1) Völkl Kenja 88 | Dimensions: 129/88/111 | MSRP: $775
Last season, Völkl introduced the tester-favorite Secret 92—and gave notice that this storied German ski maker was back on its game. This year, the same Titanal Frame construction with carbon tips and a full sidewall construction from that ski gets incorporated into the all new Kenja 88. The takeaway? Performance addicts will love the traditional feel when they’re going all-out—it holds like a Völkl of old—but it’s when they back off and ski easy that they’ll realize how effortlessly the new construction is to ride. Because of that, it’s easy to vary the turn shape—we found you could open the Kenja up for 22-meter GS arcs and then bank it into slalom turns with barely a nudge. And while the rocker is minimal, it eases smearing and adds float on light powder days while offering easier turn initiation the rest of the time. Swami Gripe: Disconcerting glassy feel on frozen corduroy. Swami Like: “It’s a grip-it-and-rip-it stick” for the frontside of many western resorts, one tester remarked, and an all-condition superski for East Coast women.
2) Rossignol Experience 88 TI W | Dimensions: 127/88/117 | MSRP: $750
Built in the same mold as the unisex Experience 88 TI, but a skosh lighter, the women’s version is nearly as formidable as the unisex ski, while offering a more manageable ride for lighter pilots. One tester’s remark: “It’s a virtual leg saver that will have you charging all day.” Equipped with a cool honeycomb polymer in the tip like the Soul 7 HD W (the brand calls it AirTip), the ski has a lightweight and forgiving nose, which makes diving into turns a breeze. The new version of that air tip adds damping and better integrates with the forebody of the ski, serving up a predictable flex pattern, while the titanal power rail that runs the length of the core absorbs chatter and beefs up the stability as it increases energy return. “It’s great for aspiring carvers who can quickly release the edges if they get out of their comfort zone,” said a tester. Swami Gripe: It clearly favors groomed snow, but there’s enough rocker here for off-trail skiing. Swami Like: The 88 is a great progression ski for intermediates just learning to put it up on edge, or for experts who will push it to its limits without worry of it breaking away.
3) Nordica Santa Ana 88 | Dimensions: 119/88/107 | MSRP: $700
The Santa Ana 88 features the wood and metal construction we expect from Nordica, but subtle material additions and subtractions like—strangely enough—more wood, keep it easy to swing around and dump speed when you aren’t carving. That wood—lightweight balsa—in this ski, now extends into the tip where it displaces heavier ABS plastic while still fighting chatter. On the hill, that construction results in a frontside-worthy all mountain skis that hooks up and holds onto the hardest of early morning snow, but still butters and smears easily in bumps and trees when the off-trail snow softens up. Like the Rossignol and the Völkl it’s a defining ski of the category. “Stable, but maneuverable,” said a tester. “They rip carved turns but won’t make you work too hard if you feel like exploring.” Swami Gripe: If all you’re doing is carving turns, the tails might feel a bit soft at the end of the turn. Swami Like: That same feature means the ski isn’t too locked in off-trail. It’s the key to versatility.
4) Black Crows Orb Birdie | Dimensions: 124/88/108 | MSRP: $840
Subtle tip rocker, two sheets of titanium alloy (milled into an H shape to save some weight), and a flat tail made the Orb Birdie from this French Company one of our most versatile AMF skis for our women test crew. It’s versatile, that is, if you’re going fast. This Birdie was designed to make the same type of big sweeping turns favored by modern big mountain freeskiers and apply it to the groomed snow on-trail or windbuffed snow off-trail that most of us routinely ski. “Once you get it up to speed it comes alive and offers a ton of edgehold and a lively metallic pop,” said a tester with a race background. Another element—the aluminum insert in the tail—also speaks to the big mountain influence. The reinforcement allows you to plunge the tails of the skis into the snowpack as an anchor on steep hikes with less risk of a delamination. Swami Gripe: At slower speeds the Birdie can feel tough to handle. Hit the gas. Swami Like: “When you get them moving they feel fun and funky, spritely and spunky,” said a tester.
5) Head Total Joy | Dimensions: 134/85/113 | MSRP: $750
The consensus of our eight women testers from our Steamboat test? The New Total Joy is even easier to ski than the old model, making it more accessible to more skiers and better equipped to ski off-trail. It’s effortless to butter into and out of short to medium radius turns at slow and moderate speeds, and carves a nice turn in the process. The ride quality is light, lively, damp, and forgiving which led one of our smaller testers that favors moderate speeds to pronounce that she “couldn’t screw up on the Total Joy’s if [she] tried.” Look here if you favor comfort and confidence over dynamism and top-end stability. It’s the most approachable All Mountain Frontside ski in the category. Swami Gripe: It’s a softer take on the old Total Joy, which means it can waver and deflect at high speeds. Swami Like: “A wide range of abilities looking for a light and lively ski that’s narrow enough to carve on nice corduroy or handle some soft snow should start here.”
6) Atomic Vantage 82 TI | Dimensions: 121.5/82/108 |MSRP: $950 (with binding)
Here’s another lightweight ski (it’s built with Atomic’s Prolite construction) that’s deceptively powerful on-edge and seems to hug the surface of the snow. Credit for those attributes rest with the titanium that Atomic added to its “Tank Mesh” a web of fibers that reinforces the ski’s wood core. The effect on the hill is a silky ride quality that lets the ski contour the terrain while maintaining consistent edge contact. Ski it accordingly—by keeping the edges engaged—and the Vantage 82 TI boosts confidence because of that edgehold. We favored it for short to medium radius turns on quality corduroy. Swami Gripe: Not everyone noticed it, but some testers found it difficult to find the sweet spot in the flex. Swami Like: “It’s energized, but not demanding, and it loves to make slalom turns in the fall line,” said a tester.
7) Stöckli Storm Rider 85 Motion | Dimensions: 129/85/113 | MSRP: $999
One of the rare women’s specific skis in Stöckli’s line, the Storm Rider 85 Motion comes in three sizes (154, 161, and 168) and features a flex pattern better suited for women skiers. A lightweight balsa wood core makes the ski appropriate for ski touring. But it’s still a Stöckli: The “superlight” core is backed by titanium alloy, and the sandwich construction transfers a lot of power. It’s so burly in fact that our testers thought it was the dampest and most stable ski in the category. As such it favors longer turns both on and off-trail and tends to bash through crud as it stays glued to the snow surface. Look here if you favor stability over a dynamic ride. Swami Gripe: It’s challenged in the playfulness department. You need to muscle it through tight places. Swami Like: “A ski instructor’s dream ski,” said an instructor. “That stable and smooth ride would really save some energy.”
8) Elan Ripstick 88 W | Dimensions: 130/88/105 | MSRP: $700
“Any shredlady looking for a forgiving but energized carving tool will love this Ripstick,” said a shredlady tester. The key word there is “forgiving;” thanks to Elan’s unique Amphibio construction which places more rocker on the outside edges, and inner workings that don’t rely on heavy sheets of metal, the Ripstick 88 butters effortlessly from turn to turn, boosting confidence. But it’s not dull either—not by a long shot. The harder you ski it the more it responds. “Light and lively, it makes a range of turn shapes on a range of terrain and snow types,” said a tester. The edgehold is also impressive. The ski seem to really lock into a turn when you want them to. Swami Gripe: The downside of that light and easy feel is a loss of stability at top speeds. A few testers complained of tip flutter. Swami Like: Most skiers don’t ski as fast as our top testers. The Ripstick will make the vast majority of them grin.
9) Fischer My Ranger 90 TI | Dimensions: 125/90/116 | MSRP: $650
Here’s another ultra versatile All Mountain Frontside ski that favors strong skiers. The rockered Carbon Nose up front allows for easy turn initiations and a buttery feel off-trail, but from the shovel back, this Ranger rips. The 161 centimeter length arcs a 16-meter turn on paper, but on the hill you can mix up the turn shape from short swings to big sweepers. What’s constant is the stability and power if you have the skills to access it. The 90 is beefed up with titanium alloy to both dampen vibration and add energy return to the ski when it’s bent into the turn properly. That extra power, though, is demanding of your attention. You need to drive the Ranger 90 lest it drive you. Our smallest and slowest testers struggled with this ski. Swami Gripe: There’s some annoying flutter in the rockered tip, but it doesn’t seem to affect the performance. Swami Like: “Super stable at full gas,” said a fast skiing tester. “Strong women that like to open it up should start here.”
10) Armada Victa 87 TI | Dimensions: 129/87/119.5 | MSRP: $775
Armada says that you can finesse the Victa 87 TI. To be more clear, we’d say that if you’re strong enough you can smear it into and out of turns. The AR Nose Rocker is supple, and you can push through the tails to get them to release too. And the looser feel of Armada’s AR-50 Sidewall construction aids that smearability. But this is no newschool noodle: the 87 is powered up with titanium alloy and a strut of carbon fiber. It’s damp and stable on edge, and arcs a predictable 16-meter turn on hardpack. We’d just recommend it to more upright skiers that tend to pivot and slash more than they lay trenches. Swami Gripe: Our lighter weight testers got bucked around by the Victa 87. You need to actively bend it into a turn or that titanium and carbon will bounce you around. Swami Like: “It’s not a beginner or intermediate ski,” said a tester. “You need to actively ski it to get it to flex. When you do it’s stable and damp.”
11) Blizzard Black Pearl 82 | Dimensions: 121/82/105 | MSRP: $600
One programming note: Our Blizzards showed up a little too sharp for the conditions. That can be difficult for testers to notice on one test lap, so it’s our belief that the brand’s results suffered—especially in the playfulness criteria. That said, our strongest and raciest testers scored the Black Pearl 82 high enough for inclusion. The turn shape is intuitive and the edgehold is impressive they found. Those skiers also appreciated the Black Pearl’s progressive flex (it powers up slightly as you get to the tail). “Responsive and quick,” said one such tester. It loves short and medium radius turns.” Swami Gripe: Our less powerful testers thought the Black Pearl was hard to break out of a carved turn. See note about sharpness. Swami Like: “Loved arcing metronomic midsized turns on the groomers,” said a former racer.