2015 Ski reviews from the SIA show at Copper Basin
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.
Nordica Soul Rider 177cm
No changes for 2015. Often overlooked, 98mm underfoot, early rise tip and tail, full sidecut profile (no taper). Not too stiff, but not a noodle. All-mountain twin.
Another demo confirms my previous observations: Nordica got this one right. The tip is a bit of early rise, gets out of the way, but doesn’t feel detached. There is a great transition into tipping on this ski, it has a nice flex pattern, quick engagement. The tail is quite strong for a twin. Lateral edge grip is nice: this ski inspires confidence, especially bumps, crud, junk snow, and even on groomers, as long as too much isn’t asked of it. Nice balanced ski, does everything asked of it with minimum fuss. It could use a little more stability: say 1 sheet of metal and a flat tail, and this would be one hot selling ski. Oh wait, isn’t that the Enforcer that was killed? Anyways, great ski, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a versatile, traditional feeling all-mountain ride.
Who would buy this ski: those looking for underrated high performance, very technical wide ski that also handles off-piste conditions well.
Head REV 98 177cm
No changes for 2015. Construction is a bit of a mystery; supposedly it has metal, but doesn’t ski too stiff at the tip. Taller early rise tip, more or less flat, but rounded, tail.
This is another often overlooked ski. A bit lighter on the snow than the Soul Rider, finishes the turn a bit more cleanly, otherwise more different in snow feel than performance. It isn’t a crusher at speed: likes to dance, very nimble for a Head, probably due to the new sidecut they are using on their REV series. Competes well against the Rossi Sin and Soul: it has a quickness similar to those, but longer running length, so more stable in chop. EASY to maneuver, stability is a bit above average in this group, but not as strong or damp as the Monsters of old. I see this as a quick tree ski, good in bumps, good in junk, average to just above average for soft groomers. I liked it, and would gladly choose it for a Colorado type ski, where I am making lots of shorter and medium radius turns, and need something that holds up in tight trees and bumps. It was made for that type of skiing. Big SuperG Bachelor crud-buster turns at 40mph require either a longer length or beefier ski; I can say that about all of the REV series. After skiing it at the demo, I wish I had brought out the shop’s demo pair to ski the rest of the week. Seemed tailor-made for what was to follow at Steamboat and Mary Jane
Who would buy this ski: moderate to high skill level skiers, looking for traditional Head dampness and all-around versatility and performance.
Fischer Ranger 96 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. It comes in an 88/96/106 width.
Quick review: In this category, it was the most soft-snow biased. Felt a little wide and clunky on groomers; not much happening in terms of tip engagement. Bumps were fine: the ski had a soft tip and predictable flex. In softer junk snow, the tip was easy to turn, easy to maneuver, and the ski tracked well. I overpowered it at higher speeds, similar to how I ski the Soul 7 and REV 105. Really, this ski is not that much different from those 2: nimble, moderate stability, easy in junk snow, light. It was solid: not really a charger (Fischer makes a Motive 96 if you want to ski fast); this one is more suitable to AT use, to all-around soft snow days. It is a great ski for that application; doesn’t have the edge bite of say, the FX94/104 or the MX98, or even the Bonafide. As a soft snow ski though, it is really easy to ski, just like the Watea. Think of it as a Watea with a bit different tip profile, little stiffer underfoot, flat tail. If you weren’t a Watea fan, don’t look at this ski, but if you liked the Watea, you will like this one at least as much.
Who would buy this ski: primarily softer snow skier, looking for smooth, playful, versatile off-piste ski
Kastle MX98 174cm
New ski for 2014. Very small early rise profile. 2 sheets of metal, comes in 174/184/194. Softer profile than the old MX98, but not by much. Very similar to the old ski, which ended production a few years back.
Quick review: The MX98 goes up against the FX104. One is more of a wide do-everything ski; the other is…a wide-do everything ski. Same lengths too. Hard to say what Kastle was thinking here: both skis are great, but there is a lot of overlap, considering that both skis are available in 174/184. Kastle could have done something different, maybe offered a 170/179/187 on this model to offer a ski as an option to those who can’t buy an FX104 due to falling in between lengths.
I skied this as the SIA demo, and also here locally on Monday. The demo was short: just a couple of groomers. First impression was this is simply a wide MX88. No real surprises. The tip tracks a touch better in junk snow, it is a wider ski, not quite as powerful edge to edge as the 88. All stuff you would expect. Also, the ski is ridiculous with regards to stability. Skiing a 174cm makes other 180’s feel like sub 170cm lengths. This thing has a ton of power.
When skiing it locally in heavy Cascade cement yesterday, the ski made for a good option over the MX88. It is still a strong ski, and in heavier, rougher snow, it tracks better at speed than the FX series, without a doubt. The MX has a stronger tail, stronger tip, stronger flex at speed. The FX is no slouch, but the MX is a segment leader here. Nothing can touch this ski in terms of GS turns in crud. Surprisingly for such a strong ski, the tip and tail is very easy to work in funky snow at tight spaces: it is not a burly ski by any means, especially when you consider the top end it has as well. It is so easy to release and move the feet on in that junky snow in the trees; easier than 85% of the stuff out there, and the tail has a bit more subtle release than the MX88. It is just tweaked a bit more toward off-piste use, while remaining the premier hard snow ski in this width. I would say the float and ease of use, while solid, are a little behind the FX104, as they should be, given the design differences, but the MX will come out on top for precision on firmer snow and groomers, as well as skiing fast in resort-type settings. It does have a ridiculous engine under the hood: don’t overestimate the length you need. I would say head height is a good baseline, maybe 3cm above, 6cm below is a good range. I wouldn’t go too long though, you just don’t need a ton of length on this ski is to get class-leading stability.
Who would choose this ski? Someone looking for a bit wider than average width power ski that can rip with the best on the groomers, yet remain extremely versatile all over the mountain. Also, with a big bank account: retail is $1390 flat.
Kastle FX94 176cm
No changes for 2015: there is no model year on this ski, so it is simply the “current” FX94 until an update comes along.
Skied 2 runs, one groomer, one crud and steep bumps. Wow, great ski, just money in off-piste conditions and funky snow. So smooth, so easy, it just reads my mind in tighter spaces. While not the groomer ski that the MX88, nor possessing quite the top end in GS turns of that ski, the FX94 is even easier in weird snow, as well as bumps. The tip just has that little edge on ease of release and smear, and the tail is a touch less aggressive. This makes it a bit superior to the MX88 in tight trees, luge style tree runs, bumps, and places where you need to turn around the crud, not through it. Sick ski; just reads your mind on tough terrain. The tip initiates and then just gets out of the way. The tail finishes the turn well but isn’t too powerful. On groomers, it holds well enough, but suffers a bit from the tip taper. Not as much tip taper as some other skis reviewed, but it definitely neuters things a bit. Good edge hold though. This ski really shines off-piste; it has to be one of, if not the, best mixed-snow ski available today.
Who would choose this ski: skier attacking variable conditions on and off piste, looking for smoothness, refinement, and unassuming horsepower.
Blizzard Bonafide 180cm
No changes for 2015: continues as a laminate ski with 2.5 sheets of titanium reinforcement, 98mm underfoot, Flipcore construction.
Skied 2 runs, same as the Kabookie and FX94. What stuck out about this ski is the very high stability: it is a very powerful ski, with no speed limit. Almost feels like a pro freeski comp tool. Big power, in crud, on groomers, it is close to the MX series in terms of stability. This is a big-boy ski. In bumps, the ski was stiff: it made me work pretty hard, I had to be dialed on my dorsiflexion technique, really extending and getting long in the trough; otherwise, if I was hanging out on the tail, it was time to go for a ride. In high speed crud, it was perhaps around 10% more stable than even the very stable Kabookie. On groomers, it felt a bit stiff and unresponsive. Very stable, but I was skiing the sidecut; it was hard to initiate early by pulling the feet back while down-unweighting, then getting shovel pressure to bend up that tip early. A really stiff ski; seems to be more of a “park and ride” ski, rather than a dynamic groomer ski for a lighter skier. Other skis I tried that were on the stiff side still had a softer shovel that allowed for early pressure; this one didn’t. The Bonafide felt most at home in big GS turns and blasting crud. The Kabookie was clearly the more versatile choice for how I ski.
Who would choose this ski: bigger guy looking for a big-mountain crusher, those skiing big turns fast, and skiers who are cruising and looking for more of a park and ride feel.
Blizzard Kabookie 180cm
No changes for 2015: continues as a laminate ski with titanium reinforcement, 98mm underfoot, Flipcore construction. Basically a lighter and 15% softer version of the Bonafide.
Skied 2 runs; one groomer, one partial crud and partial big bumps. Very impressive ski; this and the Power 800s get my vote for “Best Blizzard ski”. It was the 2nd most impressive ski in crud, trailing only the FX94. In bumps, as long as they weren’t huge, the tip had a good flex and the ski was predictable. It could be a little stiff in the tail for big bumps though. In crud, in bigger turns, the ski was most impressive: just blew through crappy snow. On groomers, it had good edge grip, a nice tip flex that I could get bending up early in the turn, and solid stability. The tail was also fairly lively, a bonus when skiing groomers. Not a hard snow groomer ski; gives up a lot when you can’t get the tip engaged due to the rocker. Overall, it was a great jack of all trades: there really isn’t any condition I felt that this ski wasn’t above average in. A great soft-snow ski, for sure. Skill level required was fairly high: not the most forgiving.
Who would choose this ski: anyone looking for all-around soft-snow versatility in a high performance package.