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2019 ski buyer’s guide

For the past nine years, the Mountain ski test crew has ascended on Snowbird, Utah, to test a few hundred pairs of the next season’s premium skis on Utah’s famed (500 inches a year!) snowpack. Only the top skis from each category make the pages of the magazine—earning Swami’s official endorsement. Start your shopping here

Völkl Secret | Dimensions: 130/92/113 | $825

Most brands slap flowers on a unisex ski and call it women’s specific. Völkl built the Secret from the ground up. First, there’s the silhouette: where the Best in Test-winning Mantra is 96 millimeters at the waist, its sister ski, the Secret, is 92. That’s because, in general, women are lighter than men, so they don’t need as much width to float in powder. Other than the width and the flex—also tailored—the Secret features Völkl’s new Titanal Frame construction that strips weight without sacrificing stability. Our women testers couldn’t stop raving about the on-hill performance. “It’s powerful enough to bite into the hardest snow, but you can back off the gas and ski them easy, too,” said a former instructor who tends not to back off. Swami Gripe: No complaints from the women’s test team. Swami Like: The 16-meter turn radius in the 163 is about as versatile as it gets. “Zesty from the first turn,” said a tester. “Skied with energy on all terrain.”


2.) Elan RipStick 94 W | Dimensions: 134/94/110 | $750

The test cards were full of accolades for these Elans, but the pairing of “smooth” with “stable” was the most common. “Elans ski like nothing else on the market,” said a tester. “They’re silky and easy at the same time that they’re edgy and dynamic. You can switch gears at will.” That unique ride quality is tied to Elan’s unique construction. Set off in Slovenia, they pursue their own technology. For starters, the skis are asymmetric in four dimensions with more rocker on the outside edges and more camber and edge contact inboard. The wood cores are also reinforced with pencil thin carbon cylinders to boost energy return when you really drive the ski. Swami Gripe: You can’t switch skis when the inside edges get dull. Swami Like: “They cut pure arcs like they’re on autopilot,” said a tester.


3.) Rossignol Experience 88 TI W | Dimensions: 126/84/116 | $750

The Experience line has always tested well with our women, but the skis were in need of some updating. The old footprint featured a tad too much sidecut in the tip and tail, making it tougher to navigate crusted snow or bumps. And in general, the skis needed to get stouter up at the apex of the turn where they felt a little light. The new experience fixed both flaws. Tip taper makes for easier tracking off groomed snow. And a new vertical rail embedded in the spine of the ski stops counterflexing at the apex of the turn, boosting edgehold. Swami Gripe: It’s a bit narrow for a western all mountain ski. But perfect for the East Coast or Summit County, Colorado. Swami Like: “The more you push them, the more they perform,” said a tester, “but you can relax and slide them around, too.”


4.) Salomon QST Lumen 99 |  Dimensions: 134/99/116 | $725

Our beef with the old Lumen? On edge they held great for such lightweight skis, but they weren’t damp enough when straight running. Salomon addressed that in the updated version for this winter. But they didn’t just add a layer of metal, instead incorporating flax into the woven fiber above the core, and basalt beneath it. Both materials act like metal in terms of gobbling vibration without weighing down the ski. “Noticeable improvement in stability,” said a tester. “They’re damp, but still quick in tight places.” Swami Gripe: Some testers wanted more sidecut for arcing turns on groomers. The 19-meter turn radius is best suited for off-trail skiing. Swami Like: You can always just rip bigger turns on machined snow now that the stability is there.


5.) Blizzard Sheeva 9 | Dimensions: 124/92/114 | $660

New last winter, the Sheeva injected playfulness into Blizzard’s historically hard-charging lineup. Not that you can’t charge on it. To make the Sheeva surf, Blizzard milled the titanal sheet in the ski with taper so that the tip and tails could twist and release when you need to smear the ski. But the metal stretches to full width underfoot and fore and aft the binding for power: It’s a shapeshifter. Off trail, it pivots and surfs. On trail, it hooks up and holds on. There’s also a big sweet spot to stand on: “No matter the terrain you feel balanced and centered,” said a woman tester. Swami Gripe: Not much of a gripe, but the Sheeva won’t accommodate beginners. Swami Like: One of the best on-trail/off-trail skis we’ve ever tested.


6.) Head Great Joy | Dimensions: 141/98/124 | $750

Head was at the forefront of the superlight construction movement for women. But in this Austrian brand’s take, lightweight doesn’t mean nervous. On trail, the Great Joys rail medium length (14-meter) turns on hardpack with hardly a twitch let alone sustained chatter. Off trail they pop to the surface and release from turns without more than a nudge. They’re also rich in technology. It was with the Joy line that Head first introduced Graphene, what they call the world lightest and strongest material, to reduce the metal in their skis. “They’re light, but damp and super accessible to a lot of skiing styles,” said a tester. Swami Gripe: Bigger skiers might find the Great Joy too lightweight. Swami Like: In relation to their body weight, most women have been on gear that’s heavier than what men run. The Great Joy fixes that.


7.) Dynastar Legend W | Dimensions: 132/96/112 | $750

The Legend didn’t win this competitive category, but it still might be the most versatile ski our women tested. That’s by design. Dynastar built the Legend to blur the lines between freeride and all mountain skiing. Meaning wild snow versus tame. Thanks to Powerdrive in the sidewalls—it lets the materials move against one another, cutting edge chatter—the edgehold is best in class. But the ample tip and tail taper let you surf them around off trail without feeling like you’re on a race ski. Swami Gripe: They could go a tad lighter. Swami Like: “Predictable, playful, and smeary in the alpine. But bomber on-edge stability down on the groomers,” said a tester.


8.) Atomic Vantage 97 W | Dimensions: 128.5/97/117.5 | $600

One of the leaders of the lightweight movement, in the new Vantage 97 W line Atomic has again built powerful, energized skis that weigh less. To do it, they devised a new construction method called “Prolite” that tops a wood core in a miracle weave of fibers called Carbon Tank Mesh—it reinforces the ski without weighing it down unnecessarily. On the hill that translates to a silky ride with deceivingly powerful edgehold so you don’t have to muscle the Vantage W to perform. “They’re lightweight, which saves energy,” said a woman tester from our Snowbird venue, “but they’re also crisp, solid, and bomber, with limitless top end stability.” Swami Gripe: It takes a few runs to get used to lightweight gear that rips. Swami Like: We’d ski the 97 width daily in the Mountain West. East Coasters might like the new 90 TI version that features a sidecut better tuned for hard snow in a ski that’s beefed up further with titanium in the Tank Mesh. 


9.) Nordica Santa Ana 100 |  Dimensions: 131/100/121 $799 

With a blunt-nosed tip and titanium reinforcements, on paper, the Santa Ana sounds rugged as hell. But while it’s stable as all get out and floats as well as any ski in the class, it’s actually super maneuverable. Credit goes in part to the balsa wood core for the weight savings. But the Santa Ana skis the way it does because of its footprint. Ample rocker helps you choose to push through the tail or butter it.  Swami Gripe: Lighterweight testers found the longer lengths a handful. Swami Like: “Look here if you charge off trail in deep snow most of the time,” said a tester. “But they transition from groomers to bowls without much steering.” 


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