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Mar

7

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 M5 Mantra | Dimensions: 134/96/117 | $825

How do you freshen up a ski that’s been in the line for 12 years and undergone four redesigns? You blow it up. That’s what Völkl’s German engineers did with the brand-new M5. Not only did they succeed on that front, they built the best new ski of the year. With the M5, Völkl brought back underfoot camber for better glide and rebound, decreased the width (from 100 to 96 mm) for easier edging, and deepened the sidecut to make for a more dynamic ride on hard snow. Völkl is famous for stable wood cores sandwiched between two sheets of titanium alloy, but the resulting skis tended to be pretty heavy. To keep the confident ride quality while stripping away grams, Völkl developed what it calls Titanal Frame, where the metal reinforces only parts of the perimeter of the ski, shedding weight from the center. On the hill in Snowbird, Utah, we found the M5 to be the most versatile ski of the test. It’s damp, but lively. It floats in resort powder, but carves like a frontside ski. Swami Gripe: Our bigger skiers with race backgrounds wanted just a touch more oomph. Swami Like: It transitions from groomers to bowls seamlessly. “It’s lightweight and precise at the same time,” said a tester. “I expected it to carve well, but I was surprised by how well it runs off trail.”  

 

2.) Rossignol Experience 94 TI | Dimensions: 132/94/122 | $800

Say hello to perhaps the most versatile all mountain ski for western mountains ever built. At 94mm underfoot, the Experience 94 TI is fat enough for most storm days; the newIy-reshaped tip and tail make for easier turn initiation and a loose feel off trail, and a design element straight from the World Cup powers up the new Experience on hard snow. A central rail—it’s a vertical strip of metal called Line Control Technology—both steadies the ski on edge and boosts stability by limiting counter flexing. The effect is enhanced by new vibration dampers in the modified Air Tip. Swami Gripe: The old ski was a bit more carving centric if that was your thing. Swami Like: “Extremely playful and loaded with energy,” said a tester. “It begs to be pushed hard on trail or off.” 

 

3.) Blizzard Bonafide | Dimensions: 135/98/119 | $840

The Bonafide is no wimp: It’s for fast, aggressive skiers who like unflappable stability. The fine print says “double ti” for the two sheets of titanal inside. “If you’re a chunk of unruly snow, the Bonafide is a cruel steamroller,” said a tester. Updates brought a bit more sidecut than last year to make it more of an all mountain ski. But it still rips like mad off trail. Swami Gripe: Even with the increased sidecut, buyer beware: You need to be big or fast or both to get the Bonafide to behave. Swami Like: Beyond the stability, we found class-leading edge penetration and enough float for all but the deepest inbounds days. It’s a daily driver out West. “It’s both stout as hell and an easy round turn carver,” said a bigger tester. “You can go full tilt off trail or on.” 

 

4.) Kästle MX 99 | Dimensions: 135/99/120 | $1,400

Kästle’s new MX 99 doesn’t feature the world’s most radical shape or the latest super fibers, but it was one of the stars of our Snowbird tests. Credit goes to the build quality—unmatched in the market. But a handbuilt ski complete with silver fir and beech, two sheets of titanium alloy, and one layer of carbon, doesn’t come cheap. The return on that investment is that Kästles ski better than most brands, and they last longer too. Built for carving turns on and off trail, look here if you like to lay a ski way over on edge or just cruise at speed. “Nimble yet stable,” said a tester. Swami Gripe: The price. Swami Like: “Super easy to initiate and then rail turns,” said a tester. “Even at nearly 100mm underfoot, you can have fun on groomers all day.” 

 

5.) Fischer Ranger 98 TI | Dimensions: 132/98/122 | $749

At 1,800 grams, the Ranger 98 TI was one of the lighterweight skis in the category—and it felt like it. The word “nimble” appeared on four test cards. We favored it for slinking around off trail—and that’s how Fischer markets it—but the 98 is deceivingly stable on edge too. That bit is key. On hardpack, you’ll want to keep this Ranger transitioning from edge to edge. When you run them straight on firm snow you notice the lack of mass. But to be fair, only the heaviest skiers in our test dinged them for that. If you’re under 180 pounds, they don’t buck. Swami Gripe: Could use a touch more energy return on groomers. Swami Like: “One of the best All Mountain skis in the test,” said a tester. “Tracks the fall line off trail, rails back on.”

 

6.) Elan Ripstick Black Edition | Dimensions: 134/96/113 | $900

The new Black Edition of the much loved Ripstick 96 features the same shape and silky ride, but it’s at least 20 percent more powered up. Credit goes to the carbon build, which adds energized rebound through the end of the turn. “It makes any turn shape at any speed,” said a tester. “The more you push it, the snappier it gets.” We’d be content wailing groomers all day every day, but the Ripstick Black Edition isn’t limited to on-trail skiing. It’s just as damp yet responsive off trail. “It’s like driving a Ferrari in the trees,” said a tester. Swami Gripe: Like many modern lightweight skis, you have to build trust in the straight line stability. Swami Like: “They love the carved turn,” said a tester. “But you can still scrub speed when you need to thanks to Elan’s rocker profile.”

 

7.) Head Kore 99 | Dimensions: 134/99/120 | $800

The Kore in the title stands for Koroyd, that lightweight honeycomb polymer you’ve seen. Here it lightens the ski substantially while eating vibration like metal—of which there isn’t any. Our testers favored it off trail where it behaved like a fatter powder ski. You can pivot and smear it at will, and the ski pops to the surface predictably. On trail, despite the claimed 17-meter turn radius, it’s stable and easy to push around, although it lacks a ton of energy in a railed turn. Swami Gripe: For an all mountain ski it favors off trail exploration more than groomers. Swami Like: “Off trail it was one of the most versatile skis I tried,” said a tester. “It’s lightweight, but powerful enough to bash through crud.” 

 

8.) Dynastar Legend  X 96 | Dimensions: 132/96/112 | $800

The first thing our testers noticed about the Powerdrive equipped Legend skis is how they track the terrain without chattering. That’s the shearing layer in the sidewalls at work, allowing you to apply power to the edges without getting bucked off line. Paired with a sturdy sandwich construction featuring a paulownia wood core backed by titanal and basalt fibers, the Legend offered best in class stability. On the hill, it just wanted to charge. “It’s easy to tap into the ski’s power,” said a tester. “The smooth ride is confidence inspiring; you can set it on edge at any speed.” Swami Gripe: On trail it could be just a touch more energized. Swami Like: Our testers from Alta ranked the Legend 96 highly—it excels off trail on wind-buffed alpine snow taken at speed. 

 

9.) Atomic Vantage 97 TI | Dimensions: 131/97/120 | $850

We thought the old Vantage line was about as light, silky, and powerful as ski construction could get. We were wrong. Atomic reinvented the Vantage line with a redesign from the ground up. The skis aren’t noticeably lighter, but instead trimmed down in size and powered up. Credit for that goes to the brand’s new Prolite construction which places a complicated weave of titanium and carbon in key spots. “This ski does it all,” said a tester. “Super lively edge-to-edge, but you can easily pull it out of a carve and smear it at will.” Swami Gripe: It can sound hollow on certain snow types. Swami Like: Best in class balance of stability and weight savings. “It rails on freshly tilled corduroy, but it’s just at home on chalky steep snow in the alpine,” said a tester.

 

10.) Nordica Enforcer 100 | Dimensions: 133/100/121 | $799

Our testers were of mixed minds on the Enforcer 100. Some thought it wanted to rip their legs off, others found it balanced and playful. One thing was clear though, it’s a damp and powerful ski. The key to making it work is a modern upright stance that lets you settle into the balanced flex while still getting energy return from the rockered tail. Ski it too far forward and you miss out. It makes a fun GS turn on groomers, but the Enforcer really stands out on weird alpine snow where it refuses to get thrown off course. Two sheets of titanium and a no bullshit construction have a lot to do with that. Swami Gripe: It’s heavy. Swami Like: Once you have it dialed, the Enforcer is crazy versatile off trail. “You can pivot it in tight trees or send wide open faces in high speed arcs,” said a tester. 

 

11.) Salomon QST 99 | Dimensions: 138/99/120 | $725

If the Nordica Enforcer on this page is demanding, then the Salomon is playful. We liked it for exploring tight trees and navigating chutes. But it’s not skittish on edge either. Salomon beefed up the 99 by adding basalt to its mix of fibers. Titanium in key spots adds just the right amount of stability when you need to open them up. The ski is noticeably more damp as a result. It’s also easy to ski: loose when you need to pivot, edgy when you need it to hold. “An expert can run them at all speeds,” said a tester. “But they’re fun for a range of abilities. You don’t need to monitor them at all times.” Swami Gripe: Our bigger testers wanted more power and mass. Swami Like: Possibly the most fun ski in the test when the goal was tracking down fresh snow in tight places. 

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