Look at the results of Vermont Ski and Ride’s three days of testing out skis from 13 ski manufacturers at Stratton.
By Evan Johnson
It was another year for the New England Winter Sports Retailers, with over 400 representatives from every well-known national brand touting everything from boots to skis and boards to goggles and everything else you’d need to outfit yourself for a season. The gathering of reps and buyers from all over New England and Mid-Atlantic region coincided with terrific snowfall before and during the expo. For those of us out on the hill, that meant ideal conditions for testing.
Vermont Ski & Ride Magazine spent three days at Stratton trying out 20 pairs of skis from 13 ski manufacturers – some were the largest in the industry and some had just made it out of the garage they started in.
Walking around the small city of tents a snowball’s throw from the summit gondola, it quickly becomes apparent that there are just too many skis. While there wasn’t enough time to ski everything, we asked the people working the booths in the base area for their recommendations.
Here are some of the experts’ top picks for freestyle, piste, powder and all-mountain:
One of freestyle skiing’s most recognizable brands had plenty to offer. For his alpine touring set-up, Keith Shipman likes the lightness and width of the Supernatural in a 110mm width underfoot. “It’s my dream touring ski,” he said. The flatter tail easily accommodates climbing skins for the ride up while the lightweight construction makes for a floating ride on the descent. His colleague, Brandon Bunnewith picked the Sir Frances Bacon in a 104mm width underfoot. With new Cloudcore construction it’s a lightweight ski that’s versatile in a variety of conditions and turn shapes. “It’ll ski the groomers and hardpack as easily as the powder when it comes,” he said. Kevin Merchant picked the bigger all-mountain ski, The Chronic. “Everything’s more fun when you’re on it,” he said.
While helping interested skiers and riders get outfitted in the latest full line of goods at the K2 tent, Bob Kwong took the time to point out some of the skis that has him excited has been working with the company for 15 years as a tech rep.
“This is a total reboot for K2,” he said. “All the men’s skis have different construction, names, shapes and story and the same goes for the women’s skis.” That reboot is reflected in the next generation of K2 skis that set a new benchmark for how the company designs skis. To demonstrate this, Kwong pointed out two of his favorites, the iKonic and the Pinnacle. These skis feature heavier and denser wood around the perimeter of the ski with a lighter material on the inside and at the tip and the tail.
“As the skis have gotten wider, they’ve also gotten heavier,” he said. “The point here is not only reduce the overall weight of the ski, but also reduce the swing weight.”
While wider, the skis enter and exit turns as easily as slimmer models. They’ve also got a full titanium edge to hold firmer snow. While he doesn’t ski women’s skis, he also indicated the latest OoolaLuv as another ski that he says will be a hit. Like the men’s versions, this ski places weight around the perimeter of the ski with a women’s specific blended wood core and a thinner profile for smooth, natural flex through turns.
Keith Rodney is a PSIA level III alpine and telemark instructor and the vice president for the United States Telemark Ski Team. He’s also taught skiing at Mount Snow’s ski school for 26 years. That means he’s looking for a variety of skis that can perform in telemark and alpine disciplines on the east coast as well as when he travels to points west.
On alpine days, Rodney reaches for the Hero Master, which has a tighter turn radius and a hard-charging carve. After that, his second favorite is the Experience 88, his top choice for telemark.
“It’s probably the east coast’s best all around ski,” he said. “It’s has the variety of being able to handle the hard and the soft – the typical New England winter.” When venturing out west or skiing the softer snow at Mount Snow, he prefers the Soul 7, another top choice for telemark.
Bruce McDonald is a 30-year veteran of the Atomic team and was most excited about the updated Vantage series, a quiver of skis available in a variety of widths that update the popular Theory, Alibi and Ritual. The new Vantage series is the result of a three-year development plan and McDonald’s top choices were the 85, 90 and 100 versions, which will carry a skier from hardpack to powder.
“For Atomic, this was a huge focus year on the all mountain ski,” he said. “The old Vantage series were great, reliable skis, but we had to take a hard look at the design holes we needed to fill and the So far, the verdict is thumbs-up, we did it.”
Steve Brown is a newcomer to the Blizzard promotions team and joined this August, but he’s already taken a strong liking to a number of skis that Blizzard will be rolling out for next winter, starting with the beefy but maneuverable Bonifide.
“I can ski anywhere I want,” he said. “I can make big arcing GS turns or slow it down to smear them. It plays well in the woods and floats in the powder. It really does it all.”
His next pick is the Peacemaker, with a full-wood core and vertical sidewalls and a cambered profile for enough grip on firmer snow.
“To have 104 underfoot and still be able to arc turns on ice is incredible,” he said.
The ski that has surprised him the most this winter is the Latigo, which features early-rise tip and tail rocker and a slimmer profile than its bigger siblings. At 70mm underfoot, it can make 13-meter slalom turns all day long or you can really turn it loose for 35 meter Super-G turns.
“I did not realize it was going to be that good,” he said.
Drew Catano, a tech rep helping out with the Nordica group, enjoys holding form and carving hard and fast on trail, but also likes to get into the woods for the soft snow. For the variety of skiing that he enjoys, Nordica had a number of attractive options, his favorite being the Soul Rider in a 77mm waist.
“The shape is very user friendly and very maneuverable if I take it into the glades,” he said. “It stays nice and lightweight so it’s easy to manipulate, but it still has enough punch so if I’m on a tight groomer, it still lays over a 16.5 meter arc, which is pretty quick.”
For the soft snow, Catano looks to the Patron, a wider ski that still puts down that quick 16.5-meter turn and for a third, ski, he indicated the all-mountain NRGy 90, which features a combination of camber and rocker with a lightweight construction for comfort on bumps, groomers, crud or powder.
Barclay Rappeport, a visiting rep for Volkl, liked the 2015-2016 Kendo so much the first time she skied it, she hugged Volkl’s German sales manager. The Kendo is a ski for the advanced to expert skier who likes a mid-fat ski and is looking for aggressive medium to long radius turns on groomed trails She said the ski is nimble, floats and powers through anything. After that, she liked the RTM 84, a smooth carving ski that she said would make a great daily driver when she coaches the U8 racing program at Mad River Glen.
“That’s a ski I could coach my kids on, run through gates and still ski the trees,” she said.
For a third favorite, she chose Volkl’s newest version of the Aura, a playful, all-mountain ski. Thanks to the wider waist and early taper in the tip, it will perform well in the soft snow while two sheets of titanium and improved sidecut mean a solid hold in the hard snow.
NEWSR Part II: The Up-and-coming skis you need to know about:
Thanks to the web and modern ski pressing technology, even the smallest brand can establish a dedicated ‑ albeit small – corner of the ski market. The demo was proof – with just as many smaller companies drawing the same crowds and hype as some of the bigger names. Every year brings new skis to try and these are some of the young guns in the industry to watch for this season and the next; your next pair of skis could be here.
White Doctor was founded in 2007 by Eric Bobrowicz, known by his friends simply as Bob. Bob cut his teeth in the business as Rossignol’s head ski shaper for eight years and designed some of their most iconic skis. Bob’s desire for simplicity drove him to start his own company that emphasized simplicity and performance and now produces his skis by hand with a team of just eight other employees in Annecy, France.
Picking one of White Doctor’s five models of skis is as easy as picking your style of skiing – powerful, efficient or fun. Bob has designed shapes to go with each of those styles: The powerful GT shape that has a flat tail with a fully-cambered shape with metal and carbon; the efficient FT, which features a wood core, carbon, a flat tail and touch of tip rocker; and the fun XT with rockered tip and tail that’s cambered underfoot.
“White Doctor is one of the few companies that still makes a true-camber ski,” Joe Palatucci, sales rep for White Doctor says. “Bob’s focus is on the finishing and quality of materials and the skiing experience.”
With White Doctor, don’t look for flashy features or advanced ski technology, instead, you’ll find simple but extremely effective skis for a beautiful skiing experience.
With a line of skis 21 deep, Black Crows is a project of big mountain skiers Bruno Compagnet and Camille Jaccoux who wanted a quiver-of-one ski that could handle the variety of conditions they experienced on the slopes of Chamonix, France. Black Crows started in 2006.
“They were looking for one ski that could do it all,” Palatucci says. “From steeps, to bumps, to powder fields to the softest snow. They’re unique skis for European skiing and a rite of passage for big mountain skiers.”
While Black Crows has experienced popularity around their European base, skis like the flagship model Corvus and the updated Navis are designed to be comfortably at-home on the slopes of Stratton as the couloirs and powder fields of Europe with cambered shape and construction that performs an a variety of surfaces and makes reliable and stable turns at any speed, you can expect an athletic ski that wants to charge.
Liberty got its start in 2003, when founders James Satloff and Dan Chaflant hit the ground running thanks to a win from the craps tables in Las Vegas, while attending the Ski Industry of America conference. Today, Avon, Co. –based Liberty continues to make versatile and strong skis from eco-friendly materials and has earned the recognition of major ski publications.
“As they’ve grown over 12 years, they’ve expanded their line but without the simple repetition,” says Carter Davidson, New England Sales Rep for Liberty. “It’s more than having just one ski in a variety of widths and that’s where they’ve excelled.”
While faithfully designing skis with the Colorado skier in mind, the crew of five introduced new models and updates that will make the northeast skier smile as well. A perennial favorite, the Helix now features lighter weight, thanks to carbon fiber an energetic bamboo backbone and a refined shape and rocker design that won’t dive, quickly enters turns and floats easily. Liberty also releases a new 87mm width in the Variant, with an aggressive sidecut for energetic carving. All of these feature the award-winning graphics of creative director Shannon Kennedy.
Working out of the Never Summer Industries space in Denver, 58 pairs of hands touch every pair of skis produced by this small Colorado company. With their ten-year anniversary, Icelantic expands their line of skis and updates old favorites. Artist Travis Parr rolls out next year’s theme “Mountain Cultures” with striking graphics including native peoples and some of the first explorers of the mountains from which the company draws their inspiration.
East coast skiers will be interested in the expanded SKNY line, which updates some of their most popular models like the Shaman for the full spectrum of northeast conditions from teeth-rattling boilerplate to blissfully soft powder. With a unique, shovel-shaped 140mm wide nose, a significant sidecut and 90mm underfoot, the slimmer Shaman blasts through snow like a Ferrari equipped with a snowplow.
“The overall brand awareness has taken off,” says Cian O’Connor, Eastern Sales Manager for Icelantic. “People are interested in the independent companies and we’re chasing the heels of some of the bigger players. Our name is getting thrown into the same conversations as Volkl, K2 and Rossignol.”
After skiing next year’s skis, it’s easy to see why. Next winter, Icelantic rolls out the Pioneer, a versatile, go-anywhere ski that beginners and advanced skiers will enjoy. It features a simplified construction for a reduced weight and pricetag (Icelantic’s first pair of skis for under $600). It has 96mm underfoot and rocker in the tip and tail.
“It’s an all mountain ski for everyone from advanced beginners to expert level skier,” O’Connor says. “And it’s going to be great for everyone from the northeast and mid-Atlantic area.”