So here's the brief: I want a freeride ski that is great in powder, decent enough on piste, fun in variable conditions, and is light enough for skinning or boot packing to pow stashes in the backcountry. Me: 51 yr old ex racer, 6'2", 175 lbs, ski 30 days/yr, home mountain is La Clusaz in the French alps. Current quiver: Rossignol Radical 9 GS 175cm, and Kastle FX94 186cm. The Kastles have been filling the role of my soft snow ski to date, but I'd like something with rocker, more float, and lighter weight. While I want something versatile for the wide range of conditions we get, I don't need the ski to rail GS turns on ice (that's what my GS skis do), so am biased towards soft snow performance. But versatility is important as in the alps we get a bit of everything.
Over the course of the season I demo'd 7 skis to fill this spec. This was not a scientific exercise as conditions differed day to day. Also the sample was what I could get from my local shops - there are a number of skis I would've loved to try but couldn't get my hands on. But many of the skis I tried haven't been widely reviewed so I thought I'd write this up in case it is helpful to people looking for a similar spec. Also some of the skis are really more alpine touring models, but I've included them anyway as the line between lightweight freeride and touring continues to blur. I tested the skis in Technica Cochise 120 freeride boots, bindings were different on each ski, some alpine, some AT.
With those caveats, here we go...
DYNASTAR CHAM HIGH MOUNTAIN 97, 178CM
On paper this ski hits the spec right on the nose. 97cm wide, plenty of rocker, lightweight at 1800g/ski, 16m radius, easy to fit skins. It is a very popular ski in my area, lots of people use it both in-bounds and to tour. But I also know from the reviews that the 5 point side cut and pin tail make it a love it or hate it ski. I didn't hate it, but it wasn't the right ski for me. Fun, lively, poppy and easy to make variable turn shapes in soft snow. Its easy turning nature and quickness also made it pretty fun in bumps and trees. But performance in chopped up pow and crud was too nervous for my taste, and they were chattery and speed limited on groomers. I also found it hard to get a balanced stance as the combination of soft rocketed tip and stiff pintail encouraged me into the back seat. I prefer a more even flex pattern. Again this ski really comes down to personal taste - one of my buddies was skiing a pair with me and loved 'em.
STOCKLI STORMRIDER 100, 182CM
Stockli advertises this as a "freeride touring ski". Again on paper looks pretty good - 100cm wide, fair bit of tip rocker, 20m turning radius, 1745g per ski (at 174cm), skin locking system. I've skied Stockli's before and really loved their damp, smooth as silk responsiveness - like my Kastles. These had that classic Stockli feel - bombproof construction, metal top sheet with attractive graphics. Skiing them was like being in a Mercedes - fast, responsive, unflappable. At slow speeds they felt pretty plunky, work to manoeuvre, but at high speed and with the right edge angles (lower then I'm used to) they railed through hard pack, crud, anything. But despite their width and rocker profile, the float was not as good as I expected. Also the fun factor, ability to vary turn shapes, slarve, surf, etc wasn't there - responded better to an old school style. These skis were almost the exact opposite of the HM 97s. So if you want high speed stability but in a fairly lightweight package, this is a great choice - but with some trade-off in float and turn shape/style versatility.
ELAN AMPHIBIO SPECTRUM 95 ALU, 180CM
This was a really interesting ski, highly recommended by my friends at Veyrat Sports. It shows the degree of innovation going on in the quest for the one-ski quiver. There are specific right-left skis, and the tip and tail rocker has a variable geometry where the inside edge has longer contact with the snow than the outside edge. This means that when the ski is tipped on edge in hard-pack it carves relatively true to length, but when it is in powder the tip and tail rocker give it float. It is a clever idea and it really works. Edge hold and carving performance even on icy pistes were quite good, and the float in powder was also good. The ski was responsive (17.5m radius) and predictable at speed. Not quite as energetic or poppy, floaty feeling as some of the other skis (notably the Movement Chill-Out below). Also the ALU model I tried was a bit heavy with metal in it, though Elan also makde a lighter non-metal version. A serious contender for a true one-quiver ski.
ROSSIGNOL SOUL 7, 180CM and 188CM
Given the ecstatic reviews for this ski I was very excited to try it out. They seemed right on the money - great powder performance, decent on piste for a ski this wide with a lot of tip rocker, and pretty lightweight at around 1900g per ski. I almost bought a pair without trying them first. But I'm glad I did try them first because I decided they weren't right for me. To be fair I didn't have a lot of powder the days I demo'd them. But it isn't hard to tell that these are fantastic surfy, fun powder skis - I found enough small pockets of fresh to figure that out. But the question was versatility in more variable conditions. In tracked out pow, crusty crud, and hard piste conditions I found them too hard to predict. I like my skis to respond precisely to inputs. In anything but soft snow I found myself taking my speed down, skiing less aggressively just because I wasn't exactly sure how my inputs in my boots would translate out to the ski's big shovel tip. At first I thought it was an issue of length - the 180cm were almost un-skiable for me and the 188cm were definitely better. But overall I didn't feel confident on them in the wide variety of conditions we get. However, I can definitely see why these would be a great one ski quiver for the Rockies, but for Europe or East Coast need something more versatile.
SCOTT CRUS'AIR, 179 CM
Another ski I was looking forward to trying. Very popular with guides around Chamonix. 92cm waist, tip rocker, 17m radius, super light at about 1500g per ski. Arguably more a touring ski than freeride, but given the width and rocker thought it might be a good cross-over ski. But after a day on them felt they were more appropriate for touring than freeride. Powder performance was only ok, more work to get float than many of the other skis. On harder snow quick edge to edge, strong grip, and dual radius side cut made it easy to vary turn shapes, manoeuvre in tight spots. I did a short skin on them and as expected uphill performance was strong - light weight, tip rocker helped break tracks. But the big downside was that the carbon laminate that gives them that nice light weight also makes them feel a bit dead. Not damp, just a bit dead. I found myself missing the liveliness and return energy of a wood core ski, fun factor was low. By the end of the day my legs were more tired than normal. So lots to recommend, especially as an AT ski, but worth trying first to see how you like the carbon feel.
VOLKL AMAK, 177CM
The Volkl ski I really wanted to try is the Nanuq which has received excellent reviews and the spec looks perfect for me. It is basically a lightweight Mantra without the metal. I couldn't find a Nanuq to demo, but I did give these Amak's a try and am glad I did. I haven't seen any other reviews of these skis so even though these are really an AT ski it is worth noting what a great versatile ski they are. They really are more a pure touring ski than freeride/touring, so relatively narrow (83cm) and just a bit of tip rocker. But they are super lightweight (1350g per ski) and ski brilliantly in a wide variety of conditions. Super smooth, stable, responsive, easy to turn, and tenacious race ski like grip on hard snow and ice. At only 83cm naturally not as floaty as some of the fatter skis, but more float than the wider Crus'Airs. And at 1350g not for high-speed on icy pistes or crud. But everything else in between they were brilliant. And skinned uphill like a dream. Not right for the freeride spot in my quiver, but am seriously considering a pair for an AT set-up for next year. Volkl calls them the perfect touring ski for the Alps and I'd agree. They also made me really curious to try out Volkl's freeride/touring hybrids including the Nanuq and the fully rockered Nunataq.
And the winner is...
MOVEMENT CHILL-OUT, 185CM
Movement is a small Swiss company with its roots in free skiing. While lesser known in the US they have a strong following in the Swiss and French alps. The Chill-Out is a 94cm waisted ski with 18m radius, 12cm of tip rocker, and a rounded slightly lifted tail and a hybrid sandwich, side wall construction. It is also quite light at 1750g per ski at 185 cm (1650g at 177cm). Build quality has that very solid Swiss feel. From the moment I started sliding down the hill on boards I had a grin and it simply got bigger and bigger over the several days I skied them. These puppies did everything with aplomb. In powder they were super floaty, surfy, slarvy and fun as hell - despite the *only* 94cm waist the big 121cm shovel floated on top of anything from soft freshies, to tracked out heavy slop. The flex pattern is beautifully smooth and progressive. This ski reminded me that integration is everything - how the rocker, camber and flex all work together as a whole. The ski was super fun, lively, lots of return energy, but also predictable and smooth. Tilt it on edge and carves nice GS shapes, or pivot and slarve. This ski made me a better skier - I was blasting through steep tracked out pow, zipper lining bumps (don't usually do that!), slaloming in the trees and even popping some air (at my age!). By the end of the day I was feeling like Candide Thovex (a local hero, if you don't know who he is YouTube him and be amazed). My wife also tried the women's version the Blink and in one day turned from a nervous powder skier to confidently laying down beautiful S-curves. It is an accessible ski but also a very high-performing one. On piste performance is good, and they carve nicely especially if the snow is soft - more of a speed limit if icy or rutted. Not quite as strong on piste as the Elans, but better in the pow. Also not as strong in crud as the metal skis (e.g. the Stocklis) but more lively and fun. Movement advertises these as 100% freeride, 50% piste (I like days where you go 150%!) and I'd say that's about right. I tried both 177cm and 185cm - the 177cm were surprisingly stable, but the extra length of the 185 cm added some extra pow float and edge grip for my height/weight without any loss in manoeuvrability.
So I've gone ahead and bought the Movements, might get a few spring days on them and look forward to having them next season. Again, there were a number of skis I would have liked to have tried, notably the other Volkls and Faction Agent 90s and 100s, and Black Crow Camox Freebirds, and DPS Wailer 99s. But the Movements hit high on the smile factor and at some point you just have to pull the trigger and ski...