Head iM78 171cm
Nordica Nitrous 170cm
Elan Magfire 12 176cm
Elan Magma 176cm
Elan 888 176cm
Volkl Tigershark 12 168cm
Atomic Nomad Blackeye 169cm?
Volkl Mantra 177cm/184cm
Fischer Cold Heat 170cm
Dynastar Legend 8000
Dynastar Mythic Rider
Conditions: adequate, not ideal. Venue was Mission Ridge, a great ski area near Wenatchee, WA. It has lots of steeps, some moderate cliffs, and rolling, buffed-out groomers. I always enjoy skiing there, and it is a welcome respite from “Mt. Flatchelor”. It is a great locals mountain (a few USST members have come from their program) , and I usually see more quality skiers in 10 minutes there than a do in a whole day at Bachelor. There was 4” of fresh snow in the past 3 days, over what had been a very dry month. There was soft snow to be had in the trees, but the steeps were hard and icy. Groomers were also very solid, especially early. Rocks were around and not tough to find. One tester straight-lined a rocky chute, crashed, and had to be airlifted out with a double pelvic fracture (the pelvis separated into two and moved away from itself a distance of 2”-obviously not good).
Testing procedure: we tried to take up 2 pair between my brother and I, as to allow us to swap on the hill and avoid skiing all the way to the base to swap skis, and thereby avoiding the slow lift up to mid-mountain. I typically took a short groomer run and a longer (1400 vertical) run on varying conditions: fairly steep groomers, some alternating soft to icy bumps, and through some crud. At times, I skied 3 runs if I couldn’t get a great feel for the ski. Some characteristics were obvious instantly, some took more time to uncover.
I tried to test everything I could get my hands on, but only had 2 days, and therefore my ability to test many skis was limited. I at least tried to pick skis that are likely to be popular and come up often in the forums. I will follow up when I get more time on some of these skis. There are some obvious skis that I missed, but there are so many models out there that it would be nearly impossible to ski every good ski, unless you attended 2 demo events (which I did last year) and had great and repeatable conditions on all 4-5 days of the two shows.
5 foot 9, 153lbs, ski 30-60 days per year, solid level 8, good base fitness due to cycling. I typically ski all-mountain skis in the 170-178 lengths, carvers are 165-170, GS race skis 180-185. I run gates very occasionally, but would more if I could afford the $45/day fees.
Overall notes: the skis are getting better each year, and it seems like much of the new product is based on the one-ski quiver, something around 73-79mm underfoot. That is where the Tigershark and most of the Nomad line is going, as well as much of the Fischer Heat line. Many of these skis are souped-up hardpack skis that can do well off-piste. The new 88mm skis that I tried offered minimal improvements to their predecessors, and the 82mm skis are still better suited to more than 50% off piste skiing. Some of the midfat product is getting so stiff that skier weight suitability really should be considered.
Wide skis around 82-90mm can still do most everything, but give up quite a bit of groomer performance. The better the soft snow performance, the worse the skis tended to do on the hardpack. Wider skis are slower edge-to-edge and tend to lack energy, and once the skis get over 90mm (for this test, the Mantra) the skis really start to suck on hardpack. After all, physics is hard to design around. A wider ski will have more deflection at the edges (moment=force*distance), and if it is designed for soft snow, the stout flex that is necessary to hold on ice just won’t be there. I completely disagree with the notion that a ski 90mm underfoot is an acceptable 1 ski quiver for people who value both hard and soft snow performance. If you live in Alaska or Jackson and stay home if there isn’t 12” of new, then it may be a different story, but wide skis, for me, just don’t cut it when it is sunny and hasn’t snowed for a week or two.
Also, as the skis are coming back to wood core construction, I think that overall performance and snow feel is really starting to become indistinguishable between the brands. It is getting harder and harder on many of these skis to ski it blindfolded and say that “oh, this feels like a K2; or this must be a Volkl”. I skied K2’s that felt like the Nordica product, Dynastar that seemed to mirror the 777 of last year, Volkls that approached the Head powercarvers in feel. The ski performance is getting so ridiculously good that it nearly impossible to make a bad decision. And, the more skilled skier you are, the more likely you will enjoy most, if not all, of the top skis on the market. Intermediates and low advanced skiers may have to do more research, as certain skis may expose flaws in their technique, but the expert can reasonably make a purchase with a little research and be very happy with the result. This season, there wasn’t a single “standout” ski for me, save for the amazing GSX Fusion 178cm racecarver (which isn’t typically imported into the US). Everything I tried was at the top of it’s game. The only real caveat will be to make sure that the flex matches the skier, expecially in the case of a skier at either extreme of the weight range.
I skied with my brother (5 foot 9, 140lbs, very solid level 7) and our shop tech (6 foot 1, 190lbs, ex-racer and solid level 8).
Head Monster iM78 171cm: New ski from Head, based off the superb iM82. This ski replaces the iM77. It is a laminate ski with 2 sheets of metal. I didn’t check out the turn radius, but it felt somewhere around 15m. Designed as the modern one-ski quiver.
Review: A welcome addition to the Head quiver. It really was much more versatile than the iM82. Not only quicker edge-to-edge, but very workable in the bumps, and forgiving off-piste. It retains the smooth, powerful feel of the iM82, but in a sportier package. At speed in crud, this ski was not quite as stable as the iM82, but more powerful underfoot than the 82 on the hardpack, and very stable there. It was still a great ski in crud, but the iM82 is superb in that area, and tough to beat. The iM78 was also a very forgiving ski, and didn’t beat me up when skiing some pretty dodgy conditions. The overall feel was mid-weight, and mid-energy: definitely a 50/50 ski. All 3 testers really enjoyed this one. I would have come back to it and skied it back to back against the Tigershark, Blackeye, and Nitrous (we skied the Head on the 1st day, the others on the second) but were out of time. This is pretty much what we would expect from Head, which is a good thing. I am a big fan (as are many here) of the iM82 and iM88.
Nordica Nitrous 170cm: Unchanged for 2008. 78mm underfoot, Carbon/wood laminate. The second-stiffest 78mm in their lineup.
Review: I was only able to get 2 quick runs on this, but have skied it a couple of times previously. I grabbed it because my brother already had my preferred Mach 3 (which he loved, BTW). It was just as I remember: extremely forgiving, stable up to very reasonable speeds, with good float in the crud, and a reasonably quick ski. It had a little more “pop” than the iM78 on the hard snow, but wasn’t quite as stable at speed. I thought the snow feel was a little heavier (the Nordica XBS system is pretty heavy compared to the straight-up laminate flat-ski Head and standard binding). This is a superb ski for the advaced to lower-level expert who isn’t skiing really fast all day and wants a forgiving ski. It would appeal to the customer who is also looking at, say a Dynastar Legend 8000 (forgiving yet high performance ski) and wants something of similar performance but with a different feel underfoot.
Elan Magfire 12: All new for 2008, the little brother of the Magma. Previous experience with the Speedwave stuff is that it really does work: it stiffens the ski laterally, without making the ski ridiculously stiff to bend. If you were to flex a Speedwave 14 on the wall, you would think it had a solid, but not overpowering flex, yet when you ski it, you find that it is as laterally stiff as many race products on the market, and more laterally stiff than most any freeski out there. Also, 2 sheets of metal in an Elan coupled with the Speedwave means that the ski will be even beefier than the current product (Magfire 12 and 777) which doesn’t have the Speedwave stuff. The new 2008 Magfire 12 is 176cm underfoot, with a 17m radius, and Fusion binding fore and aft.
Review: I already have time on the Magma, and it is a great ski, albeit one for a hard charging expert only. The Magfire 12 is a better all-arounder for most skiers. It is still extremely laterally stiff (perhaps it had the best hard-snow hold of any skis near this dimension, and was equal to the narrower Nomad Blackeye in terms of lateral stiffness). The flex is still solid, and this is a very capable ski under any skier. Stability was top-notch, and felt a bit above both the Nitrous, Tigershark 12, and iM78, and similar to that of the Blackeye. The flex is stouter than in years past, and it doesn’t have the stable yet energetic feel of the 666/old Magfire 12. The new one just feels more “rock solid” along the lines of a Nordica, with pure power underfoot, but not tons of energy. It reminded me a little even of the AC4, yet with a bigger turn radius. In the crud and bumps, the ski was a pleaser, as it was relatively forgiving, fairly quick, and with stability. It hooked up and held very well for an 82mm waist ski. I would put the performance alongside the old Magfire 12, even though, according to Elan, the Magma replaces last year’s Mag 12. This ski is going to be a crowd pleaser, even though it moves in the direction of the beefier Volkl and Nordica product somewhat.
We all skied both this model and the Magma, and my brother couldn’t do anything on the Magma (too stiff) but really enjoyed the Magfire 12. Our bigger tech guy also really enjoyed the Magfire 12, but found the Magma to be a bit overpowering. For my part, I have been skiing the Magma, and it is superb, but it definitely cleans up my skills, if you know what I mean! Experts only for the Magma, solid advanced to Expert on the Magfire 12.
Elan Magfire Magma 176cm: Similar to the Magfire 12 (17m radius, 82mm underfoot) but with 2 sheets of metal. For all intents and purposes, this ski is a step up from the 666/Magfire 12 of years past. I have more time on this ski, as I have a pair. It has been skied by myself on hard snow, crud, 16” of fresh, bumps, and soft groomers.
This ski, as noted above, it a real powerhouse. It was unshakable at speed, besting even the trusty 777 at speed. The new Elan skis are longer than the old ones, and the Magma measures about 4cm longer than the 777 did. It is very stiff, with a big GS feel to it. I can bend it (unlike the Jet Fuel and Cold Heat) but it isn’t an “easy” ski by any means.
When skiing it back to back against the 777, the Magma is a better hard-snow carver, and feels like a wide GS race ski, in that you can really set up the turn without the ski being hooky, but once you give it edge angle, the ski will hook up and carve. Stability in rough snow, when doing 20m turns, was better than the 777 (and that is saying something). Straight-line, the 777 is a tad more stable. Also, the 777 has a little more snow-hugging feel, whereas the Magma feels like it will just power through anything. Edgehold on icy snow is top-flight, but like any 82mm ski, it is slow edge-to-edge and not that exciting underfoot. This and the AC4 are probably the best 80mm+ skis I have tried on hard snow, but they still aren’t that great when compared to something sub-75mm. Also, the forgiveness on this ski is quite good, considering the performance. It didn’t toss me around, and had a very large sweet spot for such an aggressive ski. It definitely feels a little more forgiving than some of the high-end skis I have tried in the past. With that said, it just doesn’t function well at slow speeds. And forget short-radius turns and bumps.
This ski is the ultimate GS brusier, big mountain ski. It absolutely tore up the mountain at speed, and I was carving up really rough, softpack crud runs at insane (for me) speeds with total confidence. It was solid but not spectacular in the uncut powder, as it is a tad stiffer than I would like, but still acceptable. Pulling up the toes at the end of the turn (a technique picked up here) helps to get the skier up on the ski and into the next turn. I bottomless (for Oregon) 3-4 feet of new without problems. The feel is a little more stout than the previous Mag 12, with less energy, but still fairly damp and super solid, with raw power underfoot. More like a Nordica Jet Fuel in feel, heavier than the iM82 from Head (and more stable than the iM82). It also reminded me of the AC4, but stouter, with more stability in crud and in big arcs. I left each run with a big smile on my face.
Fischer Cold Heat 170cm: 82mm underfoot, 17m radius. Basically a wide WC RC. It has the Flowflex binding. It is a laminate ski, vertical sidewall, with lots of metal.
Right off the bat, this ski feels “substantial”. Being familiar with Fischer’s laminate skis (I used to own a RC in 180, as well as a WC SL in 161 and WC GS in 178) this ski definitely felt like it was from that mold. Stiff and powerful. Unfortunately, no matter how much gas I gave it, this ski just wouldn’t do anything underfoot for me. I couldn’t get the thing to flex whatsoever. It reminded me of the Jet Fuel, only a touch stiffer, if that is possible! I could barely carve a turn on it, and had no luck pressuring the tip. It made the Elan GSX WC w/VIST plate in 182cm that I tried later feel soft, if that tells you something. I took it into the bumps and crud, and just couldn’t get the ski to react. At any rate, way too stiff for bumps, but I bet crud performance will rock for the right skier.
Forgiveness was pretty solid on this ski. I didn’t feel like if I got back on the tail that I would die, but then again, I couldn’t get it turn much, so I had trouble pushing the ski to test it. The speed limit felt high, but I wasn’t able to generate any performance or feel whatsoever. I basically felt like I was driving a Ferrari chassis, but somebody had dropped an Ford Escort engine (me) in there. If you are a lightweight like me, then write this ski off of your list. FWIW, the Fischer rep told me (yep, that ski is for the guy who wants a race ski that is 82mm underfoot). It has some serious performance potential under the right (heavier) skier, but this ski was not made with 150lb skiers in mind. I will add a review for the softer Cool Heat when I test it.
Atomic Nomad Blackeye 169cm?: 79mm underfoot, 15m radius, the replacement to the Metron series.
I have to say that I have not been a big fan of Atomic skis. I always keep an open mind when I test, but skis that I have had high hopes for (Metron B5, Snoop Daddy, GS11) just haven’t done it for me. They tend to be overly aggressive laterally and have a weird flex that just doesn’t work for my weight. Nothing against Atomic personally, but maybe their skis just don’t seem to have my skiing style or weight in mind.
With the Blackeye, Atomic has moved away from the overly aggressive lateral engagement that I have felt in the past, and toward a more traditional wood-laminate, midweight feel (unlike the very light underfoot Snoop). This ski, being 79mm underfoot, was a substantial improvement in lateral quickness than the slower edge-to-edge 82mm skis, and it skied with more energy. Most pleasing to me was that it skied powerfully when hooked up on hard snow, but didn’t have the on/off feel of Atomics past. On hard snow, it bettered the Tigershark 12 in terms of energy, edgehold, and power, and also snowfeel. Off piste, it was capable, but in my opinion, a little biased toward the groomers. I successfully skied a bump run with it, but it wouldn’t be my first choice, and was pretty demanding in that venue. In crud, it floated well, and had great stability at speed. For such a powerful ski on the harder snow (it felt narrower than 79mm) it’s off-piste performance was surprisingly adequate.
This is my favorite Atomic tested to date. It is a great 1 ski quiver for that Eastern skier who is looking for more versatility than a 70mm ski can give them in the softer snow, without sacrificing much hard snow performance, and wants more of a powerful tight carver feel over, the GS feel of the iM78. A big step up over the B5 162cm, as this ski can do various turn radius without trouble and doesn’t feel either overly turny or locked-into a particular turn size. I also preferred it over the AC4, as it is quicker edge to edge and more powerful underfoot, and more nimble. One of my favorite skis.
Volkl Tigershark 12 168cm?: w/switch: the new all-mountain design from Volkl, with a 15m radius. This ski has a switch that either softens or stiffens the ski via springs that are running throughout.
This ski was a little quicker than the average 82mm ski, which is what we would expect. I loved the Tigershark 10 (skied previous to this model). The 12 was a little more of a mixed bag for me. It was stable and solid, but didn’t seem to have the carving prowess, snowfeel, or power of the 73 or Blackeye. It felt a bit vague underfoot: like a solid, damp woodcore. The 12 was quite forgiving, bump capable, and not unsteady in crud. On the steeps, it was very quick edge-to-edge. It felt like a solid, reliable, steady ski, but maybe had the feel of a little wider, steady crudbuster ski than the midfat, mid-radius carver it was. Compared to the Blackeye, it didn’t have the energy underfoot, nor the edgehold, but was more forgiving, a little more damp, and felt more substantial underfoot. I do think that the Tigershark 12 is a better fit at 15m radius than the AC40, as it performs better on the hardpack but has similar crud performance. I personally find the AC40 too turny for me in the crud, as I prefer a 17m radius and up crud ski. Other than the slight width difference, these skis are pretty similar, and I wonder if the the AC40 is on it’s way out to make room for a bit wider crudbuster that can still do well on groomed snow, much like the new Elan 888: something more suited to soft groomers than the Mantra, but with better crud performance than the AC40.
I did try the switch, and preferred it in the “off” position. With the switch engaged, the ski was much too stiff for my liking.
It is worth noting that the other testers I was with really liked this ski, but maybe I was looking for a little more energy in the ski. Or, maybe those springs running throughout had malfunctioned somehow (I had a different pair than the fellow testers). I loved the Tigershark 73, so if the 79 is basically the same ski, there is no reason why it should feel much different.
Dynastar Legend 8000 172cm: refined for 2008, but pretty similar to the current model. This ski is 80mm underfoot (the old model was 79mm) but with the same 19m radius in 172cm. It has a new-look graphic for 2008.
Review: despite the “new and improved” tag, the 8000 is basically the same ski it was last year. Very slight tweaks in geometry, but the construction looks the same, and the ski felt the same. Dynastar makes a solid, fairly damp ski, with moderate energy. They typically tend to be a little more lively and powerful than, say a K2 or Rossi, but still on the smooth, damp side. This ski, as well as the older 8000, is no exception. It was very reliable, incredibly forgiving, and solid underfoot at all times for the skier. Dampness was definitely more apparent than on most skis, and it probably was similar in a smooth, damp feel to the Nitrous, but the Nitrous had a heavier, bit stouter feel. We didn’t think the 8000 was exceptionally powerful or stable. Actually, it was probably the easiest ski tested here, but didn’t have a ton of energy, and I could over-bend it on hardpack at big speed, when up onto edge. In crud, it was reliably stable, but I found the speed limit quicker than on most models. It blasted crud at speed, only becoming a bit squirrley at the very highest speeds. It is definitely bump-capable. Many skiers won’t find the speed limit on this ski. It is perfect for the guy who skis 5-20 days per year, is relatively skilled, but wants a ski that isn’t as burly as the stiffest ski on the rack. A ski that can hold up in crud at speed in the morning, but not punish him in the afternoon if he is getting tired or skiing with the kids. The guy who wants 95% of the performance of the top-end skis on the rack, but with 70% of the demanding nature of those top-end skis. It’s natural competitors would be the Nitrous, Rossi B2/B3, Recon, perhaps the Nomad Crimson (but I didn’t ski that one), and perhaps the Magfire 12 (but that is a beefier, higher-end ski). If you liked the 8000 before, you probably won’t think the new one is much different, and you will enjoy this one as well.
Elan 888 176cm: new for 2008, 88mm underfoot, 21m radius in 176cm. It measures about 3cm longer than the previous 777, and the construction is different, with a thinner profile, aluminum topsheet, and laminate wood core that doesn’t have the foam dampening strip on top.
Review: The new 888 is lighter underfoot, without sacrificing stability at speed. It has great edgehold, stability at speed, and a moderate amount of energy. The edgehold was a bit of step up from the 777: it felt a tad bit more “carvy” without an increase in sidecut. This was the biggest improvement I noticed. On straight-line crud runs, the ski was totally solid, and although it wasn’t great in bumps, it was somewhat passable, which couldn’t really be said about the 777. The feel was a little more like the new Dynastar Mythic Rider: light underfoot, but with stability. I would put the 888 a bit ahead of the Mythic in terms of edgehold and power, but overall, I thought they were more similar than different. The 888 also was quick enough edge-to-edge on the steeps in a narrow chute, and held well. I didn’t get as much time on this ski as I wanted (only 1.5 runs) but it seems very promising from the limited time I had on it. The float is improved due to the bit wider waist, the ski is a bit longer in length, the ski feels more powerful and with better edgehold on hard snow, and it is a bit more nimble without a decrease in stability. This looks to be a big winner from Elan. We all really liked it.
Dynastar Mythic Rider 178cm: The new ski from Dynastar. It is still 88mm underfoot, but the ski has been beefed up slightly. I believe the turning radius is 21m in 178cm. The flex is moderate, and it effectively replaces the 8800.
Review: Again, only limited time on this ski in somewhat questionable conditions for a 85mm plus ski, but I had a very favorable impression. Right off, even in 178cm (which may be a tad long for me) I noticed an increase in stability in crud. The ski was extremely maneuverable and easy to ski, with a huge sweet spot, but blasted the crud well at speed. It was maybe a tad softer and less stable than the 888, but it was close. Again, pretty nimble for such a wide ski. Once I got this ski onto harder snow, I was really surprised. I had it up to GS race speeds on a pretty steep pitch (groomed black, probably 35 degrees) and it not only held extremely well in aggressive turn, it was extremely stable at these speeds and held much better than the old 8800. Lateral stiffness is definitely stepped up on the new model, and if you don’t mind GS turns, it would be completely passable on hard snow. We have some of these on order (special Epicski pricing to be posted soon) and I will post a more complete review once I get a chance. Only two of us skied this model, but we both really liked it.
Volkl Mantra 177/184cm: slightly tweaked for 2008, a bit wider underfoot. I skied the 177 with the Marker Duke binding (AT resort setup) and the 184 with a standard binding.
184cm Review: This ski was too long for me. I couldn’t get it do anything really at reasonable speeds, and it was neither nimble or predictable. Maybe in deep snow this length would have been OK, but I wouldn’t have wanted to ski the trees with a ski that felt as unresponsive as this one did in 184. It was also pretty sketchy at speed on the hard groomers. I gave it two runs, and took it back to swap to a shorter length.
177cm w/Duke binding: Ah, much more like it! This was my first time on the Mantra, and I was definitely impressed. It isn’t really at home in these conditions, and doesn’t really compare to the other, narrower skis tested here. But, I still enjoyed it. It completely handled the crud that we could find, and turned quickly for such a wide ski. On steep, icy pitches, the ski held remarkably well for such a wide ski. It was super easy to ski, and held me up in the crud, making skiing challenging conditions almost like cheating. It might be too wide for how I like to ski (I like to be in the snow, more than skimming on the top) but it was quick enough to ski tight spaces (it decambered easily, making a short turn radius) and was plenty stable in crud run outs and at speed. Also, it was very forgiving, and I bet that a wide range of skier could enjoy this ski in the deep stuff. Overall, it reminded me of the Elan 999, with a similar flex (the 999 being a bit wider and softer and more limited to hard snow) but overall pretty similar in feel.
Being a wide ski, it wasn’t surprising that this ski was the worst ski tested (by a large margin) when skied on the hard groomers. At speed in big GS arcs, it was really sketchy and a bit scary at times (it sometimes wanted to do it’s own thing), and when I put the ski up onto edge and tried to shorten the turn radius via edge angle and pressure, the ski wouldn’t hold up. Rather, it just started to bounce and skid. Lazy Super-G arcs were passable, but once I turned up the energy, the ski just was too wide to hold a decent edge.
I wouldn’t consider this ski as a 1-ski quiver for skiing all types of conditions, but it would be a superb choice for a soft/deep snow ski, especially if you weight a bit more than I do and could use more float. For the conditions I normally get here at Bachelor (6-10” of new, packed-out crud and rough groomers in the afternoon) an 82-88mm waist ski is a better choice, but I would grab it the snow was bottomless (which happens 1-2 times a year). Highly recommended! I also think the Duke binding has a lot of merit, and would be very useful for resort skiing. It is pricey though (retail is $430). I didn’t see a downside from a standard binding, except maybe a little excess weight.
Also skied, but not reviewed at this time (I have reviewed these before: Volkl AC40, Head iM82).
Overall, there are tons of good skis here. If you like the stoutest ski on the hill, look at the Cold Heat. Wide carvers with lots of energy and versatility are the Tigershark 12 and Blackeye; the iM78 is more damp and has more of a GS feel (like the 82). Amongst the wider skis, the Cold Heat was too much ski for me; the Magma took some growing into, but it is really rocking once I learned how to ski; The Magfire 12 is a little more forgiving and perfect for people who want a stouter ski than the Afterburner but not as much ski as the Jet Fuel; and the Nitrous and Legend 8000 were very forgiving not at the highest performance level. The Mythic Rider and 888 were top-flight skis that will work for most experts anywhere on the hill, and the Mantra was the best deep-snow ski tested.