I am a guy, 6'1, 190 lbs, mid age. This will be my first pair of skis, after skiing 2 years, about 20 days a season, US West Coast (mostly Mt Rose in Tahoe and a week in the spring in Deer Valley). I am of the aggressive type, between intermediate and advanced for all i can tell (and I do take advanced-intermediate runs top to bottom, when snow quality is good). I took a few lessons, and will continue to do so over the next few years. My physical build is on the muscular/athletic side.
My goals this year are to improve carving and generally speaking technique, and to move into steeper terrain. I got to the point where the beginner rentals were a limiting factor (they get stuck or sink in the crud/slush, they are not stable at speed, etc). My last rentals were 20cm longer than the very first one, but at 175cm with a 72cm waist were a disaster in variable snow.
So, I want a one-ski quiver that allows me to cut through crud, float in pow and slush, and carve on piste. Bumps, I wouldn't mind surviving them :) We (my family and I) love Mt Rose in many ways, so we have season passes again this year. One of the drawbacks is that the runs are far from manicured. My estimate is that I'm only skiing 50% or less of the time in manicured groomers, and the rest on chopped up snow on groomers, or slush, etc.I am shooting to spend USD500 or less.
I got some help from some of you on a post where the OP had similar requirements: http://www.epicski.com/t/147162/ski-recommendations-intermediate-tall-first-purchase-after-renting . Now I want to finalize things and buy the skis.
Long story short: even though the redesigned Volkl Mantra has been fairly controversial in this forum (because of the full rocker), expert reviews tend to put it at the very top, because it keeps most of the legendary stability and speed, and adds ease of use because it pivots more easily (keep in mind, i am not an expert, and sadly, will probably never be one). This meta score puts it at first if you filter by "men", "85-100mm waist", "advanced": http://skis.gearsuite.com/
Also, these folks seem to produce a very comprehensive list of skis, and they also rate it at top, mostly because it seems to do very well at most things: http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Skis-Reviews/Ratings
At this point, the Mantra is my top contender. My main question would be the size. Given that this one is tapered at both ends with a full rocker, I would think that the 184cm should be great for me, at this stage. But (a) this ski has a long turning radius, and (b) reviewers tend to agree that it doesn't ski "short", so they don't encourage you to go crazy with length on the Mantra. This review in particular is really thorough: http://blistergearreview.com/gear-reviews/2014-2015-volkl-mantra-2 ; the reviewer prefers the 177cm vs the 184, even though he normally rides longer skis. He is shorter (3 inches) and lighter (10lbs) than I am, but he skis much better, so I am thinking I probably would also prefer the 177?
Fwiw, if I don't get these planks, my fallback would be the K2 Annex 98, which can still be found new, online, and costs very little (about USD200). It would be a nice upgrade anyways, and give my time to demo something. The biggest issue is that these don't seem to be strong carvers,and I want to improve my carving, pretty badly :)
Thank you for any thoughts!