I had a delight-filled opportunity to attend the on snow demo days at Copper this week; changing skis every couple of runs took some getting used to, but through grueling effort, and the voice recorder app on my iPhone, I clung grimly to the brutal task of trying out a whole bunch of really impressive 2015 skis...
My dims: 5’10”, 175#.
Stockli SX 178cm: I was on this in Tahoe last December on man-made snow, and I loved it. Toward the end of the second day at SIA, I was in the mood for another go, this time on real snow. It’s wonderful! I can’t think of a ski that gives you so much and demands so little for it. It is an easy ski to rip, strong and super smooth. The 17M TR is quick, but not so quick (like most of the Heads I rode) that it will leave behind the careless skier. If you absolutely, positively got to kill every m… err, got to have the very best in all-around hard snow performance, accept no substitute.
Blizzard 800S 174cm: If you lack the will to buy the above Stockli with its eye-watering asking price, this is your ski. It blew me away, as well as everyone else I talked to who had been on it. Stay off of the SX, and you will think this is as good as it gets for a non-race ski, quick, powerful, and smooth.
Blizzard 800S 181cm: This ski should come with a huge warning label. WARNING: wringing this baby out will result in your ticket being pulled. It was a little more ski than I would want for ripping around on a resort, but for the person who knows no fear, or merely a bigger person than me, it is an able chariot.
Dynastar Course Pro 176cm: The new Course Pro is a substantial ski, as if Dynastar took the old CourseTi and tasered it every time it expressed a sense of humor, then when it was good and serious, released it into the wild. It makes the 800S look easy going. But once you get some speed under it, it comes to life and has your back. If you desire to ski the frontside like you’re angry with the mountain, here you go.
Head Rally 177cm/Head Magnum 170cm: I put them together because they feel ever so similar. I call them the ‘come play with me’ skis in the frontside category. As strong as they are (they will leave you behind if you lay them over and aren’t ready to project your CoM down the hill to keep up), they are really playful, more so than the above Blizz, Stockli, and Dynastar. While I own and love the 177cm Stockli Spirit OTWO (identical dimensions as the 177 Rally), if I were in the market for a 75ish, versatile weapon, the 177 Rally would be it. As far as 170 vs 177 or Magnum vs Rally, it’s up to the individual to decide whether they want a 13M TR or a 15M TR, 72mm waist vs 77mm.
Blizzard Latigo 177cm: For me, the Latigo (no, not Latino) is a better Brahma. It’s what I was looking for when I rode the middle brother of the Latigo/Brahma/Bonafide crew. While the Brahma isn’t different enough from the Bone (again, for me) to get my attention, the Latigo really surprised me. To be honest, I tested the Latigo with a negative outlook, I thought Blizz had once again gone a little too nutty with the whole flipcore thing in the sub-80mm realm, but the Latigo really works. It is fun, truly playful, but strong enough to lay over and rip. It’s also tied for the Best Bump Ski that I tested at SIA (skip below to The Ski for the other winner in the bumps, I agree wholeheartedly with Phil on this). It’s forgiving, but still provides good feedback; this ski could be a fine weapon for folks wanting to improve on a variety of skills, but want one sub-80 to do it all, and want to have easy fun when they aren’t focusing on technique. Plus, the Latigo has a fantastic topsheet; Blizzard has finally been introduced to the idea of tasteful understatement, hooray!
So, a little more detail with that ‘Blizz going too nutty with flipcore’… I own the very ski they did it with, the Magnum 8.0Ti (you’ll notice it’s being discontinued…). In hindsight, and after many days on it, it feels like the love child of the Latigo and the 810 (in a Back to the Future way, since it predates them), only with all of the wrong DNA. It’s not a bad ski, it just tried to do too many things and didn’t stick the landing. The 8.0 should have been the Latigo all along, and the Magnum series should have gone more or less unmolested by flipcore.
Blizzard X-Power 810 174cm: This, then, is the ski the Magnum series should have progressed toward. It seems to share the same DNA as the 800S, in all the right ways. Blizz seems to be finding its stride with when to, and when not to, use flipcore. It’s kind of like screaming for more cowbell, then learning that it’s possible to have too much cowbell in your life.
A word about TR and the 800S and 810 (and more on the DNA they share): they are listed as way, way longer TR on the topsheet than the reality on snow, and it took a look at the full specs in some SIA app to understand why. The 800S, for example, is listed as 18M TR in the 174; that is just the TR underfoot. The tip and tail have their own TR of 14M, which is closer to how it actually skis. I believe the 810 (174) is 16-20-16 for turn radii. Someone tried to explain it to me, something about evening out the belly of the turn or somesuch. They may be on to something, both the 800S and the 810 carve a very even turn.
In any event, the 810 is a fine example of a more versatile frontside ski, just a little more power than playfulness. It’s a better mix of traits than the…
Rossignol Pursuit 18 177cm: While a fine 80ish carver with the requisite oomph of a ski marketed as such, there’s just nothing memorable about it. If I got a smoking deal on a pair, I would be happy and know I have sticks under me I can work with, but they didn’t wow me.
Kastle MX 83 173cm: Take the venerable MX88, and stir in some Cholula sauce for funzies. I thought the FX84 was the thing to have, until I skied this. This, and the Rev85 Pro, are the class of the narrow all- mountain skis. They differ in approach; the MX is comfortable in somewhat bigger turns, the Rev wants to keep your attention by crossing underneath you with alacrity. The Rev is also roughly half the price of the flat MX, and that includes bindings, but can you really put a price on love?
Kastle FX84 176 cm: After skiing the new(er) FX94, I thought the FX84 would merely be a more focused collection of the 94's good things (see below), and I would dig them the most. That was true, until I tried the MX83. The way I see it, if I am under 90mm on a ski, the MX83 is the cat’s meow, over 90mm has me wanting the FX94. The FX84 is a fine, supple ski; it just happens that the MX is a little better. However, for my money (one has to remind oneself of this when attending the Candyland known as SIA), the narrow, all-mountain award goes to…
Head Rev 85 Pro 177cm: For those of us on a budget, this can be the answer for a lot of questions. It is nearly as awesome as the Rally, with its damp power and quickness, and for less money, and more versatility. It would make a great travel ski for folks that have to fly to ski; take one ‘sane’ width ski, and demo a fattie if you have a hero pow day (less than 20% chance of that anyway, on average). I can’t say it was the surprise of the demo, because I first tested it back in December, and it blew me away for value then (so I’ll give the Latigo the honors this time), but do yourself a favor and have a look before you go spending a lot of money on something else.
…the 88-100 all-mountain gang…
Kastle MX88 178cm: I own the 2011 MX88 178 (which are now rock skis, thanks to a… wait for it… rock), and the 2015 is still the gold standard of ‘versatility without compromising power’ in the class of ’90. Oddly (or perhaps not; money talks), the ski it feels closest to is the 72mm Stockli SX. The edge-to-edge quickness Is muted by about 18%, but they both have that expensive-feeling smoothness at warp speed. It has been around, largely untouched, for at least a half decade, and I don’t think anything has come along that out-MXs the MX.
Stockli Stormrider 88 177cm: Thankfully, the stars aligned at the crapshoot that was the Stockli tent (I know, right?) and I was able to ski the SR88 and the MX88 back-to-back. The good news is, the two are different enough that you can go ahead and buy both (whew!). While the MX feels like a wide race ski (I saw a winner on the Rahlves tour last year holding a pair of big-boy 188 MX88s atop the podium…), the SR88 is more mellow, and silky smooth. It’s as if they infused the Head Rev85 with Dos Equis’ The Most Interesing Man In The World. The 19M TR is pretty accommodating, and the flex is maybe 80-90% of the MX, but you can sense that they lined the space between the two sheets of titanal with your extra ‘hunnert dollar bills, and when you ski it, it feels gooood.
Meier Quick Draw 175cm: Meier, as a company, has a great story, and it is worth checking out for some feel-good vibes. Matt, who runs the thing if I remember right (please correct my foolishness if I’m wrong), came across as an authentic fella, and loves what he does. The Quick Draw, at 88mm underfoot, is the narrowest of their products, and with an 18M TR in the 175cm, is pretty nimble. It is not the last word in burly (although it approaches SkiLogik for their clear-coat prettiness), but for the lightweight or easy going groomer zoomer, it is a lot of fun. It’s also great in bumps. It seemed like their product sweet spot was in some of the wider models, like The Doc, but I didn’t think to get on them. Especially if you are here in CO, have a look at Meier and their philosophy toward responsible use of resources. I felt like less of a jerk immediately just from testing their ski.
Dynastar Powertrack 89 178cm: This ski is the X-Factor of the test, I need to get to know it better to have a clearer picture of what it is about. It seems like the goal from Dynastar was “let’s take the Outland 87, and Cham-ize the hell out of it”. It’s been two seasons since I rode the Outland 87, but the 89 feels like they tightened up the TR to keep it relevant on hard snow (sort of like the Rave, below), and stuck a clown shoe on the tip to enhance soft snow abilities. It carved well, but I had it on the kind of ‘hero groomer’ that just about any modern ski carves well on. I would like to hear what others have to say about it, and in more variable conditions. I did hear from a pretty good source that the 89 (vice the Powertrack 84) is the one to have if it ends up being worth having, the 84’s price point goal took too much power out of it.
Head Rev 90 177cm: The Rev 90 is probably the most usable of the ~90s; it isn’t the strongest, or the quickest (although it is nearly so, it feels like a ‘safer’, more playful Rev85 Pro), or even the most damp. But it has a great mix of all of those things. That big tip has a great start to the turn, it’s very intuitive. The Rev 90 is the sensible (but by no means boring) choice in the category, and not only because of its sensible price.
Nordica Nrgy 90 & 100 177cm: I have been putting off writing about these skis, the experience was totally unlike what I was expecting and hoping for. I didn’t like them at all. Some skis feel narrower than their dimensions, others seem to ‘elevate your game’ with the way they respond to input, these were neither for me. They weren’t just “meh”, they were “how soon can I get off of them?” The tip felt very vague, getting it to engage required what felt like unnatural movements to coax it to do anything, the opposite of every other ski I tried (except for the Mantra, but even that wasn’t as vague as the Nrgys). I skied the 90, then the 100, then a different 90 the next day (they had lots of them in the tent), because I was in disbelief that they could be this unresponsive, I spent more time on the Nrgys than any other ski. It’s possible it could have somehow been the tune on all of them, but I doubt it. I am interested to see how the weight of evidence treats the Nrgys as more folks get on them, I am actually hoping it ends up being “It’s not that you can’t ski the Nrgys, it’s that you can’t ski; the Nrgys just prove it.”
I own the progenitor of the Nrgy (one of them, anyway), the 185 Vagabond. I like it a lot, and I don’t have any of the problems I did with the Nrgy. Curiouser and curiouser.
SkiLogik Rave 182cm RL: The Rave, like all SkiLogiks, is gorgeous. Even their funkiest topsheet is stunning in some way, I’d cheerfully find a room in the house in which I could mount any of them. I took maybe a half dozen pictures in the SIA tent village at Copper; all of them were of the SkiLogik booth.
The Rave is 92mm underfoot, but has a TR of 15M, more commonly seen in a 70ish underfoot ski. Turns out to be a good thing, I got a sense that the Rave would feel planky without the short TR to spice things up. It was strong up on edge, and comfortable at speed. I tested the flat tail version (it can be had in twin tip), it finished turns well. It was one of the less, uh, accommodating skis in the bumps that I got on.
Scott The Ski 180cm (the magnificent-looking red one): The Ski, however is the most accommodating (read: fun) ski in the bumps in the 90ish category, and tied with the Latigo overall. The Ski is a directional hooligan ski (it has a flat tail), might just be the funnest ski I have ever been on. I have been on the 175 and 185 as well, but this one ‘fits’ me best. What really impresses is its stability at speed; it will get bounced around on variable, but Scott rivals Nordica in its ability to make a ski without metal feel relatively calm. The Ski has loads going for it; it’s nearly as cool as a SkiLogik to mount on the wall, it rips bumps, can sail down groomers at high speed, and has oodles of nostalgia for older people like me. As mid-life crises go, it is one of the more affordable avenues, and it’s the class of ‘90 ski that I lust for the most.
For those wondering about length with The Ski: the 180 feels more like the 175 (than the 185), it has a similar nimble feeling while being more stable. The 185 feels like a slightly different ski, as if there is a good bit more ski out in front of you. A bigger tester found it to be just right, however.
Kastle FX94 176cm: All the lovely things said about this ski are true! It’s great in the bumps (just a hair below the Latigo and The Ski), holds well and is fun on hard snow, and irons out the irregular stuff nicely. I cannot think of a ski that better defines the words ‘all-mountain ski’. If you’re not sure what you want, (and you have the means), here is the answer. I look at all the FX94 can do and have to scratch my head at the…
Volkl Mantra 177cm: It’s a new shape for the Mantra, and it’s a big ol’ miss, not unlike calling the old '80s Cadillac Cimarron a ‘Cadillac’, they really should have named this thing something else. When I clicked in and attempted that first turn, I thought something was wrong with me (which there is, but that’s a whole ‘nother story). There was no life, no real desire to start the turn, and no pop coming out of it; there was much use of boot tongue pressure just to get the thing going. I can see a 110+mm ski being un-fun on harder snow and that being acceptable, but not in the 98-100 class. In making a Mantra with full rocker (or no camber, however you want to say it), Volkl ended up with a Not-A-Mantra. It’s as if they wanted a narrower, softer Cochise (which is more fun to ski on no new snow than this Mantra). It’s a damp ski, a smeary ski, even a nice bump ski for the 98-100 category, but it’s not a serious ski. There, I said it; pardon me while I put on my flame suit…
SkiLogik Ullr’s Chariot RL: “Tip and rip”, he said. The guy at the SkiLogik tent was confident their ski would perform on hard snow, and told me to have at it. He was right, it is fun and powerful. The 15M TR felt tighter than usual for a ~100mm ski (the Ullr is 101mm), it would make an interesting alternative for someone that likes the power of the Kastle FX104, but not the mid-20s TR it comes with. It wasn’t very damp, but its energy was very entertaining. And, like the Rave, it was beautiful to look at!
…and a couple of wider sticks.
Head Rev 105 181cm: My benchmark 1-oh-something is the Nordica Vagabond 185; it is a great combination of float (my Best Pow Day, Ever, mentioned below, was on the Vagabond), playfulness and power. Perhaps the only thing I don’t like is the large-ish turn radius, it reduces its ‘wide daily driver’ versatility a bit and sometimes I wonder if there is a turnier ski that preserves all the other things I like about the Vagabond. The Rev 105 is a serious contender. The 181 has a 16M TR, and when you lay it over it hooks up enthusiastically. I skied it back-to-back with the Rev 90, and it felt very similar (nimble yet damp), just bigger/slower, but not by much. I would like to see how it performs in softer snow, that gargantuan tip (144mm, I think) has got to want to float a bit. Would that big tip also deflect in chop? So far, it comes closer to a wide daily driver (for me) than anything else I have been on.
Rossignol Soul7 188cm: I got a wild hair and wanted to take a break from narrower skis, and I hadn’t been on the viral Soul7 yet. I grabbed a pair and headed up to the T-bar for a trip down Upper Enchanted Forest, which was a big part of my Best Pow Day, Ever ™ just four days previous. It had been hit hard by the weekend warriors between then and SIA, so there was a combination of some fresh lines and lots of crud between the trees inside the Forest.
The Soul7 feels like a ski designed to a set of specifications: X amount of weight, Y amount of stiffness, Z versatile dimensions. Rossi produced a ski with desirable numbers, but no real personality, or ‘snow feel’ (Soulless7?). It is a competent ski, but not one I would choose to use, unless I’m putting Dynafits on them to have a reasonably light ski for the Up and little compromise for the Down. I could use it, I just didn’t enjoy riding it.
Edited by FairToMiddlin - 2/8/14 at 9:32pm