski did hook up and was really fun; it is probably best here, out of all the conditions I tested (that, and uncut snow, where the stiffness didn't bother me). But, who buys a 102mm wide groomer ski? Anyways, I wasn't a fan, and was happy to get back to the booth and try something (anything!) else. My shins thanked me for it.
Strengths: edge grip is exceptional, very solid on groomers, feels narrrower than it is, nice float, looks great
Weaknesses: way too stiff for someone my weight; too much sidecut for a crud ski
Dynastar Legend Pro Rider 105: a downsized version of the 115: big rocker tip, fairly stout body underfoot, normal tail. Marketed at the new evolution of the Legend, a true pro-level freeride ski. 184cm tested length.
Review: this feels exactly like a 115, which is one of the stronger big skis on the market. The 105 is just as solid, just a bit more nimble, and a better choice for mixed conditions. The 115 was really, really bad in bump and hardpack unless you took it super easy. The 105 is infinitely more nimble and playful, but on a playful scale of 1-10, the 115 was like a 1.01. The new 105 is maybe a 2.5: still not a playful ski. This is a bruiser; more than any ski tested here, it needs space to run. You won't find a speed limit here. If you are looking for a finesse style ski, poppy and easy yet big-mountain oriented, get a Slicer in 181cm. If you are looking for unshakable performance, throwing down off cliffs, and a freeride comp ski, then get the 105. It is exactly that ski. I felt it had to hit 30mph before it responded at all, and even then, it was a big turn ski. Crud doesn't even exist when on this ski; it disappears under your feet. Forget bumps; too stiff. On the groomers, this ski feels like it barely has sidecut. It will haul ass, but isn't really what I would call “responsive”. Not really an everyday resort ski for the everyday skier; it is a big ski, for guys who live near big mountains and ski a lot. Also, it overall was too stiff for me; I couldn't flex it as I had hoped. Much burlier than the old Legend Pro from 3 years ago. Perhaps more than any ski tested here, this was a serious ski. I like the fact that Dynastar makes 2 skis close to this width; the Slicer is the more fun, playful ski, and in 181cm is very suitable to big-mountain skiing, yet better for lightweights and resort conditions. This is the bigger ski for those who overpower the Slicer and need a big boy ski.
Strengths: bad-ass big mountain competition level ski; unshakable at any speed, crud and new snow weapon
Weaknesses; for big, strong skiers only, lousy in bumps and tight spaces, might get your ticket pulled if skiing on a crowded day
Elan Olympus Mons: 110mm underfoot, resort rocker tip and tail. This ski has been modified a bit since it came out 2 years ago. Just a bit more early rise tip and tail than it used to have. 183cm tested length.
Review: I have really praised this ski in the past, and I still love it. The early rise tip and tail makes turns even easier, but doesn't detract from stability in crud. It is a well-balanced ski; for someone looking for a truly versatile wide ski, this ranks up there with the BMX108 in the shorter length, the Cochise, the Inferno as one of my favorites. Flex is medium. First off, on groomers, it hauls ass and holds exceptionally well; it feel like a wide GS here, just the feel I am looking for. This is perhaps my favorite groomer ski tested here. It isn't quick on groomers, just damp, smooth, and stable. In crud, it has just the right amount of flex at the tip; busts up anything you can throw at it. It is damper than most of the skis here: it may not feel “exciting” in the way that some of the skis with more rocker and shorter cambered length do, but that translates into exceptional stability for a ski of this length. And, it rules on bumps. If you are looking for an exciting, poppy, new school feel, you should look elsewhere. However, if you want versatility, a ski that skis narrower than it is, floats well, is as good a carver as there is in this group, and is a true jack of all trades, I would recommend this ski. Some of my best turns ever have been on this ski; that is perhaps why I am partial to it; perhaps it works well for someone my weight, but the bottom line for me is that it really gets the job done in a bunch of snow conditions. Be sure to watch the mounting point; don't get stuck too far forward.
Strengths: as versatile as you will find in this width, great groomer and bump ski, damp, smooth and predictable.
Weaknesses: too damp for some, perhaps a little mellow if you really want an energetic ski.
K2 Sidestash: 108mm underfoot, generous amount of tip rocker, fairly stiff flex. Not sure if it has changed for 2012. Tested in 181cm.
Review: this has always been a really solid ski, and nothing really feels different from previous versions. It is a great crud ski and as stable as any ski tested here; very damp and powerful, with a big running surface. Just makes quick work of any loose or consolidated piles of snow. It is a stiff ski; the tip is more stout than I would prefer; as it seems to ricochet at times when you it snow under the ski, instead of flexing out and absorbing terrain. The Sidestash has a reputation as a ski best suited to bigger skiers, and me not being a bigger guy, I can verify that it is quite stiff in flex. I can get it into any turn shape, with ease though, you can arc this into tight arcs, and it does quite well on groomers at speed. I took it into some icy bumps; that really wasn't it's forte, as the tip again is quite stout and I was pushed around. Not to mention the stiff tail. You can really move fore and aft on the Sidestash, and work the tail; it is substantial and not new-school in feel whatsoever. You can tell it is meant to be driven by a strong skier. I found it most at home in a GS arc, on hard snow or soft, with active feet fore and aft, really working it tip to tail. Do that, and you are rewarded with a very powerful ride. I would most equate the feel of this ski to the Sollie El Dictator and Dynastar Legend 105, although this is slightly less malleable than the Sollie and quite a bit more so than the Legend 105. It was another ski with a very rewarding finish on top of a well-executed turn; the tail really releases powerfully and sets you up down the fall line when your feet are in the right place. I love skis that provide a lot of feedback and reward good skiing. For those who don't ski as fast, as aggressively, or as well, check out the Kung Fujas.
Strengths: very powerful, as stable as any ski tested, built for GS speeds in crud, solid carver.
Weaknesses: bumps, slower speeds, being piloted by lightweights or less skilled skiers.
K2 Kung Fujas: Slightly narrower at 102mm underfoot, much less stiff, tighter turning ski with a 19m radius. Tested in 179cm.
Review: first time on this ski, was curious to see how it shaped up. As it turns out, this is the polar opposite of the Sidestash. Soft, playful, tons of rebound. I really loaded up this ski and was able to dig some deep trenches on it, and bend it into shorter turns. It is a fun ski, especially at moderate speeds and in moderate turn radii. Not really a crud pounder; more like a floaty ski that keeps it's snow contact to a minimum. Very playful, good float. I felt that I could overpower it at big edge angles and high speeds; it is meant for more moderate speeds. Super forgiving, the tail is quite soft, the ski isn't really that laterally stiff, so you can get away with a lot on it w/o getting punished. It isn't as responsive as the Sidestash or Hardside, though; instead of charging as you would on those skis, this one is more at home cruising, at a bit lower energy level. Definitely a better ski in bumps than the Sidestash; no doubt there, and felt more like an all-mountain resort ski, rather than a backside, wide open, new snow only ski that the Sidestash is. This model falls somewhere more in the realm of a Dynastar Slicer or a Blizzard The One, although I think it is softer than either of those 2; and maybe more suited to moderate speeds. A good ski, and would also be fun back East, where space between trees is tighter and bumps are plentiful. Out here, most hard charging experts would probably look at a stiffer ski like the Sidestash, but it depends on your style.
Strengths: very playful, forgiving, great in bumps, at home in medium radius turns, fun carver
Weaknesses: not the most stable, can be overpowered by good skiers at speed, gets bounced when skied fast in crud.
Line Influence 105: as implied, 105mm underfoot, 19m radius in the 179cm length tested. Not sure of construction, but wouldn't be surprised if it had metal in it.
Review: This ski was, in a word, solid. It just seemed to do everything well; not unlike the Olympus Mons. There wasn't any one standout feature about the Influence; it was there for me on every turn I made, short radius or long. Feel was smooth, damp, stable; not playful, not surprising in any way, but very “reliable” in all conditions. It was a good carver; held up well at speed in rough snow, was very smooth, and consistent in all conditions. Pretty good in bumps too. I liked it; there really was no area that it felt short in. Perhaps not the most exciting ski around though; it was lacking energy, and fell along the more conservative end of the spectrum; this is not a super demanding ski. I didn't get the same thrill of a well-executed turn that I would have on some of the more demanding (and rewarding skis). Therefore, the technician may prefer a bit more feel and precision; for everyone else, who wants a solid ski, this is a great choice. If it were mine to play with, I would stiffen it up a bit more laterally, increasing the precision (probably making it more demanding too), but other than that, this is a great ski that gets the job done. “Lunch Pail Award” of the test goes to the Influence 105; if it were an NFL fan, it would probably root for the Raiders (I mean that in a good way-blue collar team. You might not agree with me if you live in Kansas City, Denver or are a Niners fan. I am sure all Niners fans ski Volkl's and drive Range Rovers, right! :-) And Broncos and Chiefs fans would say Raider fans can't afford to ski.
Strengths: reliable, won't let you down in any situation; good at everything, nice damp GS feel
Weaknesses: not a standout in any one area, pretty damp for those looking for a playful tail on a ski.
Volkl Katana: 3rd year I have reviewed this ski. I don't know how much it has changed, if at all. 112mm underfoot, with a big 26m radius. Tested in 184cm. One of the definitive skis in this category.
Review: There isn't much that this ski can't do. It has to be one of the top skis in this category, and one of my favorites. Unlike the Mantra (which is too stiff for me); the Katana is still on the stiff side, but I can ski it really well and bend it up as much as necessary. It will do anything you ask of it, aside from being a great bump ski. It arcs on groomers and hard snow, is super solid in crud at speed (one of the best tested); and hugs the snow like few skis do today. With that said, this isn't a teddy bear. It needs skills and speed to be enjoyed: if you are a mellow skier, less skilled, or like a more playful, poppy feel, the Gotama is calling your name. If you charge, are one of the best skiers on the hill, love GS turns at SPEED, like to get your skis up on edge, and don't need a ton of rocker or sidecut to get your skis across the fall line, check this one out. I found turn initiation to require a bit more movement than the similar-in-feel Olympus and BMX108; perhaps the tip is stiffer. To get it to come around quickly in steeps, it wanted me to work my feet and pull them back aggressively, rather than just releasing and tipping. Once there, though, it pulled you right into the turn and across the fall line, with powerful edge grip when in the middle, toward the finish of the new turn. This ski has as much grip as any ski in this category. While the feel is GS and damp, it is a touch heavier than some; more like the Sidestash, but a touch softer in the tip, and with less (and lower) rocker. Also the transition away from the tip is less abrupt than most, so it doesn't feel like you are skiing a bent tip on firmer snow. Very well executed; just what I am looking for in a ski. Crappy, lumpy crud is no problem for this ski; neither is new snow. And, no speed limit. Did I mention this ski is stable? And yes, it inspires confidence: some skis have a mind of their own and can toss you on your keister when you aren't looking: there are no surprises coming from the Katana. Feels like a great ski to have on your feet in no-fall situations. I may purchase a pair, just because it is so much fun to ski.
Strengths: stable, powerful, smooth, inspires confidence; a true big-mountain ski
Weaknesses: for good skiers who can work a ski tip to tail; requires skills to get the most out of it
I will add to the reviews as I get more time on more models. And, I will try to follow up with more in-depth reviews over time. First, we need some snow. The mountain looks iffy to open before Thanksgiving. Snow is falling, but it is super dry and blowing away. We need some Cascade Cement first!
Edited by dawgcatching - 11/18/11 at 10:28am