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Jan

7

Women’s All Mountain

Without question the most versatile skis on the market.

 

1) Head Kore 93 W Dimensions: 130/91/113 | MSRP: $750

“Quiet,” “superb snow feel,” “strong underfoot,” and “clean turner” were just a few of the accolades our women’s test team lauded on the Kore 93 W. The words speak to the ski’s versatility”: it’s nimble and malleable off-trail, but super damp and stable back on. It makes big turns and pivots, too. Credit for all that lies with the materials inside: Kore is short for Koroyd, and in this case that honeycomb polymer is employed as a layer that both shaves weight and dampens the ride. But we also have to acknowledge the material that Head is now famous for employing: graphene, the lightest, thinnest, and strongest element known to mankind. It boosts feel for the snow and acts like heavier metals in its ability to quiet chatter and boost rebound—just without the weight penalty. On the hill, our testers raved about the Kore 93 W’s glued-to-the-snow edge grip at any speed. Swami Gripe: It can be so damp that it’s a little dead at times. Swami Like: The fix is to ski faster. “The more you push it, the more it boosts your confidence,” said a tester. 

 

 

2) Völkl Secret 92  | Dimensions: 130/92/113 | MSRP: $825

Carbon tips lighten the Secret’s swingweight without sacrificing front-end integrity for hard-chargers who like to drive the ski. Just enough tip and tail rocker make turn initiations a breeze and smearing your way through chopped powder less work and more play. Camber underfoot and a full wood core add to the pop. One of this Völkl’s ‘secret’ weapons though is an internal Titanal Frame—the same as the Mantra 102—that runs the perimeter of the ski, fortifying edge grip and strengthening flex to add turbo to your turns the more you hit the gas. That construction lets the Secret 92 hang on at high-speeds like an old-school race ski, while still offering the playfulness of modern gear. We had nary a negative, but… Swami Gripe: One tester thought the flex might be too burly for intermediates, and a couple of testers noticed a glassy sound and feel on hardpack, although it didn’t seem to affect the performance. Swami Like: Other testers thought that the “glassiness” (a brittle, almost hollow sensation) added to the ski’s crisp feel. “Delightful energy and easy to ski on hard or soft snow” was another rave review.  

 

3) Nordica Santa Ana 93 | Dimensions: 124/93/112 | MSRP: $750 

At 93millimeters underfoot, but with just enough tip and tail rocker, Nordica’s Santa Ana 93 looks to be built for everyday western skiing in places like Summit County, Colorado, Mammoth, and much of the Northern Rockies. That’s exactly what our testers found: “Crisp, precise, and hard-charging on groomers,” said our women’s test director, “but the tip and tail contour to the terrain off-trail instead of getting bucked off. You can transition from corduroy to packed powder off-trail all day.” Credit for that rests with the Santa Ana shape, which shares the blunt nose and All Mountain Rocker of the unisex Enforcer line. But the shaping wouldn’t matter much if Nordica didn’t put some guts into the ski. To do that without weighing it down they opted for a balsa wood core. But to keep it skiing like a Nordica, they backed up that lightweight wood with titanium alloy in their Energy 2 TI layup. Swami Gripe: It’s not as playful as some of the skis in the All Mountain test. Swami Like: “No speed limit,” said a tester. “It loves to be on edge.”  

 

4) Fischer My Ranger 96 TI | Dimensions: 128/95/120 | MSRP: $699

Our women testers thought the My Ranger 96 excelled at sweeping GS and super-G style turns on-trail and off. Makes sense: While it’s fairly slight at only 1,870 grams, the Ranger’s lightweight wood core equipped with air channels is backed by titanium alloy and carbon fiber. And the tail of the ski has enough guts to finish a turn with some oomph, adding to that directional stability. “You can feel the edge from tip-to-tail,” said a tester. “And there’s tons of edge bite.” (Thank you sidewall construction.) All that is true on-trail or off—as long as you’re charging the big wide open. Our testers thought the 96 was a little tough to handle at slower speeds in tight trees and bumps. Swami Gripe: “It might be too much ski for anybody that considers themselves less than advanced,” said an instructor, “but if you’re looking to hone your skills and ski faster, it won’t hold you back.” Swamil Like: The modest weight savings is a big benefit when you’re hiking with them on your shoulder, but it’s not as if you’re sacrificing power because of it.

 

5) Rossignol Black Ops 98 W  | Dimensions: Redacted. But 98mm underfoot. | MSRP: $800

Our women testers loved this hard-charging mystery ski that, until this season, was only available to shop employees and Rossignol athletes. What’s so special about it? Nothing really, if you’re more keen on state-of-the-art materials than you are on performance. The Black Ops is about as simple as ski construction gets, with a vertically laminated wood core backed by metal. Beyond that, we don’t know much about the Black Ops’ specs—Rossi redacted the details from the catalogue and the product managers failed to talk despite our nagging. On the hill it performed best when we brought it all the way up to speed and didn’t let off. The flex feels natural and there’s none of that skittishness we get with super lightweight skis. Any strong skier (physically) could handle it. The key is understanding how to tip and bend it into a turn as opposed to slarving. Swami Gripe: It can feel a little sleepy at slow speeds. Wake it up with the gas pedal.  Swami Like: “Once it’s hauling, it pivots and carves on-trail and off, but this is a strong expert’s ski,” said a tester. “It has tank-like stability.” 

 

6) Armada Trace 98 | Dimensions: 130/98/121 | MSRP: $825

We could have just as easily reviewed the new Trace 98 in our Crossover category—it’s designed for ripping real-world snow depths inbounds or out—but if you like to slash turns in the trees and spend more time off-trail than on, it’s a fun resort ski, too. Just know that this is a lightweight ski. In fact, at 1,360 grams it’s the lightest ski we tested this year. The only metal is there to help hold the binding in place. And the poplar core is only backed by a mesh of fiber. Look here if you value maneuverability over straight line stability, and find yourself hiking for bowl laps for much of the day. “Crazy forgiving and easy to pivot,” said a tester that typically skis 40 miles per hour. “But they’re surprisingly stable at moderate speeds. You can carve turns when you’re heading back down the frontside at the end of the day.” Swami Gripe: There’s a lot of rocker here for an all mountain ski. It’s built for off-piste. Swami Like: “Smear-a-licious,” said a lightweight tester. “You can navigate them through anything, but they hang on just fine in big turns, too.” 

 

7) Stöckli Storm Rider 95 | Dimensions: 131/95/123 | MSRP: $1,099

Yes, we wrote up the same Storm Rider 95 in the unisex category. It’s featured here as well because we allow manufacturers to enter unisex skis in the women’s test. The reasoning for that is simple: Many unisex skis perform exceedingy well for women skiers—especially those on the stronger end of the skiing sprectrum. Yes, they’re powerful wood and metal skis built with little thought to the cost, but unlike Stöckli’s of old, most advanced and expert women can handle them just fine. That is if they’re skiing at or above moderate speeds. “The Storm Riders are super glued to the snow,” said a strong and tall woman tester. Unsurprisingly, we ranked it as the most stable ski in the category. Swami Gripe: It’s not a playful ski for lightweights. “It will punish you for skiing in the backseat,” said a petite tester, in reference to the tails that want to finish the turn with power. Swami Like: Not all women are built the same nor do they ski the same. If you tend to charge on groomed snow on-trail and smooth packed powder off-trail, the Storm Rider could be your ticket. 

 

8) Elan Ripstick 94 W | Dimensions: 135/94/110 | MSRP: $750

One universal truth about Elans? They don’t ski like everything else on the market. That’s because Elan develops its own tech in Slovenia. And although the Ripstick 94 W is a wood core all mountain ski that conforms to industry norms with its tip/waist/tail dimensions, that’s where the similarities end. Elan calls the profile “Amphibio” which means that the rocker isn’t uniform, but instead rises up more on the outside edges and less on the inside. Meanwhile, the core of the ski is livened up by unique pencil-width carbon-fiber tubes that act like metal without the weight. On the hill all those features translate to skis that are silky and effortless to butter into turns, but come alive the more you push them. Swami Gripe: They’re soft for sure, but you only notice that when the tips flutter gently on hardpack. Swami Like: The Amphibio design lets you relax without worrying about catching that outside edge at the tip. That, plus the silky-damp ride quality makes for some smooth gliding. “Great balance of weight savings, a lively feel, and a stable ride,” said a tester that runs women’s camps. 

 

9) K2 Mindbender 98Ti Alliance | Dimensions: 134/98/120 | MSRP: $850

K2 designed this new Mindbender around what it calls a Titanal Y-Beam. It’s a sheet of titanium that’s milled out in a Y-shape in the shovel of the ski, reducing weight and easing turn initiation by softening the torsion of the tip and forebody just a nudge. It works: The common theme from our test crew was that the Mindbender is easy and forgiving to bend into a turn, but feels fully powered up as you power through the tail. “It loves big turns on or off-trail,” said a tester. “The tip just does what it’s told and sets up the turn beautifully.” It’s also damp at speed, as it features a wood core that includes aspen. “It tracks steady and true,” said a tester. For short turns, you’ll need to get more aggressive to bend the Mindbender into the claimed 15.6-meter turn radius (for the 168cm). Swami Gripe: Our faster skiers complained of tip chatter on hardpack. Swami Like: “The soft shovel really lets you work the off-trail terrain as opposed to having it work you,” said a Steamboat local.     

 

10) Atomic Vantage 97 C W | Dimensions: 128.5/97/117.5 | MSRP: $600

Built on Atomic’s Prolite platform that strips metal out of the ski in favor of fibers like carbon, the Vantage 97 was one of the lightest weight (1,600 grams) skis in the category. Not surprisingly, our testers praised it for its playfulness, light and lively feel, and quickness edge-to-edge. It was the most fall line oriented ski of the day. “They whip out short-swing turns with very little effort, and slink nicely through bumps,” said a tester. Those are the positives of shedding weight, but the key to making such lightweight skis perform at high speeds is to keep them on edge, allowing the ample torsional strength of the skis at the edges and the chatter absorbing qualities of Atomic’s Carbon Tanks Mesh to kick in. When you get a feel for them, they deliver an uncanny silky feel for such a lightweight ski. Swami Gripe: We like the lightweight movement too, but when you run the 97 flat—not actively engaging the edges—deflection is a problem. This is mostly noticeable when you’re hitting chopped-up snow. Swami Like: “They’re as smooth as butter at moderate speeds,” said a tester that favors moderate speeds.   

 

11) Black Crows Camox Birdie | Dimensions: 128/97/116 | MSRP: $720

The Camox Birdie from the Crows draws its roots from modern freestyle skiing—and it skis like it. Think loose and slashy versus directional and fully juiced. A supple tip means that driving it through a carved turn like a former racer would be a mistake. The Birdie reacts better to an upright stance and a two-footed skiing style that doesn’t put too much edge pressure on one foot. Ski them right and they’re “playful, light on the feet, and energized,” said a tester. Predictably, our lighter-weight skiers with more upright stances sung their praises while our more technical set had to adapt to the ski. Not that you can’t finish a turn on edge. The Camox Birdie sports a progressive flex pattern that stiffens up the deeper you drive it. The key is to wait for the turn to come to you—don’t rush it by muscling the tip. Swami Gripe: They’re so damp and forgiving they can feel a bit dull on dull terrain. Swami Like: “So much fun to butter and smear,” said a tester. “They aren’t for hauling ass, but they’re a blast when you’re playing with the terrain.”

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