I was at Whistler this past weekend. Didn’t go with intentions of trying skis, but there were a number of vendor demos at the Roundhouse and conditions weren’t awesome, so it seemed a perfect time to try some stuff. I’ve been thinking of replacing my first year Vokl Mantras*, which I use as a daily driver for non-powder days. I’ve been curious to see if seven years of ski development has produced something anything of interest in this range. Also I bought these originally as a powder ski, but now I have a real powder ski. So I'm willing to give up a bit of soft snow ability to gain some hard snow performance.
*For reference, these are the dark gray ones with orange sidewalls. My understanding is that the Mantra has gotten stiffer over time and that these are the least stiff of any year.
I like the Mantras for their crud-busting ability, prowess on the steeps and edge hold on hardpack. So they do a great job as a non-powder day ski. My dislikes (or room for improvement) is that they take a lot of work to make a nice round carved turn on groomed. Also, this is a nit, but something about the construction bothers me at times; it’s all very hard materials with a thin profile; so even though they’re damp in terms of not deflecting much in the presence of medium-sized inconsistencies, they transmit every little vibration directly into your boots. On crusty terrain it can be pretty annoying.
I’m 5’7”, expert level with plenty of bad habits. I’m happiest on steep off-piste terrain, but don’t have much need any more for doing “fall or you die” runs that I aspired to do in my twenties. …while I prefer being off-piste, I still really enjoy making carved turns on the groomed.
Conditions at Whistler were a mix of crusty refrozen, dust on crust, a couple inches of sun-warmed powder, and spring corn – pretty standard. I tried to take each ski on a mixture of groomers, bumps, and something steep and technical enough that you couldn’t just carve.
I started by going to the Head booth and asked for an all-mountain ski in the 90 to 95 mm range. They gave me a Rev 98 in a 177. A little wider than what I was looking for but I figured I’d give it a shot. Despite the width, they carved quite nice, maybe even better than the Mantras but they did feel wider, which was a bit opposite of the direction I was going. They had a quiet, smooth feel; opposite of the Mantras. They did bounce around a bit more where it was really bumpy though. These were good in crud and on the steep terrain. Overall, a good ski, but nothing ground-breaking.
Next up was the Kastle MX88 in a 178. On the groomers, it was awesome how skinny they felt. It was like wearing hiking boots and then switching to running shoes. These were a complete blast carving turns; I could make any shape and size and speed. They absorbed the crusty terrain ok, but didn’t live up to the expectations of the smooth feel I’ve heard so much about. They were perfectly manageable in bumps, but once I got them on some steep stuff I hated that they were so locked into a carved turn. When it gets steep and technical I rely heavily on the ability to skid my turns both to scrub speed, but also to line up my next turn without dumping too much speed. It’s not pretty, but I can ski faster and more in control this way. With these, I felt like I didn’t have that option and felt I had to ski really carefully as I carved my way through the steep, technical terrain.
I had also wanted to try the FX94, so I got that in 176. These were much more my style. I had a much easier time with these on the steep terrain varying turn shapes and skidding when necessary. They handled crud very good too and to me almost had a smoother feel than the mx88. It wasn’t nearly as fun on the groomed as the MX88, but it was still quite good. Easier, more fun, and more capable than the Mantras.
Next up was the Nordica Steadfast. What stood out about these for me was how round of a turn they made on the groomed and how easy it was to accomplish this. This made the groomers a lot of fun. They were decent in bumps, decent in crud, and a little hooky on the steeps. Not nearly as much as the mx88, but more so than the other skis I tried.
After that went back to the Mantras to retrace my steps. On the groomed they felt ho hum compared to the others, but on the steep terrain I found myself enjoying them more than anything I tried. Perhaps it was a confidence thing. The FX94 was the best overall of the skis I tried and likely better overall than the Mantra, but at this point I'm not sure they're $1000 better.