My dims: 5’10”, 180.
For the 2016 skis, I focused on a “wide, directional all-mountain” genre. This would be skis that are more or less in the 95-105mm underfoot range, and with a relatively flat tail. Two reasons: (a) this class seems to converge on the intersection of “skis that we hope we will be on” vice “skis that we will likely be on about 80 to 90% of the time,” and (b) Ullr supplied snow conditions that actually allowed for testing the things in the environment they are intended. This includes not only groomed like folks usually see in testing, but chopped-up groomers, untracked continental-pack freshies, crud, soft bumps, dust-on-crust, and fluffy white stuff between those brown trees. Copper is skiing as good as, or better than, anything along the I-70 corridor, if not the state of Colorado this year; everything was in play if you knew the joint…
Head Monster 88, 177cm: Head replaces the Rev series with an old name and a serious-er attitude. This Monster is beefier than the Rev 85 Pro, and a little less turny (17.4m turn radius vs 15ish at 177cm). The end result is a ski that I would take over my 178cm Kastle MX88. G’head, read that again. It pulls across the hill just a bit more enthusiastically than the MX, but is also damp and stable. Like a lot of the other well-sorted skis I rode, it handled places like steep, dust-on-crust bumps as seen on Indian Ridge (skier’s right off of American Flyer lift).
I cannot speak to the rest of the line, but the 88 is a winner and an improvement over the comparable Rev 85, a ski I raved about last year. The Rev isn’t any less good now, but kudos to Head to offering a refined all-mountain ski as a replacement, and not just change for the sake of marketing.
Speaking of marketing, I could not detect the Graphene at work. That doesn’t mean it isn’t useful (maybe), but at no time did I feel anything that made me say, “Mon dieu, the Graphene is sublime!”
Volkl Kendo 177cm: This is another disappointing pillar ski for Volkl, a ski they should imbue with versatility and refinement, but instead manage to simultaneously alienate the expert and hamstring the intermediate. On piste, it was more vague than its direct 88-90mm competition, as well as inferior to many wider skis. Turn initiation was imprecise, and the ride through the belly of the turn was unsure, it didn’t encourage experimenting with shaping the radius mid-turn.
Off piste, the early rise tip ’n’ tail that the rep gushed about failed to translate to agility or confidence; I was eager to get out of terrain (like Sail Away Glade, skier’s left of American Eagle lift) that other skis in the test enticed me to skip a return to the demo village and have another go.
Folks talk about the advantage that the Big Companies have over indies with their R&D budgets, but if Volkl pumps out the dazed and confused Kendo and Mantra while RMU rips them a new one with the very focused SCRM (see below), what are they spending that money on?
Ramp Shebang 179cm: It’s 90 underfoot, loads of tip and tail rocker, with a 7m (seven, not a typo) turn radius along its cambered midsection. Of the more polarizing “clown-shoe tip” skis (the Dynastar Powertrack 89 is an example of a winner in the genre), this one leads the pack. It is quick, entertainingly so.
Where the design starts to show its limitations is if you try to carve. Picture the sensation of being on a 165cm, 13m TR WC SL ski (mmmm, alphabet soup…) and feathering it into GS or super G turns. It’s like that on the Shebang with any attempt at carving, at any radius; there is that vibrating-y feel that the ski is displeased with you, like you just told your dad you’re going to be a mime. That said, there are a lot of people, folks that aren’t Tanner Hall but yet mention terms like swing weight, who will find this ski to be a hoot, and it will make them a more confident skier within their technique.
Scott The Ski, 180cm: This was a reference ski for me, a ski I wanted to get on to test the conditions so I knew what I was experiencing with new and unfamiliar skis. OK, I say all that, but what I really mean is I find this stick to be an absolute blast and will shamelessly seek an opportunity to get on it. Like last year, it is engaging on groomers (if not the last word in power) and makes you a better bump skier. This year, thanks again to Ullr, I discovered it is also great in the trees and soft bumps among them in Lower Enchanted Forest off of Excelerator lift, and also good in the weird bumps underneath the American Flyer lift toward the bottom, the ones you don’t want everyone to see you eating sh#t on as they glide above you in the comfort of a high-speed quad.
Although I continue to be a fan of The Ski’s personality, next year’s graphics are a downer, a total miss. The muted homage to “retro” The Ski’s topsheets went too far, it is possible to view them and overlook the connection to the icon. C’mon, Scott, use your smarticles (and save me a pair of ’14-’15 sexy red 180s)!
Kastle FX95 HP 181: Well done, Kastle. I'll admit, when I saw the new shape, I got nervous; the amount of early taper and rise in the tip (and the larger blue hollowtech thingee) gives it almost a clown-shoe tip look, like a Powertrack 89. Some companies are executing it well, like Dynastar; others are still searching.
The new FX (and BMX105 HP) shape is stellar in crud, one of the best at shrugging off the feeling of variable-density snow trying to snag one or both of your skis. There was precisely one lap down the main two or three trails served by American Eagle of untracked lovin’, the rest were crud. I had a couple of deus ex machina moments where I felt the snow begin to grab and figured I was about to eat it, and then suddenly the turn was over and I was still upright.
The FX is also a “multi-turn shape” ski. Like the Stormrider 88 I rode last year, it displays an unusual willingness to turn inside its own 20m radius, a trait rare enough that when you encounter it, there's kind of a "Ooooh, bonus!" thing inside your head. It's like standing in front of your washer with jeans in your hand, about to toss them in and you figure, "Oh, what the hell, I'll check", and you find $20 in a back pocket.
Stockli Stormrider 95 182cm: This thing is Money! No really, it's kind of expensive-y... But to paraphrase Jeremy Clarkson re: the Aston Martin V12 Vantage, "Well, what did you think it was going to be like? It is fantastic; it's wonderful, wonderful, wonderful..."
The SR95 comes ever so close to doing it all; on hard snow, it's nimble-yet-planted, eager to change turn shapes, it'll let go of an old turn and snatch up a new one. It's smooth in bumps, nimble in trees, fun in untracked, reliable in steep off-piste. I can’t think of another ski that does so many things so well, so smoothly.
It does not rail hardpack like the Stockli SX et al., nor does it float like the Stormrider 107. But if you want to get out of the car, put one pair of skis over your shoulder, and not look back, this is about as good as it gets.
K2 Pinnacle 95 184cm: I had high hopes; the rep told me how bunches of folks thought this was the best ski they've ever been on. Maybe it's like the movie commercials that splatter your TV with multiple glowing reviews from people you've never heard of ("film of the summer!"), and you get the feeling that something ain't right with this one.
The Pinnacle 95 was just OK. Turn initiation isn't as positive as others at the same width, there's a feeling of needing to exaggerate movements to get the tip to engage. Its 17-meter turn radius crosses under you well enough, but it doesn't feel comfortingly solid through the belly of the turn. It's nimble, but lacks a “come play with me!” personality.
Geez, this sounds like the dreaded “faint praise” employee eval... Well, there we are.
Atomic Vantage 95 178cm: I didn't pick up on it at the time I was on it, but the 95 is kind of a “price point” all-mountain ski (more on that under the Vantage 100 review). That's not a bad thing; not everyone is helpless to resist the shiny allure of Kastle and Stockli, lots of folks just want an affordable ski free of bad characteristics. Here you go, folks.
The Vantage 95 initiates turns predictably on piste; handles soft bumps, trees, and freshies with agility and decent float (as seen on Lower Enchanted): and is a good companion in harder bumps under the bottom of American Flyer. Job done.
Fischer Motive 95 180cm: Last year, I tested a bunch of narrower frontside skis and felt like the Head Magnum and Rally personified a kind of “come play with me!” flavor of ski. In the wide all-mountain category, the Motive 95 is the winner, full stop. It is the kind of ski, if not THE ski, that a lot of folks would be better suited on than a more serious ski. It has a crazy good combination of tip shape, forgiving flex/dampness, aggressive-yet-encouraging sidecut (18m TR), and elfin magic dust. It was trustworthy in Little Trees and nimble in the bumps under the Sierra lift, locked onto groomers and carved enthusiastically, and was impish along the side of any trail.
It made me a happier skier. I feel like I should be writing more, seeing as how it is my favorite (or possibly second favorite) ski of the test, but this about covers it.
Dynastar Cham 97 184cm: The Cham almost made the List*. It did everything OK; it hooked up well at the top of the turn, crossed under if you steered it across the hill, stayed relatively planted in chopped-up groomers, and was nimble in the trees and bumps under the Flyer lift.
Unfortunately, there's a half dozen other skis that do all of this better, and with more personality. Of course, there were several that did these tasks much worse; I certainly wouldn't call it a bad ski.
Fischer Ranger 98, 180cm: If I hadn’t just been on the Motive 95, I would write that Fischer has a great all-mountain offering in the Ranger 98. They still do, but it doesn’t blow my skirt up like the Motive did. It’s lighter and has a less precise tip shape. Despite having more or less the same turn radius, it doesn’t seem to have the same amount of coiled-up energy as the Motive.
Fischer has made a forgiving, if not hard-charging, lightweight ski that offers nimble and easygoing performance.
Blizzard Bonafide 180cm: I got to test the new Bones in Cache Glades, one of my favorite places at Copper when there's snow. It's below the treeline and has a steep, bumpy pitch that skis best if you commit and give 'er.
Of the skis I took into there (and Sail Away Glade, Upper and Lower Enchanted, etc.), this was one of the best. The biggest compliment I can give it is that I didn't think about it in the midst of making my way down, it just maneuvered underneath me at the speed of thought. It's a bit more nimble than some of the others in this terrain, like the E100 (a great wide carver that's competent off piste), and displayed no bad habits.
If it has a flaw, it was in turn transitions. The tip actually initiated better than I remember, perhaps the new shape is more positive. But as you roll out of the old turn and into the new one, there was a dead zone (a pause?). I called it a hiccup in my voice memo. I wouldn't call it a hazard, but it wasn't as smooth as the Motive, E100, Vantage 100, Enforcer, SCRM, or the SR95. Perhaps it was a tune issue, but I can only test what they give me...
Despite this, I still give the Bonafide a Most Improved award among skis that have been updated. It hasn’t lost any of its off piste prowess, and is now more entertaining on the way back to the lift.
Kastle MX98: I had just handed the BMX105 HPs back to Mavis at the Kastle tent, intending to head elsewhere since I already rode what I wanted (FX and BMX). She asked, "What else do you want to try?" I hadn't been on the 174 MX98, so I asked for it (this test really is like Candyland, you can get overstimulated by the volume of amazing skis...).
It was like stepping back in time, which I guess is true. The FX and new BMX are so versatile and non-demanding, despite their ability to handle variable snow, that the MX98 feels a generation removed from them. It will shrug off anything the FX/BMX can (and more, it's one of the strongest skis I've been on), but when you want to forget about what's on your feet and go play, the MX says "hold on there, Sport. If you want to do something else, you need to call ahead first..."
The MX isn't too much work, but it's a lot of work. But it's a Kastle, so precision is in its DNA, and unlike the Nrgy, when you do your part, you get a reassuring, predictable response.
A little farther down this list, you'll see a ski that could almost pass for MX98 2.0, the SCRM. MXs are taking their turn under the knife with an update due for '16/'17, it will be interesting to see what Kastle does.
Nordica Enforcer 177cm: The Enforcer finished second on my very scientific “come out and play with me!” o-meter. Almost as much as the Motive 95, it encourages me to head for the side of the trail, looking for mischief to get into.
It has a tip that listens when you tell it to turn, sidecut that carves willingly, and a tail that holds onto the turn but lets you out any time you like. The damp ride pulls into turns on chopped-up groomers without fuss, and saved my bacon when flat light made the bumps in front of me at the top of Main Vein under Eagle lift appear as if they weren't there (it did not, however, prevent me from the initial surprise that resulted in having to remove my unmentionables from my, uh, bacon...).
It's a great new addition to this category, one of a half dozen or so I'd be happy to use in almost any condition. Nordica put a fair amount of pressure on itself in reviving the Enforcer name with a new look, and it did such a good job that it is hard to believe they also make the...
Nordica Nrgy 100 185cm: Last year's disappointment with the 177cm Nrgy 100 continues with the 185. It's a tiring ski. The (e)N(e)rgy required to get it to change direction isn't rewarded with an equal and opposite reaction. There is nothing that it does once on edge that makes it worth the effort versus lot of other skis in this category that are quicker and more predictable, with less calorie expenditure.
The head-scratcher of the test, for me, is the existence of this ski and the Enforcer within the same company. Why?
Atomic Vantage 100 180cm: I just listened to the voice memos app recording I made for this ski:
"So, Random Guy on the lift recommends the Vantage 100, tells me that the Vantage 95 I was on earlier is a price-point ski, doesn't have any metal in it, it's like the old Theory, blah blah blah. OK, I'll give it a try; sure enough, the Vantage 100 is the real deal."
It's a strong and fun wide carver, initiates cleanly and enthusiastically, rolls smoothly out of one turn and into another like the E100 and the SCRM. I took it into the bumps and trees in Cache Glades, it was nimble and forgiving. In fresh snow, it had adequate float. There wasn't an aspect where I thought the 100 was subpar; Random Guy on the lift felt it was the most versatile ski of the test, and it's definitely on my List*.
Ramp Groundhog 179cm: This ski did not deliver for me. Similar to the other skis I tested (in essence: flat tail, 17m TR, 100mm underfoot), yet it did not inspire confidence on or off piste. I tested it in soft crud around the same time as the Kastles and the Rossi E100; it just wasn't in the same class as far as shrugging off variable snow.
Later, I tried it again. Last year, I couldn't get the loving feeling for the Nrgy, despite skiing it more than any other product. This year it was the Groundhog I wanted to decipher. On the second time out, I was on chopped-up groomers and off-piste trees and bumps. In both environments, it felt vague, I wasn't sure what it was doing under my feet. I'm not sure who this ski is for, still trying to figure that out.
RMU SCRM 175cm: I spent a bit of time before SIA looking through indie company websites, hoping to find a ski that can beat the big guys at their own game and produce a solid Ti-laden ski in the all-mountain category. The SCRM came up on my radar, and at Copper, it delivered.
This is a serious ski: flat tail, minimal tip rise, 19m turn radius, two sheets of metal, 100mm underfoot. It skis long in this length, I didn't even consider sizing up to the 185. The rep told me “this is our Mantra.” After riding it, I would say that Volkl should be flattered, and RMU can aim a lot higher now.
The ski it compares closest to (among what I've been on) is the 174cm MX98. I prefer it to the MX98. Despite a similar amount of power, it is not as tiring to pilot, and it pulls across the hill more enthusiastically when you tip it. This ski won't shorten your day like the MX might. No, it isn't as smooth as the MX, but I'll trade that refinement for the bump in the input vs response ratio.
The SCRM rolls out of the old turn and into the new one smoothly, about as well as the Motive 95, Vantage 100, E100, and a few others. From the first few turns, I was able to trust that it would respond to input predictably, I didn't wonder what it was going to do when I tipped it on edge. This was a great trait in Indian Ridge off of the Flyer lift; the fluffy looking bumps within were noisy and hard underneath, it was nice to be on something that remains consistent when it encounters unexpected stuff.
Scott Sagebrush 178cm: It’s 100mm underfoot, and it skis like a The Ski that’s 100mm underfoot. It’s a good thing, you can hop on and know what’s about to happen when you start giving it inputs.
I’m not sure I see the point, however. So, it’s 7 mm wider than the 180 The Ski, what does that get me? It doesn’t float significantly more, and it’s a little less playful. And the graphics are even worse than the ’16 The Ski. Pretty enough, but not iconic in any way. Did Scott initially go wider, then realize that a 105-108 ski doesn’t ski enough like The Ski, and back it down until it felt “right”?
I was also reminded of the relative softness of The Ski/Sagebrush; for most of the test, I had been on stronger 100ish skis (SR95, Vantage 100, Bonafide, etc.) than the Sagebrush. When I took it into Lower Enchanted and charged into the crud below the traverse, it didn’t hold up like any of them, and after the rude (but fluffy) awakening, I took it down a notch and picked my way down to the runout.
Rossignol Experience 100 182cm: Last year I missed this ski in the test, I didn't do many wider skis due to a lack of new snow.
It was worth the wait.
I never rode the E98, but whatever changes they made (less metal, lighter tip) can't have muted the Big E's ability to tip and rip very much. Stand on the middle of your foot, start tipping with your inside little toe, and there's a smooth engagement with the 18m sidecut and the snow, no need to guess when it's going to happen.
In the same soft crud I was in on the FX/BMX HPs, all of its hard snow ability doesn't cost you much there, either. It trucks through the variable without much surprise; I skied pretty aggressively on the E, daring it to snag on something. The air tip didn't fold, and the more aggressive sidecut/lack of taper in the tip wasn't much of a hindrance.
Who's it for? The question make me think of the E and the Bonafide together, sort of. The E satisfies a technical carving aficionado that wants to play off piste, while the Bone would be for someone that loves being off the trail whenever possible, but doesn't want to swap skis just because there's no new snow. I don't really see them as competitors, any more than I would think of rocky road and pistachio ice cream in that way.
Salomon Q Lab 183cm: Fantastic ski. It was the last ski I tried, I thought I would be too fried to do it justice, but the 183 is so well sorted, I had some of my best-feeling turns of the day. Despite being 104mm, it rolls onto edge and transitions turns very intuitively, and feels like a narrower ski. The tip hooks up at the top of the turn predictably and with alacrity, this is yet another ski that lets us shape the turn more easily than most.
In Cache Glades, it was nimble and free of surprises; the Q’s predictability encourages aggressive skiing, and like a lot of the top skis today, as you commit to skiing offensively, the ski seems to “go along to get along”: it’s not equipment that you have to manage anymore, it’s equipment that’s helping you out. Deep thoughts…
On end-of-the-day groomers, it locked onto the chopped-up snow very well. Last year, I skied the Q 183 and the Bonafide 187 back to back on the same refrozen crud on a spring morning down West Wall at A-Basin (on purpose; I was collecting data!). They had about equal ability to (sort of) iron out that mess, it was cool to see how the Q compared to a better-known ski, stability-wise.
If there’s something particularly unique about the 183 Q, it’s the tail. It’s stiff, and there’s a lot of it. When I skied it last May, it was getting hung up in bumps and I wondered if Salomon had gone silly with the mount point. Turns out I wasn’t being aggressive enough; this year, I focused on keeping CoM moving down the hill, and the tails weren’t a problem. Back on piste, the tails are powerful, I can’t think of a >100mm ski that finishes turns with as much Shazaam! as the Q. Fun, fun ski!
Kastle BMX105 HP 181cm: I guess Kastle was in a bind with branding when they came up with names for their new 2016 skis. This thing should be called the FX105 HP, 'cause that’s what it feels like.
Its performance is very similar to the FX95; they feel more like each other than the FX94/104 do, the sidecut is very similar this time around. Perhaps they could have gotten away with just a FX98, or a FX101. After skiing the 95 and the 105 one after the other, they are kind of in the same dilemma as the The Ski and Sagebrush; I didn’t notice a bunch more float for the playfulness that is lost (not a lot, but it’s noticeable). I guess it’s nice that that they give us the choice, rather than making just one ski in the middle.
Stockli Stormrider 107 182cm:
I want this ski.
My current pow ski is the Nordica Vagabond, also 107 underfoot. The thing I like about the Vagabond is how the shape resists getting grabbed by snow snakes as you pass through constantly changing snow densities; it happens even in untracked snow. It's a real confidence-inspiring feature, not having to be overly careful with technique. I love thinking about technique, but not when I'm in the white room. I want to be too busy yelling to think about anything at all.
Well, the SR107 shrugs off variable as well. And it's quicker. And it's more damp. And it's more engaging on the groomer back to the lift.
SR107 vs Vagabond reminds me of FX95 vs MX98, it feels a generation ahead.
Salomon Q Lab 190cm: The 190 Q is a different animal from the 183. Gone is the feeling of a strong/playful 104mm ski that thinks it’s 95. The 109mm underfoot 190 is much more businesslike. I guess it has to be, Cody Townsend is doing some pretty wild things on it. It is different enough that Sollie could almost market them as two different skis, their personalities are far enough apart.
I skied this before the 183, and at first I wondered if I had misremembered all the zippy, playful things I had felt on the 183 last May. The predictable tip is still there, but the ski is a bit more deliberate and it liked a bigger turn shape (even though both sizes supposedly have the same TR of 20.5). The 190 seemed to be frowning at me, as if I had disappointed it somehow by skiing inbounds in Colorado, and not up in Alaska on some massive heliski line.
Drahtguy probably has a different take on it, he has a LOT more, uh, leverage on a ski than I do. For a bigger guy like him, the 190 probably feels back toward the playful side.
Atomic Automatic 109 182cm: A few of us got to the top of the T-bar, intending to drop into Upper Enchanted, but instead looked the other way and watched as patrol dropped the rope on Spaulding Bowl. Yeehaw! In fresh pow like that, the 109 was fantastic: plenty of float, plenty of maneuverability and fore-aft forgiveness, plenty of snowgasms.
After that very focused test session (cough), we did head over to Upper E to gather some more fresh... data. The Auto was nimble in the trees; easy to turn, easy to slash, and it accepted a few of the bumps underneath without throwing me. It's not in the same class as the BMX105 HP, Q Lab, or SR107 in its ability to handle irregular snow, however, so the pace was a little more mellow in the runout onto the groomers.
Heading down the groomers back to SIA-ville in front of Jack's, the 109 had the camber and the sidecut to be engaging, but again I missed the ability of the other One Oh Somethings to be damp and connected with the snow. Every ski has a speed limit; the Auto's is just low enough to make you say "womp-womp..." to yourself on occasion.
I also rode the O.G. Automatic 117, updated with a little more beef, but not enough to get a solid feel for it. Drahtguy should be along shortly to weigh in on it...
Here are the skis that blew me away. Common among them are effortless turn initiation, strength in challenging off-piste terrain, and Fun.
Q Lab 183
Edited by FairToMiddlin - 2/9/15 at 7:19am