Ski: Kastle FX104 184cm 2014 model (revised, new model for this year)
Skier: 5 foot 9, 155lbs, 37 y/o, skis about the equivalent of 15 full days a year, can ski most any terrain, prefer bumps and trees
Other skis I like: Kastle MX line, Atomic Crimson Ti, ON3P Tychoon, Kastle FX and BMX line, Fischer Motive series, Elan 888/999/1010, Blizzard Kabookie and Magnum 8.5, plus many others. Elan SLX Waveflex and Blizzard Power 800s on the groomers.
Skiing style: try to be active with the feet, lots of retraction and extension, with PMTS-ish movements (tipping and moving laterally) involved as well. Depends on the turn.
Conditions: partially set up 4-6" of crud, soft underneath, with 1-3" of new snow on top. April snow, mid 20's temp, not blower, but not cream cheese either.
Review: as noted elsewhere, for 2014, Kastle revised the FX lineup. The 104 in particular feels softer in the tip, should be laterally grippier (more metal), has early rise, and a flat tail. I have skied the 174, it is a hoot, but pretty short for a Western skier who tends to ski pretty fast. Hence the 184 review. Chris Davenport is about my size, this is the ski he primarily uses, so despite my skills being about 15% of his, I was still excited to finally give it the paces it deserved.
I primarily compared this to the Blizzard Cochise in 185 on this particular day. The Cochise was a beast in comparison: ridiculously stable, but could really put me on my heels if I made a small mistake. I could see that being the ride on a heli-trip or for uncut snow. In comparison, the FX104 was a superb ride. I was worried about the length being too much, but it skied a little shorter, feeling a good 4cm shorter than the Cochise. It was very stable, but not crazy stable like the Cochise was. Just the right amount of stability without wanting to go too gonzo in trees and tight spots.
In terms of what this ski could do in the chop: it was smoother and more damp than the Cochise, much more glued to the snow, easier to ski. I felt like the Cochise was a bucking bronco, whereas the FX104 has trademark Kastle smoothness and a nice sweet spot. The FX104 is definitely a ski for a skilled skier in this length (9cm above head height), but it was extremely manageable. The length gave me a nice platform to extend and push the tips down upon getting the ski flat after down-unweighting, making skied out trees a breeze to slash through. On deeper snow, I stayed more neutral and tried to load the outside ski more, unweight rapidly, and use momentum to cross over, like I was skiing a GS. The tip isn't super huge on the FX104, it is only moderately floaty, and so the ski doesn't feel exceptionally smeary or surfy in the tip. It liked to be skied either with active feet or loading with angulation; hence the "good skier" designation. I ripped through both skied out trees and new snow trees: if I had to choose, I would say it was good in new-heavy snow, but something wider at the tip would have been better. Once the snow got skied out just a little though (which is your typical resort day, even in April), this ski has to be considered amongst the best I have ever skied. Wow. Just so easy to maneuver, such a big sweet spot for a powerful, stable, grippy ski. FWIW, I am not typically a huge fan of some of the big splay skis with 5 point designs: most of the skis I tend to enjoy are more subtle shapes that respond well to input but aren't overly turny or that have a mind of their own. I like a ski that rewards good skiing, but doesn't totally punish bad skiing, and that when a turn is executed well, loads and releases in a way that gives the skier feedback that say "hey, that was a great turn, lets do it again". I get kicked around on stiffer skis, as well as skis that have more of a 5-point shape to them: they just don't seem to track the way I like them to, nor do they have to the tail that really wants to finish the turn.
In terms of how nimble it is: I would say it feels quicker in pivot and also edge to edge (moving laterally) than the Cochise. The latter feels more like a big mountain bruiser, the FX104 what I want on my feet in dicey terrain. So quick if you ski it cleanly. It has a posted 26m radius, but on the snow, feels more like a 20m.
This ski was also excellent in bumps. A nice little bump line formed in Little Canyon (before the snowboarders killed it) and while the Cochise was a real handful here, the FX104 was totally manageable. I had to ski it cleanly; it is a fairly stiff ski, but as long as I focused on a few things (flowing pole plant, pull back the feet at the top of the turn, and push down-get long into the trough), the FX104 just sucked up those turns and flowed well. Stout, but manageable. On what passed for groomers (basically soft snow chop that wasn't too deep), the FX104 would load well and be quite a bit of fun when I got down to the scrubby snow underneath. Nice bit of pop, good grip, predictable release, confident. This would be a decent groomer tool, considering the dimensions. I love the blend in feel in how I could either blast the crud out of the way, or if it was setting up, dance around it like I was skiing mini bumps. Many crud blasters won't do the short fall-line turn well, and many softer skis get kicked around when pushed in crappy crud. The FX, as does the MX88, can do either, depending on the turn you are looking for. No railed feeling here; it gets onto and off of edge perfectly.
What I really liked about the FX104 was the overall similarity to the MX88 (which, IMO, is the best do everything ski on the market right now). The FX104 has the stability and relaxed nature in rough snow, the composure, the sweet spot, and the flat-out confidence of the MX88. It is a bit softer, skis better in junk, the tip is more relaxing in challenging situations: it really feels like a off-piste oriented MX88, built for deeper, fresh to junky snow. That is saying something. I would choose this as an excellent soft-snow road trip ski, and bring the MX88 as the other part of the quiver, in case it hasn't snowed in awhile.
If anything, this reminded me a bit of the old 184cm Legend Pro Rider (waist width of around 100, last generation). The FX is smoother, bigger sweet spot, a bit more stable, but they both have a similar confident feel in crappy snow.
Overall, the FX104 was built for this day in mind. For skiing fast, but not crazy speeds, skiing trees, chop, crud, soft bumps; doing it in a way that I could ski aggressively and not feel like I was fighting the ski. The FX104 was a very, very impressive ski. This is a loaner from the rep, but I told him to go ahead and send me an invoice; it isn't going anywhere. I found my new soft snow Western ski.