Demo day at Loveland with decent early-season conditions (for Nov. 13) – a good time to try “all mountain” skis!
Me: 5’5” (and getting shorter), 125lb, Level 8-ish, age 55 but still fairly athletic. Love powder, trees, steeps and bumps – groomers are just connector trails (so race-bred edge-grip is not one of my priorities).
Conditions – 2” new with another couple falling through the day. With over 50” snowfall so far this year the base depth was good enough to build up some pretty deep and irregular moguls (one of my favorite ski test challenges). Also, the limited terrain that’s been opened meant that the few groomers (especially those with some blue/black pitches) had some scraped-off CO hard pack mixed in with some pushed around piles of fresh snow. Pretty good demo day conditions except for the lack of much off-piste deeper conditions (I found a few patches where there was a man’s 6” of snow to test pow ‘n trees).
Goal – Find a ski with the lively and maneuverable demeanor of my 167cm Watea 84’s but with better stability (for mid speed absorption in bumps and crud)…all without giving up the W84’s soft snow prowess. Oh and let’s lose the W84’s hooky tip that deflects readily off of harder bumps.
The Event – Armada, Atomic, Blizzard, Dynastar, Fat-ypus, Icelantic, K2, Line, Rossignol, Ski Logik, and Volk were there. However a few (i.e., Atomic, Blizzard, and Line) brought skis in only two length groups – under 160cm and over ~173cm (so no Crimson’s, Chronus’s or Prophet 90’s). Most of the rest merely stated that it didn’t “make economic sense” to bring 165 to 170cm length "unisex" skis to the event, so I ended up skiing the women’s versions of some skis (the graphics made me feel metrosexual). Finally, I also wanted to see what a little more underfoot width might do. Unfortunately, 88 to 94cm width skis in the 165 to 170cm length range were essentially non-existent since many manufacturers either don’t offer shorter sizes in this width or, more importantly for this event, don’t offer an equivalent women’s ski in this width range (at least any I wanted to try…so no Snoops, Head Peak 88’s, Sultan 94’s, etc.). We small folks will someday get our revenge….
So here’s the results in order of preference (and note that all skis had sufficient and/or similar edge grip for me unless noted otherwise):
(1) Dynastar Sultan 85 (in the supposed identically built guise of the womens “Exclusive Eden”), 165cm (with actual and contact lengths of 163 and 140 cm, sidecut of 126/85/110mm, and claimed but non-existent tip/tail rocker) – This was clearly the liveliest, nimblest, most stable, yet most powerful ski of the group while still being plenty forgiving. There’s some secret in this ski’s build that gives it power/maneuverability that’s easy to harness – it’s as if it’s lively when you need it to be but damp otherwise, and stiff when edging but compliant when absorbing terrain. They flowed calmly through bumps soaking up the irregularities like on shock absorbers, and while they demanded some steering input they didn’t deflect or fight back nor did the tail buck me at the end of the turn (which is strange since the ski feels stiff when you flex it). The only question is it’s deeper snow prowess – on what little pow I found they still wanted to behave like a carving ski (i.e., they didn’t feel surfy). These might have been my “holy grail” perfect skis if the tips really had a some real "early rise" like the K2’s below.
(2 – tie) K2 Aftershock, 167cm (with actual and contact lengths of 167 and 147 cm, sidecut of 130/86/114mm, and an honest 15cm of early rise tip) – This ski was nearly as lively, nimble and stable as the Dyna’s but with a detracting imbalance in tip/tail forgiveness (more on this in a moment). The main attraction here, however, is the ski’s early rise tip which works amazingly well (here’s one thumbs up for the future of this design). On groomers the turn initiation felt less abrupt (which was initially disconcerting until I realized that it greatly reduces the chance of hooking a tip and just feels smoother). Once the turn was engaged the tip began to participate and the ski railed as well as the others. In bumps the tip also helped smooth the turn initiation especially when my line wasn’t perfect. Unfortunately the long/flat/wide/stiff tail couldn’t finish the tip’s promise – it was reluctant to release, tended to get hooked, and then it would buck me when it finally obliged (and if I needed to traverse over some bumps the much softer tip would absorb while the tail would buck). In the bit o’ pow available this ski was clearly the “I want to surf” winner (though the tail again seemed to want to spoil the party). Unfortunately, the tip/tail compliance balance of this ski is just way out of wack – K2 needs to refine this design, at least for us lightweights.
(2 – tie) Rossignol S86 (in the supposed identically built guise of the women’s “S86W” with absolutely horrid graphics), 170cm (with actual and contact lengths of 168 and 138 cm, sidecut of 130/86/116mm, and claimed but non-existent tip/tail rocker) – This ski was very much a toned-down version of the Dyna’s (which is a big improvement in liveliness vs. the B-whatever series of previous Rossi designs). Its fore-aft flex/compliance was balanced but softer/damper-feeling and made for a mellower ride vs. the Dyna’s. The funny thing is that these ski's are much stiffer than the Sultan's when hand flexed - maybe the longer tip/tail rise fooled me into this impression. Nevertheless, when I was skiing the bumps properly on these they literally flowed through them with very little steering input on my part. For the same reason they seemed like they might be a bit more pow-surfier than the Dyna’s. However, as the day wore on the ski’s stiffness, slightly bigger proportions (possibly even more weight) and more sluggish reaction to input became noticeable, which made me work a bit too hard for maneuverability. This ski might have ranked closer to the Dyna’s if it was shorter…I think.
(3) my Fisher Watea 84’s, 167cm (with actual and contact lengths of 165 and 142 cm and sidecut of 126/84/112mm) – I tried this ski before/after a couple of my other favorites of the day. They still felt light, lively, and maneuverable (though no more than the Dyna’s), but they unfortunately felt even more unstable than ever (what a difference two years makes). Even on the mixed hard-packed and soft snow groomer it got nervous during the condition transitions and required extra work keep the edge engaged. In the moguls their light liveliness didn’t quite make up for the nervous ride vs. the above skis (the tip would readily deflect when I didn’t quite stay on line and when I tested their dampness while traversing the bumps). Even in the little bit of off-piste pow they felt more nervous. Given that these skis weren’t addled with the added weight of the other ski’s demo bindings it became quickly obvious that the light weight of these skis no longer yielded much of an advantage. I doubt I would trade them in for the K2’s imbalanced personality or the Rossi’s more lumbering behavior, but the Dyna’s seem to do everything the Watea’s can but with more power and waaaaay more stability.
(4) Icelantic Pilgrim 169cm (with an actual length of 166 and sidecut of 127/90/115mm) – This was my first attempt of the day to see how a slightly wider ski would feel. These all-wood skis are expectedly light but unexpectedly damp and stable (vs. the Watea’s nervous wood/carbon personality). Unfortunately they preferred to go straight and were therefore not particularly maneuverable. In the bumps the tips and tails weren’t very forgiving and the whole ski seemed unwilling to flex sufficiently under my weight. Other than the fact that its added width didn’t noticeably hamper its edge grip on the groomer (except when pushed to make a tighter turn), the rest of the ski’s behavior offered no conclusion about the width issue.
(5) Ski Logik Rave 165cm (with a sidecut of 131/92/117mm, and I didn’t measure the actual length) – This was my 2nd attempt to see how an even wider (but still normally cambered) ski might feel. Ski Logik is a new Breckenridge company that makes beautiful skis with wood-inlay topsheets. If only they skied as well as they looked. These skis were light and surprisingly grippy, but were unfortunately extremely unstable (continuously nervous is how they felt) - almost like Watea’s with ADHD. Fortunately they had some semblance of the Watea’s compliant and maneuverable feel in the bumps. This allowed me to unscientifically conclude that their added width (even in the small amount of pow I could find) only made for…well…more ski for me to haul around without providing any advantage over the Crazy 88’s.
(6 by a mile) Salomon Lord 169cm (other than being 86mm underfoot I didn’t see the use in noting any other data) – I don’t see how this ski has ranked so high in past years’ ski reviews. They felt like lame intermediate skis that were only interested in skidding. They were completely dead, and felt short on groomers and long/ungainly in the bumps (the last attribute probably meant that its problem wasn’t a bad tune). Good thing I demo’d since this ski was originally high up on my list.
Postscript – OK so Crazy 88’s for lightweights are more like 86’s. More important than 2mm is that my top 3 skis were wood-metal laminates (I’ve always held that metal construction is not a lightweight’s friend – no more!). I also see why skis in the low 90’s width size probably don’t make much sense for this lightweight (for others it might if a big-mountain or powder-biased ski-of-one was the goal) - as soon as the pow gets deep enough my 105mm underfoot deep-pow-slaying ‘Setheds leave little room for anything else but these Crazy 88’s….
Edited by ski-ra - 11/30/10 at 12:49pm