Length Tested: 178
Dimensions/Turn Radius: 133/97/112 with R=16
Camber: Other. Rocker and early rise on tip, flat tail with pintail end.
Binding: Look PX 12
Mount point: Suggested (boot center)
Environment & Conditions: Soft groomers & firm groomers on piste, chop/cutup and 8" fresh off-piste.
Location of Test: western Montana
Number of Runs: 4 full days
Snow Conditions: as stated under Environment & Conditions
Demo or Own: Own
Username: yours truly
Age: five one
Height/Weight: 178cm/5'10", and 145 lbs.
Ski Days/Season: around 100
Years Skiing: 30
Current Quiver: Elan 888 @ 177cm, Elan 1010 @ 183cm, Dynastar Cham 97 @ 178cm
Home Area: dark, grey place where it snows in the winter
Preferred Terrain: off-piste
I decided to get some new skis this year and had narrowed down to Blizzard Bonafide @ 180cm or Dynastar Cham 97 @ 178cm. When I finally stopped procrastinating and tried to order my new skis, Blizzard had sold out of its Bonafides, so I went with the Cham 97.
I skied the Bonafide for 3 runs last year and didn't like the short-ski feel or loose engagement of the rockered ends, but did find them fun despite the disorienting nature of the rockered ends. I admit confusion as to why people felt non-rockered skis were "hooky" or "didn't want to let go" at the end of a turn. I haven't experienced those things on my non-rockered skis before. It seemed to me a shorter effective ski is a detriment, not a benefit. But I was willing to admit I was closed-minded on this issue and so I was willing to get a newer geometry, shape, design for this season.
The first day out on the Cham 97 was in cut-up new snow and on soft groomers. And I was on new boots as well. The skis and boots felt like strangers, I skied awkwardly and had lots of upper body action going on, apparently trying to help the skis do their thing. I was in an all-day clinic, so I didn't really free-ski the way I like to when I learn a new ski. All that compounded to make me not really like the skis on the first day. I thought maybe I'd wasted my money and would be selling them shortly.
I skied 2 more days on my Elan 888 and then on my 4th day out this year I got back onto the Cham 97s. I had an easier time learning the skis, and started to sense their strengths and weaknesses. By the end of the day I was really happy to have bought them and had decided they will be my regular ski once our coverage has buried all the base-gouging rocks that now litter a few must-ski areas of the mountain.
1) Very stable and powerful. I can drive them through just about any kind of crud I've encountered so far, from cutup days-old powder to some consolidated heavy chunks of snow that tend to want to redirect your skis. Also, we have an oft-criticized "runout" area that results from a funneling of many runs onto a heavily-tracked, somewhat narrow and occasionally sketchy road that's rated black diamond. On that runout my favorite strategy is simply point it and go. Most skiers and boarders go back-and-forth on the narrow roadbed, which is slower and more cautious I guess, but it's not necessary if your skis are stable and you don't mind the wind whistling in your ears. On this runout I can just point and go and no matter how fast I get going the Cham 97 feels bombproof. Like it wants another 20 or 30 mph from me.
2) Tip planes easily. The tips seek the surface more often than a 97mm waist might suggest. I hear others saying this is a benefit. I don't notice a direct skiing benefit from it myself, but I do notice the tips seek a higher point on these skis than on my Elan 1010. I don't have a lot of issues with tip-stuffing so I'm almost reluctant to call this a benefit, but I suppose others may like it or seek it specifically.
3) Tail can be engaged, or left to smear, at the skier's discretion. Normally I have to detune the tails pretty extensively to get this experience, and then I give up some edgehold at the rearmost part of the skis. I didn't detune the Cham 97 at all. Not one whit. When I wanted to feel like I was running a GS course the Cham 97 was right there with me. When I wanted to soften a turn finish I could do that too, without much effort.
4) Predictable even when skiing with a flat-ski style. I'm not much for flat ski, swivel-feet turns, I don't enjoy them and don't find them useful anywhere except trying to ride the troughs when in the bumps. But I recognize a lot of intermediate and advanced skiers aren't really very dynamic in their skiing and spend more time with flattish skis than with edges engaged powerfully. Those skiers could ride this ski pretty happily -- though they're not going to be getting their money's worth out of it, and it's likely to feel somewhat planky while they're doing that.
1) They can feel planky and lifeless if you're skiing them flattish.
2) Engaging and using the tail is more subtle than obvious, and may lead to the ski feeling planky when you don't get it right. The sweet spot for using the tail is small, even though the ski will feel stable if the tail isn't used. This lends to a strange combination of forgiving and relatively demanding. Forgiving if you don't use the tail -- but then you're not really getting much out of the ski. Demanding if you want to maximize the ski's abilities.
3) Requires centered stance when you want to ski hard snow/groomers with good edge engagement and high edge angles. If you can stay centered they feel like a race ski, but if you're wobbly they may not feel all that stable or powerful, and may not satisfy your carve urge.