The place: Mammoth, over four days, conditions ranging from 6-8" of daily fresh (Mammoth's version of Sierra Cement) to wind-scoured chalk and scratch up on top. Soft bumps, lots of crud and chop, no ice. Gradually warming through the week, so some stiff to soft to stiff cycles later on.
Me: 6', 162 lbs, middle aged, grew up in Calif skiing Mammoth and Tahoe, now east coast with couple of weeks out west each year. Technical style; do some racing, like to turn, decent in tight spaces, trees, solid but conservative on steeps. Just OK in deep pow, flail around in backcountry but trying to learn.
Other comparable skis I like: Stocklis, Blizzards, Goats, LP's, Mantras, Priors.
First morning, tried these out on groomers and light chop on the lower mountain. They kicked my ass. I own MX88's in 178 cm, assumed these would just be scaled up version with more float. Wrong. The 98's were a lot less tolerant of mistakes, felt big, while the 88's are forgiving, feel small. Found myself wishing the 98's came in a length between 174 and 184.
In the afternoon, started to figure them out. Excellent grip and very predictable release, cut through forming bumps like they weren't there. Took it up to a GPS indicated 54 mph, 98's were utterly planted and smooth, no discernable top end. Like all Kastles I've skied, combined Stockli-like silkiness with quicker edge to edge potential, and surprising snowfeel. The cut out shovels are very light, do a little flapping at speed, but it's all visual. The mid 3/4 is very beefy; at my weight took some work to bend them below 40 mph. The tails are also Stockli-like, progressive and predictable without that abrupt unloading that a lot of people like. The dual radius makes the 98's easier to initiate than finish. They tolerate almost any style, including scarves, pivots, and smears. But there are cheaper and easier alternatives if you like to skid your tails.
Warning: Whatever style, these want to be driven from the front, not neutral. And don't even think about the backseat. Get behind these and you will be in the next dimension before you can scream.
Next few days were spent exploring the top of the mountain. On steeper pitches with variable snow, from a foot of windblown to exposed chalk and stiff crud, the 98's really were in their element. In Climax or Cornice, they felt big and planted in a straight line or big open turn, but were surprisingly easy doing quick edge changes down the fall line. I don't do much air (bad knees), but they made lips and overhangs silly easy. The tips tended to stay higher than I expected, but the ski still drives through rather than rides over. Compared to a 184 LP, the 98's are far quicker and more responsive, less front deviation in heavy chop, about as damp, more stable at speed, heavier and more demanding to do it right. Best ski I've ever had in these conditions, but at the end of each day, my legs were toast.
In more technical lines, like the Dropoff and Hangman's chutes off of Chair 23, or Dragon's Back and Huevos Grande off the Gondola, the 98's were absolutely fail-safe. They went exactly where I pointed them, screw frozen chop or chalk or sudden double pitches, the edges always felt rock solid, and they did quick adjustments to avoid rocks without drama. If it were something serious, this is a ski I'd trust with my life. Period.
In moderate pitch trees with settled pow, foot or so, over toward Chairs 25 and 9, the 98's were nimble and predictable, but not really fun. The tips wanted to help, but the ski body stayed down in the snow, needed a lot of unweighting. Found myself wishing for more width. Moving the binding back might help but would negate some of the quickness, and doesn't cure the weight issue.
So I'm ambivalent. IMO, the MX98 is the best ski ever made for everyday hard charging on crud, chalk, and chop, which is what most big mountains have most of the time after the first hour the lift's open. And they're way better in tight spaces than any 98 mm ski has a right to be. But they don't make my size, they're too heavy to hike or skin unless you're a linebacker, they're overkill for groomed, and they're not wide enough for serious pow at sub-light speed. Might be the definitive middle ski, between an actual carver and an actual fatty, if you have the $. Or maybe a single ski quiver for a bigger guy who likes inbounds warp drive.