In depth Ski Reviews
Video of the conditions (skiing the Kabookie here)
Blizzard Bonafide 180cm
Blizzard Kabookie 180cm
Kastle FX94 176cm
Nordica Hell & Back 177cm
Conditions: over 3 days; some light snow, some heavier set-up new snow, windblown crud, windblown crust, soft bumps, lots of trees, up to 14” of new good quality snow hidden in the trees.
Skier info: 5 foot 9, 155lbs, skis 100-200 hours a year. Good all-mountain skier, fairly athletic, 36 y/o, technically oriented. Currently working on improving with more active upper and lower body separation, more active and balanced feet, and moving from the ankle.
Skis in the past I have really liked: Kastle MX88, Kastle BMX108, Rossignol Experience 88, Fischer Motive 86, Fischer Progressor 900, Blizzard Power 800s, Head Rock n' Roll, Nordica Enforcer. As you can see, all of these skis are fairly “technical”; they respond well input, both positive and negative. I like skis that provide feedback and finish a turn. I typically don't like vague skis that are too “loose” and can feel the same in any turn, except in deep snow. I mostly ski resort conditions, and require skis that are good in variable skied out crud and bumps, as well as new snow. Skiing style: I like angulation and rebound. Not a cruiser, I ski fairly fast.
On to the reviews: these are 4 classy skis, 4 of the most talked-about models of the past few years. The FX94 has 2 sheets of metal, early rise tip, flat tail, classic Kastle snowfeel and power. The Blizzard Bonafide also has 2 sheets of metal, is much stiffer, much longer, low early rise tip, slight early rise tail, tapered tip and tail. The Kabookie is identical in dimensions, but is lacking metal. The Hell & Back is quite similar to the Kabookie, a touch softer when flexing the ski, but feels a bit stiffer laterally at the tip (the Kabookie will flex a bit at the tip when it is twisted by hand). The tail on the H&B is more or less flat.
NEW SNOW: in new snow, I felt the Bonafide and Kabookie had the edge over the other 2. Mainly it comes down to the extra tip length and profile of those 2 skis. They had a bit more lift. The FX94 was fine, but skied a little short in the 176cm for new snow at faster speeds Hell & Back I only could find a turn here or there in new snow; it was floaty, had more functional length than the FX94. When skiing fast in new snow and windpack, in bigger turns, the Bonafide was the best of the group; very powerful and blasted through anything The Kabookie was just as surfy but not as beefy, more playful. The FX94 was more in and out of the snow, a more dynamic ski, and the Hell & Back had a similar feel of not wanting to plane as much as it wanted to camber and de-camber, springing you a bit more from turn to turn. It depends on the feel you are looking for. The FX94, it is worth noting, is somewhat handicapped by it's length relative to the others when the snow is deep. Had it been 180cm with the same feel, it would have matched the others.
Cruddy broken up snow and small to medium bumps:
this really depends if you are arcing big turns, or medium turns and want something more playful. In big super-G speed turns, the Bonafide reigns supreme. It has unshakable stability in chop. In tighter turns and especially in set-up crud and bumps, it can feel like too much ski. Tough to flex, I really have to concentrate to stay on the ski. Kind of reminds me of the old Legend Pro ski; a great big mountain tool, but you had better come to ski it and be prepared to ski fast, at least if you weigh 155lbs In smaller bumps, it isn't the most supple at slower speeds, you have to be ready to flex it and allow it to follow terrain. Stay fall-line with the torso and you are fine: get rotated and you may go for a ride. It is worth noting that other bigger skiers like it in tighter terrain, probably as they are getting the tip to flex more progressively.
The H&B has more energy and is more playful; not the top end of the Blizzard, but it likes to turn, it likes to pop, and if you can harness that energy, it is a rewarding ski. It is a ski that likes to be driven from the foot, likes early tipping motions, likes fluid movements and has a great release. Great combo of snow feel and power in this type of mixed snow. I actually like this feel in more open spaces; it has a precision that is missing from the more rounded tips on the Blizzard skis. Of course, they slice through snow differently and are floatier; it is a trade-off.
The Kabookie is less damped than the Bonafide, less damped than the H&B, but just by a smidge. It has a lot of snap out of the turn if you are ready for it. This ski is quick; it feels much more nimble and supple in those small turns and bumps than the Bonafide, and has a tail that releases easily and isn't overpowering, making it a good tree ski as well. Great tool in junk snow as long as you don't plan on skiing a million miles an hour. Great fall line tool. This ski took a little getting used to (it is pretty lively) but once I figured out the flex pattern, I was skiing really well on it. It is torsionally less stiff than the Bonafide and feels much less “on-off”, so a bit less power at the top of the turn, which makes a more ideal tree and bump ski, but not as ideal for powering through rough snow at speed, or groomers. It is the 2nd most challenging ski here in the bumps: with that said, if you ski it well, really focus on retracting the feet before the top of the bump and moving forward with a pole plant, it skis very well. Playful yet aggressive.
The FX94 just moved effortlessly from turn to turn. This might be the snow feel champ; also the easiest to ski in this group. Wonderful, playful, easy ski in bumps and crud. The short length held it back at bigger speeds in crud, but as long you aren't skiing faster than 99.5% of the people on the hill, you are good. What really sets this ski apart is just the ease of use and huge sweet spot combined with some serious power if you want it. The FX94 is almost 2 skis in one: buttery smooth in bumps and rough snow, but has some real horsepower under the hood.
Junky challenging snow:
They were all solid, to varying degrees. The FX94 was super easy: the other skis for whatever reason were a bit more challenging. Could have been the smaller sweet spot on the rest of these skis. The Hell&B was a little underdamped, and could kick me around a bit if I wasn't on my A game. Same with the Kabookie; they are quite similar, powerful flexes. I did have a bit more tip precision to work with on the H&B; the Kabookie wanted to be more flat before re-direction, so I couldn't rush the turn. It took more patience to find a good line on, but was rewarding once I figured that out. As noted above, it took a few runs to really figure out the turn that ski liked, but once I was there, it was a great ski. The Bonafide was quite challenging in this snow for my weight: It had the precision needed, but softer flex would have been nice. Again, it needed to be skied with a good retraction move and flat ski, and not rushed into the turn, similar technqiue to the Kabookie. To me, in those small junk snow turns (necessary for staying in control), the Bonafide wasn't at home, mostly due a fairly overpowering flex. I bet if I were 40lbs heavier, I would be saying the Kabookie was too soft and the Bonafide was a great flex. It is nice that Blizzard offers skis for the both of us. The Bone would rip through bigger turns, but I like to keep things under control in heavy, challenging cut-up snow.
Summary: all good skis, just different. The FX94 and H&B were similar in performance, but very different in feel. The H&B was relatively easy to ski and lively, the FX94 just buttery smooth, damp, and almost had auto-turn initation. The Kabookie and Bonafide were like siblings, but not twins. If both were football players, once would have grown up to be a Defensive End, 6 foot 4 and 270lbs, while the other was a Strong Safety at 6 foot 2 and 210lbs. The H&B feels like the most technical ski, followed by the FX94. The Bonafide and Kabookie can be technical skis if you have the skills, but they don't necessarily feel like the precision tools that the other 2 are.