Where: Stevens Pass
Conditions: spring skiing; soft groomers in the morning turning to cut up slush, soft moguls and cut up crud off-piste.
Ski tester: 5’ 10” in height, 145 lbs, a blend of aggressively finesse or finesse-ly aggressive. Part-time instructor. Likes bumps, steeps, off-piste. Working on improving on-piste technique so that L2 examiners will like me.
What I’m looking for in a demo ski: mostly checking out 95's to 99's, skis that could handle the prevailing spring slush, plus steep bumps, off-piste crud, and still carve competently on piste. I also picked one frontside carver, and one powder ski just for comparison, and, well, because I could.
Tactics: I chose the same route with each pair I tried: Skyline chair to 7th heaven chair, Rock Garden (double black with medium to large bumps and mixed crud), take the Tye Mill chair to the backside, ski Corona Creek (narrow single black chute with medium-sized moguls) and finish the run at Lower Voltage (just the other side of the power lines from Borealis; cut up crud on a steeper single black slope, gets crusty freeze-thaw due to lower elevation and sun exposure, turns to mashed potatoes by mid-day). Take Jupiter chair back to the top, ski Roller Coaster to Gun Tower (single black, large-ish bumps, rolling terrain) in the Tye Mill pod, then Promenade or Daisy back to the base. For comparison, after I was done demoing skis I did the same route on my own Head Rev 105‘s. I skied hard and fast. I wanted to see what these things can do, or rather what I can do with them.
Nordica Enforcer 93 177
Head Rally 170
Head Monster 88 177
Head Cyclic 115 181
Volkl Ninety8 177
Atomic Vantage 95 178 (I think)
Armada Invictus 99 176
Fisher Motive 95 180
Solomon QST 99 181
I started with the Enforcer 93. Yeah, I can understand why most people are loving this ski. I'm not loving it. Liked, but not loved. It was competent and compliant and pretty much handled everything I threw at it, but didn't dance for me, didn't have the energy I got out of some others. This is where a relatively lighter weight skier might demo first before buying.
Given that it was warming up fast, I chose to try the Head Rally next while there were still some firmness to the groomers. Too late, even the corduroy was starting to get soft and slow speeds down a bit. (Needs more gravity, as the Grumps would say.) That said, the Rally felt completely effortless on piste, handled light crud nicely, and I loved the energy from the tails, fabulous finish to turns, whether short or long radius.
Monster 88 next. Felt nimble, yet maybe the best crud crusher of the day. I think the crud-crushing part is the only thing different between the Monster 88 and my Rev 85's, otherwise it felt like I was on my own skis. I liked the Monster better than the Enforcer. A great all around ski, should be on anyone's demo list.
Since I was at the Head booth, decided to try the Cyclic 115. Omigod what a nice wide ski, while obviously a little more work to get on edge on piste that the all-mountains, yet it was surprisingly nimble. Turned nicely and quick enough to handle steep bumps, and the tail prevented hooking up in crud. This should be on anyone's demo list for powder skis. I'd have a tough time deciding between the Cyclic and say, ON3P Billy Goat.
Volkl 90eight. I wanted to try the 108 to compare against the ON3P Wrenegade that I demoed the week before, in similar conditions. but they didn't have one. As it turns out, there were several booths staffed by reps, and then the retailer who organized the demo day brought some of their own demo fleet. So I got on the Ninety8. I really like this, felt light, nimble, very very quick in bumps. Great energy through the turns. Much better feel to me than the Enforcer, and I think better than the Monster. The other thing is, the tip rocker seemed to glide better in the low angle run outs than other skis. It could've been wax, but all the skis seemed to be in good tune, and freshly waxed. And it wasn't just the time of day; I tried the Ninety8's after things had warmed up when other skis had noticeable slowed down in the slouch.
Atomic Vantage 95. Liked but didn't excite me. A good all-rounder, but just didn't give me the extra energy, or absorb any better than other skis.
Armada Invictus 99. Liked this pair a little more than Vantage. Better energy, otherwise similar skis. Armada seems to mount their skis little more forward than other brands, so this turned on a dime without sacrificing too much stability. Fun, poppy.
And then there was the Motive 95. This was another pair from the dealer, rather than from a factory rep, so this isn't next year's model. No matter. Motive 95 is awesome, perhaps the best ski I've ever demoed. Just felt like there was nothing there, very intuitive, did everything and asked for more. Great edge grip at speed, no deflection through crud, absorbed terrain nicely, whipped through bumps, just…wow.
Lastly, Salomon QST 99. So I don't know if it's the carbon or the flax/linen, but these things were surprising. Very light feel, quick and nimble….wait a minute, I'm basically describing the Motive 95. I had similar experiences with both these skis, lively, yet damp (or at least not un-damp), powerful underfoot. Confidence-inspiring.
Skis from this group I would own: Fischer Motive 95, Salomon QST 99, Volkl Ninety8 for the all-mountains, maybe the Monster 88 (but I already kinda feel I have it with my Rev 85's) and I'd be happy with the Rally and Cyclic 115 to fill out a nice 3-quiver. I really wanted to like the Enforcer, but based on the demo I don't think it's for me.