I had that pleasure of demo'ing the remarkable Stöckli Laser AX while at Stowe VT this January. What follows is a recount of my torture testing and subsequent purchase.
- Height: 6'3"
- Weight: 190
- Home: Pennsylvania
- Years Skiing: 40-something. Grew up in ski school. Dad was PSIA Ski Instructor for 35 years. Had me on skis at 3 yrs old.
- Existing Skis pre-Stöckli: Atomic SX-11 Supercross. 180 cm. 18m radius.
- Style: Agro speed freak. I raced superbikes for 7 years (on a CBR-1000RR and a Ducati 1098). That gives you an idea of my adrenal issues. I like to go as fast as possible skiing. I seek out the fastest and steepest groomers, given pow doesn't exist in the East anymore. I generally ride a ski that is Frontside full-Piste dominator. I'm not a bump guy. They only slow me down. :-)
How to Pronounce
The Swiss say "SHTOOK-lee". Not STOCK-lee. Not STOKE-lee.
I listened intently to their employees, and their CEO, saying the company name. The Swiss put a little "sh" sound at the beginning. The umlauted "ö" is closest to our double-o in "look" or "book". Although, in casual conversation, I usually go with STOKE-ly, as that appears to be the most common American pronunciation. I hear it that one the most from American ski reviewers, other skiers, shop employees, etc.
The binding broke on my 10-year-old Atomic SX-11 Supercross's at a local PA mountain 3 weeks before I was scheduled to fly out to Aspen / Snowmass for 8 nights with my ski club. The rear suddenly released under zero force. I had two shops look at it and say the same thing, "Irreparable. Atomic had a recall on these years back. We've seen this failure before."
There is no such thing as buying another binding. They were "integral" with the ski and it's near impossible to find the exact same binding. Even if you do find it, odds are is going to fail in the same manner. I had no option but to use this as an upgrade opportunity, which I was excited about it.
I decided it would be best to do all this demo'ing where conditions were better, and the skiing was "bigger". There would be better shops with higher-quality selections, more knowledgable personnel, etc. I chuck my busted skis in my RDX and head for northern-Vermont mountains I've never skied before: Sugarbush, Smuggler's Notch, and Stowe. I figured the further north I go, the better conditions would be.
My initial compulsion, given there isn't powder here anymore and all I do is blast groomers at Downhill-Race speeds, was to buy a ski that does that even better, ie, a niche, dedicated-purpose Race ski, one step shy of FIS, like an Atomic Redster Doubledeck or equivalent. I suspected that any "All Mountain" skis would feel very "Master of None" to me, disappointing me when pushed into these Super-G realms. But, another goal in this process was to catch up on the last 10 years of ski technology. I had not paid deep attention to ski gear in a decade, given I was very satisfied with my Atomic boards. I altered my thinking and decided to stay open-minded, not rule anything out and reassess what I knew to be true, given how much has changed in a decade. It may turn out that some "All Mountainers" CAN take the punishment.
Demo 1 : Scott Reverse
At Sugarbush, I demo'ed a "Scott Reverse" per the recommendation of a local shop up the road in town (not at the mountain). One of the managers said it was his goto board all last year and he loved it. I wanted to try a shorter, Slalom radius (16m), and try a more meager, reasonably priced, recreational ski. They sharpened and waxed the skis for me first, which was nice. I was pleased it only took me maybe 3 runs to adapt to the 2m-shorter radius. This ski felt great. I definitely liked this ski. It was friendly and immediately approachable. I loved how light it was. I was having a ball on this ski, carving around on Blues and Blacks sub-45 MPH. But it didn't feel quite as planted as my Supercross's when pushed to 50+ MPH. It was skittish from time to time at low speed, one leg suddenly flicking out from under you. I'm not sure if this is a characteristic of all short-radius boards. This was the first 16m ski I had ever rode. I was also getting a vibration at very high speeds.
Demo 2 : Blizzard Brahma
At Smuggler's Notch, I demo'ed the acclaimed "Blizzard Brahma" from a different shop near Smugg's - also per their strong recommendation after hearing my expertise levels and what type of skiing I prefer, combined with my own desire to try them after reading kudos about that ski the night prior. I also wanted to go the other direction on radius. The Brahma's made sense at 19m, 1m larger than my Atomic's.
I commented that night on Facebook that I was about to try the Brahma's and my ex-Ski-Instructor Dad made fun of me, "No Blizzard's allowed in the ski school, Russ Guy."
I said, "Lol. I know! Na, they are a completely different company now, Dad. Tecnica owns them and turned them around. They aren't the cheesy brand they were in the 70's and 80's. I saw a Patroller riding them today."
The following day a few runs in, I was thinking maybe those sentiments from the 80's were still true, because I spent a full day on that ski, and on my last run at 4PM I still could not figure out the riddle of the Brahma. I wanted to like them, hence giving them a full-day, 40-run shake, rather than swapping them out for another demo at lunch. I'll start by saying the Brahma does not suck, by any stretch. But speaking for me personally, I could not piece together a full, satisfying run no matter what I tried. That hasn't happened on any other ski I've ever used or demo'ed. I've always been able to adapt and unlock a ski rapidly. I could definitely feel I had to adjust my lean angle, and not lean into the turn as far, given the slightly larger radius. But I couldn't stand on the edge hard and lean them over at speed. I had to do these not-so-thrilling gentle carves. I gave up on that, and switched to Slalom turns. No luck there either. They would lose edge and slide sideways all the time, doing all sorts of unpredictable things. Turn transition felt funky, and so on. I switched to bumps. No luck. I switched to mixed-surface crud. No luck. Similarly they weren't that great at powder either in the fresh, couple-inches that had fallen (been blown) in the morning. Mind you, these boards were fresh out of the shrinkwrap. I watched them unwrap them, and they even mentioned it, "You get untouched demos today, Russ." So I can't attribute any of these issues to the ski being "trashed" or "old". Honestly, I couldn't wait to return them.
Conclusion: The Blizzard Brahma and I are incompatible.
I booked a couple nights at Stowe and headed down there.
Demo 3 : Stöckli Laser AX
- 17.5m Radius
The plan now was move to the high end: Völkl, DPS, and Stöckli. The first two, of course I was well familiar with, but I didn't know much about Stöckli. I did a slew of research on high-end ski brands, and Stöckli kept popping up, and I could not find a negative review even after reading and watching hundreds of ride reports. I really liked Stöckli's obsession with speed. They go to great lengths to ensure their entire model line is stable at high speed, such as putting Composite inserts into the tips and tails to yield a damping effect, and so forth. I also liked the hand-crafted approach of Stöckli, how each ski takes 3 or 4 days to make, because of their attention to detail at each step and not rushing the curing and finishing processes - contrasted to the 3 or 4 minutes it takes the "big name" companies to crank out a ski. I thought, "Perfect! Stöckli gets me!"
I was stoked to find a dedicated Stöckli dealer at Stowe, Today's Edge. I love small boutiques like this, that deal in a single, high-end brand exclusively. So posh and cool. It says that they believe that the quality of this product is so high, that no other products even matter. All other brands are dead to them, and not worth even putting in the store. Plus, you always get the straight-dope, expert advice at places like that. They have no inferior stock laying around, to attempt steering you into when they don't have what you want.
I pop into Today's Edge at 8 AM and tell Doug, the owner, my story and describe issues with skis demo'ed so far. Doug pointed me to the Stöckli Laser AX.
"I really like to push skis fast into 60+ realms. This is technically Stöckli's All-Mountain'er. You sure it can handle it?" I asked.
He nodded and smiled, "No doubt."
I said, "I'm hoping my mind is going to be so blown by these skis, that I need not demo any more."
The real fun began on run #3, while chatting up the female skier across from me on the gondola, the gondola full of 5 other dudes besides me.
"So what's good today, guys!"
I said, "Just made a couple runs at Spruce Peak to warm up my new demo boards. It's nice over there. really pleased with these skis. First run up the Gondola at Stowe ever. Been skiing since I was 3. Never shredded Stowe 'til just now.'"
She confirmed, "This is your first run ever to the top of Stowe?!"
"Yup. How many days at Stowe have you done this year?" I ask.
"Lost track after 25," she says.
My keen mind whispers to me, "Stowe local. Nice."
We launch into stories of our past. My "ski instructor dad" upbringing, etc., then she says nonchalantly, "I'm a ski racer. Been racing for a long time."
I point to my demos, "I like going fast too, hence trying these crazy Swiss racing skis."
Near the peak station she asks, "Wanna make a couple runs?"
"Yeah, sure. That's be sweet," I fein mellowness while going "YES!" silently inside and mentally fist-pumping, given my realization that I'm about to get the the best, ever, insider tour of Stowe I could possibly imagine, and at the healthy velocities I enjoy. Well, it couldn't have been more that for the next 3 hours of my life.
She pitched some possible runs at me, as we clicked into our skis.
"I'll follow you!" I yelled over the snowguns, as I had all of 0.5 seconds to absorb the amazing mountain view before she began moving forward.
It was a funny moment in those first seconds after setting out, gliding gently along the Intermediate "top part" running laterally along the peak. Two people that just boasted about speed and expertise, were uncharacteristically going slow. It was this awkward standoff of politeness, neither us quite sure who should pull the pin first. Ya don't want to be the first to pull the pin. You could ditch your new-found ski buddy. You want to be courteous and let them "drive".
Well, I think pulled the pin first, but it was close. She began to rip through some moguls on the left. I took the groomed-ish stuff around the right side of this diving big, wide, sweeping left-hander, and still saw her in my peripheral. We were really moving, at this point, maybe 40 or 45 MPH. Then I decided to just unload. I pointed my skis DOWN this drop-off to the right and did my usual thing, huge Downhill/SuperG carves down this gorgeous, 50-yard-wide trail, using ALL of the trail as I did. BLASTING past other people at ludicrous speed. But mind you, I had never rode any of these trails before, and I'm on new demo skis on which I had made 2 runs. So I'm in my speed comfort zone now, upper 50's, aggressive forward stance, legs shock-absorbing everything on this amazing run, but still trying to "easy style" it (act like it's not hard) to impress my new adversary. My skis-o-the-day were taking this punishment so well in contrast to other demos of the week, I literally giggled out loud in my helmet.
Well... [You knew this was coming.] Stowe Racer Girl blows past me, in complete control and poise, executing the most beautifully carved, leaned-over, hip-on-the-ground Downhill turns of Lindsey-Vonn-like power and precision. I've clocked myself with smartphone apps so frequently, I can now sense how fast I'm going, and she was definitely on the border of 60 MPH, if not north of it.
I thought, "Wow. Impressive. OK, it's OUTSIDE comfort zone time."
I mustered all I had, crouched further to minimize wind-resistance, pointed my skis even more straight down the fall-line, executing even smaller turns to increase speed. I did manage to gain on Racer Girl, but WOW, did I have to put myself in 25-year-old-Russ mode, casting all self-preservation instincts to the wind, and just trust... trust Racer Girl, trust my abilities, trust in unfamiliar equipment, trust I wouldn't lose my lift pass, and trust that this trail wouldn't end in a cliff. I was meters from her tails as we pulled up to the Quad, her turning around likely half expecting to have to wait for me.
"I've met my match!" I said breathlessly as I fist-fived her on the lift.
As we were on the lift for 3rd time, I asked, "What's your name, by the way?"
"I'm Russ," I said, "This is exactly what I wanted to do this vacation. Meet cool-ass local shredders to show me all the best shit."
Over the next couple hours, I got the best, whirlwind tour of Stowe you could possibly imagine - challenging Black-Diamond trails with zero viz due to snow guns blasting you in the face. Little tricky, slim, natural-snow trails thru the woods with moguls, and more Downhill-Race runs of course.
Alyssa apparently did very well with her racing, taking it to significant levels. She was on the path to US Ski Team.
At lunch, I treated Alyssa to some food at one of the summit lodges, for being such a great sherpa, as she chucked down a 16-oz PBR can.
On the post-lunch chairlift ride, she asked me one of the nicest, kindest, most flattering questions she could have possible asked.......... "Did you used to race?"
Awwwwwwww, I melted.
Anyway, I could not believe the radical difference between skis demo'ed earlier in the week vs the Stöckli's. The Laser AX's didn't flinch at the fastest speeds I could subject them to. Not a single vibration or unsettling unpredictable behavior. Just a plush, butter-smooth, stable, fast, confidence-inspiring ride. I, of course, purchased them upon returning to Today's Edge, with a pair of Marker Griffon's.
I said to Doug, "Well, my mind really was completely blown. I don't need to demo anything else. I'll take 'em."
I was having so much fun, I extended my stay at Stowe 2 more days, skiing 4 days total, and grabbed a pair of Tecnica Mach 1's.
Since then, my Laser AX's have skied the powdery summits of Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, Aspen, and Buttermilk, and have performed with perfection. They had record snows while we were out there, dumping 40 inches in 3 days, which means I was even able to put the AX's through knee-deep virgin pow. Certainly not their specialty, of course, but it handled the job admirably well for a thin ski. You don't buy these skis if you ski powder every day. You buy them if you are like me - love blasting Frontside carvers 99% of the time, and do a handful of Pow Days per year when you travel out West.
I recently clocked myself at 62.1 MPH on these skis back in PA. But I know from feel, I pushed them faster than that at Stowe with Racer Girl. Just an amazing ski. I'm a Stöckli guy for life!
Oh, and trust me, all the high praise above isn't PPRB (Post-Purchase Rationalization Bias) talking either. I am fully capable of being objective, truthful, and declaring when I've made "large purchase" mistakes and a product is flawed, like when I bought a Ducati in 2008. I had no problem telling everyone that is was a $20,000 piece of shit. I would say if anything irked me, even a little, with these sticks.
Now to build out my Stöckli quiver. I need short-radius Slalom carvers, Downhill racers, big-wide rockered-out Pow skis, and Freerides.