Long Term Reviews; 2014 models of mid-width Kastle
Skis compared: MX83 173cm, FX84 in 176cm, MX88 in 178cm, FX94 in 176cm
Conditions: a little of everything. Some Colorado snow (4-8” over soft surfaces), plenty of Oregon snow, dense windpack, lots of bumps, some groomers, both hard and soft, early season crust and ice. Been skiing these on and off since a year ago February.
Reviewer: 5 foot 9, 155lbs, used to ski a lot, but now that I have a little guy to take care of, I probably average 8 hours a week on the hill on a good season. This year to date have been 34 hours locally on the hill, and 28 hours during a week in Colorado. Athletic, 36 years old, see attached video to see my skiing style (small bumps):
Skis I like: most Kastle MX and FX models, Head REV 98, Nordica Hell&Back, Salomon Sentinel, Blizzard Mag 8.5ti and Kabookie, Fischer Motive series, most Stocklis. I tend to like skis with some camber and a fairly grippy tip and tail, not much tip taper and tail taper, and metal laminate, but mid-flex, is always better than a planky super stiff, “ride the sidecut” type of ski design. Some skis w/o metal work for me as long as the flex pattern is appropriate.
All of these 4 are pretty well covered on the forums, but about every other phone call I get this time of year involves “I am considering 2 Kastle skis, can you help me out?”. It seems that one of the skis on this list is always mentioned, usually 2 or more. The skis are similar, but different, so why not do a more in-depth review? More of a comparison between the 4, how they stack up, and why a skier might choose one over the other.
Actual running length on hard snow (useful for accurate length comparisons). MX88 in 178 is what we are measuring each ski against, adjusting for each size. This is important, as each ski has a different height tail, different height tip, and some skis have early rise, some don't. “measured” ski length is not always that useful in today's world of variable camber, early rise, tip taper. Better to know the actual hard-snow running length as a viable number to work from.
MX83cm: runs 2cm longer than the MX88 in a given length: i.e 173cm MX83 actually is more like a 175cm MX83 when compared to the MX88 in 178.
FX84 176cm: runs 2cm shorter than the MX88 178cm
FX94 176cm: runs 3.5cm shorter than the MX88 178cm
Overall ratings of each ski:
FX84: 8.5 MX83: 9.5 MX88: 9.5 FX94: 8.5
FX84: 7.5 MX83: 9 MX88: 9.5 FX94: 8
FX84: 9 MX83: 8.5 MX88: 7 FX94: 8
Ease of use in tight spaces:
FX84: 9.5 MX83: 7.5 MX88: 6.5 FX94: 8.5
Ease of use in cruddy snow:
FX84: 8 MX83: 9 MX88: 9.5 FX94: 9
Ease of use in GS turns at speed:
FX84: 7 MX83: 8 MX88: 9.5 FX94: 7
Float in new snow (more than 8-10” of new)
FX84: 6 MX83: 5 MX88: 6 FX94: 7.5
Fun factor in good new snow and light crud:
FX84: 8 MX83: 8.5 MX88: 9 FX94: 8
Grip on hard snow:
FX84: 8 MX83: 8.5 MX88: 8 FX94: 7.5
Ease of use in funky off-piste conditions:
FX84: 9.5 MX83: 7.5 MX88: 8 FX94: 9.5
Groomer Zoomer fun factor:
FX84: 7 MX83: 9.5 MX88: 8.5 FX94: 6.5
Finesse vs power:
FX84: mix of both MX83: more power over finesse MX88: mix of both FX94: slight lean toward finesse
Typical “best” terrain:
FX84: East, tight spaces, funky snow, bumps
MX83: any sort of firmer snow conditions, great on groomers
MX88: varied terrain, true 50/50 ski, faster skiing
MX94: East to West, funky snow to new snow and bumps
In-Depth Ski Discussion
MX83 173cm: first off, this is a very popular ski. It comes in 163/173/183. This is a little mis-leading: the tail is a little flatter and shorter than the MX88, as is the tip. Therefore, if you measure an MX83 vs MX88, the former is only about 3cm shorter in terms of running length. Combined with the stiffness of the ski (it has 2 sheets of metal, and a thicker layup at the tip than the MX88, quite a bit stiffer than the FX series too), you have a ski that skis “long” for the printed length. To get the most out of this ski, go head height to 5 or 10cm down, depending on preference, as it is fairly stiff, and to bend the tip, you shouldn't ski it excessively long.
The MX83, as one would expect, is the most precise ski in the group. The tip is laterally quite stiff; turn initiation is nearly instantaneous, and I would go as far as to say this is the best hard snow ski you can buy at 80mm, from any manufacturer. It skis like a “wider race ski” on hardpack; a thrilling ski. Compared to the other skis here, the MX83 is going to have the quickest initiation, the most powerful initiation, the most power completing the turn, the best grip underfoot, and the most cat like feel. It is a ski you can be active with your feet on, moving fore-aft with a lot of down-unweighting motion, catch the tip at the top of the turn, and feel like a distant shadow of Ted Ligety. Impressive.
With that said, how does it stack up against the others in more challenging off-piste snow? In good snow, new snow; being the most aggressive ski here, is is probably the most fun to ski. It will rifle you out of each and every turn if you ask it to; there is also no speed limit on the MX83 in crud. Get it into deeper snow, and the short length can become an issue. In steeps, it is fairly aggressive, but not overly so. If you like to drift with slow engagement from turn to turn, or expect a slarvy ski, the MX83 isn't for you. If you like precise, predictable; sporty, yet manageable considering how much performance is under the hood, it should be at the top of your list I would say it is around 5-10% more demanding in funky snow than the MX88, maybe 15% more than the FX84+94, but still average for a ski of this width. In bumps, it is quite easy to ski for a stiffer power ski. Just point em fall line, work those feet, push down into the trough, and the ski won't hang up on you. Great bump ski for a good skier. Kind of stiff for a bump beginner. Great tree ski, super quick, easy to pilot and change direction on. Almost like cheating if the snow isn't too funky. In tough crud, it tracks better than any ski I have ever tried, except for the MX88. The ski won't deflect; the crud may though.
Best thing about this ski: the race-like performance that adapts well to most any condition. A Porsche when you want it to be, a light duty SUV when you need that as well. Worst thing: stiffness means you don't want to ski it too long, limiting deeper snow ease of use.
FX84 176cm: this is really the ski for those who don't need the MX83's race-bred groomer skills. Ideally, those skiing off-piste mostly, bumps, hardpack. This is the best ski I have ever tried for firmer hardpack to a few inches of new over hardpack, icy to soft bumps. Compared to the MX83, it has a much smoother, more “ease-into-the-turn” tip. It is adaptable to different tip pressures and rates of initiation, as well as building edge angle quickly or slowly. The FX84 also has a high level of performance, just in a more mellow, less aggressive package. This allows it to be the best ski here on hardpack, and especially in shorter turns, tight trees, and bumps. The MX83 can get pushy if you get back on the tail; it is much easier to recover from mistakes on the FX84. In bumps, the MX83 is a good ski, the FX84 is a superb, bump eating machine, quite easy to ski, great flex, no surprises. Grip on firm snow is outstanding, and it cruises in a few inches of fresh as well. Snow feel is hard to match; sublime dampness and ease. In fact, if I had the money, I would buy an FX84 exclusively for those days I want to ski trees at Bachelor and we haven't seen new snow in awhile.
What the FX84 does so well is adapt to a wide range of skiing styles and tip, edge, and tail pressure. For some reason, it is simple and easy to pilot, yet has most if not all of the horsepower that a skier will ever need. The edge grip is also a step above the FX94; if you live in mostly hardpack country and don't see much in the way of 8+ inches of new snow often, the FX84 should be your first choice over the 94. Also, if you ski bumps. On groomers, if we are comparing the FX to the MX, you will see the FX has decent grip, it performs along the lines of something like a Blizzard Bonafide; tapered tip, laterally stiff, not the most exciting ski, but grippy, stable, reliable. It won't be confused for a race ski anytime soon. As a 50/50 ski, the MX83 may hold more promise if you miss that race-ski feel, but as a mostly off-piste machine, the FX84 has that extra large sweet spot and hero-inducing feel in junk snow. This is the ski I would choose for places like Squaw and Snowbird, when it hasn't snowed in awhile, and I am skiing steep bumps and chutes on less than ideal snow. Bachelor is less steep, so I can get away with a more powerful, stable ski (which makes the groomers more exciting). If the terrain were more challenging, having that sweet spot on the FX would be appreciated; not to mention I wouldn't ski groomers much if I regularly skied either of those hills.
Best thing about this ski: snow feel and predictability in any off-piste condition. Made for hardpack, trees, bumps; definitely an off-piste “Beast of the East”. Worst thing: not the most exciting groomer ski.
MX88 178cm: this is perhaps the most impressive all-around Kastle. Of course, the other skis may do this or that a bit better, but in terms of the overall package, the MX88 is one tough nut. I have skied this more than any of the other skis, including 3 days in Colorado snow, and also at the 2014/2015 on-snow demo, where it is was “ski of the show” for me. What does the MX88 do so well that makes it such a standout? For me, it is the combination of leading class stability, forgiveness, ease in bumps, and a predictable nature. How stable is the MX88? Stable enough that a friend commented that although they had trouble keeping up with me on most skis, when I was on the MX88, there is absolutely no chance of hanging on. “unfair advantage”. Next, I find these skis to just be easy and forgiving when I need them to be. When in tight trees or bumps; if I start to feel the tail push back a bit, it is very easy to correct and get my hips over the feet. The skis don't fight back. Next, I find the tip to be responsive, but not have too much lateral stiffness. It just slides into the turn and will get progressively grippier, but has a nice intermediate turn initiation feel. It is the perfect middle-of-the-road, combo snappy groomer ski and good off-piste junk snow ski.
Stability on the MX88 is 1st class; the most stable ski in this group. Maybe the most stable all-mountain ski ever? When comparing this ski in bumps, I would rate it a bit behind the FX84, about equal to the FX94 and MX83. It is a good bump ski; perhaps a bit stiff. Just be active with the feet and get long on the back side of the bump; it tracks well and absorbs the trough. In those soft cruddy bumps, it will just float over the tops if you can stay loose in the feet and hips. What most impresses me about the MX88 is the range of this ski; the only thing it could use is a bit more float in deeper snow. Of course, that would detract from it's skied out snow handling and ease. As a tree ski, it has above average forgiveness; the tail isn't super soft, but I can get into the backseat yet recover easily enough. Snowfeel is really as good as it could be: this adds to the stability of the overall package. The tip doesn't deflect; it glides over snow imperfections, allowing the skier to carry more and more speed with a confidence that doesn't come with many skis.
Best thing about the MX88: stability and ease in any snow condition. Huge range. Worst thing: lacking in deeper snow float.
FX94 176cm: the most natural competitor to the MX88; the skis really could be almost interchangeable in terms of on-snow results. A good skier could ski very well on either; yet, the FX94 is the more nimble, lighter, easier, larger sweet spot ski of the 2. Some of this comes down to length: the FX94 is a good 3cm shorter in running length, and feels more like 5cm shorter. The softer flex at the tip makes for a more easy-going ski. A little less lateral grip at the tip also makes for more deliberate turn entry, as well as for flex in the bumps. If the MX88 is above average in terms of quickness, the FX94 is even more rapid-fire turning. This is really what separates these 2 skis; the MX88 tracks very well, and turns when you tell it to. The FX94 leans a bit more toward wanting to turn, and takes less input to get the tip flexing and the turn initiated. It turns as soon as you think “turn” where as the MX88 turns as soon as you go from thinking “turn” to actually making turn movements. The slight downside is that the FX won't track quite as well in big turns at speed. It is still more than adequate for most skiers, but at very high speeds, the MX has the edge. When comparing these 2 in bumps, I like the profile of the MX, and the stiffness of the FX. A case could be made for either ski.
If a skier is trying to narrow down choices between the MX88 and FX94 skis; there really is no “right” answer. A case could be made for either ski. What it comes down to for me personally: in trees, tighter spaces, funkier snow; any location where I prize an bit easier-going feel and huge sweet spot, yet plenty of stability and smoothness, the FX94 would get the nod. For places where I am skiing a bit more aggressively, if I want a more precise feeling ski, more of a GS feel, the MX88 gets the nod. When skiing both of these locally at Bachelor, advantage MX88, simply because I don't have really tight hobbit-sized tree lines to ski. The skiing here tends to be more wide open to mid-radius turn (think most Colorado and Utah skiing as well) and the MX88 is just a touch smoother and more powerful at speed. I can also generate more pop out of the tail, making it the more exciting ski, without it ever being overly demanding. Skiing some really tight trees recently on a road trip at Mission Ridge, I preferred the FX94 in those spaces. It has the edge in sketchy spots. Once I dropped into more open terrain at Mission, the pendulum swung back to the MX88, as did it for getting back to the lift. Really though, anyone looking for a mid-width all-mountain ride would be happy on either model; if the FX94 were a touch longer, say 180cm, these skis would even more comparable and interchangeable. Really, the length will be a determinant as much as anything; much of the slight loss in stability comes down to a softer, effectively shorter ski in the FX94. I do think 180cm would be about perfect for a guy my size, especially in deeper or wind-lipped snow conditions.
Best thing about the FX94: ease of use, adapts to any turn shape, incredible snow feel. Worst thing about the FX94: length runs may not work for everyone.
I hope this helps those that want to try one or more of these models, but don't know which way to lean.