94mm waist skis shootout
Dynastar Legend 94
Head Rock n' Roll 94
Stockli Stormrider 95
Next up for review: a smattering of 94mm waisted skis. (the Stockli is actually 95, but close enough). 88 and 98mm ski reviews will be written up elsewhere.
First off, I really like the 94mm waist. These skis tend to be the most true 50/50 skis I have yet found, as a general rule. I realize all skis are different; generally though, you go narrower, and the skis tend to stiffen up a bit and be more groomer oriented. Wider (98mm and up) and the trend is toward bigger turn radius skis, more rocker, and more off-piste performance. The 94mm waisted stuff seems to hit that sweet spot: narrow and stout enough to hold on hard snow, reasonably fun on groomers (most notably for skilled skiers who know how to generate edge angle), a decent width for bumps, enough beef for busting crud, and enough float for most soft snow conditions. It would be really tough to make a case against a 94mm every day ski, unless you either live in a place that sees nothing but hard snow, or nothing but soft snow. A good friend of mine, who was a freeride pro for several years in Utah, skied the Mantra more than any other ski, and I am tuning a new pair for him right now. He has S7's for deep days, but said the Mantra got more use: “I could ski it in any condition and be covered, and it railed on crappy snow days” was his quote. I believe 94mm was the original width of the Mantra, which was the mainstream category defining ski for many years (and is still a great ski, although it will be reviewed in the 98mm group). Speaking literally, the difference in width between 94 and 98mm is small to non-existent in terms of skier perceptions, but often, the 94mm skis are built and marketed slightly differently. These tend to be the realm of expert skiers: on a recent trip to Squaw, it did not go unnoticed that most every good skier on the hill was skiing a ski similar to these for PM skiing, when the snow had been beat down and bumped up. 94mm skis may not be as trendy as some other widths at the moment, but there is no doubt that a skier could do a lot worse for an every day ski, assuming they plan to rip in all conditions.
Review conditions: Kind of a bit of everything. Soft snow over hard, frozen bumps, some firm groomers, some soft groomers, lots of heavy crud, a bit of new snow. I got 2 runs on each, with an extra day on both the Legend 94 and the Kastle FX, although they skied the same as the first day I was on them.
About me: 5 foot 9, 155lbs, ski 30-50 days a year, can ski most anything on a challenging mountain, like bumps and steeps over any other conditions, groomers are fun too if the conditions are right, try to avoid big air and getting hurt.
Dynastar Legend 94
Head Rock n' Roll 94
Salomon Sentinel 94
Stockli Stormrider 95
First off, the Dynastar Legend 94 is a ski I know well. This has been either unchanged or slightly changed for 2012; it flexes the same as the old ski, and the rocker looks to be unchanged as well. It says it has “freeride rocker” whatever that means: in real life, the rocker is drawn about 7cm behind the normal contact point, and rise is very low, less than 1cm per ski, so I would say this is much more “early rise” than “rocker”, as I seem to equate early rise with a more subtle rise, and rocker with a more aggressive one. That may be just my observation, though.
This ski is one of the softer skis here. The tip is actually quite stout laterally, but flexes quite a bit when pressured over the length of the ski. It results in a ski that has above average edge grip, and good soft snow and groomer performance. The feel of the 94 is smooth, and damp. Not quite silky; it has a bit of an aggressive feel to it at times, but mostly, is on the quieter side of the spectrum. It isn't the most exciting ski: rather, it has that solid, predictable feel that fans of K2 and Volant will love. It makes the 94 particularly adept to soft snow conditions, and bumps. In bumps, the 94 is one of the best skis in the business. Release and engagement are predictable and very progressive. The soft tip really allows me to pull my feet back and get that tip pressured. The tail isn't too aggressive. I found myself skiing steep bumps quicker, easier, and with more confidence than almost any ski tested, no matter the size. It was nearly a hero ski in steep bumps. Edge grip out on the groomers is solid. Again, not the most exciting ski, but it gets the job done. Likes mid radius to GS arcs, more than short radius turns, and has moderately good edge grip. I would probably throw a 1/3 bevel on here if it were my ski: the mid-body of the ski is perhaps a bit on the softer side, and could use a little help. With regards to stability, it was solid, although not in the league of some of the more aggressive skis, and not a warp-speed groomer ski, but plenty of ski for everyone but the ex-racer looking for a game-changing wide hard snow ski. Good for a lighter guy like me. In chop and crud, the 178cm wasn't lacking, nor was it impressively stable like my BMX98 in the same length. Again, it was a bit subdued, a bit relaxed, and plenty of ski for those not really trying to blow things up at 50mph. That early rise tip is just the right amount of help to get the ski out of choppy snow; I found it to be a well-balanced ski. That applies to the overall review as well: the 94 is a standout at moderate speeds and in bumps, but performs average or above across a wide range of spectrums. The most aggressive skiers may want more ski, but for those with moderate to good skills, skiing mid-speed to moderately fast, they will find this to be a bit less demanding model than others on the hill, and really be a true one-ski quiver. Enjoyable.
Best for: bumps, crud, skier who want a performance ski that is forgiving and not overpowering; skiers looking for a smooth, damp, solid ski
Not for: those looking for a super aggressive feel: this one is more relaxed, yet extremely competent.
Head Rock n' Roll 94 in 180cm: an early rise tip and tail ski, not much early rise (maybe 5cm over a regular camber ski), has a lot of camber underfoot, slight twin-tip design. Running length is identical to the 176cm Kastle FX94, so size up if you are on the fence. Softest ski here when flexing it, but feels different on the snow. Could be that new construction technique that Head was using, supposedly similar to the Blizzard one that is on the big-mountain skis.
This is a ski that was really an eye opener, and one of the reasons we brought Head back into the shop. They are making some seriously good skis right now, and are back to that traditional Monster feel, with updated construction, more energy, and slight rockers on their skis. This definitely falls into that “skier's ski” category. It is similar in feel to the Blizzard Atlas, but much friendlier in terms of flex, in that you don't need to be 200lbs to get the thing to flex. Tip is just right for crudbusting, and stability seems significantly higher in chop when compared to the more mellow Legend 94. It blasts through anything at the tip, and has solid energy in the tail to get you back out of the turn; it reminded me of the Bonafide in this manner. Underfoot, it was a bit more damp than the Bonafide, but more lively than the Legend 94. Edgehold was solid: not quite as railed and on-point as the FX94, but it got the job done in big GS sweepers, just like the old 88. This might be the most big-turn oriented ski in the group on groomers; it likes to run more than some of the others here. Impressively smooth; this retains the classic Monster iM88/iM82 feel, but in a modern take. The tip is much easier to initiate, the tail finishes more progressively, yet the ski absolutely crushes it in the crud. Not much of a speed limit: whereas the Legend finds it's sweet spot and stays there, the Head almost seems to accelerate out of the crud, picking up speed and pushing you to ski it a bit more aggressively. It will pop you out of the turn and encourage you to ski actively. Same thing in bumps: easy to ski and I could maintain a nice rhythm and stay active without worrying about the ski tossing me or getting behind the ski. In some new snow, float was as good as anything tested here; the mid-body flex and tip flex surfed well, and were easy to ski. Feel was Austrian in character: smooth, damp, powerful, nearly race-like, but with some punch, all while remaining relatively forgiving. I do think it is a touch more demanding than the Legend, and encourages you to ski more aggressively, whereas the Legned is more patient and chill. Depends on the kind of skier you are. As a comparison to the Peak 90 (not reviewed here, but one of the best new skis for 2012), the Rock n' Roll 94 has less of a big carver feel on hardpack, a bit more flex at the tip. I found it more snow-hugging in the crud, while the Peak 90 has more energy at the tail and is the more powerful carver. Other than that, they are quite similar. If groomer performance was a priority, I would probably get the Peak 90: if I wanted more of a power crud feel, I would grab the Rock n' Roll. This ski, although under the radar, is a standout for the more aggressive skier crowd looking for a Mantra-type ski, but with a bit softer flex and pop in the tail.
Strengths: powerful ski, easy to ski, likes speed, superb range
Weaknesses: can encourage fast skiing, not the quickest turner on groomers, more oriented toward off-piste.
Kastle FX94: no changes, same ski as the 2011 (Kastle doesn't use year designations: a ski is the same model until they change it, making it easy on us dealers). Chris Davenport model, so lighter than most titanium laminate skis. Still Kastle build quality throughout, with the super fast base, rubber damping layer, 2 sheets of metal, and high quality wood core. No rocker, flat tail.
Review: This isn't the first time I have reviewed this ski: you can see my others for more info. Anyways, to sum it up: this is one of the best on the market. It has really grown on me. I do think the MX series (88 for a direct comparison) offers more edge grip, and the LX92 is similar in terms of grip. The feel is unique, unlike anything on the market. Lithe, agile, yet powerful and grippy. It isn't “damp” like the MX series, or, say a Head ski. It has a more nimble, quick on it's feet character. Yet, there is no lack of stability on this ski. Get it in to bumps and off-piste conditions, and it is as good as any ski I have yet to try in this width. Same for groomers: I would challenge anyone to find a better groomer ski in this width. There is no lack of stability here; the tail is substantial, and it as good of a “technical” ski as it is a powerhouse carver. It does need a bit of speed, a bit of skill, and challenging conditions to come alive. I wouldn't buy this as a low-energy groomer cruiser: it isn't doing justice to the FX, and that category is best covered by the LX. What this does well is skim crud at speed, nimbly pick it's way through bumps, slalom through a forest, or get high edge angles on your big-turn groomer. Touring and high-end, demanding lines are also it's forte. You can ski any condition on the FX, and perhaps it's most suitable characteristic is the utter lack of surprise: it is there for the skier, and completely predictable. The best word to describe this ski is “refined” in that it is so quiet and smooth, yet powerful. The proverbial “iron fist in a velvet glove”. Turn initiation is as easy as anything here, despite the lack of rocker or early rise. It has a tapered tip, which probably has something to do with it. For a big GS feel, I think the MX series is slightly better. For more crud-busting, big GS rough snow turns at speed, look at the BMX98 or the FX94. Low to mid-energy cruising, the LX 82, and for higher energy, yet forgiving, the LX98. But, the FX occupies a place all it's own: it is more nimble than any ski they make, is superb in bumps and tight spaces, and has a nearly ballet-like lightness to it. Hard to describe, but it just moves with precision, without the muscular feel of most skis. Thoroughly enjoyable. I am considering getting a pair. It is close to the ultimate 50/50 ski. And, a good choice for someone my weight.
Strengths: as good of a 50/50 ski made: superb in bumps, tight spaces, crud, unpredictable snow. Maybe the best skied-out Squaw or Snowbird style ski around.
Weaknesses: not quite as grippy as the MX series on hard snow, not quite as race-like or powerful, doesn't live up to the MX series' legendary stability, not quite all that relaxing. For good skiers.
Salomon Sentinel 94: skied in 177cm, a pretty conventional ski: 2 sheets of metal, very little, if any tip rocker (similar to the Rock n' Roll), vertical sidewalls. Looks like a stouter ski, more along the lines of a FX94, an MX88, a Peak 90, an Elan Apex.
Review: very impressive ski. In character, it felt most like the Kastle FX94 in this group; heavier on the snow, a bit more stable in straight-ahead crud and felt a touch longer too. Not as nimble or as laterally fleet though. This ski obliterates crud at speed; there is hardly a better ski available to do crudbusting than the Sentinel. It feels very like a Mantra in this aspect, although the flex on the Sentinel was more in tuned to my weight than the Mantra is. Bumps? Check. Smooth, even flex, tip soft enough. Not quite the bump-eater that the Peak series is, but serviceable. Sweet spot was rather large for a stiffish ski; it skis more forgiving than it flexes on the wall. Being a stouter ski with a lot of metal, it does transmit a fair amount of vibrations onto the skier; if you have sensitivity issues to skis that are on the stiff side, you might want to take note. On groomers, at speed, it really excels, and boy, is there edge grip galore. You can really open this up in GS arcs. Not really a slalom ski, not a quick turner, and is lacking a bit of energy and pop. Big turns and medium sized turns are where the Sentinel shines, and at speed. Forgiveness: not the most forgiving model tested. I made a mistake and got hung up in the backseat, and the ski didn't do anything to help me out. The tail is rather stiff; this isn't a ski that can be pushed around by a heel-thruster effectively. This is a powerful ski, and definitely a nod to serious skiers, who are looking for a capable technical all and big-mountain ski, with power and stability. It runs fairly long with respect to running length; it feels more like a 180 than a 177. Again, it is a ski that matches up well with the Mantra and that type of do-everything tool for the good skier. One of my favorite skis from the demo event, and a ski that would sell well for us if Salomon was interested in letting us sell their product.
Strengths: power, stability, smoothness, but not a “wimpy” French ski. Very good at speed, in rough snow, and up on edge.
Weaknesses: not super forgiving, likes speed more than slow skiing.
Stockli Stormrider 95: new ski for 2012. 95mm underfoot, a bit of rocker at the tip (feels like more than the Sentinel). Skied in 183cm.
Another winner here (I realize that sounds like a broken record, but skis in this category are getting awfully good). This is a “bigger” feeling ski than the Kastle or the Salomon. It really feels like a bit more of a backside tool in terms of stability in rough snow. Granted, it has a bit more length, but feels like it has the stability of a 185, at least. Wow. Really a big-turn crusher. The surprising thing was the quickness of this ski. They dialed in that rocker tip on this one; it is enough to really allows the ski to be nimble when it needs to be, and long and stable in the chop. Excellent in the bumps; really nimble, great flex pattern, skis shorter than it should. Very good bump ski for a big-mountain ski. It is totally unlike the Scot Schmidt Stormrider series: those were serious skis in the bumps, not to be trifled with. These feel a bit softer underfoot, and definitely better at the tip for motoring at moderate speeds. Not quite as nimble as the best-in-class FX94, but still very good. Even on groomers, the 95 was above average, with a typical only-from-Stockli dampness to it. Big turn GS feel, no speed limit, hold onto your hat and don't get your ticket pulled. Turn entry on this ski was a little more deliberate than on the Kastle: it was a bit more reserved, until you really gave it the edge angle and pressure input, then it absolutely took off and tracked across the fall line In that regard, it felt like a great GS race ski, without a mind of its own, waiting for a skilled pilot to give it marching orders. Due to the length, I found it to be good in trees, but not as quick as the FX94. With the tip flex, and a relatively forgiving tail, it changes direction quickly.
This could be as good as anything I have tried from 90-102mm in width. Definitely worth a test drive, if you can find a dealer stocking one. We will probably have one in our fleet, if you are in the area. With the bit longer length, it might serve guys like me very well on moderately deep snow days, when I would normally go for a wider ski, but all I am really looking for is a bit of length to handle the chop. Thinking those 8-14” days.
Strengths: unsurpassed stability, good in bumps, sweet crud ski, excellent on groomers as well, nice big feel without being overpowering.
Weaknesses: not the highest energy ski, big jump between 174 and 183 in sizes, expensive.
This is an outstanding group of skis. I find that skis, as a group, are getting better and more consistent. Perhaps designs are starting to converge. There just isn't a whole lot of variance in performance here. No ski will “let you down” out of this group, provided it has a solid tune and binding. Feel is the main thing: the one thing that the FX94 has over the rest is basically the refinement of the ski. It just has a luxurious feel to it: hard to describe unless you have skied one. The Sentinel and Stormrider 95 are a bit stronger in feel, the Rock n' Roll playful, the Legend 94 damp and grounded, quietly confident.