My first pair of powder skis were Blizzard Powder X's from 1995, basically the original Atomic Heli-ski with Blizzard graphics (basically a pair of cafeteria trays with bindings mounted asymmetrically). I've been skiing on Volkl AC4's and have had many pairs of Volkls. I needed a ski that could bust heavy Sierra Cement and crud, float in the occasional light pow that we sometimes get, and that wouldn't kill me on the groomers and bumps at the end of the day.
I had tried last year's (white) Gotamas and really enjoyed them, so when Santa delivered a pair of 176 Goats this year I knew I must have been a good boy. I mounted them with a pair of Marker Dukes.
First run was on very firm snow immediately before the huge dump we got last weekend. They are quite a bit less quick edge-to-edge than the AC4's which is understandable given how much wider they are in the waist, but they were surprisingly forgiving given how firm the snow was. I wouldn't use them for a "one ski quiver" because there are so many other skis that handle firm conditions, but they were fun and didn't kill me on the firm as the Blizzards would have.
Next day was about 1-1/2 feet of very thick Sierra Cement (snow and air temp was 32 degrees). It was like a revelation. Ordinarily, this much glop would have been a struggle with lots of muscling around, but the Gotamas just sliced through it with very little effort. The boot center mount point is behind the ski center point, so the relative length of the tail is shorter than the tip, so when I'm pressing forward into the tongue of my boots, the balls of my feet are at the ski mid-point and I think this is why they just felt like they rode over anything. The ski can be pressured with knee or hip and appears to be equally responsive with either technique. Skiing through busted up crud was so easy that I found myself searching that kind of snow out. It didn't seem to matter whether it was crud or pow, the skis just sliced right through both. I was leaving my other buddies in the dust, while they were struggling, I was already down at the bottom waiting for them having expended much less energy than they.
Next day was about 15 degrees colder and we received copious amounts of snow. The skis were ultra-responsive in the lighter powder, again the verb 'slice' seems to be the best way to describe it. Gentle unweighting and edging made the ski go wherever I wanted; and coming out onto the powder groomers was equally enjoyable as the ski handles that very well.
The new graphics look like someone took a Marks-a-lot pen to the top of the ski. The Buddha is now an orange press-on on the tail. Both of mine were peeling off brand-new skis. The shop said this has been a universal complaint. I re-applied them with JB Weld and I don't think there's any way they'll come off. At first I thought it looked kinda cheap having them on as a sticker, but now I really like them a lot. Bases seem to be bullet proof. I went over a few 'clickety-clicks' in the pow but there is nary a scratch. Some of the Volkls are still made in Germany but the Gotama is made in China. Aside from the Buddha sticker, the skis appear to be flawless, so while I was a little apprehensive about the made in China thing at first, I have to assume that Volkl has been very careful about quality control issues.
Because the ski has twin-tip-ish construction, it throws up a lot of spray on the groomers, and even more so in the pow. Friends who were following me said that they had to get out of my line because of the huge cloud I was leaving in my wake. I actually found this to be quite amusing (it's fun to be a little obnoxious), sort of like the spray that a Jet-Ski shoots up to let others know you are there. Several cm of ski at tip and tail are probably not in contact with the snow, but it skis so rock-steady that it still feels like it's longer than it is. I have read that others like to ski these longer than recommended, but 176 seems perfect for me. Any longer and I think I would be muscling the ski and not letting it do the work for me.
The Dukes are a great pairing with this ski. I will be using them for BC skiing on occasion, and the flexibility of going from Alpine to free-heel for hiking will be appreciated. The Dukes are a little heavier than other bindings. They seem to have a broader mount where the toe mounts into the ski. I'm not sure, but I think this makes them hold the boot toe in more snugly than other bindings. They have a very solid feel, and the ka-chunk they make when you step in just makes them feel very beefy. The unlatching mechanism to free-heel is inconvenient because you have to release your boot from the binding to get to the latch. It's not clear whether it's OK to ski them like a telemark binding. The owner's 'pamphlet' just says don't, but they seem to be so sturdily constructed that I would bet that you could (comments?).
All in all, the Gotama is an excellent, fun, easy to ski powder weapon that can still hold it's own on the groomers and bumps when the powder is going away. I wouldn't pick it as a one-ski quiver, because it feels a bit truck-like on firm snow, but if you're looking for a pow-crud ski, it's da bomb!