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Reviews: AC4 and Top Fuel duel in the Sierras

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
2006 Volkl AC4 and Nordica Top Fuel

Skier beta:
hieght: 5' 6" wieght: 135 lbs
Ability: Advanced
Days per year: 35-40
Conditions during demos: Mammoth Mountain , CA. A very hard base with the last snow being about 8" 5 days prior. Cold temps made the snow unusally firm. Snow conditions ranged from frozen chicken heads and walnuts, dust on hard crust, to 4 inches of windblown powder if you knew how to utilize the wind and terrain.

I have lurked on this board for awhile now and thank everybody for info and feedback that has proven beneficial . This is my first review post in an attempt to give back. The goal was finding a new all mountain ski to replace my K2 XP.

My preference in skis tend to lean towards the damp side of things, good stability through muck and crud, but yet still have the ability to bang out tight turns when needed. Mammoth has wide open terrain which lends itself to GS cut type skis. However it also holds numerous chutes, ridges, arêtes, pockets and trees that necessitate quick turns when the terrain demands it. Mammoth frequently has winds that deposit fantastic snow on the leeward side of terrain features, and harvesting it requires the ability for the ski to turn within a tight corridor (i.e. eight feet wide). So a stable crud buster that could hold better than the XP on the hard stuff and still bang out short turns is what I was after.

AC4 – This one looked great on paper, and from the reviews looked like what I was after. The ability to punch crud yet bangs out tight turns and holds an edge. Due to my weight I demoed the 163. Wow!! This thing was amazingly light on my feet. I felt like I was riding Carbon Fiber skis compared to the XP/Recons. Very light and lots of energy. Nimble and fleet footed are what these skis project. I felt like Fred Astaire courting Ginger dancing down the mountain , they carved short turns easily and did not tax my legs at all . With its waist size I thought it would be a tad slow edge to edge. No way!! This ski engaged edges quicker than the Recon and with less input and energy required. It made the Avalanche Chutes and Hangman’s feel twice as wide as they are. However it was lacking a bit in shoulder strength. Felt like it was 6 footer playing basketball with 7 footers and got knocked around a bit. I traded it in for the 170 to try and gain some needed heft and linebacker ability. I liked the 170 better, even though I am only 135 pounds. It did everything the 163 did but a better fit for me. The ski carves well, but did not have the tenacious edge hold and locked in feel that I was after. Even the 170 got pushed around a bit too much. Not unstable, just not as planted at speed as i was hoping.

I wanted to try the Atomic M:EX but the mountain shop stopped carrying atomics. Next up on my list was the Head 77’s. No 77’s in the demo fleet, how about some 88’s I was asked. That was great and laced up a pair of those. Two runs later I brought them back. The tips were too soft, chattered, and could not hold at speed on the bullet hard stuff we had today. If the snow was a wee bit more soft and forgiving I would want to try them again. I told Billy the Shop manager my woes and he steered me towards the Top Fuels. A 162 is the recommended length for my size, however 170’s were the only ones on the rack . So I took those and feared the worse.

Top Fuel – From everything I read this ski would do everything. My concern was its ability to crank out tight turns in the steep stuff, especially with my girly 135 pounds at the wheel of 170’s as I have heard these are stiff burly skis. I was worried it would take too much effort, much like the Head IM 75’s in short turn mode. Especially when I was lugging out the 170’s to the lift. Holy Toledo, these suckers weigh a ton. Combine that with my chicken legs and I thought I would end the day in cardiac arrest from getting these big, beefy, manly skis to turn with my midget weight dimensions at the helm: . Flash forward….Oh my!!! I am feeling invincible. Going Mach silly from the top of chair 3 down the groomed face. The stability reminded me of my old 174 K2 Mod X Pro (the Pro version had two sheets of metal versus the regular Mod X I believe). However it also held a pit bull like bite on the snow through some of the worse frozen crud. I love sloppy wet crud; however this stuff was like warped boilerplate with frozen chicken heads. If I was on my Recons I would have traversed out of it, however with the Top fuels I just laid ‘em over and literally smiled. People on the lift overhead watched as I was the only idiot on the hill choosing this junk over the groomed stuff on this run. People moaned and groaned above me as they heard the skis clank, bang, and rattle through the frozen hell. Yet, as the pilot, I was on the ultimate driving machine. The Recons that I have are noted for being damp, yet here they would have been insufferable. The Top Fuels ate it up.

Now to take them into some tight spots. I banged down all the (all double black Diamond runs) Avalanche chutes, Wipe out and drop out chutes, Hangman’s, and Paranoid chutes and bowls to test ‘em under tighter turn conditions. They do initiate a turn slower than the Recons and a lot slower than the AC4. But it was not unmanageable like the Head 75’s and my old 174 K2 Mod X Pros. I could keep them inside about an 8 foot corridor and this was my 135 pounds on a 170 CM ski designed for a 200 pound person.

Volkl AC4 summary
Pro's: light touches needed to command ski, effortless turning, very quick edge to edge (quicker than a lot of skiis 5mm narrower), carves short radius turns better than most, lively feel w/energy, comfortable at fast and slow speeds. Softer snow (4 inches of windblown powder)proved it was easier to initiate turns than the Top Fuel. Felt better in firm, hard bumps than the Top Fuel.

Cons: Not as solid on edge as the Top Fuel at speed, it carved well but compared to the Top Fuel the edges felt like they were on top of the snow versus the Top fuel feel of the edges being buried into the snow and locked in, stable but not a frieght train, got the shovel knocked around a bit (no worrisome instablity and chatter, just not as stable a platform as the Top Fuel at the upper end speeds).

Nordica Top Fuel Summary

Pro's: Once on edge nothing would derail it, plowed through icy choppy crud, death cookies, chicken heads, etc without upsetting the pilot at all. The hard snow king, felt like I was bolted to a set of train tracks. It felt like I was carving trenches in soft snow when I was skiing firm and icy conditions. Very confidence inspiring at speed. Stability and dampness galore. Going Mach stupid over chattery uneven terrain felt like I was on a Race GS board, fore/aft balance never thrown on these planks. I could not find the top end of these things at all.


Cons: Not friendly at low speeds, likes some momentum to feel comfortable, A bit unwieldy for hop turns in steeps. Some muscle needed for short turns, swinging down 8 foot wide corridors took some strength. It prefers medium and long radius turns over short turns. Unwieldy compared to the AC4. Firm bumps made it feel too stiff and plank like. Short turns on blue runs required some effort and grunt. On steeper terrain short turns were easier but not effortless like the AC4. In soft snow (boot deep windblown) the skiis came around a lot lazier than the AC4.


I read Dawgcatchers reviews intently as he seems quiet intuitive and insightful when analyzing skis. His comments on the Top Fuels have me yearning to demo the Nitrous model. My findings are different to Scotts however which once again points out that we are all different animals to some extent. I am even lighter than him by about 30 pounds I think, yet did not find the skis demanding. However I tested them in firmer conditions than are normal for my mountain and therefore played into the Top Fuels Forte. I am curious if they would be as wonderful given typical sierra cement crud. In these conditions they might be more work than what they were in the firmer conditions I tested them in. Instead the conditions were a rock hard base with light windblown on top. No deep, wet snow we typically encounter. Here I am thinking in the tight stuff they may be more ponderous for me to crank around. Also note that I did not bang them down any true bump runs. The bumps that were available were only dropping off the top of the mountain for a few turns. Not enough to pass judgment on. Obviously more work than the AC4’s but still not unmanageable.

So I shall heed Scott (Dawgcatcher) advice and suss out some Nordica Nitrous boards next time out, and see what I can find to: Bust crud with dampness and stability, hold an edge on the firm stuff and still enable me to crank out tight turns when needed. So far the Top Fuel in 170 is what I will be buying.

Cheers.
post #2 of 25
I guess you don't ski in the east much. The conditions you talk about is what we normally ski on. We call your chicken heads, "death cookies" sometimes knowen to come in the sizes as big as Dunkin Donuts muffins. Once you learn how to drive a ski on edge, they become just more snow.

It also helps to have a good ski on your feet. I'm 190lbs and find them no problem on my 170cm AC4's.

I also like the all mountain feel of them a better then the Top Fuels. I demoed both of them last March in 8" of fresh snow I chose the AC4 for it's versatility.

Enjoy your Top Fuels, they do like high speed.
post #3 of 25
Thread Starter 
Greetings Max,

Yes the farthest East I venture with skiis is Colorado. Death cookies don't tempt me like Vails back bowls . Like you said once comfortable on death cookies they are just more snow. The Top Fuel just made them that much nicer. The AC4 delt with them fine, they just transferred more harshness than what I like.

Talk to me about your experiences of the Top Fuel and AC4 in softer snow if you can?
post #4 of 25
Our PNW Nordica rep noted that for soft snow, the Nitrous is a better choice than the Top Fuel. On hard snow, it would be Top Fuel all the way-as it is a bit more stable and quite a bit more powerful. I have found that the stiff skis, while awesome on hardpack, just aren't that friendly in typical Northwest conditions. They actually recommended that I sell the Nitrous/Afterburner locally, as we just don't get that much firm snow. When Maybe that is why I like the Elan 777 for cruddy conditions: it just seems to have a perfect flex pattern for crud (as does the iM82). But, these wouldn't be my only skis-I have race skis to fall back on for sunny days.

I tested the Nordicas, it may have been the most challenging conditions of the season: I was getting beat up-my shins and feet hurt pretty bad, and usually I can ski with minimal to non-existant discomfort on my feet.
post #5 of 25
if the tips of the Monster 88 were "too soft" and "chattered" it sounds like you were riding the tails. when you stay on the ski's sweet spot, the shovel will not bounce and will not feel "too soft". sounds like you were working against the Monster 88 instead of with it.
post #6 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by uncle crud
if the tips of the Monster 88 were "too soft" and "chattered" it sounds like you were riding the tails. when you stay on the ski's sweet spot, the shovel will not bounce and will not feel "too soft". sounds like you were working against the Monster 88 instead of with it.
Most of the people I have set up on that ski liked to be forward (using the railflex). I measured the iM82 vs. the Magfire 12 (the Mag12 is about 2cm longer) by matching them up at the contact points, and the iM82 was about 1.3cm rearward for the mounting point.

On another note, the Elan GSX is more than 1cm rearward for it's mounting point compared to the Head iGS RD. So, I guess it is specific to the ski and it's sidecut, not so much the brand.
post #7 of 25
Dawg, do you think that is because most skiers have a rear-bias in their skiing posture... or as Atomicman recently said, 99% of recreational skiers are in the back seat, and the other 1% ride the tails...?
post #8 of 25
I demoed the AC4 and the AC3 at Mammoth - both in a 177cm length. The AC4 was kind of sluggish (to me), damp as all get-out, and didn't turn all that well - I'm a very strong skier who goes down just about anything. But I measure powder in feet, not inches - I'm sure that it rules in powder, better than the Metron ever will (it's too heavy). I might try the AC4 in Snowbird in a longer length (I think the maximum is 184cm).

But I fell in love with the AC3 - it's not as fast as the Legend 8000 (they have basically the same dimensions), but that was probably the wax. It could carve like a banshee and had me grinning the whole day (8:30 AM to 3:50 PM). It reminds me of the first of many times I demoed a Vertigo G40/41/4), although not as stiff overall, and all the Unlimiteds have a cap and Marker bindings... I did all the blacks, and most of the double-blacks at Mammoth up high. But probably in a very short length, the AC4 might do pretty good. I'm a decent size and weight and I don't like very short skis because they're not much room for error.
post #9 of 25
Powdog & team ftb,

Did you demo the Red '06-07 model or the Silver '05-06 model?

The Red one is much more responsive than the Silver one due to the sheet of spring steel being replaced with 2 sheets of Titanal, the Extended Double Grip, and the IPT Marker Binding.

Just my .02

Let us know.

HB
post #10 of 25
Thread Starter 
Harkin: Mine was the Silver 05-06 model. Yep I head they done stiffened it up a bit for next year. I have not seen next years on the slopes yet. The AC4 is already responsive enough. If I had a wish list for it though I would ask for a bit more ability to steam roll through stuff. It seemed to get knocked around a bit too much at speed.

Crud: I could have been back a bit on the IM88, not sure. The tips on the others did not clatter like the 88 on the icy hardpack at speed. I know the 88 had a softer tip than the others when I flexed them in the shop. Still I will get on them again before I make a decision. I reread your original review of it and we seem to enjoy the same terrain so its worth another shot.

Dawg: So if you were me (how many times have you heard this?) what would you choose as a ski to complement my fat soft snow ski? We battle similiar conditions; wet, heavy, soft snow. I'm on a big mountain (Mammoth Mountain) and love GS turns through the muck, but if you read my post you'll see I need the thing to crank out tight turns at times to get where I like to go. I prefer a damp ski, one that can hold an edge when the conditions firm up. 70% off piste and 30% groomers, bumps when I have to or when the snowfall is scarce. I was hoping to pick up this years ski (what would you choose from this years crop) but you seem taken with the new IM 82. Feel free to fire profile questions my way if you want to know more. Please also PM me with a price on the Head IM82 if you can. Cheers.
post #11 of 25
[quote=team ftb]Harkin: Mine was the Silver 05-06 model. Yep I head they done stiffened it up a bit for next year. I have not seen next years on the slopes yet. The AC4 is already responsive enough. If I had a wish list for it though I would ask for a bit more ability to steam roll through stuff. It seemed to get knocked around a bit too much at speed.

quote]

team ftb: If you wanted something to "steam roll" through, the AC4 is not the ski. It's made to "hook up" and turn. That was my experiance also, and that is why my Mantra is my everyday ski.

When I press on the the tip of the AC4 in crud, it thinks that I want to turn, so it does (not what I want to do). When I'm on my Mantras and I press on the tip, it thinks I want to load up the ski and blast through anything that's in its way, which is EXACTLY what I want the ski to do.

So, you might want to try the Mantra.

HB
post #12 of 25
Thread Starter 
Harkin: Yes I have lusted after Mantras for awhile now. Problem is I already have an Apache Chief and it just seems a bit decadent to buy another fat ski when I should replace my all mountain board first.

However it would not be my first daft action if I was to pick up a pair of Mantras as i think they would work perfectly in the Sierras. I'm only 135 pounds and 5'6" I was thinking the 170 would be a workable length but I only see 177's. Are the Mantras like the AC4 in that they turn quite easy for their size? For example a 163 AC4 is what Volkl recommends for my wieght yet I was fine on the 170. Does the same apply with Mantras? Most people I see on the 177's are about 160-200 pounds and am wondering if my 135 pounds is too light for the 177.

Cheers.
post #13 of 25
135lbs 5'6" you need to get on the 163cm AC4. 170 is way to much ski for you.
I'm 190lbs 5'11" and ski the AC4 in 170cm, my buddy Frank is 260+ lbs and skis it in 177cm. Frank is the big guy in the photo from ESA at Stowe this year, I'll try and link it here. http://forums.epicski.com/showthread.php?t=33703 The photo is 14 post down, Frank has the AC4 on his feet.

At least demo the 163.

I like the turney feel of the AC4 there as quick and easy as my AX3's 170cm with more float in the crud. I love the feel of the tip when it hooks up. I can feel the whole ski giving me feed back.

When I demoed the Top Fuel it was in 8" of fresh. It seemed to single minded for me. Years ago, read level 6/7 back seat skier, I liked that stiff GS feel. But now that I've progressed to knowing how to use the tips of the skis, I want a ski that is good every where. It's all about compromise, you can only ski one pair at a time. I don't have ski in/ski out Lodging.


Yea there are day's when I'll bring 2 pairs to the hill but not that often. In case your wondering I have 6 pairs to chose from.
post #14 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Max Capacity posted 135lbs 5'6" you need to get on the 163cm AC4. 170 is way to much ski for you.
If you read my original post you'll note that I stated I did indeed start the demo out on the 163. It was a lot of fun banging out short turns and GS turns on the groomers. If I was on a small mountain and staying on groomers all day I would probably have fun on the 163. However once I got onto runs where I could open it up, I found it lacking in shoulder strength and its ability to punch through crud. Basically it started getting knocked around like a red headed step child. Hence my decision to try the 170 AC4 that I ended up liking better.

I'm not sure if you're familiar with the mountain I ski but it is fairly large (Mammoth Mountain) and the terrain encourages high speed GS turns in a lot of the terrain. Not sure if this helps but here's a picture of one chairlift at the mountain http://www.biglines.com/photos_large.php?photo_id=46674 There are another 25 lifts and a Gondola that get us to terrain that I'm guessing is a little different than the East coast. Anyway I believe the skiing that I do here (for me anyway) got the 163 AC4 into terrain where it did not inspire confidence for me. YMMV. The terrain in the picture was covered in firm...no rock hard, windbuffed snow and smooth on my demo day. The 163 was great doing tight radius turns down it, however the 170 AC4 felt a lot better when I opened them up. At high speed GS turns the 170 Top Fuel had even more of what I needed for these conditions. Rock solid stability and tenacious edge grip.

I think its a matter of horses for courses and my course is just a wee bit different than your course . Your friend at the ESA is a large fella and makes the 177's look like 140's , but I am sure they were fine for him.

Yes you're right, choosing one ski will have some compromise. The 163 AC4 is just comprmised for me on the upper mountain. In the same way the 170 Top Fuel is not in its element doing tight turns on blue groomers. Its just most of my time is spent outside of blue groomed runs.

I have not made my mind up yet as I think the 170 TF will be too much work for me in soft snow tight chutes. So the search continues and I look forward to everybodys suggestion.

Cheers.
post #15 of 25
I get the picture.

I would agree the 170 will be fine. I have often said on this site, that west coast guy's who ski in the wide open can use longer skis. I will conseed that my son 18y/o 5'10" 150lbs has a great time on my 170cm AC4'and AX3's. But he was a racer and has high skills than most of us.

I will also assume you demoed the AC4 with the PCOS system. That helps quite the tip.
post #16 of 25
I don't know what it is with you guys on the east coast and ski lenghts. I ski mostly at Mammoth and Kirkwood where most people are skiing much longer lengths than what you're reccomending. I ski the AC4 in a 184 that feels downright agile compared to my REX in a 191. Mammoth is so wide open on the upper mountain that you have to ski it to believe it. You really need to the longer lenghts because of the higher speeds that are so easily attainable. Sometimes I get the feeling that shorter is EASIER but not BETTER just like snowboarding is for skiers who can't. Maybe more of us should take lessons or spend more time in some race camps to better learn techniques that work with newer skiis.
post #17 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by grumpyof
I don't know what it is with you guys on the east coast and ski lenghts. I ski mostly at Mammoth and Kirkwood where most people are skiing much longer lengths than what you're reccomending. I ski the AC4 in a 184 that feels downright agile compared to my REX in a 191. Mammoth is so wide open on the upper mountain that you have to ski it to believe it. You really need to the longer lenghts because of the higher speeds that are so easily attainable. Sometimes I get the feeling that shorter is EASIER but not BETTER just like snowboarding is for skiers who can't. Maybe more of us should take lessons or spend more time in some race cams to better learn techniques that work with newer skiis.
FYI - I'm 5'8", 184 lbs., and am on a 184 Mantra.

HB
post #18 of 25
On the other hand, the moderator of this site, who's a western expert, plenty of racing background, skis on a 162 (right, ssh?). Silly to make generalizations about snowboarders, ability and length, or who should ski what where.
post #19 of 25
Thread Starter 
Max: Yes the demo has the PCOS on it, I probably would not like it w/out it if it provides some dampness. Max if I skied your areas I'm sure the 170 Top Fuel would not be my choice at my wieght.

I just wish I could combine the AC4's lightness and ease of turning with the Top Fuels edge bite and steamrolling ability. What else do the collective wisdom of the Bears suggest?

Beyond: I thought I read that SSH was curious about moving up in size in a previous thread?

Harkin: Any feedback on my Mantra question?
post #20 of 25
ftb:

I think the closest thing to an answer that you will find is the Nitrous. I agree that the current AC-4 is a bit flighty on rough hard snow. OTH it is quick for a wide ski and that is one reason why a lot of folks like it so well.

The '07 AC-4 may be a bit too far in the other direction. I have spent a lot of time on TF, AC-4, and Nitrous this year and the Nitrous is my favorite by a fair bit.

The '07 Atomic M11-B5 (new model) may turn my head away from the current Nitrous but I will need to do a lot of head to heads this spring. (phooey, I hate that!!)

SJ
post #21 of 25
Thread Starter 
SierraJim: Just to let you know it was a review of yours earlier in the season that first had me looking at the Top Fuels. Thanks for the heads up .

If you read my post you'll see I loved the Top Fuels in 170 even at my 135 pounds. Can you compare the Top fuel to the Nitrous for me a bit since there are no Nitrous demos in the shops on the mountain?

Problem is that the there has not been any soft snow in Mammoth for all of February so I am demoing in hard, firm snow which the Top Fuel excels in, but is hardly the usual snow we get here in the Sierras. This means that I cannot find out if the ski takes too much energy doing tighter turns (Avalanche chutes, Hangmans, etc)in softer crud.

I also have a concern about the Nitrous having no metal in it, and thus affecting its edgehold, and stability at speed through the Sierra muck we get. Can you comment on this please? I currently ski the K2 XP/Recon and am looking for more edgehold in the hard stuff and more stability at speed through the crud. I also have a fat soft snow ski for powder days so this would be my between storms ski.

Thank you in advance for your insight!!
post #22 of 25
For a while I preferred the TF as well. Then over a two day span a few weeks ago, I had a bluebird day with cold winter snow both hard groomed and soft followed by a day of "mixed precip" and fog. I was doing back to backs with a herd of mid fats most and found.............
(a) Very little difference between TF and Nitrous on the hard stuff.
(b) Significant advantage to the Nitrous when the snow was sketchy.

FWIW: I am 195# and still a pretty good skier for an old phard. My usual testing length is 170 cm. Were I to buy a Nitrous, I'd buy a 178 but have spent a lot of quality time on 170's without worries.

Off for two days of '07 ski testing. Nordica day tomorrow.....

SJ
post #23 of 25
Team,

I would strongly suggest giving the Nitrous a try before buying the Top Fuels. I was about 1 minute away from buying the Top Fuels before a very knowledgable ski tech friend of mine begged me to go for the Nitrous instead.

I am a level 8-9 skier, very aggressive and weight 200 lbs. I made him agree to exchange the skis if I was unhappy. He agreed.

I could not be happier with them. I have since demoed the Top Fuels, and I am glad I stuck with the more versatile (and cheaper!) Nitrous. The top fuels are rock solid, but I would be hard pressed to tell the difference on my Nitrouses. The Nitrous are easier to "make" do short turn when need by, but still blow through crud, eat up long GS turns on bare ice etc..

Also, they are AMAZING in the bumps and easier to throw around on the steeps.

I can't praise these skiis enough.

I rented the B5s last winter and thought I would end up with them, but for the type of skiing I do, I am so glad I waited and picked up the Nitrous.

As close to prefect an all mountain ski as you could get...both east and west coast.

Just my .02 cents.
post #24 of 25
team ftb here's what Ski Mag. said about the the Nitrous "The wide (78mm), stable,and torsionally rigid Nitrous stays on top of powder and crud and takes home the category's edge-hold trophy".

They do have it in there "All-terrain Intermediate" but they did that with some of the high end Volkl's last year.

Have you looked at the Elan 666 or Magfire 12? I enjoyed my demo of the 666 last March or was it two March's ago.
post #25 of 25

'Nother Nitrous vote

Do check the Nitrous out if you've got the chance.

I'm about 2in taller and 20lb heavier, advanced skier. I bought the 162 Nitrous at Fernie over new years. They were great in the soft snow, as well as the crud and ice on the (much warmer) lower 1/2 of the mountain. The 170 was nice, too. Did everything the shorter ski did, except faster. Was a bit too much work for me in the trees/bumps.

I think you'll dig'em.
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