Nice analysis SJ!
"If you ski a Mantra in soft snow and that's all you have (or all you skied on) then you'll probably like it, and as I mentioned...it doesn't suk. But compared to what?? The Bridge is a far better choice for that condition. Then again, the issue that I have with the Mantra on hard snow is the harshness or lack of dampening. You combine that with very high torsional stiffness, light weight, and a lot of shape, and yeah you get a ski that can feel nervous or "bouncy" on rough snow."
That totally sums up my experience with my Mantra.
For the 2005/2006 season that was one of the first "shaped" skis I owned after spending close to 15 years on nothing more than a pair of 7S's.
Thus the Mantra was my very first "fat" ski. I loved it compared to what I had been riding powder in prior (the skinny 7S). That said I found it incredibly "bouncy" or skittish on hard snow unless I really focused on it. First season on it I got tossed in icy conditions. Second season I managed to navigate Milk Run at Telluride on a complete ice day and as long as i dug and grinded, it was decent.
That's funny about the "straightness" of the AK, since I absolutely hated the Explosiv for the very same reason (but I believe it's also a much beefier ski, weight-wise than the AK). I honestly don't know what it is about the AK, I just know that after a solid day of demoing it and then spending the remainder of the 2007 season on it, the Mantras immediately went up on the block (my only regret is that I never tried the Mantra in a 185...might have felt differently about that one).
The shape of the AK must be the thing, though, as Cirque and X-East Coast both have ridden with me when I was on them and gave 'em a thorough flexing and lookover and felt they were pretty similar in flex to the Mantra.
I guess it all goes to show that skis are ultimately a personal preference!