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Review: Liberty Variant 97 2013-2014

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 



Liberty Variant 97 2013-2014


Length Tested: 172cm & 186cm

Dimensions/Turn Radius:  125-90-113 r=17m @ 175cm
132-97-119 18.5m @ 172cm

132-97-118 23m @ 186cm

Camber: Early Rise Tip w/camber & Flat Tail

Binding: Demo

Mount point: Suggested

Environment & Conditions:

Location of Test: Vermont and New Hanpshire

Number of Runs: Dozens over several weeks

Snow Conditions: Powder (shin-to-knee deep), packed powder, hardpack, boilerplate, crud, bumps, groomers, skied-out powder, windpack, crust

Demo or Own: Demo


Tester Info:

Username: ExoticSkis

Age: 54

Height/Weight: 5' 11" 190lbs

Ski Days/Season: varies - usually lots

Years Skiing: 52

Aggressiveness: Aggressive(Driver)

Current Quiver: Edelwiser Speed, IDOne TTR and TTM, Anton UFOria XA and Carbon EX, Palmer P02, Romp 100, Praxis Concept, SkiLogik Frontside Burner, Occam Razor, Rockstar, DPS Wailer 112RP..etc.

Home Area: Vermont

Preferred Terrain (groomers, off-piste, trees)


2013-2014 Liberty Variant 97
132-97-119 18.5m @ 172cm
132-97-118 23m @ 186cm

Manufacturer Info:

Liberty Skis
P.O. Box 4555
Avon, CO 81620

Suggested Retail Price (MSRP):

$819 retail

Usage Class:



James Satloff and Dan Chalfant had the idea for Liberty Skis in 2002. After winning $24,000 at the Mandalay Bay craps tables at the SIA show in Las Vegas, they contracted to have their design ideas manufactured as the first sample skis. Over the last 10 years, they have refined innovative designs and won industry-wide praise for many of their models such as the Helix and Genome which continue to have a rabid following from skiers around the World. Liberty is one of the original small ski companies of modern times and has survived and thrived to become a design powerhouse widely recognized for producing extremely popular, high performance and high fun-factor skis.

Rating (with comments):
(1="get me off these things"->10="I have to own a pair")

9+ for any variable snow conditions - hard charging, high-speed
7 for boilerplate hardpack
8+ for packed powder groomers for a ski this size

Ski Designer(s):

Dan Chalfant and the Liberty team

Manufacturer's Description:

"The NEW Variant97 will carve in all snow conditions, yet has an easy-going personality that inspires trust at any speed. Precise turn initiation from the Hammer Rocker profile and multi-radius tip, combined with an energetic bamboo and poplar core make it a worthy partner anywhere on or off groomed terrain. A Titanal layer adds torsional rigidity and damps vibrations, while a skin-friendly tip and tail keeps your terrain options open. "


The description of the Variant 97 is pretty much right-on. The Variant 97 is the narrower brother of the remarkable Variant 113 (which we think is a stunning ski), and produces a superb level of confidence under pressure in on or off-piste situations.  Skis in this category tend to be either surfy-slarvy, or directional trackers.  The Liberty Variant 97 is a directional tracker with an undemanding personality, yet produces a stable, powerful, confidence-inspiring ride through nearly any surface condition while maintaining a light and very responsive chassis underfoot.  The faster you ride it, the better it performs, and has one of the highest speed limits in its class, with excellent damping behavior, intense edgehold when requested, yet has a wide range of terrain and surface options in its capability envelope.  Experts will love this ski, and advancing skiers will find it can give them a solid, reliable, high-performing platform to up their game.  The solid-as-a-rock cambered midbody and essentially flat tail can be relied upon to deliver intense grip and power, yet the mild rocker with low-rise tip up front allows planing in mixed conditions, easing turn initiation and directional changes.  The Variant 97 could be one of the best Eastern all-mountain skis for experts who want something more than 85mm underfoot, or perhaps a Western daily-driver for predominantly frontside usage for those who want a ski under 100mm at the waist.

Technical Ski Data:

Laminated bamboo core
Titanal strip submerged into the top layer of the bamboo core
PTEX 4000 sintered base
Fiber-reinforced polymer matting
Quadraxial fiberglass
Rockwell 48 edges

Bamboo lamination with Titanal metal strip embedded in the top of the core

Manufactured in China

Bindings and Boots Used:

Tyrolia SP12 Demo Bindings

Salomon S-Max 120 boots.

Pre-Skiing Impression:

The Variants (172cm and 186cm) skis arrived in protective, zippered sleeves with individual pockets for each ski, keeping the superb fit and finish pristine during shipping.  The packaging of the skis shows how much Liberty cares about their product.  The finishing work is some of the best we have seen on a commercial ski...very impressive.  The skis have a moderately stiff flex, and strong torsional strength with a snappy rebound and moderate dampening.  We considered the out-of-the-bag base finish and edge tuning "ready-to-ride" and merely waxed them for their initial outings.  Very glossy topsheet with peek-a-boo transparent sections showing the bamboo core laminates is handsome and clean-looking.

Test Conditions:

Eastern corduroy, packed powder and hardpack groomers, ungroomed packed powder with small bumps, shin-deep to knee-deep powder conditions, both smooth and bumpy. Windpack, crust, chalky wind buff, fresh and old powder, weeds (sorry Dan). 

Hardpack and Boilerplate:

On our Eastern hardpack and boilerplate, the Variant 97s had perhaps the best edge grip of a 97mm (+-) ski we have encountered in recent memory, preferring a GS-type of radius (the 172cm ski is 18.5 meters, while the 186cm is 23 meters) with consistent pressure to hold the edge into the surface. These are not "turny-darty" skis, but produce a smooth, progressive grip under varying amounts of pressure and speeds.  One of the nice traits of the Variant 97 is its ability to deliver the same level of confidence-inspiring hold and control at moderate speeds and high speeds.  It does not come unglued at high speeds.  This behavior impressed everyone who rode it. The Variant 97 can produce short-radius turns, but prefers to pivot-and-stick-it, rather than arc a tightly-wound arc.  In tight situations on hard surfaces (tight eastern hardpack trails, for example), the agility of the Variant 97 is excellent, letting you get th ski sideways on-demand and punch it into the surface for a directional change in case you don't have the room to carve it around to the new direction.  Vibration dampening on boilerplate surfaces at speed was excellent, keeping the ski quiet and connected to the surface with no high-frequency irritations transmitted to the pilot's feet.  Overall, the Variant is one of the more impressive hardpack skis with a nearly 100mm waist.

Mixed Conditions:

Mixed surfaces are sliced and mastered with the Variant 97.  While the Variant 113 has a more floaty feel due to its increased surface area, the 97 is a surgical cutting tool.  Select a line, apply power and essentially ignore what is in your way.  There is no deflection...just a reliable tracking to your destination, regardless of what you run across.  Liberty's designers have found a formula for flex, geometry and response which excels at cutting through variable conditons without feeling massive or bulky.  The feel of the Variant 97 in mixed snow surfaces is more like a sporty cross-country horse than freight train.  It remains lively and responsive, never heavy-handed, yet retains undisturbed control and confidence.  The only real drawback is a bit of tip dive in deeper conditions, which can be fixed with a quick weight change.  In these conditions, the Variant 97 wants to be ridden on-center, since a forward stance can force the tips down under the surface.  On firmer surfaces, a forward stance works just fine.


For a ski that "feels as long as it measures", the Variant 97 can be pretty fun in the bumps since it has a great response and energy.  Longer-sized bumps are the best, while short, sharp-walled bumps are not as friendly since the ski can get into its stiffer midbody section quickly and transmit the bump force to the skier. In undulating bumps, the Variant 97 is happy bounding from bump to bump, catching air in between.  No tip deflection in the bumps.  There is plenty of rebound on tap for people who like to launch off obstacles, and the stout tail and midsection makes landings completely secure and planted - no wheelies.


The low-rise tip and mild rocker up front, combined with camber underfoot and flat tail keeps the Variant 97 out of the "surfy" category for skis near the 100mm waist size.  It is a directional-type of ride, with the tip staying at essentially the same depth as the midbody in powder.  We did not get into any powder more than knee-deep during our testing, but the powder we did get showed the Variant 97 is more of a "planing" type of ski rather than "surfy".  You can get the tip to rise with a bit of center-to-rear weighting with speed, but it does not "porpoise" like a true powder tool.  Get forward in powder, and the forebody will decend into the snow...not with "tip dive", but with a gradual descent.  Again, these skis are never surprising or sudden in their behavior, always telegraphing what they are doing, so that's good.  The surface area does let you plane through the powder with confidence, being more utilitarian than playful when compared to dedicated powder skis.

Analogies: ("This ski is like...")

The offspring of a GS racecarver and slightly rockered all-mountain pro ski with cross-fit training. Lively, yet authoritative.


Quick Comments:

Solid, confident ride at all speeds and surfaces.
Has a higher speed limit than you do.
Deceptively friendly, yet dead serious at its job.
Addicting power trip. The more you drive it, the more it gives back.
Handsome, almost elegant look.
Lively, full of energy, yet disciplined and controlled.

Things I Would Change About This Ski:
I would maybe widen the shovel slightly to provide a bit more tip float in soft conditions.

Short Answer When Someone Asks "What Do You Think About This Ski?":

If you had ever raced in the past and want a high-end ski for all-terrain usage, this might be the best first choice to demo.  If it is too narrow for your tastes, try the Variant 113.  You will pick one or the other.

Advice To People Considering This Ski:

Make sure you want something more directional than "surfy", and don't buy it longer than you would usually buy such a ski. They feel true to length and the whole ski is engaged when ridden effectively.

Pics: (click images for larger versions)



post #2 of 19

Exotic Skis,


I always love your reviews.  OK, so here's some questions: Last year you skied the Helix on hard snow and really liked it..did you take it out in better conditions this season, and if so what did you think?  I know it is a different ski than the Variant, but how'd it stack up?  


How maneuverable is the big Variant (113)? Would you use either Variant (97/113) in East coast glades (assuming soft or even deep snow)?


I skied with a guy on the Genome in the PNW recently, he swore it was way more nimble, even on hard snow, than you could imagine…I wonder.


I've been looking for a versatile east coast glade and off piste ski, (who hasn't) the Helix and the Variant 97 are on the list (as I like their company and small co skis).  Also looking at the Nordica Soul Rider.  I wonder if the Variants are too burly for East coast glades, even with soft snow?  Is the Helix the better all arounder?


Short of the Hopper ski guy who sells Liberty skis, you are the only regular reviewer who has real time on multiple models and lengths, love to hear more thoughts.



post #3 of 19
Thread Starter 

Hi Liam,


Thanks for liking our reviews...we try to make them informative and provide a better feel for the ski's personality than reviews you get in most magazines.


I did not get out on the latest Helix this year...I wish I had...


The Variant 97 or 113 would not be my first choices for Eastern glades...it really wants to run fast and hard...given the alternatives for Eastern glades out there (DPS RP112, PowderNorth Bullett or Praxis Concept are three of my favorites).   The Variant series is not surfy or easy to throw sideways in tight situations when compared to other skis out there. The Helix would be a much better choice for Eastern glades if you want a Liberty....OR....I am finishing up a test of the Liberty Sequence...which is super fun and great in the glades and not as fat at the Helix...but no where near the grippy powerhouse of the Variant.


See if you can get a ride on a Liberty Sequence for glade work...or the Helix is also a great ride...better than the Variants in the woods filled with fluff.


Let me know if you have any more questions!

post #4 of 19

The Sequence has been under my watchful eye all season.  I am a fan of twin tips, and really functional twins in a mid 90mm width are really high.  I like them because they make patroller toboggan work in off-piste terrain a breeze, I like easy releasing tails, and a certain degree of 'playfulness' in any ski that is not a dedicated hard snow ski (which, I know, all makes me NOT a candidate for either variant!).


Bumps, and tight space performance and versatility of use are the key categorical components I'd like to hear about regarding the Sequence (and any similar ski…like the much ballyhooed Nordica Soul Rider). I am eager to see your review.


Your reviews set an incredibly high standard for detailed, pertinent information.  Honestly, I usually combine the Pkeelty real skier reviews, your reviews and Dawgcatching reviews to get a great blended viewpoint of a ski.  So far, it's worked really well.

post #5 of 19

Manufactured in China ?

post #6 of 19
Thread Starter 

Designed in USA, manufactured in China at one of the facilities used by some high-end carbon ski manufacturers. Great deals can be found on the Variants if you shop around the web...I loved this ski.

post #7 of 19

For my taste it is to heavy.

post #8 of 19
Hi Liam, I noticed your skis of interest. I have recently reviewed most of these back to back. You may want to take a look at "Yellow Gentian Ski Reviews" if you are still interested in these skis. Hope it helps! Craig
post #9 of 19
Ha, that's funny because I have been reading your yellow gentian review and enjoying them quite a bit, you guys have a real unique flavor to your reviews and you've reviewed a lot of skis. Where are your home mountains used as testing grounds?

Oh, should also add blister gear reviews to the list of top notch review sites, there are a lot of great sources of reviews outside of the awful ski magazine corporate shills.
post #10 of 19
Hi Liam, I live in Vail, Colorado. I try to read other reviews, and I agree with your comments. Geographic location is a factor, but understanding the reviewers profile, and matching it to your own, is also a important consideration when trying to interpret their comments. Selecting a ski is a difficult task! I will be reviewing additional Liberty skis over the next few weeks, including the new 2015-16 "Joe Schuster" carbon model in a 184cm, and the new Variant 87 mm underfoot in a 186cm, as well as some of the DPS line. Thanks for reading "Yellow Gentian", hope it helped.....Craig
post #11 of 19

Yes, I really like your Yellow Gentian site, I like how each reviewer has a very comprehensive profile, and not everyone is a pro level skier.    


As for Liberty Reviews, I've been skiing a Helix that I love and I am seriously thinking of getting the Double Helix as I have never read anything but absolutely glowing reviews on those skis. I'm looking for a big-ski and have zeroed in on the Icelantic Gypsy (another company I love), the Double Helix, and the Volkl Shiro (got to let one of the big boy companies compete).  I'm sure they all slay powder, but it sounds like the Double Helix kills a lot of other surfaces as well (and since I don't own a helicopter, that's a big consideration).


A Variant 87 sounds great it might make a great two ski quiver coupled with a really big ski.  At any reate, again, the reviews of your site and exotic skis (and others already noted), have done a lot to help the consumer cut through the pre-paid opinions of most major ski publication 'reviews'.

post #12 of 19

Thanks for the reviews!

I currently ski the Double Helix as my go-to, everyday ski. Yes it is fat, but it skis firm snow great. That said, I am finally looking to go narrower for a daily driver in Montana. How does this ski compare to the Double H in performance? I find the Double remarkably easy to turn, relatively quick, and fun on almost all surfaces. I don't like them on super steep, very firm snow as it is hard to really get them on edge there. I also find them pretty stable on most anything. Does the Variant feel "dead" compared to these? Can anyone compare the Variant to some other skis in the same waist width?

post #13 of 19

Also, any size recommendations? I'm on a 182 Double Helix. 5'11", 190, 54 years old, former PSIA tele instructor now skiing alpine. I got the Double Helix for tele so might have gone a tad longer for alpine. I want a ski that isn't too cumbersome in tight steep chutes, but that is still pretty stable through crud with some speed (not crazy fast, but not just picking my way down). I'm leaning towards 179. Sound right?

post #14 of 19
Hello Liam, and wwrivers. Won't really have a final review on the Liberty Variant 87 till early Dec. of this season, I only skied the prototype, and there will be some changes in the construction for its release this season. However, I love the high dampness qualities of the Variant 97. It has great edge hold, superior long radius, and very good short and medium radius turns. It is a great bump ski for this width and can be skied in longer lengths (186 for me) good torsional stability and a huge sweet spot. If you tend to fall out of the sweet spot on your skis, this ski will make you better. Very quick turning, even with its heavier weight. WWrivers asked about similar skis in this 97 width. You must first define your ski preference. Think about some of these preference parameters when selecting a ski. Do you prefer a ski: heavy more stable for variable terrain, crud, bumps, etc. inside the ropes, or light weight less fatigue backcountry construction for hiking or long walks to your car......, high dampness or lively springy rebound, stiff or soft flex, good torsional stability or not, importance of edge hold on skied off terrain, turn initiation, and available lengths to match your profile. The terrain, and area of the country you generally ski are very important. Then try to match your profile to one of the testers, and study their reviews and skis they rave about, or personally own, and length. You can take a look at my profile, and my personal quiver from last year, on Yellow Gentian Ski Reviews. I did add a couple new powder skis to my quiver this year. I generally ski inbounds, often in variable snow, crud, bumps, and cut up skied off groomers back to the lift. The 95-100 width is my narrow hard snow ski in my quiver here in Vail. I expect it to have good edge hold, high dampness qualities for smooth transition and stability in variable terrain and bumps (including quick turn initiation and good torsional stability) and great carving ability, just to name a few requirements...... Is that asking to much! Craig
post #15 of 19
WWrivers, just read your second message concerning length for the Liberty Double Helix. I am slightly taller but less weight, currently 180. I thought the 182 was on the short side for me, and I ended up with the bindings mounted about 2 cm behind the traditional mount position to compensate. I did love the ski in soft snow with this mount and length, it felt well balanced, and very maneuverable (I had great pow conditions when I reviewed this ski). If you go with a shorter length, may want a adjustable toe-heel binding to play with mount position. Check out my review of this ski for additional details. Craig
post #16 of 19
WWrivers, sorry, I drifted a bit on that second reply. Concerning sizing on the Liberty Variant 97. For me, I would definitely go with the 186cm over the 179cm, seemed right for my profile. Same length for the Variant 113, but I might prefer the 179 cm for the New Variant 87 based on the prototype I skied last season. In comparison, I ski the Blizzard Bonafide in a 180cm which is stiffer than the Variant 97, smaller sweet spot, does not like backseat driving, particularly in bumps, but very stable in this shorter length, and has great carving skills in any radius turn. All skis based on traditional mount position. Craig
post #17 of 19
Craig, thanks all for the info and feedback. I got into skiing as a backcountry powder skier on skinny tele skis, and I still live for powder and soft snow.

I live in Montana and mostly ski Bridger Bowl, with 5+ days a year at Big Sky and maybe a trip to Jackson / Targhee. I have a dynafit/BD Carbon Convert setup for backcountry so don't need this ski to handle that. I've been skiing the Double Helix as a quiver of one for a few years with Adrenaline bindings for going out of bounds in search of powder. I like steeps, powder, crud, narrow chutes, and blasting open slopes with chop. I'm still transitioning to alpine after 30+ years of tele, so I'm still increasing speed and aggressiveness as I realize how much more stable alpine is. I am enjoying learning to ski with speed through steep crud and powder slopes (as a tele skier I was more of a pick your way down technical skier). I now ski with my young kids a lot too so cruise mellower groomers and lower angle off piste slopes. Plus I ski with some instructor friends at Big Sky who like to rip big open crud slopes and long blue groomers at high speeds and I want to do that too.

I actually have been happy with the Double Helix for all of this, although they feel too wide in the ultra steeps on firm snow. To me they are pretty quick, easy to turn, and handle speed pretty well. I'd like them to handle speed even better, especially in crud, and thus have wondered if longer might be better. But I also ski narrow steeps so like how the 182's come around pretty quickly and easily.

I was thinking of picking up something around 108-112 to use as my quiver of one, but I've also got arthritic knees and have determined I need a narrower ski (under 100) in order to put less stress on my knees on firm days. And, while Bridger gets some great 18-24"+ days, we get way more 4-6" powder days. I'll keep the Double Helix for the uber deep days but want one ski for everything else. Asking too much of one ski?

I read the Blister review of the Variant 113 and it sounds like a stiff, hard to turn tank, especially in the longest length, which is not what I want. Your review of the 97 doesn't make the ski sound so difficult. I want something that comes around easily, that doesn't force me into just a long gs shape turn, that skis 6-13" of powder well and that can handle speed with stability on cut up open slopes. It should rip groomers yet still ski ok at lower speeds.

The Variant 97 actually sounds like it might do it, but does it ski powder ok?
post #18 of 19
WWrivers, glad to see your getting excited about the coming season....me too! The Liberty Double Helix is a lighter weight, lighter damped ski that works great in soft conditions. It has above average edge hold that requires careful edge engagement on groomers, with the recommended 1 degree bottom and 2 degree side angles. It is perhaps on the short side in the 182 for both of us, but is very maneuverable. It sounds like you want to add a narrower, heavier ski with better dampening for variable inbounds terrain, and the Variant 97 and 113 fit that description. They both ski similar. If weight is a factor, the 113 is no light weight, skiing all day on this ski requires a conditioned body, but I would not rate this as a stiff ski, as you mentioned. I would avoid a short length in either of these skis based on your profile.
I have only been writing reviews for one year (and there are sooooo many skis on the market). Generally I do long term reviews (13 last season) in various conditions, over multiple days or weeks, at a major ski area vs making 3 runs, and writing a review on multiple skis in one day, based on skiing a short groomed run. So, reviews can be less than accurate (which is why I started writing reviews), not to mention, finding a reviewer (if they even publish it) with a similar profile to yours. I now have 4 skis in my personal quiver, although I have friends that insist they can get by with one ski in the 100cm width for all conditions in Vail, and indeed they can, but the fun and ease factor are multiplied when you have the right ski for the prevailing conditions, and you are fortunate to live in a location that warrants it. Your Double Helix is a fine pow ski, and the 95-112cm would be a great addition to your quiver. In this catagory, I will select a heavier, well damped ski, with good edge hold, and typically stiffer flex compared to my wider pow skis. Generally, this means metal in the layup, and some glass skis. I have found light weight skis, typical of carbon construction, and lightly damped skis, particularly with stiff flex do not fit my stability and bump demands in this width ski. This light weight factor seems to attract "baby boomer" skiers trying to reduce fatigue, or backcountry skiers, but your seeing new additions of heavier, better damped skis this year. Eg: DPS expansion of the Hybrid Wailer T2 metal series in the 99 and 112 widths (which I plan on reviewing)as well as their basic Hybrid series, Nordica Enforcer, Blizzard Bonafide, Liberty Variant 97 are just a few that should fit the bill. All of these have available lengths that fit my profile, and maybe yours. Craig
post #19 of 19
Thread Starter 

Spoiler alert.....


Wait 'til you try the Variant 87!  I tested this new model for a few runs last Spring..and it's a very impressive ride...smoother than you might think, yet lively and highly secure in its grip, with a personality directly descended from the wider models of the Variant family.  This could be the sleeper for Eastern skiers this season...stay tuned for a more in-depth review if we can get it set up!




- Eric

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