Another review here:
Location of review: Alpine backcountry in spring and a few test days at the resort
Snow Conditions: Everything you could imagine
Me: 5'10, 175lbs, 31 yrs/old, 40-60 days per 29 seasons, expert skier with an athletic, dynamic, powerful style. Parents were both pro bump skiers. Prefer damp, charging skis with good high-speed stability.
186 PM Gear Kusalas (extra stiff option)
191 ON3P Billygoats (12/13)
191 ON3P Wrenegade (11/12)
183 Head Monster m103
183 Head Monster m82
180 Blizzard Bushwackers
2011 Countdown 4 (2014 Countdown 102)
1840g per ski (with binding freedom inserts)
29m-55m-35m variable tip-to-tail turn radius (41m average)
Mounted with Speed Radicals
Skied on Tecnica Cochise 120s
This ski is the older version of this year's 2014 Down Countdown 102. Identical dimensions with a similar rocker profile and stiffness. From what I've heard, this years Countdown 102 has smoother transitions between the rocker and camber, and should be about 5% softer. In my opinion, the smoother transitioning rocker is an improvement, as well as the slight change in stiffness. The stiffness of the ski is slightly softer than my Kusala extra-stiffs and my Head m103s. It's similar to the ON3P Wrenegades, but maybe a bit stiffer overall. It's a tad bit stiffer in the tip, and a lot stiffer in the tail, than the ON3P Billygoats. The flex is impressively stiff for such a lightweight ski.
The construction of the ski is bomber. I've definitely hit some stuff during my time on it, and the bases hold up as well as anything I've ever used - just as good as ON3P, PM Gear, and Praxis. I haven't sharpened them this season, and the edges still seem pretty good, but I didn't have a lot of days on them either. The topsheets are pretty durable, and remind me of the 2014/2015 DPS topsheets. Some of the best I've seen. They seem to shed snow well.
I bought this ski used. The original owner felt that the ski was similar to a touring version of a Cochise - at a lighter weight than the Scout - but that it was a little too stiff and not easy-going enough in really tight couloirs. I can certainly understand his point of view, but found the stiffness an asset for my style of skiing.Here's my thoughts on how it skied.
In a word. Predictable.
I can't speak for less aggressive skiers, but this ski does VERY well for me in challenging spring snow conditions. Grabby windbuff, sun-crusted mank, wind-hammered strastrugi, smooth corn. The fact that it skis powder very well is the icing on the cake. The perfect spring touring ski, in my opinion. Get to the top of the line and you get surprised by powder? You'll still be happy. Get to the top of the line and you get surprised by wind-hammered snow? You'll still be happy. Get to the top of the line and you get surprised by iced up strastrugi? You'll still be happy... sort of.. hah. Predictable and powerful when it needs to be, but with the weight, it could be light and playful off features in the soft snow (just don't expect a lot of 'pop' for quick wiggles). A suprisingly damp carbon feel that is similar to PM Gear hybrid carbon-fiberglass layups.
I originally thought that this ski would be mostly just a firmer or funky spring snow ski, but after spending the entire spring on it, it'll be my go-to ski for any big day, even if deeper powder is on the agenda. I no longer see a need for a 110-115mm touring ski (though I'll have a 124mm for the hucking platform).
My first time on these skis was on a 2' overnight day. I spent the morning on my Billygoats, before switching to the Countdowns. I started with steep firm scraped-off moguls, followed by a few untracked sidecountry laps which included playful windlips, steep chutes, and lower angle trees in sun-affected snow. At the end of the day I skied some soft chop and moguls with some smaller airs thrown in.
*) On the scraped-off mogul run, the ski's lightweight and maneuverability was excellent. The tails released quickly, allowing you to hammer off quick turns down the fall line over and through the moguls. The stiffness definitely made things a bit more challenging in the troughs than a softer ski, but not bad overall, due to the shape.
*) In the untracked snow, I had absolutely zero problems with tip dive, even on a southern exposure that had begun to turn into mank.. I didn't need to shift my balance much at all.
*) I got to play with some windlips and it stayed playful and slashy, popping off the windlips and landing on transitions of others. The weight definitely helped here. Good fun!
*) It feels similar to a wider ski, and you can slarve it around relatively well. Of course, given the right shape, wider is better, but on longer tours, it wouldn't be an easy call at all, no matter how deep the snow was. I'd probably end up grabbing the Countdowns the majority of the time, unless hucking was on the agenda.
*) On the sidecountry laps, the ski toured very well, and the subtle tip rocker did a decent job staying on top when breaking trail.
*) On some short steeps, making high speed arcs through 2' of fresh felt great. The ski felt very similar to the Billygoats, though it stayed a bit more submerged in the snow. I would even say that it felt more stable than the Billygoat in it's turn shape at high speed (likely due to stiffness), though a bit less stable when skiing moderately aggressively (likely due to width).
*) In the soft chop and moguls, they had a damp yet light feeling to them, very similar to PM Gear hybrid skis. The stiffness was impressive and really helped you blast through, belying their weight. In the air, they felt great, as well.
*) They don't have the landing platform of a wider ski for big airs in really deep snow, but it worked fine in the cut up resort snow at the end of the day, and would do fine on hardpack and corn. I'd feel comfortable with cornice drops and airing through chokes.
Before taking them into the backcountry in nasty conditions, I decided to test it in more safely controlled conditions. I took the ski up for 3 runs in Breck's Lake Chutes - a series of 50-55 degree 500' chutes, with cornices guarding most of the entrances. The wind had absolutely destroyed the snow, turning it into extremely firm, rattle-your-teeth strastrugi. The kind that feels like you're skiing a snow cone, where you can't really get a consistent edge, nor can you slarve cleanly. The snow had a firm 3D texture - where every turn cuts nubs of ice off that come cascading down in a series of icy sluffs all around you. Lower down, it turned into nasty semi-firm manky sluff debris. I was the only one the chutes - for good reason. I started the run by dropping off a 5' cornice, nervous for what was to follow.
*) After dropping off the cornice, the ski had suitable stiffness for digging in and reducing speed. It was amazingly predictable and powerful. I didn't expect it to feel this solid at all.
*) Making turns down, the ski slarved powerfully and predictably. Holding your line was as easy as it could have been, and I was able to carry a good amount of speed down the pitch without feeling a loss of control. Not too grabby... just right.
*) Entering the slide debris, below, that had begun to mank up in the sun, the ski felt confident and I could really lay into the stiff tips to keep from getting bounced around too much. I could launch off a bit of debris and plunge back into the mank, trusting the ski to blow through it, smacking hidden chunks without flinching. I was actually having fun here.
*) I was impressed by the ski, and expected to have to manage the ski much more than I had to. It didn't give me the feeling I was on a touring-designed ski at all. It did what I wanted it to do, and nothing I didn't ask it to do.
POWDER ON MANK
I tossed my skis on my back and began climbing up the couloir, my boots plunging into about 8" of fresh snow on top of a wierd and wet manky crust - think before the corn consolidation completes. When we got to the top, heavy clouds rolled in and visibility turned to dogshit. I really wanted to rip some fast turns down what was a perfectly sized couloir. However, without being able to see subtle variations in the snow, I couldn't trust my vision to aid my balance when managing the wet mank just underneath the fresh snow. I dropped in from the side, around the guardian cornice, on a 60 degree entrance ramp above the rock-peppered wall of the couloir.
*) The entrance from just outside the couloir was tricky wet snow, but the skis stayed on top and predictable, and held the line as I navigated down the ramp. They didn't plunge in, or hang up in the wierd snow, and I was able to get down underneath the guardian cornice without issue, or serious concern for the exposure. A good start.
*) Knowing how the ski handled the entrance, I was confident in being able to rip turns as best I could in the vertigo and complete lack of visibility. It became a dance between a few fast wonderful turns, followed by finding the mank underneath on a thin spot, and reeling back in the speed. The ski had no problems doing this, and was just as happy to shut it down as it was to open it back up again.
*) As I got lower, the lighting improved just enough to let it rip without hesitation. Good times.
GRABBY WINDSLAB, POWDER, AND USED-TO-BE CORN
Steep skin tracks in challenging sidehilling conditions was the name of the game for the climb. The snow liked to slide out from underneath you on the firm crust. There were multiple times of finding just the right edge movements to get you across, and kickturns were exciting to say the least. When we reached the summit, we found a dense layer of extremely grabby windslab on the exposed steep face. The face extended wide-open for over 1000' before ending in a series of finger cliffs and chutes. It was probably the most grabby windslab I've ever skied. Pockets of softer powder would reach out and attempt to grab your edges, but overall was firm enough that a fall would have been bad. We cut out early to the right to reach a much longer and sustained chute, finding consistently good powder on a wonderful steep and narrow pitch. The sluff cascaded down behind me, staying ahead of it and using terrain features to break it up behind me. As we popped out the exit, we were surprised with a thick corn crust, which slowly transitioned into mank further down the valley.
*) On the skin up, we all had problems with the challenging conditions. One partner, who was on Lotus 120s, did have a noticably more difficult time on some of the firmer sidehilling conditions, and almost lost it down the side (we were on a pretty steep pitch). The other partner who was on lightly tip-rockered 105mm Igeneous skis seemed to fair just as well as myself.
*) On descent, the skis released predictably and entered turns without pulling you into them. I could maintain speed and slide the skis around on the top of the windslab, without biting too deep into the softer pockets and messing with my balance. The partner on the Igneous' was quite tentative and made slow deliberate hop turns down the face. The partner on the 120s skied similarly to myself.
*) Once in the narrow chute, I was able to ski more aggressively, setting edges and enjoying the much more consistent snow. Nothing much to say here, except transitioning between the windward (firm) and lee (soft) side of the chute, felt comfortable and natural.
*) I exited the chute, rocketing through the debris of roller balls, entering the smooth snow at a high speed, expecting to plunge into a large sweeping turn on perfect corn. Hah... not so much! Some lingering clouds and wind had firmed up what used to be corn and turned it into a death crust. Hilarity ensued as I got locked into the big turn at an uncomfortable speed, with no way to shut it down. The stiffness in the tip allowed me to hold the turn without throwing me into an unsustainable tighter turn. Loved it, and was able to shut it down as I finished the turn. It was conditions like this that exemplified the predictability of the ski.
*) The rest of the descent was on a very thin layer of corn on top of the crust, and I was able to make fast turns, sliding the skis around and avoid plunging into the crust and getting locked up.
A beautiful backcountry day. 2' in 24 hours, stable, cold, and sunny, with 2500' of solid 40 degree pitch on the agenda. There wasn't much to say here, other than I was able to make broad fast turns in amazing snow, albeit a bit on the thick side. The ski held the turn shape that I desired, without forcing me to make longer or shorter turns. I could drive the ski from a forward stance, and angulate it however I wanted, without any problems with float. Just awesome.