Height/Weight: 5’7” 160 lbs.
Ski Days/Season: 10 (used to get more prior to parenthood)
Years Skiing: 29
Aggressiveness: Moderate(I’m not 25 anymore)
Current Quiver: 1st Gen Volkl Mantra 177 and Surface Live Free 181. Note: it’s my understanding that the 1st Gen Mantra was not as stiff as the more recent iterations. Something to keep in mind when reading my reviews. The Live Free has no metal and a lightweight core, so it's not very stiff.
Home Area: Crystal/Stevens, WA
Preferred Terrain: Prefer off-piste wherever the snow is good. I like bumps too and I also enjoy carving up the groomers
Environment & Conditions
Location of Test: Whistler/Blackcomb, BC
Number of Runs: 2-3 each
Snow Conditions: 6 inches of wind-affected powder, softer snow on top of bumps in the trees, wetter groomed crud on lower slopes.
Demo or Own: Demo
Spent a weekend at Whistler/Blackcomb and decided to spend one of the days doing some more demos of all-mountain skis to supplement the demoing I did at Crystal (found in a thread from jaobrien6 and also pasted below for reference). Whistler/Blackcomb has test centers on the upper part of each mountain with a modest selection of skis. For $10 you can demo as many pairs as you’d like for an hour or two each. I was particularly interested in the Salomon Q98 which was one of the skis they carried and luckily available when I arrived.
Salomon Q98 (172 cm)
Really interesting ski. Really stable for how light and easy going it is. Handles chopped up snow and mixed snow without much deflection. Easy to handle in bumps and decent float in soft snow. The one area of disappointment is groomers. I couldn’t get it to respond by rolling the ankles. In my experience, most skis with some sidecut will start turning across the fall line with the right amount of ankle flexion. These just wouldn’t do that for me. I had to put some hip movement in and pull my legs out; once I put a little more work in and got the ball rolling, they were ok.
Head Rev 90 (177 cm)
Couldn’t get my next choice (Atomic Alibi) or this one in a 170 which was of interest, so I figured I’d just try this one again since I did have a favorable impression of it during the Crystal Demo Day. Found this to be damper than the Q98 with similar stability. Can push through crud without bucking back at you when you’re not on top of it. It really bends up nicely and evenly, which makes it terrific in bumps. It’s fairly damp, but not quite dead, so you get just enough spring to keep your momentum going to the next bump without launching you past your next turn. It’s quite good in powder despite its carver dimension. It doesn’t want to surf the way a more rockered ski would, but it’s even and moderate keeps it from digging in and catching (the way a stiffer ski with lots of sidecut will do).
Salomon Sin 7 (180 cm)
I would have preferred trying the 172 version, but this was all they had. The tech said it skied short. I found this to be the case on groomers only. On groomers it actually carved surprisingly well, but it has a small contact area, so it has the rollerblade sensation of being unplanted. You can’t drive the tips on this one; there’s just nothing to drive. In bumps it was fine; pretty easy to stay on top of. Skiing powder with these was quite a treat. I found one of the better pockets of fresh snow I saw all day and these skis were quite awesome in it – from a pure powder skiing perspective they were superlative to anything else I tried over the two weekends. For me, I’d prefer something a bit more stable and planted, but I think this is a viable option for a less aggressive skier looking for one ski.
Head Rev 90 (170 cm)
I eventually got a chance to ski this one in a 170, which I was curious about. Found it to give up only a smidge in terms of stability and float while being more maneuverable in tighter spots. Similarly nice in bumps and similar performance in powder and crud. It’s maybe a bit better on groomers in the 177 and I’m thinking that the slightly longer turning radius of the 177 better matches the fairly damp feel of the ski. If there’s one knock against this ski it’s that it’s workmanlike – there’s nothing particularly exciting about it, which is both good and bad. When conditions and terrain are boring, you want an exciting ski, but when things are tricky (like crud and bumps) – it’s really nice to have something that makes things “less exciting”.
Here’s my review from the prior weekend at Crystal.
Environment & Conditions
Location of Test: Crystal Mt, WA
Number of Runs: 2-3 each
Snow Conditions: Soft boot+ deep snow that got mostly cut up quickly at the top, transitioning to heavy wet packable snow transitioning to a little slush at the bottom by the end of the day.
Demo or Own: Demo
I joined jaobrien6 and another friend for the Crystal demo day. It was a great day to test since there were a variety of conditions. There were some legtimately good stashes of powder that we were able to ski for all of the skis. Plenty of crud to be found. The only thing we didn't really have was a significant section of hardpack.
My intention with the demo was to find something to replace the Volkl Mantra, which I use any time there’s less than 6 inches of fresh. It serves its purpose quite well since it does everything I need pretty well. The only reason to replace it is because I like buying gear. Also, I wouldn't mind something that's a little easier to ski. It’s reasonably demanding, but I think it’s a little more ski than necessary now (I’m not 25 anymore, so I don’t bother trying to ski as fast as I did when I bought it).
Prior to the demo I had been aiming toward something a little narrower, keeping in mind that half of the days I use the Mantra there’s no fresh snow to be found. The test day represented the other half of the days that the Mantra comes out and that’s when there’s something like 4 or 5 inches of fresh. The conditions for the day may have colored my reviews (as you may see).
Head Rev 90 (177 cm)
This is a nice ski and exceeded expectations. It had a smooth feel; damp, without feeling planky. The big tip helped it float in the powder and yet it didn't feel hooky. Very good in bumps and very nice carving on the groomers. It's a pretty easy going ski without feeling boring. The conditions at that point were nicer and possibly weren’t a good gauge of the ski's stability through choppy snow. I would have been curious to try this after skiing the rest of the skis.
Dynastar Powertrack 89 (179 cm)
I wanted to try the 172 but they only had a 179, so I gave that a whirl. This was another smooth feeling ski. It's much stiffer than the Rev 90. In the bumps they really took me for a ride. I suspect the length was a big factor, but I think even the 172 would have been more demanding than I'd like. They carved nicely in spite of the 5 point sidecut. Crud handling was a mixed bag. They turned through it quite well thanks to the tapered tip and rocker, but I felt a lot of resistance when taking a straighter line.
Atomic Theory (177 cm)
The Theory was probably the softest of all the skis I tried, but I didn't find it to be noodly. The width and rocker helped them through cut-up powder. Powder performance met expectations for a mid-90s ski with tip and tail rocker. Bump performance was pretty good. Carved a nice turn on the smoother groomers. Their downfall was the chopped up groomers. They didn't track well while transitioning from firm to slushy snow.
Fischer Motive 95 (174 cm)
When I picked up this ski I could tell it meant business. Vertical sidewalls, sandwich construction and metal. It wasn't notably heavy, it just felt substantial and precise. I almost wondered if I should just hand them back. As it turned out, it wasn't nearly as demanding I expected. That being said, they liked to go fast. Powder performance was interesting. The tips have a lot of rocker (lengthwise, but it's a pretty gradual rise). The tail is mostly flat. The result for me was that these really planed up, noses really high, which was a little weird. I feel like I'd have to get really forward to counter that. On the choppy groomers is where this ski shined It just tracked perfectly without any disruption in the turn shape and no feedback to the skier. If you were blindfolded you would think you were on fresh corduroy. I felt like I could go as fast as I wanted and feel in control. Bumps were do-able, but took some work. In that regard I felt like it was a ski to grow into and that's kind of the opposite of what I'm looking for. I would highly recommend taking a look though. I'd be curious to know how the 86 feels. That might be an awesome ski for the day when you know there's no fresh snow to be found.
Nordica NRGY 90 (177 cm)
I was underwhelmed by this ski (for my needs; I do think it's a nice design for the right person). To me it felt planky. It felt like the next stiffest ski after the Dynastar. Carving was good, but I couldn't bend it into a perfectly round turn the way I could with the Steadfast (which I demoed last year and found to be a marvelous carver). It turned really well in powder and crud, but not particularly floaty (which is reasonable for its dimensions but I was optimistic that it might be better). I probably should have sized down, but I think that would have given up too much in powder and crud.
Head Venturi (171 cm)
I had been wanting to try some shorter skis at the suggestion of some folks here, but was having trouble finding some to try. This one came in a 181 or 171, so 171 it was. I had a revelation with these - I realized the benefits of sizing down. I also realized after the day we had - the kind of day where you may be debating between your powder ski and your "other ski", that powder performance can really up the fun factor. I had been focusing more on the skis that were in the 88 to 90 range, but after this day I'm back thinking that mid 90s is the place to be for my narrower ski.
These skis are pretty damp; they have subtle overtones of a planky feeling, but that's barely perceptible. They're still fairly lively (particularly at the size I tried). They were quite awesome in the powder despite the shorter length and short turn radius. The tip and tail rocker really does a nice job on this ski. In bumps I felt like a hero with the shorter length. They were nice on groomers (I realize I'm saying that about all the skis. I really like carving despite my preference for off-piste terrain, so I feel like I know a ski that does it well and a ski that doesn't. The only ski that stood out in terms of carving was the Fischer. The Q98 and Sin 7 on groomers did leave something to be desired). The downside to the shorter length was the performance in cut-up powder and crud. It got bounced around more than I'd prefer. These skis were the last ones I tried and conditions were getting pretty challenging at that point which is something to consider.
Of the skis I tried at Whistler/Blackcomb and at Crystal, the leading candidates for me are both from head. The Venturi in a 171 and the Rev 90 in a 170. Both did everything at least pretty good. The Venturi was more fun and exciting in the powder and steeper terrain, but the Rev 90 I think was probably better in crud and hardpacked. I will probably use emotion and go with the Venturi since it really put a smile on my face in the powder. It also has better graphics.
All the skis I tried are worth looking at – not many bad skis out there (seemed that ten years ago it wasn’t uncommon to find a few bad apples that did nothing well).
One design observation. The Nordica and Dynastar utilized a fair amount of taper in the tip in combination with a ~90 mm waist. Both skis were too stiff for me, so take my comments with a grain of salt, but I felt that the wide, non-tapered tip of the Head Rev 90 offered better float in the powder and crud than the more narrow and tapered tip of the Nordica and Dynastar. The tapered tip did offer the better turning performance, but it seemed that it was at the expense of some float. I would not have expected this. I'm not sure this would necessarily hold true in an an apples-to-apples comparison since the Head benefits from a compliant tip that doesn't try too hard to bite in.