Ski: 2010 Kastle MX88 188cm, 128-88-113
Bindings: Tyrolia Peak 15, mounted for 325mm BSL on the line
Snow: Groomed packed powder, hardpack/ice, loose snow
Me: Age 41, 6'1" 200 lbs, Level 8
Other skis compared: Head iM88, Dynastar Sultan 85
In the 188cm length, the MX88 is the most impressive wide GS-style ski I have been on in years. What's most impressive about the ski is the level of accessible performance it offers. I got a glimpse of that within the first two turns, which is rare when trying out a new ski -- normally it takes at least one run, or several runs, to get in the groove, but it was pretty much love at first sight with the MX88.
The precision feel of these skis is hard to believe. In fact, it ends up feeling like there isn't really a ski there, just edges wired directly to muscles that respond to your thoughts and inputs. I have not experienced this in any ski before -- it's that good.
Carried around, these skis feel about normal in terms of weight, but they seem to vanish underfoot when skiing. For a 188cm ski (currently my longest) they don't feel long at all. There is a good amount of damping, but with none of the molasses that characterizes many damp skis (like Head). I think there is more of a structural damping happening than a material damping. The MX88 is very smooth and quiet without feeling dead, so the precision feel comes through all the time, even in rough snow.
The overall result is a ski that likes to charge hard, go fast, and reward energetic precision carving, but takes very little effort to do so. I never had to drive these skis much at all, just get on them and have fun at Mach 10. I'd say the MX88 offers 100% or more of the performance of the Head iM88, but only takes about 50-60% of the effort. Skied back to back, the iM88 felt like a real tank, more like the leaf spring off a school bus compared to the light, precision, "surgical tool" feel of the MX88. The Sultan 85 is more akin to the MX88, but definitely feels less sophisticated and a little rough (even tiring) at times. Kastle just seems to have put together the magical combination of traits and features in the MX88.
If there is a downside to this ski, it's that the 188cm model definitely likes longer turns at the design 22.5m radius and above. Short turns don't take effort, but they require skills. If you think back to the old days when we had to pilot GS skis in tight spaces, you know what I mean. It's not hard -- just weight forward, pivot around the tips, and sweep the tails. The light feel of the MX88 makes this easy, though it seems like a shame to throw all that precision away for what amounts to skid turns. I imagine the shorter MX88 models don't get into this scenario. Me, well, I'm cool with it because of all the plusses the 188cm model brings to the table for a bigger skier like me.
The overall quality and fit/finish of the MX88 is very good, but not out of the ordinary. Kastle does use some better materials, however, which should have long term benefits. I will say this -- it's nice to get a ski that has a perfect factory tune out of the box (I'm looking at you, Dynastar and Head). Kastles are produced in the Head Factory, but clearly tuned in some different process than Head uses for its own skis. Maybe Kastles go through the race room or something. Whatever the case, the MX88's tune was exceptional, and something Head should aspire to for it's own production skis.
The big question I set out to answer is whether the MX88 is worth the price premium; with a MSRP of $1180 flat, these skis are 1.5X to 2X the cost of many other skis in this category. In the end, it's a tough question, as there are no other skis in this category, or similar categories, at any price point, that can really compare to the MX88 (I've tried most of them over the last couple years). Comparing to the Sultan 85 or iM88, I'd say the MX88 is worth the extra money for sure, but it might not be apparent unless you have skied all three. I didn't really know what I was missing until I tried the MX88.