Coupla comments to Capt. Strato about the Mantra and Chinese skis:
1) Several threads last spring about the 06-07 Mantra. Volkl told me that the "updated" 06-07 version is 10% stiffer, slightly tweaked tail, but will not be released until mid-winter. 06-07 being tested may be this stiffer update but may also be early (last spring's) release which is identical to 05-06 with new cosmetics. I've found that reviewers can give very different scores for skis one year to next that have only had cosmetic changes, so unclear what Keelty's happier 06-07 scores really mean. Ask him.
2) You have a major misconception about how quality is achieved in China (or anywhere else.) My father in law, who owns a highly successful business that buys parts from Chinese manufacturers, sez it's like this:
Quality comes from quality control, not some innate culture of "worksmanship." Any product - skis, cars, tennis racquets, t-shirts - has a range of tolerances associated with its manufacture. Quality control means inspection of the parts or products, weeding out those that don't meet tolerances. The reason Toyota's work better than Chevy's is not that the Japanese are more concerned with precision. It's that Toyota has a lower threshold for out-of-tolerance, and more inspections along the way. It eats more of its lemons. It can afford to because it pays its workers, many of them outside Japan now, less than Detroit. It also invested in robotics, which work within finer tolerances, earlier than Detroit's unions allowed.
China, which pays its workers even less, can make most products as well or as badly as its even lower price points demand. If the foreign buyer, say Volkl, allows a 10% range of tolerance, that'll be what Volkl gets, but it'll mean lotsa lemons, obscene profits for Volkl for about one season. If Volkl says, no, we need .01%, China will say, fine, that'll be another 100 yuan per item. Either way, for now it uses a ski mold designed in Germany and CAD's from same.
So if you really see a "severe decline in quality," blame the foreign company that sets up the contract. Walmart toys may be suspect, but I doubt the image of K2/Volkl or any other "prestige" company can afford loose quality control. Mercedes Benz, for instance, has been having major problems with its eastern European made parts, so it's revamping its standards for detection of defects. Leitz, by contrast, has done just fine making lenses in Canada and Spain for years because it focused on quality control early. But neither company is labeling any country as being superior or inferior in terms of its ability to deliver good products. It's just about how many lemons you want to weed out and how many robots you want to pay for.
In any case, according to my father in law, the Walmart days may be over. China is trying to get beyond toys and clothing into complex products and high tech, so it's rachetting up its quality control - and prices - hard. Personally, I'd trust a ski made in China over one made in the U.S. We tend to have fairly sloppy tolerances...