Note, these are All-mountain, not frontside skis! Mod, please update the title if you can!
2015 Ski reviews from the SIA show at Copper Basin
More ski reviews to come, after we hit the 2nd demo next week!
About me: 5 foot 9, 155lbs. I am a little rusty this year, 22 hours on the snow prior to this show (blame poor weather at my home hill). In a normal year, I probably get maybe 30 days on the hill, around 100-125 hours of skiing, as many of my days are on lunch breaks for 2 hours at a time. Still, I am a strong skier, and tend to ski off-piste, bumps, crud, trees, and also groomers when they are good. I like skis that give me edge engagement early if I ask for it, are progressive in flex (can be bent up when given edge angle, aren’t so stiff that I am just skiing the sidecut, or so soft that they fold), and a tail that finishes the turn so that I can move into the next turn on balance.
Conditions: mostly softer snow, softer bumps, some crud. It had snowed a couple of feet a few days prior, so overall conditions were soft yet skied out.
General demo impressions: have ski designs hit a wall? It certainly seems that way. Skis are changing a bit from year to year, but I am not convinced they are necessarily getting better. Sure, here and there, things are improving, but elsewhere, some older designs (see the MX series, which has been only sightly modified since 2008) still is at the top of the heap. Some brands took a step backwards, or at least changed their focus from high performance to more relaxing. Then again, there is a ski that comes out of nowhere (the Blizzard Power 800s) and absolutely rips. The Kastle FX is a ski that is “traditional” and outperforms most other skis off-piste. A ski with a fairly neutral design (the Fischer Ranger 88) skis really well, but there is nothing revolutionary about the design; just a great package that works. It’s technology could be circa 2009. Other designs (the Bushwacker) are headed into their 4th year: the Cochise is reverting back to the original 1st gen design. When looking at skis, we see a lot of early rise, some very minimal early rise, or no early rise, but a softer tip that functions the same way. Some skis have taper at the tip, some have taper at the tail, some have early rise tail, some have flat tails. Flex is all across the board.
I do wonder if ski designs are at a point where they can be changed (for change’s sake) but that the improvements year over year have plateaued.
The nice thing is that I can compare all new skis to the MX88, which really hasn’t changed over the years. It gives me a nice baseline.
all-mountain (low 80’s to 90mm)
Nordica NRGy 90 177cm
new ski for 2015: rockered, taperer tip, lightweight core with titanium reinforcement, tapered tail. See Phil’s post for more info.
Quick review: I had skied this a couple weeks back, but wanted to reserve judgement until I got it onto real snow with it’s peers. I had 3 runs; 2 groomer and 1 bump. I just couldn’t really come to terms with this ski. The tip had a funky tip taper that just didn’t work for me. I like to ski active: really been working on the aggressive down-unweight and foot pull back, early tipping to arc out fast turns, and this ski just didn’t want to comply. The tip was slow to engage, very deliberate, just not giving me confidence that as I pulled my feet back and moved aggressively over the skis, that I would have positive top of the turn engagement. Likewise on the tail release: that tail taper (which is quite aggressive) just feels like someone is cutting out the bottom 5% of the turn. Powerful release, which is what I use to set up the next turn, is neutered. It even wants to force me to push my hips sideways somewhat. As a result, I am working harder and feeling less confident than I should be. Honestly, this ski seems like it wants to reward skidding and “pushing” the skis, rather than dynamic, clean skiing. Given that 90%+ of skiers skid rather than carve, it may be a good market share move, but I am not sure that it results in a better ski. Certainly a ski that appeals to more customers than the old Steadfast did, though. I don’t necessarily think it is a bad ski; just not the sort of technical yet versatile ski I like (MX88).
Once on edge, the ski was moderately grippy: middle of class I would say. Stability was a bit below average; it skis short. In junk snow, it cut right through soft stuff, and was also solid in bumps. Fairly floaty for the size, excellent flex pattern in bumps. No complaints there. I could live with it as a softer snow ski, but it is too vague for harder snow. I prefer the old Steadfast, and the Soul Rider. Both have more technical chops than this ski. Speaking to others on the lift, I heard several others voice similar opinions. I think that with a normal full sidecut, this ski would really come alive; kind of a sweet blend of Steadfast power and a lighter flex, but the taper and my skiing style don’t mesh well.
Who would buy this ski? Not a Steadfast skier: someone looking for a less dynamic, more relaxed and more tolerant (of mistakes) ski.
Rossi Experience 88 180cm
New ski for 2015: revised sidecut (a bit deeper): new 7 series tip construction, resulting in lighter swing weight. According to rep, a touch softer in flex as well.
Quick review: I am going to withhold judgement until I get on another pair. The pair I skied seemed like they had the typical Rossi/Dynastar out of the wrapper mega-railed tune. These were super grabby and edgy: way more reactive than any ski I tried. The only “unmanageable” bump ski I tried (I tried several masters GS skis, that is saying something). Off-piste, this thing was throwing me around. Had to be the tune. My last pair of Exp. 88’s were the same out of the wrapper: once I got a tune on them, they were sweet. Rossi does themselves a dis-service by demoing out skis so out of tune. Is it really that hard to grind them flat and properly bevel them at the factory? At least make them skiable out of the wrapper? No need to cut corners like that.
Who would buy this ski? Nobody, if it skis this poorly once tuned.
Fischer Ranger 88 178cm
New ski for 2015: replaces the venerable Watea. The new Ranger has a flat tail, titanium reinforcement underfoot, early rise tip, cross-hatch milled core to save weight. It is somewhat of a Motive, but with a bit more early rise and less metal. The Ranger, as the name would indicate, is built for all snow types.
Quick review: I liked the Watea, but always felt something was lacking on firmer snow. With that said, the Ranger was a real surprise, and a real sleeper of a ski. I got 3 runs on it: a good 1.5 runs on groomers, 1.5 runs in bumps. Maybe my “surprise ski of the test”. Not the most stable, but stable enough. Good grip on the groomers; better initiation at the top of the turn than many in this group, and the flat tail ensured it finished the turn well. Solid grip on the groomers; mid-range for the test. Nothing special in terms of stability; similar to the Watea in this respect, but very grounded, damp, easy to ski, and light. Once in the bumps, I think this was #1 of the 20 or so skis tried. Just money flex in the tip and tail, so easy to ski. Same with junky snow; just read my mind, like a softer MX88, did just what I wanted it to, nothing more or less. Easy to arc or to slarve, would be a very good tight tree ski. It kind of reminds me of a Bushwacker, but with a bit more camber and more thorough finish to the turn. Chatting with others on the hill, there were a bunch of thumbs-up on this ski. I liked it enough to place an order on it for our “performance rental” category (we get $45/day for skis/boots/poles). Seems like a great ski for those wanting to ski the whole mountain on a typical day at Bachelor, maybe some soft snow, probably a good dose of groomers, nothing too aggressive but super capable.
Who would buy this ski? Someone looking for a narrower, versatile all-mountain ride; easy to ski, yet high performance and not demanding in challenging snow.
Fischer Motive 86 175cm
New ski for 2015, 2 sheets of metal, mid early-rise tip, flat tail. Laterally rigid. Has a new core that has a cross-hatch milling pattern. Saves approximately 220g per ski, so around 10%.
Quick review: nice contrast to the Ranger. The Motive, as expected, is more powerful; it is classic Fischer edge grip and power. Fairly stiff; more of a groomer ski than the Watea, great bite at the top of the turn, snappy release, edge grip was above average for the group, as was power. Definitely an acceptable technical groomer ski; it has the attributes of a high performance carver, but in a wider package. In the bumps, it was perhaps average, maybe a little below. The tip absorbed the trough well enough, but the tail didn’t quite want to let go: aggressive feet pull-backs were necessary to get the ski flat, not just tipping. In junky snow, the tip was surfy and easy to ski; the tail wasn’t loose; it wanted to finish the turn fully, whether I wanted it to or not. Fairly aggressive in off-piste conditions. Ski-able, but not ideal there. As noted above, a great contrast to the Ranger: if the Ranger is a 70% off-piste ski, the Motive is 70% groomer, with a bit of versatility thrown in. Nice ski.
Who would buy this ski: those looking for a technical, versatile frontside ride that is quite good in bumps and has great lateral grip.
Kastle MX83 173cm
No changes for 2015: 18m (listed) radius, 2 sheets of metal, dual radius (proprietary) sidecut, flat tail, traditional camber. Slightly different graphic for 2015 (green sidewall and font change on the top sheet); call me if you want a deal on the 2014’s right now. The MX83 has slightly less tip rise than the 88, slightly stiffer tip, slightly more flat tail. Running length is approximately 1.5cm longer given an equivalent measured length.
Quick review: another ski I know well, one I am very comfortable on. The MX83 is more powerful than the 88 on groomers, no doubt; stiffer tip, more aggressive top of the turn edge engagement, stronger finish. It is a bit more biased toward groomers than the 88; more grip, more power, stronger finish. It is getting awfully close to carver performance, while still being good in bumps. I wouldn’t say it is as good off-piste as the 88; the tip, while great for such a high performance ski, is a touch too powerful at times in junk snow, and the tail is a little more stout than on the 88. In bumps, I would rate these as a wash. I like the length of the 83, the flex of the 88. On groomers, no doubt the 83 just has a more responsive feel. The tenacious grip is there, yes, but what really stands out his how positive and progressive the ski can be flexed. Park and ride? No problem. Really want to ski dynamically in tight arcs? The ski will respond to big edge angles and strong release/engagement moves. It is a chameleon that can make any turn shape, can ski with any amount of energy, and is capable of hyper-technical skiing. If you want to rip groomers with no compromises, yet want good off-piste performance for a narrower, superb carver, this just doesn’t have an equal that I have tried.
Who would buy this ski: someone looking for premier frontside performance, yet a versatile all-mountain ride. Snappy slalom type energy with GS stability and class-leading grip.
Kastle MX88 178cm
No changes for 2015: 20m (listed) radius, 2 sheets of metal, dual radius (proprietary) sidecut, flat tail, traditional camber. Slightly different graphic for 2015 (orange sidewall and font change on the top sheet); call me if you want a deal on the 2014’s right now.
Quick review: a ski I know well; I own a pair, and also had a pair with me for the remainder of my trip. Out of the whole list of skis I tried; if I had to own only one, this is the ski. It still has no equal. This ski is a rocket ship on groomers for a non-carver: ask Noodler. His comment: “there is NO way I can keep up you with you when you are on the MX88”. Edgehold is superior to anything else in this category. This thing is the Richard Sherman of skis: a total lock-down. Forgiveness: for a ski of this level, this is super easy to ski. Tip is just butter, no push back, positive engagement. I wouldn’t say it is necessarily a super easy ski to own: it is strong, and likes clean technique, but is forgiving of flaws. Tail: fairly strong turn finish; not overly aggressive, but not a wimp. The 88 will surprise you with it’s power coming out of the turn, if you ski it like a race ski. All you have to do is load and decamber it; release and pull the feet back, and it will unweight in a hurry, allowing you to push that ankle open, get new edges early, tip, and arc it like a 13m ski. Amazingly tight radius is is capable of for a 20m design, if you have the skills and energy. I skied it hard in the bumps, probably 30 runs over 3 days, at Steamboat and Mary Jane, and can say with confidence that if you are looking at a powerful all-mountain ski, you won’t do better than the MX88 in the zipper line. I can’t say how easy it was to just bicycle through the turns in the zipper line. Get back on the tail, and it is somewhat more stout than I would want, but I never ate crap due to being tired (and I was super gassed and out of shape, having skied 5 days in a row in Colorado but only 21 hours the entire season before the trip). In crud and junk, it moves snow. I think the crud jumps out of the way when it sees the MX88 coming down the pike. Tight spaces were really where this ski didn’t shine that well: the tail is powerful, you don’t want to be back there when you are 2 feet from hitting a tree. Got to be committed in tight spaces; it isn’t super mellow. Manageable, but not ideal. Overall, considering the whole package, it does most everything as good as any ski out there in the ~90mm class. No ski is perfect; the MX88 comes close.
Who would buy this ski: someone looking for perhaps the most no-compromise, do-everything ski on the hill; a technical ski that can hold it’s own on groomers to trees.
Dynastar Powertrak 84 178cm
New for 2015: Similar to the NRGy, but with more tip rise, tip taper, and tail taper. Very 5-point design. The 84 has no metal, is a replacement to the Outland 80 Pro.
Review: Well, this ski has a target market; that target isn’t me. This ski didn’t impress at all. Tip was the most vague of any ski tested here; the tail absolutely did not want to finish the turn; it wanted to skid at the end of each turn. The ski lacked stability and edge grip. No trust that the ski would initiate, hold when I got there, or put me in the right spot when I ended the turn. A few times, I thought I was just going to finish the turn by sliding out and pointing uphill. This ski wants to skid, not carve, and I know that is how a lot of people like to ski firm snow; skidding is trustworthy, easy, gets you down the hill. Definitely a target market for that. It feels nothing like a high performance ski though. Not sure where Dynastar is going these days: they have a killer frontside lineup (Chrome, and also the Course Pro ti): great boot lineup, but their all-mountain ski consists of a non-technical ski like the PowerTrak, and their wider ski is an AT model (Cham 97/107 HM) that is great in soft snow, but also not known to be versatile. The stiffer Chams are no longer coming to the US. The high performance all-mountain skis of the past are all gone (Pro Rider, Sultan 85, Sultan 94, Outland series) with nothing to replace them. The PowerTrak seems like more of a mid-range, mid-performance price point lineup, not a flagship model.
Who would buy this ski: lower level to upper intermediate, non-technical skier looking to cruise, not too worried about technique.