Arm yourself with knowledge and you’ll profit on the slopes.
It’s no surprise that value is a top trend in gear for 2009-10. Shops are competing for your business and offering incentives such as price matching, free tuning and even lift tickets if you purchase a pair of skis or a snowboard. If you choose to demo first, you can guarantee a perfect match—and many shops will take off the rental price from your purchase.
This guide provides you with informative reviews on 28 pairs of skis in four categories, and also lists the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for each model. Expect to pay 10-30 percent less than the prices listed, depending on the shop location, time of year and brand. Popular, sought-after models may be less discounted, and since they are made in limited quantities, are best purchased early-season.
High-end ski technology—once reserved for race and elite models—has trickled down to more affordable gear. This movement is most apparent in the “Narrow and Nimble” category—containing skis that have a waist width of 82 mm and under—where manufacturers have invested heavily. “The frontside category is so underserved at this point that we're starting to see a resurgence of interest,” says Willy Booker, Nordica’s general manager. “People forget how much fun a ripping, frontside ski can be and how often it's the right tool for the job.”
Though the pace may be slowing, waists continue to grow. The “Wide and Versatile” category—with the most volume of ski models—houses skis that are between 82 and 90 mm. This mid-fat category’s popularity comes from its economy—a choice here can easily serve as your one-ski quiver. “Wide and Versatile” skis benefit from high-end construction and a dual personality that allows them to carve on corduroy and float in soft snow.
Powder enthusiasts need not worry about the slowing pace of waist widths: Skis in the “Plump and Powdery” category are big-girthed, with waists of 91 mm and above. Many of these models feature rocker, or reverse camber, originally inspired by waterski design. And in a reversal of the recent past, where the ski industry has borrowed inspiration from the snowboard world, rocker has greatly affected the way boards are designed. “Regardless of sliding preference, rocker works better in powder because it makes the ski or board more maneuverable,” says Geoff Curtis, Marker/Völkl’s vice president of marketing.
Whether you’re looking for a powerful carver, a versatile mid-fat, a rockered powder ski or a ski designed specifically for women, you can educate yourself with the following reviews so that you’ll feel confident in making a solid investment for a great time on the slopes.
NARROW AND NIMBLE
“Narrow” by today’s standard is still 15 to 25 percent wider than skis of a decade ago. With waist widths of 82 mm and under, these are classified as carving skis—they live up to their name on cruisers like Beaver Creek’s Peregrine and are also adept in bumps. They have another talent: versatility. With waists wide enough to handle more than just groomed runs, these skis bring a new freedom to explore the whole mountain—without sacrificing the ability to turn with power and precision.
(Skis in all categories include bindings unless designated as “flat.”)
D2 VC 82 Black
Double deck may conjure images of the red two-tiered buses in London. But Atomic had a different vision: Two skis for the price of one. By combining a stabilizing upper deck with a soft, vibration-absorbing lower deck, and allowing the two decks to move freely thanks to elastomer pieces, the results is a smooth, flexible ski. VF, or Vario Flex, means the flex of the ski can change according to your speed: The faster you turn, the more dynamically the ski flexes to increase your acceleration.
Chances are you’ll share the hill with many pairs of Apache Recons. For good reason: The Recon has proven itself as an immensely popular, do-everything model, a one-ski quiver perfect for most days in the West. Forgiving in the bumps and able to blast through crud, the Recon can handle a variety of terrain and conditions. A 78 mm waist provides moderate float; combined with K2’s dampening MOD technology and reinforced with metal, the result is confidence-inspiring ski.
Speedmachine Mach 4 Power XBI CT
As the Secretariat of the ski world, the Speedmachine Mach 4 Power was bred for speed. The X Balance Integrated System creates a round flex curve that gives the ski precise edge grip from tip to tail—and performs like a thoroughbred accelerating out of turns. Nordica’s Elliptical sidecut shape, with a lean 74 mm waist and stout shovel, helps to initiate turns quickly and the tail responds with a snappy rebound.
Classic 80 Ti
The Classic 80 Ti holds court in Rossignol’s Classic family, and it has longevity for a reason—it rocks. It combines the precision of a high-performance carving ski with freeride attributes. With a World Cup sandwich construction, wood core and oversize technology, this ski rewards aggressive, big powerful turns. It excels on the frontside, but its 80 mm waist provides enough of a platform to handle backside conditions.
X-Wing Tornado Ti
The Tornado Ti shares DNA with its sibling in the X-Wing series, the Fury. Both have a full woodcore reinforced with two layers of titanium, producing the kind of joie de vivre you get when accelerating out of a turn in a powerful car. The Tornado, suited for frontside conditions, inherently has more turn variety due to its 78 mm waist width. The Oversize pluspad absorbs shock and vibration for a smooth ride down cruisers like Keystone’s Frenchman.
Tigershark 11 Foot Power Switch
Hang on to your hat or helmet—this Tigershark eats corduroy for breakfast. With unrivaled edge grip and two speed settings, the only trace you’ll leave is a trench in the snow. Retooled from last year’s 12 foot model, Völkl adds a versatile 75 mm waist along with breakthrough binding technology from Marker with its wider SpeedRide system, which maximizes performance.
WIDE AND VERSATILE
The Wide and Versatile category is like Neapolitan ice cream: you can have it all in just one scoop. The waist widths—between 82 mm and 90 mm—are wide enough for flotation in soft snow but, not so wide that they inhibit edging. This popular category is teeming with top-notch models. If you want one ski to conquer cruisers like Heavenly’s Big Dipper or the ungroomed snow found in Vail’s China Bowl, this is your sweet spot. Yes, you can have your cake with ice cream—and eat it too.
Legend Sultan 85
126-85-110, $760 (flat)
The historical definition of Sultan is strength and power, qualities the new Legend Sultan 85 embodies. A versatile 85 mm waist allows the ski to float through soft snow in Breck’s Lake Chutes and the vertical tip-to-tail sidewalls help it carve down Peak 10’s Cimarron. The hefty core blends wood and titanal but lightens where it counts with 3D technology: The core is milled in the ski’s center to reduce weight.
128-88-113, $1,180 (flat)
When extreme-skiing champ Chris Davenport wants to rip up corduroy on Beaver Creek’s Birds of Prey, the MX88 goes with him. If it’s not epic powder, Davenport prefers its World Cup GS-feel, a result of the ski-racing heritage of the Kästle brand. But old school meets new school with the MX88’s generous sidecut, which creates good flotation for venturing into Stone Creek Chutes. Davenport calls it “a freeride ski with the stability, power and finesse of a race model.”
If the Xplorer’s profile was on Match.com, it might just be the perfect ski date. Aptly named for its adventurous, hard-charging spirit, this all-mountain ski has a sweet spot as big as X-Man Hugh Jackman’s biceps. The titanium placed above and below the fir/ aspen wood core creates a strong, stable feel. But the Xplorer has a softer side, too: Its cap construction lessens weight and the MOD technology damping system absorbs unwanted vibrations.
HR Pro Helldiver CA XBI CT
Whether you’re diving into Heavenly’s Mott Canyon or Keystone’s Indy Bowl, the Helldiver will be your wingman. Known for its razor-sharp response on hard-packed groomers, the powerful combination of a sandwich construction and XBi (X Balance Integrated System) make the Helldiver a frontside warrior and your companion for aggressive, powerful skiing. A brawny 90 mm waist combined with a substantial tip and tail enhances its versatility in crud, bumps and powder.
X-Wing Tornado Fury
If you appreciate a ski that produces energy out of the turn, you know that rebound isn’t only a basketball term. The quick, responsive Fury enters and exits turns with exuberance. It’s stable at speed, thanks to a wood core and a double layer of titanium. The 3D Stealth Tip creates smooth turn transitions by allowing the ski to roll over terrain changes. The Fury’s 85 mm waist provides greater flotation in a variety of conditions than its narrower brother, the Tornado Ti.
Think of the AC30 and the wider AC50 as brothers: The 30 got the brains while the 50 got the brawn. Both share a similar core construction except for titanium, but lacking metal does not mean the AC30 falls short in performance; it’s maneuverable in all types of terrain and snow conditions. The Motion iPT Wide Ride interface, developed specifically for skis 80 mm and wider, makes the ski feel nimble for its waist width and rewards finesse over sheer power.
PLUMP AND POWDERY
Powder skis are like body builders: Gaining size enhances performance. But in the past, fat skis were one-dimensional—good for deep snow only. This season, technology makes these models more user-friendly. Some have titanium for torsional rigidity, helpful for high-speed frontside turns, while others have rockered tips designed to float effortlessly in champagne powder. Whether you like your powder with adrenaline in the steeps off of Breck’s Falcon SuperChair, or wide-open like the shots in Keystone’s South Bowl, there’s a ski here for you.
Nomad Savage Ti
Daron Rahlves skis the Savage Ti in Vail’s Back Bowls as well as on a race course. Though not as quick in gates as its narrower brother, the Nomad Crimson Ti, the Savage Ti shines brighter off the groomers. A wood core and two layers of titanium give it the gusto to perform for a former World Cup champion, but Atomic’s Torsion Flex Control technology lends it a friendly personality. Rahlves calls it “a sweet, floaty ride that adjusts to lots of conditions.”
Titan Atlas IQ Max
130-94-116, $800 (flat, with Slider)
The acclaimed new Titan Atlas—designed and manufactured in ski-impassioned Austria—gives aggressive, all-mountain skiers something to be excited about—no matter your nationality. A metal sandwich wood core gives the ski an unyielding feel as it bursts through crud and soft snow. The Titan Atlas comes with Blizzard’s new Slider plate, which slides into the skis’ IQ channels and can accommodate any binding from any manufacturer—including alpine touring and telemark bindings.
132-98-117, $1,230 (flat)
Kästle’s clean, white design echoes this newly relaunched ski company’s philosophy: The important thing is what is—or isn’t—underneath the topsheet. With Hollowtech technology, Kästle mills out the tip of each ski to trim down weight by 20 percent, which reduces vibration and creates a soft tip that feels smooth entering the turn. At 98 mm underfoot, the MX98 floats on top of powder, but has enough torsional rigidity to handle big, fast, frontside turns.
135-98-125, $899 (flat)
The Enforcer behaves like a linebacker doubling as a ballroom dancer. A strong and durable wood core creates stability at speed and gives the burly Enforcer the ability to handle the hardpack like its narrower teammates. But its curvaceous shape and wide waist (98 mm), specifically designed for floatation, lend a nimble and light feeling in soft snow. Powderhounds looking for an even wider platform than the Enforcer will find a deep snow dance partner with the Girish (139-110-129).
126-97-116, $875 (flat)
“If I had room for only one pair of skis to travel the planet, the Shogun would be my tool of choice,” says Chris Anthony, the Warren Miller film star and Vail local. The twin-tip Shogun was designed for powder: It has 350 mm of rocker in the tip, which creates instant flotation in soft snow. But the rest of the ski behaves like a mid-fat. A bamboo and basalt layer reinforces the full wood core to create a unique, lightweight feel—without sacrificing power and stability.
133-96-116, $825 (flat)
What do you get when you cross a wide ski with Völkl’s renowned edge grip? You get the Mantra—a versatile, all-mountain ski with a cult-like following. The Mantra’s popularity comes from its performance in powder, its stability in crud and its ability to make solid turns on the frontside. A wood and titanium core gives it grit, but its ample shape favors flotation. Got more powder? The redesigned Gotama, at 106 mm underfoot, has rocker for skiers who need a little more flotation in the fluff.
Female-specific performance unleashes a new version of women’s lib.
Call it serendipity, but those who convert to women’s-specific skis often feel as if they’ve been given a gift. The difference between unisex and women’s models is immediately apparent because the latter work in concert with women’s physiological makeup—not against it. Women’s skis represent a significant share of the overall market, and manufacturers have invested resources to provide technology that truly pinpoints these unique anatomical needs.
“Women need skis that perform at a high level, providing good edge grip and control, yet are lighter weight and easier to handle than the comparable unisex models,” says Jed Duke, Blizzard division manager. “It’s also important for women to have the correct standing position on their skis, to compensate for the smaller average foot size and also to provide the most balance.”
Manufacturers start with high-end technologies—full sidewalls, sandwich constructions and wood cores--and then tailor them to meet women’s needs. For example, they may use softer and lighter materials in the core such as bamboo or balsa wood to make the ski easier to flex and get on edge. Other elements include super-shaped sidecuts, systems and bindings that work in harmony with the ski, and different ramp angles. The result: high-performance, versatile, user-friendly skis with a female flair.
Of the 10 skis listed here, the waist widths vary by 30 mm (just over one inch)—from a quick-turning 67 mm to a fat and floaty 97 mm. To determine the right waist for you, consider where you ski the most: If you enjoy arcing down frontside runs such as Vail’s Simba, consider a ski with a waist of 82 mm or lower. If you spend half of your time on the front side and half exploring the glades on Beaver Creek’s Grouse Mountain or Heavenly’s Powder Bowl Woods, choose a ski with a waist between 82–90 mm. If you’re shopping for powder planks to surf through California or Colorado fluff, look for a ski with a waist over 90 mm.
Viva 7.6 IQ
Just as Rachel Ray inspires confidence in the kitchen, the Viva 7.6 IQ does the same for the slopes. This quick-turning pistol behaves like a slalom ski as it snaps down runs like Vail’s Avanti. The recipe? A wood-core and sidewall construction increase edge grip and render it smooth and stable on groomers and light snow. The flexible IQ System, which attaches to rails and is fixed by one central screw, allows you to work up an appetite instead of tiring out.
Exclusive Legend Eden
Fans of the Exclusive Legend Powder will love the Eden’s wider tip and tail (same versatile waist width), which eases the ski in and out of turns in various terrain—a trait useful for Vail Resorts’ diverse topography. The vertical sidewall construction, wood core and two layers of titanal make the Eden perform like a serpent—but the elements in the Exclusive line (lighter weight construction for easy flex, forward stance for better control and raised heel for better balance) turn her into Eve.
128-88-108, $700 (flat)
The Free Spice, Elan’s flagship in its Free Series, fits the profile of a Western resort—expansive, fun and beautiful. An 88 mm waist width allows for plenty of flotation but also the ability to negotiate variable conditions found in the bowls or trees. And a full wood core and sidewall construction give it a powerful personality for aggressive skiers seeking good edge grip on the groomers. Bonus: the Gustav Klimt-inspired graphics will invoke lively chairlift conversation.
Koa means “joyful” in the Maori language, a theme that Fischer has embraced for its freeride line. Similar to the pioneering unisex Watea 84, but with a softer flex and lighter poplar-based wood core built for women, the Koa 84 is a mid-fat ski for adventurous advanced to expert skiers. An 84 mm waist and wide tip makes it versatile in crud, bumps and soft snow. I-Beam technology—two carbon fiber I-Beams embedded into the wood—creates stability in different snow conditions.
T:Nine Lotta Luv
The Lotta Luv has undergone reconstructive surgery. In the ski world, this translates into more curves via a wider waist, tip and tail. The addition of the women’s-specific ERS (Energy Response System) helps the ski perform in both groomed and ungroomed snow. The width also grew on K2’s full integrated binding system, making it easier and quicker to get the Lotta Luv on edge. The binding itself sheds an entire pound, helping the ski to feel light and lively on the snow.
In a world of widening waist widths, the Perfect One measures in at a slim 67 mm. According to Lisa Densmore, a member of Head’s international women’s design team, this fun and stable ski makes smooth, elegant turns and enjoys high speeds. Fueled by Head’s new Torque Turning Technology, which cuts out chatter on firm snow and allows easy turn initiation, the Perfect One is a corduroy queen. The Power One—with a similarly sleek silhouette—favors aggressive skiers.
Conquer Xbi CT
Nordicas tend to perform as smoothly and powerfully as products from another Italian company, Ferrari. The high performance is created, in part, by a stability enhancing sandwich construction and vertical sidewalls. Nordica’s X Balance Integrated System offers a smooth flex and tip-to-tail edge hold. The Victory, at a slightly narrower waist (78 mm), offers a quicker turn radius and a bit less versatility without compromising performance.
120-92-115, $550 (flat)
The technology in the light yet powerful BC90 takes a nod from the textile industry: A fiberglass weave runs up the ski, which reduces weight at the tip and tail without sacrificing integrity. The BC90 has an ample waist width for navigating the Back Bowls, but if you pray for big dumps you may appreciate the Voodoo Pro BC110, designed with help from professional skier Lindsey Dyer. It has rocker in the tip and tail but traditional camber underfoot.
126-97-116, $875 (flat)
At nearly 100 mm wide underfoot, flotation in powder is the Geisha’s calling card. Like her male counterpart, the Shogun, the Geisha has 350 mm of rocker in her twin tips. Translation: There’s reverse camber in the tip so that it buoys the ski on powder the way a boat planes on water. The rest of the ski has traditional camber—plus a bamboo and basalt reinforced wood core to create stability and power on hardpacked snow.
Tierra with eMotion 11.0
Völkl’s innovative new Bio-Logic technology improves performance while reducing fatigue and stress on women’s knees. As the flagship ski in the Bio-Logic collection, the versatile Tierra offers all the benefits of Völkl’s investment: the Bio-Logic stance—developed with Marker—puts skiers in a neutral, balanced stance which protects knees; the Bio-Logic sidecut is narrower in the tail for an easy turn exit and less load on the knees; and the Bio-Logic Flex makes the ski easy to handle.