Length Tested: 180cm
Dimensions/Turn Radius: 17m
Mount point: Suggested (boot center)
Environment & Conditions:
Location of Test: Sugarloaf, Maine
Number of Runs: All day
Snow Conditions: Packed powder/crud
Ski Days/Season: 20+/-
Years Skiing: 50
Current Quiver: Active: Kastle MX98/78, Hart Phoenix/ Pulse, Blizzard Titan Cronus
Preferred Terrain: Wherever the snow is the best
Last weekend was my first of the season. Since spending a day on the Soul 7's on a late spring "corn-u-cop-ayah" Maine day, I waited all summer to see how these skies would fare in full-on winter conditions. I found out, and it was good.
Saturday was a fast groomer day on the Kastle MX 78's. The snow gods to that point had been most stingy. All blow and no snow other than the human made kind. But it was a great "reintroduction" day. The Kastle's were, as usual, the perfect tool for the job. You just never know how it is going to go on the first day. It could be heaven and it could be hell, as the man said. I was in a new pair of boots as well - Lange 130 RX LV. While I will soon share my thoughts on these splendid boots, let me just say that the combination of a more upright boot with progressive flex was just right.
For once, I have been a good boy in anticipation of the season. Did all manner of leg routines for about a month, and the conditioning paid off. I had such a good time with the Kastle/Lange combination Saturday that I felt only a small twinge of regret as I walked by the DPS demo tent set up at the bottom by the lift station. Well, truth be told I was being inexorably drawn to those seductive, minimalist neon graphics when that old verse "and lead us not into temptation" miraculously popped into my head. I spun around and headed towards the lift feeling just a bit holier than thou. Perhaps it was a bit of unintentional "Soul-searching." But the state of my own soul is not what I wanted to talk with you about.
Sunday morning awoke to a different world and presented the skiing faithful with the first real snow of the year. Cold (0F) air did its magic alchemy and spun water vapor into that white gold we lust for. I do not know who was quivering more - me or the Souls, as we loaded gear into the car. After spending the previous day on a pair of traditional, full camber, metal infused German carving machines, I was immediately surprised how little readjustment was necessary to reorient to the Souls which are at the opposite end of the geometric and construction spectrum. And that, it seems to me, is one of the beauties of this ski. It requires no meet and greet time. It behaves, when you want it to, like a "normal" ski. And then, on demand, it instantly morphs into something quite different.
I did not have quite the same experience with the skis the Souls are often compared with - the DPS Wailer 112. I had just a wonderful day on those unique boards during my trip to Powder Mtn (Shhhhh....) last February (http://www.epicski.com/t/118883/powder-mountain-february-19-26). To be sure, I was utterly smitten by those skis in the conditions and terrain du jour - blower powder in the trees. I had never before experienced the sensation of floating with effortless, intuitive direction changes. But on the flats or groomers to the lift, they were not intuitive at all. Managable to be sure, but with a "wandering" soul. While this might have been a size-dependent experience, (I was on 178’s) I needed to be on edge all the time when not in floaty conditions. Skiing them on packed terrain was acceptable but mostly a necessary evil to get back to the powder playground.
With this experience in mind, I wondered how the Souls would fare in snow that I would likely encounter here in Maine when relegated to typical front-side conditions. Very well, indeed, I quickly determined. While about a foot had fallen over night and throughout the day, there was virtually no untracked to be found given the high concentration of many people on very few trails. But that was all good, because this is rather typical of Eastern powder days on piste. And you should buy skis for what you will ski, not what you hope to ski.
I spent the day riding the Souls on wide and not so wide traditional Eastern-cut trails. The surface was crud and packed powder with rapidly forming, close-cropped moguls fashioned by skiers testing their ski legs for the first time in months. Frozen lips bitched about aching muscles from a carpet that mottled more with each run. It is ironic that those below leave their carved signatures for others above to navigate, who, turn by turn, leave their own deeper marks for those who follow. This collective sin is only undone at night by the magical corduroy-maker.
As I wended my way down these well-trod trails with increasingly complicated surfaces, I appreciated how versatile the Souls are, with few discernible compromises. And my thoughts turned to an alternative dimension in which I am skiing the same terrain on some other ski in my active quiver, whether the Kastles, or Hart Phoenix/Vist DEMO’s, which are 66mm scalpels. Surely, they would be more capable on a turn or stretch of trail that would benefit from a traditionally cambered metal made ski. But I never, for the entire day, wished that I was on any of them, or anything else. And the reason, one again, is that these skis, as I discovered last spring, are a carbon and glass chameleon. On mottled or flat snow surfaces, lean forward and drive them as you would a conventional ski. They hook up and hold on. Not once did I feel the ski balk or twitch, even on uneven surfaces. But in the bumps, they become a very different animal. Sashaying back and forth with pivot slips over icy patches descending to powder mounds, I skied the bumps as well as I ever had. As if on a ski with no edges or tail, until you shift gears, engage and carve around the next one. A very intuitive experience, much as I had on the Wailers in Utah powder. Never a missed or botched turn from a tail that refused to yield or edge that had other plans. And I said to myself, this is almost cheating. Cheating with a ski spork.
And that kindled another topic for lift-time rumination. I have the preverbal box ‘o skis. And I love each of them, more or less, in different ways and on different days. Some may be, by virtue of their geometry and constitution, “better” in certain conditions. Certainly, on a hard-packed day, give me a Kastle or Hart with a razor edge. But after spending two days on the Souls, I can think of few reasons that that I would reach for anything else on a soft snow or packed powder day.
A few technical details. My skis are mounted on the line. But the 306mm boot sole is in bindings that were originally mounted for my Dobermann’s that have a 305mm sole. I found the forward/aft to be ideal in the conditions du jour. And the more upright stance and flat angle of the Lange’s was a perfect complement to this ski that likes to be driven centrally. That being said, pressure the cuffs and the tips engage. Suddenly, you are riding most of the length of a 180mm ski that is as stable at the speeds I ski at as any metal ski I own. The only time I sensed that the fore/aft was not optimal was in a brief run in untracked powder on the side of the bunny. Running the skis straight and flat, the tips did not uniformly float, but porposed in and out. They certainly did not dive, but neither did they surf. On a full-on powder day, I would want to have these mounted a bit back. As I am deeply invested in the VIST system which permits instantaneous binding adjustment forward and aft, I may just pull the Axials off and mount a VIST TT plate.
In the end, I plan to enjoy the Souls every day that it makes sense to pull them out. They are just that much fun. They are easy to ski, willing and elegant. A thorough bred for certain, but not a one-trick pony. And I cannot help but think that they make me look better than I am. But that is a flaw I can live with.
Edited by deliberate1 - 12/18/13 at 1:25pm