After finishing up another 2 days of demos (4 in total), I was very impressed with the range of skis offered this year. Skis seem to be getting easier to ski; across all models, the top end seems to still be there, but the forgiveness is improving, aside from some holdouts (like Volkl, who continues to run with an early 2000's I-beam design that seems to eliminate any enjoyment for sub 185lb skiers).
Testing conditions were much more demanding the last 2 days. Grabby windpack, with chunks and ice basketballs lurking underneath. Practically every ski was getting pushed around out there. Some were scary at speed, flopping tips were no fun. The trend toward tapered tips and tails, with rise, really decreases stability in challenging snow that used to be present on a big mountain ride. There is good snow, and snow that is good for your technique. This was the latter. If you don't counter and get over your outside ski at those speeds, you are probably sweating bullets and unable to turn. Get on it, trust the ski, and you can ski those conditions. We ran it down a sketchy short turn 40-degree pitch (which was ice and windpack) which then opened across some traverse tracks that were impossible to see, followed by bigger turns at speed into the lower pitch of the bowl.
Here are some skis I really liked, and why! Note, I skied a lot of stuff at the first demo, but Stockli wasn't represented here, so I didn't get to try them in these conditions.
-2016 Blizzard Zero G 95: this is a new super light Touring ski from Blizzard. It is said to weigh only 1250g. That is freaking light! I expected it to be light, I didn't expect it to ski so well. Now, it wasn't that the ski was amazing at speed in rough terrain at high speed: it certainly got bounced around more than any other ski listed here. But if I had to guess, it was only 15% off the top end of the Bonafide. That is saying something, for a ski that is probably 800g under the weight of the Bonafide. In the steeps, it was so ridiculously easy, and had pretty good edge grip. It gave me confidence when descending in some dicey snow, something I can't say about many 1250g AT skis. Honestly, it was a really fun ski. Pretty good carver too. Very reasonable at speed in rough snow, keep it under 30mph and it is happy. Super quick and light in the steeps. Did have a funky on-off feel, and terrible in zipper line bumps (tip is way to firm) but hey, this is an AT ski. And for what it is, it impressed me greatly. It had the performance, of, say a Bushwacker, but in a much lighter and livelier package. It felt like a higher end ski than the BW ever did. And 700g less weight.
-2016 Blizzard Bonafide. I have always had a love/hate relationship with this ski in the past. It liked wide open spaces but seemed to fight me at slower speeds or in tight trees. The new version is vastly improved for lighter guys. I still had to ski "well": this is a ski that will push a light skier with less than sound technique around, but it was very manageable. The dorsiflexion move is key to get this ski to flex if you are light: as long as you can pull your feet back, you can engage that soft tip, as it is quite stiff underfoot, and just standing on the ski, park and ride style, will not de-camber it if your mass isn't up there. So turn it on the tip in steeps, it is very easy to ski that way. Still great on groomers. Stability is a little down from the previous model, it wasn't the most stable at high speeds in rough conditions, but acceptable. Most people aren't running their skis at 35mph. With 3000 people on the hill those days, it was basically just the 4 of us I saw ever skiing those speeds in the bowl. Pretty good odds you don't need more beef than that in a ski. This is going to be a better ski for a wide range of skiers than the previous version.
-2016 Head Monster 88: such an easy, forgiving ski, with a solid amount of performance underfoot, and smooth in bumps. A huge crowd pleaser. I could see the very best skiers wanting more ski at the top end, but overall edge grip was very good compared to all but the MX88. Stability and lack of deflection was among the best, and ease of use was perhaps better than anything else I tried. I wouldn't say it had as much heft and stability as the old model, but so versatile. Packs nice energy if you want to lay it over; builds well into the belly of the turn. Race ski pedigree with ease of use.
-Elan 88xti Amphibio: complete redesign. So stable, yet snappy, easy to generate rebound, quick edge to edge, light on the snow, great grip, and liked to be skied cleanly arc to arc. The best 88mm carver I tried, and above average everywhere else. Almost a carver, with all-mountain versatility. I loved the energy.
-Kastle MX88: still the gold standard. This ski, at big speed in really rough, scary snow, was the only ski tested that was unfazed. It rips on hardpack, grip equivalent to a race ski. Maybe a touch less forgiving, but pretty darn easy to ski for what it is; basically an all-mountain ski with the guts of a race room ride. And even the bit beefy feel is more due to the length (178cm, no rocker, flat tail) that is probably 3-5cm longer than any other ski tested here). I find it just easy enough for any terrain
-Fischer Motive 95ti: held up as well as any ski here on bigger speeds. I would put it just ahead of the Bonafide and Monster in terms of rough snow stability, and 2nd only to the Monster in ease and bumps. Tip is a touch more vague, not quite as fun as the Bonafide on groomers. As well rounded as they come.
-Fischer Ranger 98: not really great in those 2nd day conditions: tip rocker is not your friend when speeding across hardpack lumps. But it was solid for what it is. Great in softer snow, super nimble, just all around fun. Good grip. It is going to be a very versatile ride for most people, but big-mountain skiers, who ski in any condition, may need more ski.
-Kastle FX95 HP: another home run for Kastle. Nice heft for a ski with quite a bit of rocker tip and tail. It held up OK in the basketball field, considering the big tip rise. But overall, easy to ski, grounded, very quick, excellent snow feel.
-Kastle BMX105: simply a wider 95, and as good as the 95 is, the 105 is even better if you need wider. It tracked better through the basketball field than the 95. Must have been more weight on the snow. Grip in the chunder was equivalent or better. Very, very confident. Easy to turn in the steeps. I don't know that you will find a finer 105mm ski.
-Kastle MX98: no speed limit on this bad boy. Even in 174cm. But it has a bigger radius: you either need to be able to bend that radius tighter if you want to arc groomers, or skivot a bit. Making round medium speed turns is no problem. That is why it is great for people making the mixed skivot type turn at medium speeds, and those who are ripping and are bending the ski. But, if you are park and ride, you may find it a bit beefy.
-K2 Pinnacle: Gotta ski it long: 184cm was very solid, still quick to turn, a bit more heft than the Ranger in 180cm. Very nice in the steeps, and while not matching stability of some of the others here, it shouldn't be expected to, with a lot of tip and tail rocker. I would say size down for tight spaces, up for bigger terrain. Fun ski, playful, friendly. I tried the 177cm, it was getting tossed, felt super short in those conditions, which is why I recommend choosing size based on terrain. Even the 184cm is going to ski like a Monster in 177cm, as it has so much more rocker. But if I lived back East, I would go shorter, no doubt. Or if I skied slower....I remember skiing the old Blizzard Atlas in 184cm in these exact conditions in the bowl 4 years ago, and it was just about right. For those of you who remember that ski; it tells you something about how a ski can look to perform in those conditions.
dawgcatching.com is a well-known dealer of many ski brands, and as a sponsor of this site, I pen a lot of reviews, as unbiased as possible. We do ask that you support Epicski and the sponsors, who do a lot of hard work getting these reviews up and contributing to information, which is the most thorough on the web. Taking advantage of the Epicski discount and supporting the hard work of sponsors is one way to do that, so that we can continue to bring you reviews of quality that you will not find anywhere else. And great service too; we won't put you in a bad ski, and if we do, we will make it right.
Almost booting out on the Bonafide, on crap marbles on ice groomers. The ski was solid!
Edited by dawgcatching - 3/2/15 at 10:56pm