Background: Ex-racer, 5’7”, normal skiing wt. 148# but currently 160# (sigh). Since 2000, I have not skied anything but my race boards: 160 cm Atomic Beta Race 9.16 (soft SL, 62 mm, 16 m) and 183 cm Atomic Beta Race 10.22 (stiff GS, 62 mm, 22 m). The GS work for me on groomers only, but I’ve found the soft SL is a versatile all-mountain ski (I’m on them in my profile pic). The binding exploded on my SLs, thus forcing me to do what I’d been planning for a couple of years: demo new skis. I wanted something that would be as good in soft snow snow as my SLs (they’re quite good there) but less work, and that didn’t give up too much race precision on the hard stuff. I also decided I wanted something a bit more comfy with high speeds and large turns than my SLs, but didn’t want to give up too much of their ability to make quick turns on steep, technical terrain. Just got back from 3 days demoing skis at Mammoth. Tried the Volkl RTM84 and Kendo, Head i.SuperShape Titan and Rev85, Line Prophet 98, and K2 Bolt.
Surprises: Skiing these was a revelation. I had two big surprises:
- In the past, I was an avid demo-er, and was generally able to evaluate a ski within the first few turns. But each of these new ones skis so differently that, at least for some, it took me a full run to figure out how to use them – at which point they would come alive.
- Being wider than my 62mm race skis, I figured they would give up some carving ability on the groomers, but be magically easier in soft snow. Interestingly, I essentially found the opposite. Compared to my race skis, these made it remarkably easy to initiate high-C turns. Just put them on edge and project your body down the fall line. With my race skis, the timing and pressure has to be just right – there’s always a bit of drama. By contrast, the Titan, Bolt, and even the Prophet did this easily, and the RTM84 virtually initiated itself. [The jury’s out for performance on ice, of which there was none at Mammoth.] OTOH, in skiing heavy cut-up “resort powder”/windblown/windcrust, I didn’t find even the two widest skis (the Kendo and Prophet) to be easier than my SLs at making quick turns down the fall line. I expected to be able to playfully pivot/carve/slarve them through the crud with incredible ease -- just point and shoot. But instead, quick turns (needed, for instance, in trees and steep, tight chutes) seemed to require the same technique (and thus the same amount of work) as my SL skis: pressure the ski at the end of the turn, then use the resulting pop, combined with some retraction, to bring the skis up on top of the snow, then steer into the next turn. [GS turns in crud, however, were much easier with these than with my SLs.] Maybe I need to be on a specialized off-piste rocker ski (DPS Wailer 112?) before I get this ease. After all, while the Kendo and Prophet seem wide to me, from an industry perspective they are solidly in the "versatile all-mountain" category, and thus may be as compromised in off-piste performance relative to a specialized backcountry ski, as they are in on-piste performance relative to a specialized frontside ski. If that's the case, perhaps I'll need two skis -- an updated version of my SLs (a frontside ski that functions fine in crust and crud but just takes some work in those conditions), and a specialized crud/crust ski. Or maybe I just haven’t figured out how to use the new technology in the soft snow.
Conditions: For all the skis, I skied plenty of hero snow on the groomers (packed powder following a 2’ storm), as well as moderate moguls. For the RTM84, I additionally did a little skiing in light refrozen crust on top of ~1' of powder in the trees on the lower mountain. For the Kendo, I additionally skied cut-up powder/windblown on top of moderate moguls on Climax (see first pic) and for the Prophet I additionally skied crud/moderate windcrust off the traverse on Ricochet (see second pic). Snow was heavier and more challenging for the Prophet, because it was the second day after the storm. For each ski I give the waist width, turning radius at the length I demoed, and flex pattern. [Note the manufacturers did not supply the radii for the Prophet and Bolt at the lengths I skied, so I calculated them from the radii supplied for the other lengths.]
Volkl RTM84, 84 mm, 16.9 m @ 171 cm, full rocker
Initially I didn’t like this ski – it didn’t feel like it gave me a solid platform. Then I recalled it was rockered, so I decided to try pressuring it less and – voila --the damn thing practically skied itself. If Atomic weren’t already using the name, I’d propose calling it the “Volkl Automatic.” Never have I found it so, um, automatic, to initiate high-C carved turns. It also nicely soaks up terrain irregularities during high-speed GS turns (the Head Titan, by comparison, knocked me around a bit). Overall, I’d say it’s principally GS in character. But: in the belly of the turn, I didn’t find the ski as solid as I’d like. So on steeper slopes, I didn’t feel as confident making those carved turns. Also, it felt somewhat planky in the moguls and, while I didn’t get a chance to try it on Climax or Ricochet, when I took it into light refrozen crust in the trees on the lower mountain, it didn’t seem happy. So at this point I wouldn’t buy this ski – it seems like a somewhat one-dimensional groomer-only ski. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but for a groomer-only ski I think there are better choices for me. Lengthwise, it felt just slightly short.
Head iSuperShape Titan, 78 mm, 13.5 m @ 170 cm, traditional camber
Oh, wow. Not quite as automatic at the RTM84 for high-C turn initiation but otherwise far easier than with my race skis. And unlike the RTM84, it felt totally solid on edge (at least in the hero snow at Mammoth – ice might be a different story). Another wonderful feature of this ski is its great range of turning radii. When approaching skiers on a cat track I could slow by making tiny carved turns (something I don’t have the ability to do with my GS skis), and then easily open it up into sweeping GS turns (something I can do on my SL skis, but not as comfortably). This gives one an incredible feeling of control. It was OK in moguls – the quickness helped, though the wide tips and stiffness were not optimal. And as mentioned above, at high speeds on rough terrain I got thrown around a bit more than with the RTM84. Like all the skis I tried, it definitely has a speed limit (at least for me, in this length). No idea how it would be in crud, since I didn’t have the chance to try it in those conditions. The length felt just right.
N.B.: These are the widest skis in Head’s SuperShape line, and are thus not specialized carvers. Trying these made me wonder what the heck a modern specialized carver – like the Atomic Redster Doubledeck GS-- would feel like. Unfortunately, almost no one rents racing skis – the only exceptions I recall are the shops that serve the racers doing summer training at Palmer Glacier, and manufacturer’s demos.
Head Rev 85, 85 mm, 14.7 m @ 170 cm, tip rocker
I did not like this ski – it felt way too short to me, like intermediate skis typically do. Since when skis feel this way sizing up typically doesn’t help, and time was limited, I didn’t bother trying a longer length. Perhaps next time. Ridiculously, Head’s online interactive product advisor recommends I ski this in a 163, even after I maxed out the ability/aggressiveness options and added 4 cm to my height.
Volkl Kendo, 89 mm, 20.5 m @ 170 cm, tip rocker
Felt absolutely horrible on the groomers – like I was wearing a pair of cafeteria trays. Bad tune perhaps? When I put the skis on edge, I expected them to come around. Instead, the outside ski just kept going straight, putting me into “outrigger mode.” And adding more pressure to get the ski to bend didn’t help, because it couldn’t support that pressure. In the cut-up powder/windblown/soft moguls on Climax (first pic), they were fully competent, but nothing that brought a smile to my face. They were certainly better than my SL skis for making long GS turns through the crud; but they were no better, and perhaps worse, for making short turns down the fall line. So, at this point, I wouldn’t buy these, because they skied for me like off-piste-only skis, and for that I suspect there are better choices. The length choice felt right.
Line Prophet 98, 98 mm, 15.6 m @ 172 cm, tip rocker
Initially these felt a bit long and ponderous to me (perhaps I wasn’t used to the width), so after a run I tried swapping them out for the 165, which the rental shop recommended for “better agility.” The 165 felt frighteningly short and unstable, so I carefully skied back to the lodge and switched back to the 172, after which I decided the length was about OK. Given their width, I was surprised by their carving ability on the groomers. When it got steep, I didn’t feel as confident on edge, but on more moderate terrain they carved nicely. I wonder if they benefited here from having a smaller turning radius than that of the Kendos. Their preferred carving radius was strongly GS in character (the 15.6 m sidecut notwithstanding). In the heavy cut-up powder/mild windcrust off the traverse on Ricochet (second pic) they were, like the Kendo, fully competent but, like my SL skis, not effortless by any means. And on the steepest sections they didn’t come around as quickly as my SLs. As I mentioned above, either I’ve not figured out how to ski this new technology in soft snow, or I maybe I'd have to go to a specialized backside ski to feel effortless tight turns in crud. I also found their width a bit challenging on tight sections of the traverse, but I’m sure I could get used to that.
K2 Bolt, 72 mm, 16.2 m @ 172 cm, tip rocker
Only had one run on these, but my preliminary evaluation was that they were a nice carving ski but less versatile than the Titan with respect to turning radius -- more of an SL-oriented ski. The length felt about right.
Conclusions thus far: I seem to prefer skis with a tight turning radius. And unless it’s a race SL, I shouldn’t demo anything under ~170 (the guys at one shop told me the Bonafides at 166 would be perfect for me – I’m skeptical).
TBD: Try the Titans in soft snow. And try more skis!
Top pic is Climax the day after a storm -- winds at the top hit 70 mph that day!; here I was on the Kendos.
Bottom is Ricochet the day after that -- warmer that day, so snow was heavier, plus a light wind crust had built up; here I was on the Prophets.
Edited by chemist - 3/14/13 at 7:10pm