OK, i have been promising this for a few weeks but finally got around to it!
Tester Stats: 59y/o, 165, 5'8"
Days /Year 50-100
Level: USSA L100 coach, Far West Masters Class 7 overall winner, 2011/12 and 2013/14
Years Racing: 10 (6 seriously :) )
Boots: Atomic RT TI 130 (cut to ~ 120)
2014 Volkl Speedwall FIS GS, 188/30, Marker piston Plate, marker 20 Comp binding
2014 Head World Cup Rebels, 188/30, Head Powerflex Plate, Head Freeflex Pro 16 Bindings
2014 (with 2013 graphics!) Atomic Redster WC GS, 188/30, D2 plate, Atomic X16 bindings
2013 Fischer World Cup GS, 188/30, Fischer Powerflex Plate, Fischer X18 freeflex bindings
Test Conditions: various groomed Western snow
As many of you have probably realized by now I have a weakness for GS skis (witness Gear Swap!) and am constantly trying different versions in the elusive search for the ultimate GS ski. Over the last few years I have tried various different brands sizes in 183/23, 183/27, 186/27, 188/27 and 191/27. However for the last 3 seasons I have kept coming back to my current favorite, the Blizzard WC GS 182/25, which has been pretty successful for me with lots of class wins, podiums and 2 Far West Masters class championships (I have used the 2011, 2012 and 2103 versions at various times). It is a ski that seems to work for me and I have always found them to have some of the fastest bases. However with the changes in FIS regulations, supplies of these are getting pretty scarce and the "masters" versions I have tried didn’t really do it for me so I decided it was time I tried the new 188/30 women’s skis to see if they could indeed be a possible option for ageing wannabee Masters racers like myself, particularly having seen how some of our U18 athletes were able to make them work.
One of the things I usually stress is that in order to properly evaluate a race ski, you need to ski it in gates. Unfortunately I was only able to get gate time with 2 of these but I believe my experiences can be extrapolated for the other 2.
Volkl Speedwall GS
First surprise with this ski was when I checked it with the bevel meter, it actually came with a good 1/3 tune out of the plastic, which surprised me! It meant preparation was minimal, just mount and wax. Looking at the skis, a definite early rise in the tip (as all of these have to some extent). First time out with them, I skied down to the course with a bundle of gates and my Blizzards. Swapped over to the Blizzards and made 2 runs on a 28m set training course. I then swapped over to the Volkl and made another 4 runs in the course. First impressions: turn-in was remarkably easy, much better and smoother initiation than a comparable 27m ski. Nice smooth flex, none of that horrible metallic sound on the snow that you used to get with Volkl race skis, and much easier to ski in gates than I had anticipated. It did require some adjustments. Forced me to round out the turn a bit more (I have a bad tendency to go too direct at the gate or at least 50/50 it) but if you rolled it up on a high edge and stepped on it, the ski really came round. Despite the softer flex there was no letting go in the turn or wash-out in the tip. Biggest surprise however came from looking at the (Freelap) watch. After 3 runs I was consistently matching the times I had been setting on my Blizzards!!!???? even though it didn’t feel as fast. Hmmm, beginners luck??? So, time to try again. I went back out in the afternoon with some of our U16s on a 26-27m set training course, and left the Blizzards in the race shack. Being a bit more analytical about it this time, I realized that the ski was actually forcing me to take a better line. You really have to get it up on edge and stand on it and then it really accelerates through the turn (yeah, I know I should be doing that all the time but doesn’t always happen :( ). By doing this I was also driving the inside hip forward better and getting a better feeling of the tip of the ski hooking up. Coaches/teammates/observers confirmed my subjective feelings. I was getting a higher, cleaner line and carrying better speed through the turn. Even elicited the approval of our head coach who knows well my straight and late tendencies! Hmm, definitely something to think about!!
Head World Cup Rebel GS
I have not spent much time on Heads in recent years. Last Head I owned was a 165 slalom which for me was waaay too heavy and clunky. However they do appear to be making some really good GS skis these days! Flexing the ski surprised me. Much softer than I had expected (I thought they would have been stiffer!). Skiing down to the course, felt really nice. Again, easy turn initiation, belieing the radius. Into the course, 27m set, and lets see what they can do. Wow, hook up and turn in well, hold on through the turn, no tip weakness and really good feel of the ski all the way from the tip to the middle of the boot. Amazingly easy to ski in gates considering the specs! Again, rewards the same technique as the Volkl, early high edge angle and drive from the hip, but really comes across the hill and great snow feel. Wasn’t running timing but definitely didn’t feel like I was giving up anything on them. Later the same day I made a few runs in a 26m set and was comfortably able to make it through the course with a high line.
Atomic Redster WC GS
Didn’t get the chance to run this in gates. However I have spent some time on it putting it through its paces and have been able to use it in varied conditions. Out of the box it came with a good 1/2 tune (not a 1/3 as I had expected from Atomic). I skied it like this initially and then reset to 1/3. This ski has less early rise than either the Head or the Volkl. It displays similar characteristics in the way it needs to be skied as you might expect. However it definitely wants to hook up and dive into the turn more aggressively than the previous two. Noticeably so. This could be good or bad depending on your style but IMHO is just one of the fine-tuning adjustments you need to make. On real hard-pack it holds on like a sailor on your sister. None of these are deficient in grip but if I was racing on the ice coast, this might be the preferred tool. Again, a smooth ride and great acceleration through the turn if you set up properly. I tried a few runs with the binding moved forward from 4 to 3 but preferred it on 4. Another excellent ski.
Fischer WC GS
I spent the least time on this ski but did make several runs on it. Overall feel, felt like the stiffest/dampest of the bunch. Again more commonalities than differences though. Easy turn in, great grip, smooth ride and strong acceleration.
I have been very pleasantly surprised by these skis! The manufacturers have put a huge amount of R&D effort into getting them right and it really shows. It also emphasizes that the most critical element is flex rather than nominal radius. I have now spent quite a bit more time on the Volkl and the Atomic and continue to be impressed. My Masters team mates have also been using them (I seem to have grown a demo fleet :( ) and coming to similar conclusions.
The other aspect that sways me to these rather than the previous 27m men’s versions is that with these I can still make mid-line adjustments and (frequent) recoveries when required. On the 27m skis I found I could be faster provided I was clean, but my skill level was not sufficient to be able to make recoveries so easily so I was ultimately slower in the course!
The similarities between the skis are much greater than the differences, which are relatively minor. They all reward early pressure, high edge angles and drive the ski. For me they definitely force me to improve my line, and have helped me drive my hip more into the turn. I believe I could happily race on any of these now in place of the 183/25 and the plan is to switch for next season. I still own the Volkl and the Atomic but really want to try the Blizzard version before I make a final choice. I was actually considering using the Volkls for our final Far West GS race of the season but since I still required a podium to clinch the championship I decided to stick with the current Blizzard set up.
So, in conclusion. For a reasonable Masters skier the 188/30 FIS ski makes a very good option! Much more so than I would have ever expected. IMHO 30 is definitely the new 23!
Edit: i have since added reviews of the 188/30 and 183/30 FIS skis from Stockli at
and also further down in this thread
Edited by ScotsSkier - 4/13/14 at 4:39pm