2011 Ski reviews: sub 80mm skis
Stockli Laser CX
Stockli Laser SX
Stockli Laser SC
Blizzard Supersonic G-Force IQ
Blizzard GSR IQ
Blizzard SLR IQ
Elan Waveflex 14
Elan Waveflex 78ti
Fischer Progressor 10+
Dynastar Contact 4x4
Dynastar Speed Course ti
Head Peak 78
Head Supershape i-Titan
We all want powder days, but when a long period of dry weather hits, having a good carver in the bag can mean the difference between being on the hill and feeling like I am driving a Formula 1 car, vs. sitting at home on the computer, bitching about how it hasn't snowed in like, 2 weeks. I will take the former. Anyone who says “narrow skis suck” either is a hack that gets their rear end whooped by a stiff, aggressive ski, or simply hasn't been out on a pair when the weather isn't cooperating with a storm. If a bluebird, deep untracked powder day is a 10 out of 10, a good hard snow ski can make a firm, sunny groomer day at least an 8. Hey, even a bad day skiing beats a day at the office, and a good frontside ski can make it a very good day.
1st day: manmade, hard snow at Winter Park, at the US industry demo. Definitely the skis of choice for these days: most everyone was ripping around on frontside type skis, and I don't think I have ever seen such a high concentration of reallygood skiers (like ex-World or Europa Cup level) in one place. These conditions were made for the skis tested here; a good carver makes a bulletproof day a hell of a lot of fun. Definitely the most fun skis, especially on that kevlar-vest like groomer down to the base area, were the most powerful, pseudo-race skis. We all had big grins on our faces.
2nd day was in mostly softer snow and groomers, at Alpine Meadows. These skis still performed well (4 inches of crud isn't going to slow down a frontside type ski), although it wasn't the pure hard snow of Winter Park.
3rd day was mostly hard snow (rain over snow, then frozen) with some crud thrown in. Pretty good conditions to test out edge hold, although the snow wasn't as predictable as the 1st and 2nd demo. Still worth demoing these skis though, especially on groomers.
Stockli Laser CX: new for 2011, a medium-radius, medium energy fronside power carver. Not overly stiff. 69mm underfoot. Length tested: 170cm
This ski was set up with that medium flex plate that Stockli was using, in addition to a demo binding, which brought it quite far off the snow. I took 2 runs on it: first was a bulletproof groomer of manmade snow, and the 2nd was in some bumps. I surprised that the CX was not all that stiff: softer in flex than other race derived skis I tried (Blizzard SLR IQ and GSR IQ). It packs a wallop, though. This ski is all power and edge hold. Feel is medium energy: you can work the tail for some pop, but it still a fairly damp feel. Edge hold and power are off the charts, and it felt as locked in as any ski I tried, perhaps more. The thing was, I could change the radius of the arc, as it wasn't all that stiff, and wasn't an auto-carver like some of the frontside skis around. Basically, it was as if they took their competition cross ski and softened it 15%. A very unique feel, and it could handle anything I threw at it. It was one of the few skis not to break loose on the really steep pitch, heading down into the village, which by that time of day, was completely scraped clean and hard as a rock. On the CX, I could get aggressive at the top of the turn, gain a bunch of angulation, and leave railroad tracks with confidence. It was a beast, but didn't beat me up. Stability was high, but not quite as high as the SX. What a thrilling carver. In the bumps, it was adequate, but a bit stiff in the tip. Lacking forgiveness, the ski takes any error out on the skier. Workable for a good bump skier, not for a tired bump skier. This is a ski I would own.
Stockli Laser SX: 70mm waist, 15.6m radius in 170cm, more of a GS version of the CX, although the radius changes very little.
Again, this ski was mounted on top of a Stockli plate, so it was taller than I would have preferred. Having skied this just after the CX, I was able to get a good feel for the difference, which was similar to what I had expected. Speed limit, already high on the CX, was best-in-class on this ski. There simply wasn't a speed limit. Energy was a bit lower: the ski felt a bit more glued to the snow, not quite as snappy, really damp, effortless when gliding along. The tip was quick to engage and it hooked up powerfully; running flat, it was more at home than the CX. There was a definite ability to cruise with low edge angle, tip the inner foot, engage the sidecut, and then be flying across the fall line in no time. The SX doesn't turn automatically. Rather, it waits for input, then takes off like a bat out of hell. Turn initiation feel was hard to describe: it did exactly what I asked of it, nothing more, nothing less. Again, full railroad tracks on bulletproof snow on steep groomers. It really doesn't get much better for a frontside ski. And, this ski insprires the confidence I needed to get forward and let my COM get down the fall line into the new turn. The SX was there for me, and would hook up as soon as I was over the neutral point and tipping the skis again, drawing up the inside foot and getting pressure outside. Besides racing my bike in a high-level crit, this was as close as I have ever come to feeling like I was driving an F1 car. I would buy this ski in a heartbeat.
In bumps, it was a bit stiff and a bit long. Again, adequate, but not great. This is a groomer machine. There is no denying that this ski is a ripper. There might not be a better hard snow ski on the market. At least one that is this forgiving: plenty of consumer race GS skis have this amount of horsepower, but the Stockli goes a bit further in that it really can work at moderate speeds, and go from frontside carver to detuned race GS. The other skis tested here are just a bit stiffer and really need 30mph+ speeds to do anything, and are most at home going 35+. This is one of the best frontside skis I have ever had the privilege of demoing.
Stockli Laser SC; 63mm underfoot, the most hard-snow oriented carver in the Stockli lineup. This ski has the titanal midsection support, fairly short turn radius. Tested in 163cm.
As luck would have it, the skies opened up right as I hit the hill with this ski, and quickly, I was skiing a couple of inches of new snow. First run was in soft bumps and tight trees. This ski is a hoot: so agile, so precise, tons of power, and is a carving machine. When the snow got deeper (pockets of 4-6 inches) this ski just blasted through the new snow, as if it weren't even there. Float wasn't great, but float isn't a huge issue in only a couple of inches. It was an easy ski to handle in the bumps; very predictable, and not overly stiff. Once back on the groomers, I was ripping it hard edge to edge, and felt like a rock star on this ski. In that little skiff of snow, it just seemed to load up even more on the tail, and blast out of the turn. Also, this ski was very forgiving: maybe more forgiving than the CX or SX were, for some reason. It may have been the shorter length. Edge grip (as far as I could tell, the snow was pretty soft) isn't going to be an issue on this ski. It was quite damp, but had more energy than the others, again likely due to the short length. I would imagine the SC gets overlooked due to the narrow waist, but if you are skiing frontside conditions, it was perhaps the best pure carver I tested. All the performance of a slalom race ski, but much more versatile and forgiving. Highly recommended!
Blizzard Supersonic G-Force IQ: Blizzard's frontside powerhouse; 72mm underfoot, 14.5m radius in the 167cm length tested.
Review: this ski has been out for a couple of years, but is still at the top of it's class. Dual titanium laminate with a wood core, gives it a very powerful feel. Not as quick as the narrower SC, but in the same class as the SX and CX: there is really very little functional difference between 2 or 3mm of waist width. This ski has the classic Blizzard feel: stout, powerful, awesome edge hold, very muscular, and likes to be skied from the cuff of the boot. I would put it more along the lines of the Magnum 8.1 in terms of flex (a good thing-I really like that ski) vs. something stiffer underfoot (Atlas). For me, the flex was nearly perfect, and the 167cm was the perfect carver length. I would have loved to try the 174cm: I bet that is a hoot, but not as energetic. At any rate, the 167cm held as well as any ski I tried on the manmade, steep groomer at Winter Park. The flex was soft enough and the ski forgiving enough that I really could attack out of the old turn, and “show the bases of my skis up the hill” as they say, when trying to get early and aggressive edge angle (half the battle on steep icy pitches, easier said than done). That early edge engagement and tip pressure is easier done on a carver than a pure race skis, as it takes less effort and speed. This ski hooked up early, and wouldn't let go. Over in the bumps, the Supersonic is a breeze! Great flex, easy to handle, good zipper line tool. The Supersonic is a damp, snow-hugging ski, somewhat similar in feel to Head and Fischer, but a little livelier; maybe more similar to the old Head Full Metal Jacket cap ski lineup than the full laminate Monster and i-Supershape lineup. Either way, this is an exceptionally fun ski. I could imagine it being great in crud of moderate depth, as well: the flex is agreeable and it isn't overly demanding. Still suitable for strong advanced skiers and up. If you ski primarily firm snow but need a versatile, powerful ski, the Supersonic is still one of the best.
Blizzard GSR IQ: 174cm in length, “consumer” race ski for those who don't need or can't handle full race stock skis. Still plenty stiff, 68mm underfoot, 17.5m radius.
Review: as tested in 174cm, this was a LOT more ski than the Supersonic. Perhaps the Supersonic made me lazy and feel I was skiing better than I actually way. Whatever happened, this ski was a rude awakening. I have skied a bunch of consumer race skis over the years, and this one was as demanding as they come. To get it to hook up early in the turn, the skier needs to be very aggressive and moving down the fall line. It will hook up, but it wants energy at the top of the turn, and not lazy skiing. If you are hanging back, unsure of whether to commit, this ski will own you. In that respect, it feels much more like a real race stock ski. I loved it: no speed limit, easier radius to work with than a full race ski, and nearly as committing. Edge hold is phenomenal. It took me ½ of a run to get on top of it: I needed to stop being lazy, skiing the sidecut, and go back to “game on” mode. Once there, it didn't disappoint. In bumps, it was more or less awful. A better bump skier than I could make it work, but there are far better tools in the world. Speed limit was in the same realm as the Stockli SX, but it was less forgiving, and more committing. I imagine that the real FIS Stockli SX feels like this ski. The GSR IQ is best kept to hard snow, fast skiing, and experts. Not a good ski to start racing on: get something more forgiving, like a Head i-Supershape Speed. I would love to own this ski as a weekday, max-vertical ski, but don't think it would get enough use, as it just isn't versatile enough to take off-piste. Something like the Kastle MX78 is just as stable, more forgiving, and way more versatile; it could be an every day ski for those not battling heavy, deep snow on a regular basis. The GSR IQ, not so much. I wish I had tried this one in the gates.
Blizzard SLR IQ: 68mm underfoot, a bit softer than the GSR IQ, tested in 167cm. Again, the “consumer race” slalom in Blizzard's lineup.
Review: this ski was a whole lot more forgiving than the GSR IQ. I would say it was on the order of around 10% stiffer than the Supersonic: it demanded more of the skier, but wasn't a gates-only ski. I found that it hooked up early, and when engaged cleanly, really pulled me into the turn. That big tip loves to hook up. It is plenty stiff enough for the rock-hard snow we were on, stability was excellent. I really found it to be a touch more stable than the Supersonic, but mostly, it wanted to be pushed harder and driven more. It was a hell of a carver: even more pop in the tail compared to the Supersonic, but just forgiving enough that I didn't mistake it for a pure race stock machine. Again, no real speed limit, as long as I kept it on edge. It would slide around without enough edge angle: it required early and aggressive edge, as well as enough speed to bend the tip: hit that, and I was golden, running railroad arcs down some pretty firm, steep snow. All 3 of the Blizzard skis felt very similar; they are made for business, and meant for good skiers. That is one thing about this company: they put out good skis, for goods skiers, with a minimum of marketing gimmicks or faddy add-ons. There isn't a ski in the lineup that doesn't hit it's target. The SLR IQ is a great ski that would be an excellent frontside machine, with a touch of versatility.
Elan Waveflex 14: basically an updated Speedwave 14. This ski is 72mm underfoot, has a dual radius (10-16m), 2 sheets of metal, and Waveflex.
This ski hasn't changed a whole lot over the past few years. It is a ski that, again, is at the top of it's game. Elan makes some of the best frontside and race bred skis on the planet, and the 14 is no exception. It has the same performance as the Supersonic, but IMO, is a bit more demanding, and gives back a bit more energy. I would actually compare it more to the SLR IQ in terms of performance, but it even packs more punch than the Blizzard. On this ski, if you aren't skiing it well, you are hanging on for the ride. It is tremendously stiff edge to edge, and wants to be there most of the time. It seemed a bit more eager to hook up than the Supersonic, and therefore a bit more tiring if skier isn't up to it. No lack of edge hold or energy. Stability is about equal to the SLR IQ, but again, the Waveflex likes to be worked a bit more, and not skied in park and ride mode, at least at my weight. The feel is classic Elan: very powerful, damp, smooth, but pack a bit more snap inside the ski than most of the Austrian brands, which tend to feel just a bit bigger and less energetic. I really love what Elan has produced here: no compromises for those who are up to skiing it. Might be more of a ski for the guy up to 180lbs, where the SLR IQ might be for heavier skier, depending on the feel you are looking for.
Kastle RXSL: length tested 166cm: This ski is pretty much derived from a race-room slalom. It is a stiff ski, with a 13m radius. Overall, I found it to be a demanding, yet thrilling ride. It is on the stiff side for a slalom ski, not unlike a Head iSL RD or a Fischer WC SL: powerful, but I had to have some speed to really make it come alive. This ski is a monster on hard snow: it feels right at home on the hardest stuff; but you have to be on it. Bigger guys could possibly relax, but it has none of the big sweet spot of the MX series. And, bumps were a handful. This ski likes to stick close to the groomers. I would rate it as a legitimate lower-level race slalom, and was significantly more ski than other “carvers” that I tried, such as the Waveflex 14 from Elan, Blizzard SLR IQ, Stockli Cross CX and SX, Progressor 10+ from Fischer, Spitfire from Nordica, and a bunch of others. It is a powerhouse of a ski! I wouldn’t prefer it as my all-day ski out West, but those on short-turn hills or who need a slalom that works in and out of the gates should give it a shot. Great Midwest ski: you could substitute this for a Fischer WC SL and have nearly the same performance.
When skiing this ski, I realized that the overall feel of the Kastles, the damp, stable, no speed limit, unlimited hold and power, is very prevalent in the better race room skis from several top brands, but typically lacking in most consumer skis. That is why I think Kastle is so sought-after: they take race-room materials and feel and put them into everyday skis, whereas many brands “dumb-down” their consumer models and don’t put out the same quality of ski that their athletes see. This isn’t really a surprise, as Kastle is made in the Head race-room department, so one would expect them to be at that level.
Kastle RX12: their “GS carver”. 70mm underfoot, 1 sheet of .8mm thick titanium, 1 sheet of .5mm titanium, ash and fir core. I have yet to ski it, but have a pair at the shop, and will report back. I expect it to be very good.
Kastle MX78: 78mm underfoot, same construction (dual titanial, ash/silver fir wood core, phenol sidewalls) of the MX70. I have a bunch of time on this ski: It was my everyday ski for a couple of months last year, in a low-snow year where the wide skis didn’t get much use. Time on some boilerplate at WP pretty much validated my observations: If I could only have 1 ski and lived in a place it where it didn’t snow too much (like back East); this would be the ski. First off, it rips hard snow: the only ski close to 80mm that really can really “hold the jock strap” of a race room ski. Sure, edgehold isn’t quite as good, but it equals or beats 90% of the race-derived 70mm skis out there. Maybe it is the laterally stiff nature of the ski, or the super hard phenol sidewalls, or the top-quality steel in the edges. If you are a good skier, you can make this thing sing on hard snow. As someone once said of a sketchy 5.12 R/X climb around here, it bites harder than Jack Nicholson. Totally GS in feel: huge sweet spot, stable at ANY speed, perfect flex for a strong, aggressive, yet not burly skier. In bumps, this was the best ski I tried in 2 days of demoing. I might rate a couple of softer Heads and K2’s as equal, but they were nowhere near as good on the rest of the mountain. I was just learning to ski the zipper line at the time, and 1st run on the MX78, I was able to ski the long bump run (I think it was Derailer) with only 1 stop. There wasn’t much new snow at WP that day, but I have skied it in 6-8 inches of new plenty of times, including at the 2nd demo show we did at Alpine Meadows (they were my own pair, though). We hiked the NW ridge and dropped in to around 8 inches of really nice snow over at Idiot’s Delight and South Beaver, and the MX78 blasted through everything, with total confidence. Float was as you would expect for a 78mm ski: not great, but workable, and really, how much float do you need in 8” of snow? It also did very well on the big bumps and steeps over toward Keyhole and Scott Chute. Also, did I mention how stable the MX78 is? There is absolutely no real-world speed limit on it, at least not without losing your ticket. Think “consumer race GS”.
The MX78 is all about skiing as fast and aggressively as you can, and knowing it will hold up for you in any condition. Still the best all-around frontside ride I have used. Worth every penny, IMO. 168cm is a hoot of a carver, and very forgiving for me.
Kastle MX70: similar construction to the MX78, but only 70mm underfoot. Tested in 176cm.
This is a slightly narrower version of one of my everyday skis, the outstanding MX78. Not much to add to my review of that ski: it skis a bit narrower, is a touch grippier on hard snow, but really pretty similar. It is a powerhouse, with no speed limit in 176cm. Feels like a “rec” GS but with versatility, and forgiveness. Can go anywhere, do pretty much anything, save for deep snow. Big sweet spot for what it is. Quicker onto edge. It really releases and engages smoother than a full race ski, so it is slightly detuned in that sense, but when you do hook up, the ski just seems to accelerate forward. Such a powerful ride. This is a ski to get max vertical in on a weekday. Good in bumps, somehow more forgiving than the MX78, considering it it is basically the same ski. This ski is made for frontside, on-piste skiing for good to expert skiers, and for those who want a bit lower key ski, but aren't looking at the LX series (which is great if you are more of an advanced intermediate to solid advanced skier, but aren't setting speed records on the hill).
Nordica Spitfire Pro EDT: not sure the history on this ski: it a stiff, powerful frontside carver, 72mm underfoot, tested in 170cm, with a 14m radius.
Review: I knew very little about this ski, but once on it, there was little doubt that it was a full-on carver and a close relative to a race slalom. It was perhaps the most powerful non-race ski tested here. The flex was stiff, unforgiving, and quite demanding. This ski wanted to be on edge, had plenty of energy, and couldn't relax. It was powerful on the cruddy groomer I was skiing. The run before, I had been on the Laser SC from Stockli, which was quite a bit more chill. The Spitfire was as the name implies: a fire-breathing monster it could be easily confused for. Actually, I really never did catch up to it! Also, I did a bump run on the Spitfire, and it was less than forgiving. The sweet spot was tiny. On a positive note, the ski was energetic, stiff, had no top end, and gave back what I put into it. A real skiers' ski. Could have been a little more laid back, but as I don't weigh much, I suspect this is a ski built for heavier guys. I was a big fan of the old Mach 3 Power, and this ski was much more energetic, less relaxing, and more of a pure carver. Best kept on groomers.
Fischer Progressor 10+: new ski for 2011, has similar construction to the Motive 84; wood core, laminate layer of carbon, 73mm waist, shorter turn radius than the 9+, which is a bit detuned version of the WC RC. Also features the new adjustable flowflex plate. Tested in 170cm.
Review: sweet ski, very responsive, much quicker than the 9+. It rips, and is definitely a fall-line machine. Somewhat due to the radius, but also due to the bit softer flex, higher energy, and lighter weight of the ski. Plenty of stability, likes smaller to medium radius arcs. Like the Motive, it is moderate in flex, but skis with plenty of energy, rebound, and aggressiveness, all without being overly stiff, demanding, or GS-y. Good in bumps, mixed conditions: pretty much anything you can throw at it, that doesn't require a ski with a lot of float. The 170cm is the fun length, the 175cm the barn burner length. This is one of the most versatile frontside skis around, and a great compliment to anyone's quiver. Very unique in feel, in that it is light on the snow, yet has plenty of edge hold and hooks up powerfully.
Dynastar 4x4: unchanged for 2011. Superb 75mm waisted frontside carver, 172cm length, 15m radius, dual laminate construction.
This ski has been well-reviewed, and nothing has really changed on it. The 4x4 is a powerhouse, and skis close to how a wide race ski performs. Very locked-in feel to it: damp, powerful, fairly stiff, no real speed limit. I don't think it is quite as good in bumps as some of the less-aggressive skis: it is quite stiff, and very ski-able, but not the best here. It loves bigger radius arcs, even though it has a moderate radius sidecut, and feels nearly like a cheater GS on the snow. This ski knows no top end, and likes to run. One of the most fun skis on the market; if you want to feel like a superhero on groomers, this is a great choice. Ski it shorter than you would some skis: it feels like a bear in the 178cm length for me. This isn't a high-energy ski, so if you go too long, you lose what pop out of the turn you did have. Not quite as aggressive to hook up as the Progressor 10+, but once there, it really takes off.
Dynastar Speed Course ti: new ski from Dynastar, basically their all-around race carver for 2011. Skied in 178cm, and it has a 71mm waist or so.
This ski was a joy. It was somehow less demanding than the 4x4, but quite GS oriented. Whereas the 4x4 was snappy and powerful, this ski was just smooth, damp, extremely stable, and had a cadillac ride. Speed limit was off the charts, but the Course ti had an ease about it that is hard to explain. Mainly, it was a huge sweet spot that allowed me to go anywhere on this ski. It was not that aggressive hooking up or exiting: very smooth and predictable. Overall feel was that of a luxury sedan with a monster engine. I wanted to buy one on the spot, as a general frontside, go fast ski. It was a whole lot of fun. Classic Dynastar in feel: this is how their race skis feel, although they tend to be more demanding and less fun. Another highly recommended ski, although hard to get.
Head Peak 78: new ski, updated for 2011. Mainly the same shape, but much, much softer in the tip. The metal is now gone from this ski, and it has a pseudo-rocker tip instead. Tested in 177cm, waist is 78mm.
This ski has been dumbed-down, for better or worse. If you loved the old iM78, you won't love this ski. Too soft for aggressive skiing: the 177cm felt like a 170cm at best. The ski really loads up poorly, as the flex point just gives away the tip of the ski, and it skis short. It was pretty fun as a short-turn carver, but there are more powerful, more stable skis in that category than this one. As an all-mountain ski, it did quite well in crud, as long as the speed limit is low. Same for bumps: this is a very good bump ski, owing to the soft tip and soft overall flex. I can see how it would be a confidence builder for many when 1st venturing off-piste, or for those who like to cruise the groomed with mid-energy. It is comparable to the K2 Ricktor, in that it has tip rocker and a softer overall flex, skis short, and is extremely forgiving. But, it isn't really an expert-level ski. That doesn't mean it is a bad ski, it just puts it more in the range of something like a Sultan 80 from Dynastar, and takes it out of the Kastle MX78 performance range.
Head Supershape i-Titan: new 78mm ski, somewhat replaces the Peak 78. Tested in 170 and 177cm.
This ski more or less takes the 78mm Peak slot, although it isn't the same ski. It felt like 2 different skis in the 170cm vs. 177cm. I first skied the 170cm at Winter Park, in some softer bumps, and off-piste (up to 6” of new wind-blown snow), and frankly, it ripped. Not the most stable ski in the world, but stable enough for all but the highest speeds, and super quick, fun, energetic, and forgiving. It was extremely fun in zipper-line bumps, smooth snow, crud, whatever I threw at it. I had forgotten how much fun off-piste skiing could be on a short, snappy ski: this ski would literally bounce you from turn to turn in the crud. On really hard snow, edgehold was somewhat lacking: it isn't the stiffest ski laterally, but seemed stable enough. It was just one of those skis that you never want to exit the fall line with. Great ski!
In 177cm, it became a lot of ski, and found a GS character that was very stout. I didn't like it as much in that length. It was more of a handful in bumps, extremely stable, but kind of burly. There is some video of me on the ski at Alpine in bigger, soft steep bumps. It also lost much of it's fun energy, and became more of a 2x4 in feel. I was much less impressed in the long length, so if you look at this ski (it deserves a look for a frontside machine) then be sure to go under head height. Ski it short, harness all of that mid-flex energy, and feel like you are driving a little 2-seater sports car. Highly recommended, a blast to ski!