Over the last month I have been extensively testing 2011 skis in the 90-100mm range with an eye toward picking my product mix for next year. Sorting through these is not a chore for me because they are all so good and such fun to ski on. Testing started at the SIA demo at Winter Park and concluded at the Mammoth trade fair. (in between I did women’s skis at Alpine meadows). The test hill at WP was a GS race trail that I suspect had been treated at some time in the recent past. Despite the great grooming, there were some areas where the snow was very firm. At Mammoth, I had typical western conditions of day old crud that had been consolidated by the wind and then partially filled in by blow in. Continuous wind kept the snow blowing and filling all day. The result was chalky crud with pockets of deeper snow in the 6”-12” range over a firmish base. Occasionally that firmish base peeked out of the crud in the form of a hard srapey patch. The groomers were firm winter conditions.
What I expect from this group of skis is a balance of capabilities between consolidated conditions (skiing on the snow) and semi-deep, 3-dimensional conditions (skiing in the snow ). I don’t expect these to “rip the groomers at Super G speeds” (I just LOL whenever somebody posts that crap) or be ice specialists. Conversely I don’t expect them to be super floaty in blower powder either. In deeper snow, I expect these to flex well enough to come around without too much work and to handle at least 12” of depth comfortably. In the more common mixed and varied conditions that really describe most days in the west, I expect these skis to be nimble enough in soft, forming bumps, solid enough to push through crud, and forgiving enough to allow a quick skiddy maneuver when a tree or rock face leaps into your path. I’m fairly tolerant of modest groomer performance but the ski still needs to be fun when it hasn’t snowed lately. I personally find that skis that are too stiff overall and/or in torsion are not compliant enough to handle mixed, broken, or varied conditions well. As a reminder, I’m 5-10, 200#, L-8 skier with an off trail to on trail bias of about 75/25. I tend to prefer medium to med-stiff skis. I’ll regularly test about 40 men’s skis and 15 or so women’s skis every year.
Following are quick thumbnail evaluations of several models and how I view them for the consumer. I tried to keep them all in roughly the same size range. I started the day with a few current and well known 2009 skis as a baseline.
Line P-100-179: (conventional camber 100mm waist)
This ski has a medium firm flex and a fairly deep sidecut The sidecut makes it very quick on the groomers and nimble in mixed bumps. Grip is very good on the firmer snow and it is pretty energetic. In this length, this ski pretty turny for my tastes in the crud. I chose this ski in 186 as a replacement for my old 183 Gotamas. The P-100 is pretty competent at everything.
Salomon Shogun-182: (conventional camber w/tip rise 100mm)
The Shogun is one of the first of the “new breed” of Salomons. These are beefier and more aggressive skis than Salomon has produced in recent years. The Shogun really takes advantage of the tip rise and is very easy and nimble in the mixed up softer conditions. The tip initiates super quick and the medium firm midsection and tail allows a solid finish without a lot of effort. The tip rise feels a bit prone to deflection at times but the rest of the ski keeps it under control. The Shogun has a surprising amount of energy for this width of ski. On the groomers, the tip rise is noticeable and the tip feels a bit loose but the midsection and tail are solid enough and grip is good enough. For me, this ski has a bit of a soft snow bias and the 182 was fine.
Blizzard Atlas-180: (conventional camber 94mm)
The Atlas has been one of my personal mainstays this season and will remain so next year. This ski is right in the middle of the mix for shape and is on the med-firm side for flex with fairly firm torsion. The Atlas is more of a buster than a floater in deeper snow but it has a balanced flex and the tail flexes well enough in crud and softer snow to allow the ski to finish smoothly and without much effort. This ski is in the middle for nimbleness and on the higher end for stability. The Atlas is one of the grippier skis in this group on groomers and it engages from the tip, but the sidecut is not overbearing. Dampening on the harder snow is excellent. This is a ski for a strong skier. For me the 180 is plenty of ski.
Following are new models………………….
Salomon Sentinel-184: (conventional camber, short tip rise, 94mm)
The Sentinel is another “new breed” ski from Salomon and has a firm, pretty balanced flex. In the chalky cruddy stuff at Mammoth, the Sentinel initiated easily and punched the rough snow very predictably. In the areas where the crud was forming into bumps, it was easy enough to initiate but a little long for my tastes. This ski gripped the hard snow @ Winter Park well and felt more nimble than one would expect given the flex and the length. The tip rise is visible but pretty short and the rise was not really noticeable one way or the other whether I was on the snow or in it. This ski has a pretty neutral balance of skills. For my tastes, the Sentinel is one of the standouts of the year regardless of category. For me a 177 would be the right length.
Atomic Access-181: (conventional camber, long tip rise-100mm)
My first turns on the Access were in early January on firm groomers. The long tip rise made the ski feel super nimble and quick for its length and width. The long tip rise section was floppy on the harder snow but the rest of the ski was solid enough underfoot to be comfortable at moderately high speeds. The edge grip was very good considering how much of the ski was disconnected from the snow. In the more consistent crud at Mammoth, the Access was a hoot to ski, as it was easy, nimble and fun. In the choppy chalky stuff, the tip was prone to deflection. This ski has a distinct bias toward softer conditions and I felt that I wanted a longer size than the 181 which is currently the longest being offered.
Volkl Kendo-177: (conventional camber, 88mm)
This ski is a little out of width category here but deserves mention. This is a new ski that shares a common build with the venerable Mantra. I have always thought that the Mantra was either too stiff for its width or too wide for its stiffness. The Kendo solves that problem both ways in that it is narrower than the Mantra but it skis slightly softer as well. The first turns on the Kendo came @ Winter Park and it felt very smooth and grippy on the very hard snow without the harshness that some stiffer skis exhibit. I felt that on those hard conditions, the Kendo was easier and more comfortable to ski than the AC-50 without giving up much at all in power and stability. Out west at Mammoth the Kendo was overshadowed by the wider skis in the crud but not as much as you might think. The Kendo has a flex that allows it to come around well without feeling like you are fighting it and it felt pretty maneuverable in the building bumps. This is still a pretty stiff ski but it is more versatile than some existing models and is (IMO) the best new ski that Volkl has built lately.
Dynastar Sultan 94: (conventional camber, “tip rise” 94mm)
The Sultan 85 has wowed skiers for a year now with its nearly perfect blend of characteristics and capabilities. The 94 comes in with the same pedigree but in a wider shape and just like the 85, it just plain works. I ski the Sultan 85 a lot so when I first jumped on the 94 @ Winter Park, I was expecting it to be similar but possibly a bit more sluggish. Welllll….similar it is, but sluggish it isn’t. The 178 cm. 94 felt very nimble and easy turning while having very good grip underfoot on the harder snow. In the typical western conditions at Mammoth, the 94 handled everything in its path. It busted the chalky wind chop, cruised in the little powder patches and felt effortless in the forming bumps. Out on the groomers the Sultan pulled right from the tip, gripped underfoot and released when I moved my foot forward. This is a medium to longish turn ski and is for better skiers. I would say this ski is not best at any one thing but for versatility, pretty well defines the category.
Following are three double rise skis that I wasn’t too sure (at first) would fit into the daily driver category as I envision it.
Blizzard The One-177: (low double rise, flat underfoot, 98mm)
I was mostly skiing narrower skis at Winter Park and this ski was not really on my radar at the time. I took it out as I was wrapping up simply because I wanted to see what it would do on very hard snow and quite frankly, I was surprised. In shorter turns or at medium speeds the One feels a little swimmy. Once speed picks up enough to justify a higher edge, the tip and tail quiet down. While this ski never really pulls from the tip or grips hard at the tail, it is stable enough for all day use and grip is quite good underfoot. In the Western snow at Mammoth, the One was really in its element. Easily the most playful and nimble of this group of skis, this ski handled the choppy chalky stuff very well. I attribute this surprising result to the very low rise in the tip and tail. The shape does not rise out of the snow very much and hence, it’s not that prone to deflection. This was the best of this group in the little bits of light snow I found and I’ll surmise that it’s going to be the best of this group in pure light powder. This ski is pretty soft and is certainly not the best for some Gnar Eaters. Even so, it skis more solidly than one would think and I was very impressed. This could well be the “Pocket Rocket” of this generation of skis. I would prefer the 184.
Dynastar Slicer – 181: (low double rise, camber underfoot, 98mm)
The Slicer is a medium-firm ski that uses Dynastars’ spring blade construction giving it a very solid feel underfoot with a more flexible tip and especially tail. I didn’t ski this at Winter Park so my first few turns were in the fairly steep pitch @ Mammoth in the chalky western crud. The tip rise enabled the Slicer to initiate easily but the firm middle of the ski wanted to power the turn and bust the crud rather than float over it. The soft tail with its low rise released easily. In the building bumps, and the choppy chalk, the Slicer skied like the conventional cambered skis and it was not prone to deflection but was also not as nimble as the softer double rise skis. I give the Slicer about an even split in hard/soft snow bias with a bit of a nod toward more aggressive skiers. I found the Slicer to be rather the antithesis of the One from Blizzard in that it has a much more serious feel to it. As such, it could well be the ski for the Gnar Eater that the One is not. The 181 was plenty of ski for me.
Rossignol S3-178: (double rise, camber underfoot, 98mm)
The S3 was around this year but not very many people noticed it including me. In my case the reason was that Rossi seemed to pitch the ski as an afterthought and with an emphasis toward the park/jib market. The teenish graphics for ’09 helped to keep it off my radar and the same for our customers. None of this is deserved as the S3 is quite a capable ski and is more of a daily use ski than a jib tool. I skied the S3 in an early intro on very firm groomer conditions and was impressed enough to start thinking about it. The tip and tail rise are fairly substantial and so those portions of the ski are certainly a bit disconnected from snow feel. Out on the groomers, the ski felt short but it was certainly solid enough underfoot. Those attributes really help the S3 in the conditions such as I experienced at Mammoth. The S3 was nimble and forgiving in the choppy crud and bumps and really good in the little patches of powder. As with some other skis of this type, the weakness was a bit of tendency toward deflection in the rough stuff. I liked the 178 and I think it was the right size for me although I’ll try the 185 when I get the chance.
This width range of ski including down to about 85mm or so makes a really good choice for the western skier as a daily driver or a “one ski quiver”. Choosing from this batch is about the skier’s priorities and the frequency that he/she encounters deeper snow vs. more consolidated conditions. Note that the key word here is priority. Some skiers simply prioritize deeper conditions regardless of whether or not they ski them very often. That skier might choose from the wider examples of this spectrum or possibly the double rise models. He may choose an even wider ski than this range and be quite happy to “make do” on the days when there is no significant depth. OTH, there are many skiers (possibly most) who do not prioritize snow depth that highly. Maybe those folks realize that they see deepish snow seldom if ever, or maybe they just flat out don’t care. Those folks may be well suited by narrower skis than this range.
Skiing be a fun sport................