1. Stöckli Laser AX | Dimensions: 124/78/111 | MSRP: $1,249
In Europe, carving is a category unto itself. In the U.S., it should be. The skis here are as precise as race skis, but they’re built for fun with more dynamic rebound (life) and a tendency to leave trenches, while still allowing the pilot to scrub speed in emergencies. The Laser AX is the benchmark. In fact, we haven’t skied a pure frontside ski this enjoyable since Rossignol retired the CX 80. “You can lay this Stöckli so far over in a turn that you’re dragging your knuckles, but unlike lesser carvers, you can do that at top speed,” said a tester. “Probably the most dynamic ski of the day,” said another. “You can crank out short swing turns or run them long.” Swami Gripe: The turn shape might be a bit short for some folks. Size up if you want a bigger arc. Swami Like: “Race ski performance, but not race ski demanding,” said a tester.
2. Salomon S/Force 11 | Dimensions: 128/80/112 | MSRP: $975
Frontside skiing on groomers is more than just short swing turns, it’s also about high-speed cruising with total confidence. That’s the S/Force 11’s sweet spot. “Easy going, damp, forgiving, and stable at high speeds,” said a tester. “It feels like there’s a lot of ski under you, but it’s effortless to turn.” Look here if you favor smooth skiing stability and big arced turns over a more poppy feel. The edge grip comes courtesy of Salomon’s Edge Amplifier, a plate under the bindings. But full-length ABS sidewalls and two sheets of metal don’t hurt either. Swami Gripe: At slower speeds it can feel a bit sleepy. This ski wants to be on edge in big sweeping arcs. Swami Like: “This ski lives equally in the master’s class racing and fun carving worlds,” said a tester. “I wish I had it in my quiver.”
3. Völkl Deacon V.Werks | Dimensions: 132/84/115 | MSRP: $1,400
This carbon infused elite construction ski weighs as much as a Crossover ski, but it’s as damp, stable, and powerful as a full-on racer. It’s also more fun to ski: tip and tail rocker let you ease it into turns or shut down your speed when an ermine crosses your path. That rocker is key actually. Carbon-rich skis tend to offer enhanced edge grip thanks to increased torsional rigidity, and the Deacon is no exception. The edgehold is best in class, but without the rocker it would feel nervous. “Crazy lightweight ski that’s easy on the legs, but sports powerful edge bite,” said a tester. “The flex is progressive, so the harder you push it the more the ski comes alive.” Swami Gripe: Skis with this much edging power tend to want to lock into a single turn shape. It can be tough to get the Deacon into short swings unless you really get after it. Swami Like: “The energy return is a blast, and it’s lightning quick as you ride the rebound through the transitions,” said a tester. “But there’s no speed limit.”
4. Head Supershape e-Titan | Dimensions: 133/84/115 | MSRP: $1,200
If you want to set your metronomic linked carved turns to autopilot, the Supershape is the tool. It’s a carver in the Austrian brand’s tradition. Meaning the tip and tail are flared out just enough that they’ll start and finish turns for you. It sports the deepest sidecut in the category. The edgehold is monstrously strong, and Head’s unique electro-dampening system eats chatter and lets the ski hug the snow. But as stout and shapely as it is, it’s not tough to ski at all. You just tip them on edge and let the ski pull you through its arc. “How can this ski be so easy to ski and so juiced up at the same time?” asked a tester. Swami Gripe: The pronounced sidecut in the tail can make it hard to release in anything but a pure carve. You’ll want to commit to the turn. Swami Like: Great skiers can carve any ski. Great skis let anyone carve. If you want to feel what that’s like, test-drive the Supershape.
Five Beer League Racers
1. Nordica Spitfire 76 | Dimensions: 126/76/106 | MSRP: $1,000
Pure Frontside is an open test category for Mountain. We accept cheater race skis (the deep sidecuts are illegal in FIS), Euro-carvers, and skinny All Mountain Frontside skis. The Spitfire 76 is clearly a cheater ski made for beer league racers or any strong technical skier looking to rail turns. But the Spitfire beat out its competition because it doesn’t limit you to one turn shape. “It’s madly responsive, doesn’t make you suffer, and you can make slalom, GS, and super-G turns on it,” said a tester. Swami Gripe: Like all the Beer Leaguers, you need to stay alert—it’s only 76 millimeter underfoot. Swami Like: As powerful on edge as any ski we tried, but you can shut them down and throw them sideways if the public gets in your way.
2. Rossignol Hero Masters | Dimensions: 115/70/97 | MSRP: $1,180
Buyer beware: The Hero Masters is not a Soul 7 with rusty edges. It’s the most powerful ski on these pages; fully juiced with dynamic energy return, bomber edge penetration, and maximum stability. Look here if you actually are signed up for the Wednesday night race series, or you want a pair of skis to ski true hardpack with style. Even our biggest and strongest tester, while praising the Masters’ power and race-room flex, found it could be a lot to handle on open trails. “You’ve got to be moving at high speeds to get the most out of this one,” he said. Swami Gripe: It locks into a predetermined turn shape that can be tough to break from. Swami Like: If you want to experience a race ski or just approach each run like a race, then this is it. It’s named for Master’s racing.
3. Atomic Redster X9 WB | Dimensions: 128/75/112 | MSRP: $1,200
Here’s another race ski for the public. But although it rips just as hard as the Nordica and Rossignol, it doesn’t require the same type of force to get there. The flex is softer, the tip butters itself into turns, and you can dump speed without feeling like a cartwheel is imminent. “When I’m out carving, I like mixing up turn shapes,” said a tester. “The Redster lets you do that without feeling as though you have to jump on the ski.” Swami Gripe: As with all these racers, you’ll want to swap skis if the snow gets soft. There’s too much edging power to get caught out in soft snow. Swami Like: “Wow,” said a tester. “So easy to ski, but they deliver an insane level of performance. I’ve never dragged my hands as much.”
4. Blizzard Firebird HRC | Dimensions: 126/76/107 | MSRP: $1,320
Want to stay pinned to the snow? Looking for best in class edgehold? Like to make the eyes bleed? That’s the deal with the Firebird HRC, another cheater race ski that will make frozen early morning groomed snow ski like a World Cup race course. “Makes you feel like a great skier,” said a woman tester and race coach. “It’s tip-and-rip easy with the ability to achieve extreme edge angles. The stability is off the charts. I thought I was skiing my own private Hahnenkamm.” Swami Gripe: Most of our testers thought you could break it from a turn to scrub speed, but a few thought it was perhaps too locked into a medium radius arc. Swami Like: The belly of the turn is so confidence inspiring that you’ll push yourself.
5. Fischer RC4 CT | Dimensions: 113/65/98 | MSRP: $1,399
One of our testers described the RC4 as a “pissed off race ski,” and we totally get it. The RC4 was the dampest ski in the test, and you feel the edges bite very early in the turn. After that it’s just time to hold on as this Fischer rockets through the belly and out through the tail. “The ski just wants to go fast,” said a tester. “It’s built for a master’s class racer or anybody that wants to ski hard with no speed limit.” Swami Gripe: The edgehold from tip to tail is legit. You can break the RC4 from a carved turn, but that’s a last resort option. Wait for the slope to empty out before you commit. Swami Like: “Powerful, dynamic, and fast, fast, fast.”