*Location of review: Breckenridge, Sunday
*Runs Taken: Black groomers, Steepish Off-Piste, Hike-To Sidecountry
*Snow Conditions: It's been warm lately, and with dusting of snow (1-2") most days over the past few days. We're in full-on spring conditions in CO, with toss-you-around crust in the morning, and soft spring mashed potatoes in the afternoon. On north-facing terrain in the alpine, it's still winter, with fast wind-buffed chalk in the resorts, and dense bottomless wind-affected powder out the gates.
Me: 5'10, 170lbs, 30 yrs/old, 28 years skiing, expert skier with an athletic, dynamic powerful style. Parents were both pro bump skiers. Prefer damp, charging skis with good high-speed stability.
191 ON3P Wrenegade ('11/'12)
186 ON3P Billygoats ('09/'10)
183 Head Monster m103s
186 Stockli XXLs
183 Head Monster 82s
181 Atomic Rec Race GS Ski (not sure what model)
I was very skeptical of the ski when I first started looking at it. All the reviews were talking about lack of stability, a soft ski, etc. I expected to not like it at all. However, when looking at the Kendo in a local shop, an acquaintance that works there told me that I should really look at the Bushwacker too, and said it was actually quite stable. I trusted him, so I figured I'd give it a shot anyway.
These skis look short. They measure short too - about 178cm. The mounting point looks perfect - not too far back, not too far forward. The side (camber) profile looks great as well. The ski is basically progressively bent up into a 'normal' decambered shape in the tip and tail - as if you were in the middle of a medium-speed carve. The tip is very low rise, which I've come to desire in a rockered ski - smoother across bumpy terrain, and soft snow. Despite all the talk, it is actually quite torsionally stiff. I think the 'softness' people speak of, may have been pertaining to the longitudinal flex. I'd rank the longitudinal flex as a very middle-of-the-road medium. It doesn't seem soft, but it's not quite medium-stiff either.
I started the day taking quite a few laps on some firm black groomers - Centennial/Crystal on Peak 10. I cranked up the speed and laid into hard carves, with my hips a few inches off the ground, and catching air on any terrain variation that wasn't groomed smooth. Like most skis with tip rocker, entry into the turn isn't immediate. However, I found the Bushwacker didn't feel out of it's element in transitions like the Volkl RTM series does - even if you're skiing at high edge angles, you still have to enter and exit the turn at a low edge angle, which is where the RTM series gets squirrly at high speeds. The Bushwacker's camber underfoot provides a solid enough platform to enter and exit the turn with enough stability to feel comfortable at high speeds. As you enter a higher edge angle, the tip and tail rocker engage cleanly and increase stability and edgehold right when you need it - when the forces are the greatest. It was a very predictable ski for being as short as it is. If you let it run a bit more base-flat, or minimal angles in firm snow, at really high speeds, it'll feel like a short ski, with the tip rocker flapping away. However, once you push up to moderate angles at high speed, or go down to moderate speed with bases flat, it feels perfectly stable.
I then went into the sidecountry. The top part was windblasted chalky snow on hardpack, the lower part was bottomless wind-affected powder. The ski performed really well here. On the top, it had the same characteristics on the groomers, however the tip/tail engagement was pretty constant in the softer chalky snow, bases flat at high speeds was no longer an issue. It easily transitioned back and forth between chalk to pockets of powder. Down lower, in powder, I found that the rocker is perfectly executed - it provided a catch-free experience and floated without issues at all. This is tough snow conditions for making turns, and it would be easy for a ski to feel hooky and grabby - in fact, I hopped on a pair of traditional 103mm skis with very slight tip rocker and a very little sidecut that had a very grabby feel on this same run on the same day. I was a bit surprised.
Coming back in-bounds I skied some steep dust-on-nasty-crust in Art's Bowl. Something that was mashed potatoes a few days ago, but was now refrozen hard, with some soft chalky snow filling it in, in places. In certain sections, the terrain pushes 45 degrees, so I used one of these steeper sections to try out billygoat-style hop turns and pedal turns. Neither the tip or the tail hung up, or held on too long. The skis were very well balanced with a well rounded flex.
I next hiked out to Twin Chutes several times and took runs both in and out of bounds in bottomless wind-affected powder. Again, the skis behaved really well. On one run, I stepped into 40+ degree terrain, and ripping at speed in what would normally be grabby wind-affected powder felt excellent. Absolutely no tip dive, plenty of float, and no grabbiness. In the belly of one of the turns at speed, I did feel the front of the ski flex a bit more than I intended, causing it to throw me into a tighter turn than I had wanted. I played with a lot of wind lips and the ski did an excellent job of bouncing off one wind lip and landing on the transition of another, plunging deep into the snow and popping back up, effortlessly.
Coming back down to the base area, I had plenty of time to take it into black terrain in spring snow conditions - very slight moguls or springy crud. The skis felt very predictable here, and I could go as fast as I wanted with all the stability I needed.
The tip and tail rocker on the Bushwacker is executed perfectly and works well with it's balanced, even, round flex. Neither the tip nor the tail stands out or makes itself the center of attention. It was catch-free in wind-affected powder - snow that is often the grabbiest of all. It floated amazingly well. The Bushwacker had a glassy damp smooth feel to it, very similar to burlier independent companies that use a similar glass and carbon construction (Moment/ON3P) - a bit less glassy/damp feeling though, and similar to PM Gear skis. It tracked over terrain very well - it might not be a Head m103, but I felt quite comfortable on it over rough terrain at high speeds.
Honestly, I'm impressed with this ski. The performance envelope is huge. It's completely comfortable just doing mellow cruising around (coming back down from the alpine), and it works well when pushed at higher speeds as well. I'm kind of disappointed to see people pushed away from this ski when they say they want a stable ski. I think it's MUCH more stable than others, on here, give it credit for.
I wouldn't use it as an everyday ski, but mostly because I tend to send a lot of cliffs - I prefer to have a wider and longer platform for landings. However, for others, I think this is a perfect one-ski-quiver for lighter skiers, when paired with the rental of a huge powder ski on those few big days a year (16"+). The Brahma should be great for heavier skiers in a similar role.
Why did I try this ski? I'm looking for a stable, predictable touring ski that feels like a real ski - around the 8lb mark, on the shorter side (for carrying on a pack), can handle big lines at high speeds in corn and wind-affected powder, but can also be forgiving and easy to ski if I'm exhausted from the climb, or if I'm dealing with crappy snow on a steep billy-goat line. I think the Bushwacker is perfect for this application. It's not my mid-winter deep snow touring ski, it's also not my big cliff hucking, hard charging powder touring ski, but it will be my big day, spring alpine touring ski.
Edited by Brian Lindahl - 4/8/13 at 3:05pm