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Jan

11

All Mountain Frontside

The yin to the All Mountain Powder yang, AMF skis tend to feature underfoot waist widths of 80 to 90 millimeters.

1. Salomon Stance 90 | Dimensions: 126/90/108 | MSRP: $800

Though Salomon builds race gear as well as any brand, the French company made a name for itself stateside by producing lightweight and playful off-trail skis—many of which revolutionized skiing. Now it’s proving it can craft skis that flat-out charge on packed snow. The Stance 90 is more of a pure carver than most frontside skis, but is still adept off-trail. “It makes you want to ski harder,” said a beer-league racer and 30-year ski tech. We loved this ski for the automatic medium radius turns it falls into once you get it up past walking speed. And we also love that Salomon didn’t dumb it down and put a ton of rocker in the tail. The Stance finishes the turn. The stability is world-class. We couldn’t find a speed limit—two sheets of titanium alloy back a full wood core that’s reinforced with damp but lively flax and carbon. But as burly as the Stance 90 is at full blast, it’s not just for big dudes. Our smallest testers sang its praises too. Swami Gripe: The clear category winner, our test cards were short on critiques although it wants to be run fast. Swami Like: It’s the new AMF benchmark. If you’re skiing groomers 70 percent of the time with gusto, but still like to poke around off-trail, the Stance keeps things fun. It carves like mad, but you can ski it at all speeds and even scrub turns awkwardly without paying a price. 

 

2. Fischer RC One 86 GT | Dimensions: 130/86/116 | MSRP: $799

This Austrian brand brought a European take on an All Mountain Frontside ski to our test—and crushed it. “It rails like a race ski with the best edgehold in the category, but you can still butter it around to scrub speed,” said a tester. “Looks serious, but it’s way playful and responsive at all speeds,” said another. Credit for that versatility probably rests with the unique sail cloth like material BAFATEX that Fischer employs in the tip and tail to reduce the swing weight. Titanium sheeting and burly sidewalls power it up on edge though. As with most modern skis, the sidecut is progressive—meaning it’s deeper in waist and less so at the tip and tail so you can arc multiple turn shapes on groomers. But it loves GS turns at high angles. Swami Gripe: As versatile as the 86 is on groomed snow, it’s a bit too turny in bumps and soft snow. We’d keep it on-trail 85 percent of the time. Swami Like: Fat but highly maneuverable carving skis like the 86 let you arc turns in all manner of conditions. They’re wide enough to surf and slash around just a bit, but that big platform lets the edges really bite in soft snow and corn too. “For a western skier, this is a real world carving ski,” said a tester. 

 


3. Rossignol Blackops Escaper | Dimensions: 128/94/118 | MSRP: $700 

If the Fischer and the Salomon on these pages skew to frontside carving, the brand new Escaper favors soft snow exploration. Part of that is a width story, at 94 millimeters underfoot, the Escaper could contend in the All Mountain category, but from tip-to-tail the Escaper is built for versatility. Note the deeper taper—rounder shaping—up front and in the tail. Honeycomb insert “Air Tips” in the nose reduce swing weight for pivot turning, and a paulownia wood core keeps the weight down. On the test hill in Steamboat it was one of the loosest and most playful skis in the category, but when you feel like setting an edge “the tip engages positively and the ski just sticks to the snow without chattering,” said a tester. Again, the story here is accessible power. Ski the Escaper lazy and you won’t get spanked, but get aggressive and it just keeps giving back. Credit for that in part lies with Rossi’s Damp Tech system which delivers a silky but powerful ride that boosts confidence. It’s not as dynamic in a race carve as the two skis that beat it out, but it’s far more versatile. Swami Gripe: In this category we want a bit more technical carving—like the brand’s Experience 88. The Escaper will rip a carve, but you have to make it do it. Swami Like: It’s a one ski quiver for a slashier skier that doesn’t need extra width for the local snowpack. 

 

4. Nordica Enforcer 94 | Dimensions: 127.5/94/115.5 | MSRP: $800

Another madly versatile AMF skis with a penchant for off-trail skiing, the all new Enforcer 94 is a far more user-friendly mid-fat Enforcer, with a livelier ride quality, bigger sweet spot in the flex, and a quicker response throughout. So how does it fit in the line given that Nordica also reimagined the only slightly wider Enforcer 100? Between those two you pick your ski based on the terrain that you ski. If you’re spending the majority of your time on-trail and love making high-speed sweeping turns through the tail, the 94 is the ticket. It was the most damp and stable ski in its class for that style of skiing, although the turnier Stance 90 was within a fraction. What’s new is that lively feel. The new Enforcer works at all speeds. A carbon chassis gives the ski some zip. “Hard charging ski that loves to be driven,” said a tester, “but unlike the old Enforcers, you don’t have to be moving at highways speeds to have fun.” Swami Gripe: Some of our testers wanted more short swing turning proficiency. The 94 clearly favors longer arcs. Swami Like: As with the Escaper, the Enforcer 94 sports All Mountain versatility. You could ski it off-trail in packed and loose snow a lot. “It would be my ski of choice on smooth alpine chalk on western faces and bowls,” said a tester. “It skis like a big mountain ski.”

 

5. Head Kore 87 | Dimensions: 130/87/110 | MSRP: $750

Perhaps the most approachable ski in the AMF class, the Kore 87 is “lightweight and reactive and damp and powerful all at the same time,” said a tester. In fact, it’s the only lightweight ski that made the top 11 rankings, let alone the top five. Head got lightweight right: Buttery and easy to ski at slow and moderate speeds, the edgehold is still deceivingly powerful at full gas. And at 87 millimeters underfoot, this Kore (it stands for the honeycomb Koroyd inserts in the core) is quick enough for mogul skiing and slender enough for carving without a lot of hip action. It’s also forgiving: “You can shut the speed down without worry,” said a big tester. “And if you keep them on edge there’s barely any chatter.” Swami Gripe: As with all lightweight skis, you’ll want to keep them on edge. If you run them flat into chunks you’ll notice the lack of mass. Swami Like: If you’re looking to elevate your skiing, the Kore 87 brings tons of confidence. You decide how hard you want to push it. Look here if you ski on-trail most of the time in places like Vermont, or Summit County, Colorado.    

 

6. Blizzard Brahma 88 | Dimensions: 128/88/110 | MSRP: $840

Ski designers tend to be engineers. And when engineers talk about how a ski feels they use words like “balance,” but articulating what balance means to them comes harder. Here’s my quick take: A ski is a lot like a well-tuned full suspension mountain bike. It should feel supple up front without folding (diving on a fork) and then get progressively more confidence inspiring as you bend the ski into its natural arc, like a bike’s suspension moving through its travel. As you exit the turn, the tail of the ski should deliver that controlled but powerful rebound (like a high-end bike) maintaining contact with the surface until you release through the transition. Again, like a bike, each ski length should feel “balanced” whether you’re 5’8” and 145 pounds, or 6’3” and 210 pounds. That’s what Blizzard is after with its new TrueBlend wood core, which features less dense wood in the tip, and more dense wood in the belly. For advanced skiers looking to ski hard and engage the edges, Blizzard hit the mark with the Brahma. “Perfect balance,” said our most experienced ski tester. “Pulls amazing Gs, but the tip engagement is always positive and the tail is confidence inspiring.” Swami Gripe: Not a complaint, but the Brahma demands a bit more power to come alive. Swami Like: “You can butter this new Brahma effortlessly, but there’s still no speed limit,” said a tester.    

 

7. Dynastar M-Pro 90 | Dimensions: 120/90/110 | MSRP: $700

Dynastar’s new M-Line is built for freeriding, but in a 90 millimeter width, a freeride ski has to float in soft snow, slink through bumps, and rip a carved turn. One of the most adept off-trail skis in the AMF test, but with solid hookup underfoot and through the end of the turn, the new M-Pro 90 checks all those boxes. The tip is buttery and pops the ski to the surface off-trail. But with titanium alloy backing up the hybrid core—a mix of poplar and polyurethane—the 90 is deceivingly powered up for such a smooth and forgiving ski. The PU eats vibration and keeps the ski silkily tracking through the turn. “I loved the feel of the shovel,” said a tester. “It’s super easy to manage in the trees, but on groomers it lets you sink into a whole range of turn shapes.” Swami Gripe: The trade-off to that forgiving tip is that it can wash a bit when you’re really hammering out the carves. (The upside is that this AMF ski has more All Mountain chops.) Swami Like: Our categories work pretty well for defining the three main categories of skis, but they aren’t absolute. The M-Pro 90 is more versatile than most AMF skis, but it’s more fun to carve than most of the pure All Mountain skis. Look here if you love skiing all terrain, but still want to lay the ski over on groomers. The price is also outstanding. 

 

8. Kästle MX 88 | Dimensions: 130/88/114 | MSRP: $1,249

Kästle made a name for itself building some of the highest quality skis available to the general public, and favoring top-end performance over mass-market appeal. All that is true with the classic MX 88. There’s zero bullshit in this ski—just a long-lasting poplar and beech core backed by two sheets of titanium alloy and just the right amount of fiberglass. We loved it for ripping medium to long radius (18.7 meters on paper) turns at cruising speeds. On groomers or scraped hardpack the edge penetration is best in class. So too with the 88’s stability, which is confidence inspiring.  But it’s not just a big turn ski. If you jump on it and ski dynamically you can bend it into short swing carves. As for the price, a few of our testers have put in multiple seasons on Kästles and can attest to the added durability. Swami Gripe: To jump on it all day long you’ll need to hit the gym. This Kästle’s natural home is on wide-open groomers at 40mph. Swami Like: “I found myself achieving higher edge angles on this Kästle,” said a beer league racer. “You can put a lot of trust into it. It’s unwavering.” 

 

9. Elan Ripstick 88 | Dimensions: 130/88/105 | MSRP: $750 

If you’re looking to maximize the versatility of a ski that’s skinny enough to rip carved turns on all day too, then here’s another AMF ski with a lot of All Mountain in it. The Ripsticks are naturally versatile—kind of like amphibians. Thus, the very European term “Amphibio” that the Slovenians use to describe the ski’s profile. The outer edges feature more rocker—and therefore less edge contact—so the ski transitions seamlessly from turn to turn entirely devoid of that old “hook an edge” feeling. Off-trail in soft snow you can even butter this svelte 88 millimeter ski around. Hook up the inside edges for carving though, and the Rip 88 feels as engaged as most of the skis on these pages. This year those inside edges get even more powered up thanks to strategically placed carbon. “Another absolute ripping AMF ski,” said a tester. “It’s hard to believe that a ski this forgiving can be this precise and stable on edge.” Swami Gripe: It was not the most stable ski in the test when run flat. Swami Like: The tradeoff for that is the fun factor: “Whippy lightweight feel in the fall line on and off-trail,” said a tester.  “Impossible not to have fun on these Ripsticks.”

 

10. Stöckli Stormrider 88 | Dimensions: 128/88/114 | MSRP: $999

Just because most of the skis on these pages feature the big sweet spot and balanced feel we’ve been raving about this year, doesn’t mean that all skis perform the same these days. The Stormrider 88 is perhaps the best case in point. The tip is supple, the turn entry is automatic, the belly of the arc is as natural as they come, and the finish to the turn is as powerful as you want to make it, but this Stöckli offers that feel at higher speeds than most of the skis on these pages. “It’s so quiet it doesn’t even feel fast,” said our biggest and fastest tester. Credit for that comes from Stöckli’s ultra-premium construction—the equivalent of a race room build from bigger brands. That layup includes a top-shelf vertically laminated wood core, a legit graphite racing base, two sheets of metal, and a structural “Titec” top sheet in lieu of the plastic that tops most skis. On the hill, it was the dampest and most stable ski in the AMF test, but it does not take weight room muscle to drive it. An easy flexing ski with this much metal in it drives itself. Swami Gripe: At slow speeds it can lack playfulness. Swami Like: Said a tester: “Ultra premium feel. Zero chatter. No speed limit. Amazing edgehold, but you can still navigate them through the bumps or make the occasional mistake.”   

 

11. Liberty Evolv90 | Dimensions: 132/90/114 | MSRP: $800

Here’s another ski that doesn’t feel like everything else on the market. Designed outside the ski industry powerhouses of Central Europe, the Evolv90 features a vertical metal stringer in its core that delivers rebound, lets the ski contour the terrain maintaining edge grip, and results in a smooth and silky feel at speeds. Speed being the salient point here: The 90 is another AMF ski that favors high-speed cruising on groomed slopes. But thanks to an easy flexing tip, it doesn’t buck you if you’re navigating bumps or chalky snow in the trees off-trail either. “Quiet without feeling dead,” said a tester. “Loves cruising, but the shovel is ready to absorb hits when the snow piles up.” Swami Gripe: In the smooth versus energetic mix, the Evolv90 errs on the side of smooth. We’d like to see more dynamic rebound and more tip engagement in shorter turns. Swami Like: If you love the confidence that a damp and stable ski inspires on and off groomed snow, then the Evolv90 should be on your short list. “When you’re moving at GS and super-G speeds it’s really easy to find the edges and ride the arc,” said a tester. 

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