The Best New Skis for the East

Let’s be realistic: if you’re skiing Vermont—or anywhere in the East—on 99 percent of the days you really don’t need a big surfy powder ski. The good news: the all-mountain ski is back and ready to be your go-to tool. The superfat skis that were once a badge of honor for sidecountry explorers have given way to the more practical, all-mountain ski that can truly be a quiver of one.

The all-mountain East genre is a mix of the narrowest off-trail models and the widest on-trail skis with waists averaging 85mm- 94mm. In keeping with the current fashion for all things off-trail, most models are extensions of a family with roots in a “big mountain” (read: powder ski) archetype.

But they remain excellent on-trail skis because they’re still skinny enough to get on edge easily. Because they handle most any terrain on an Eastern mountain, these are the every-day, do-it-all tools. Women have made this genre by far the most popular in the U.S., and these skis work for both first-ski buyers and lifelong participants. Men should pay heed, for a lot of guys jumped on super-fat skis when they were the thing and their skiing suffered for it. A switch to an All-Mountain East ski will get you back on track.

Steven Cohen and Jackson Hogen of Realskiers.com (both former gear test editors of national ski publications) assembled a  group of some of the top skiers and ski testers in the country to review the 2021 offering from major brands.

The Realskiers team reflects the composition of the world of experts, including ex-racers and current jibbers, instructors, coaches, product developers, specialty retailers and local hotshots who can turn a ski and a phrase. They include stars such as extreme skier Ingrid Backstrom, Corty Lawrence (son of Andrea Meade Lawrence) racer Emma Whitelande,  former extreme ski champion Kim Reichelm and former World Cup racer Edie Thys Morgan. Rounding out the team:  Pauline Astruc, Robin Barnes, Kim Beekman, Jill Beers, Claire Challen, Megan Dingman, Madeline Dunn, Brooke Froelich, Elaine Furtney, Theron Lee, Steve Olson. McKenna Peterson, Ward Pyle Kaylin Richardson,  Jim Schaffner, Jennifer Simpson, Jack Walzer, Cara Williams, Juliette Willamann

Here’s what they have to say about the best in the bunch, as well as their reports on the best new women’s skis, 

NOTE: “Sidecut” lists the width of the ski at the tip, waist and tail. The more hourglass shape a ski has,  the deeper the sidecut and the smaller the turn radius, allowing for tighter turns.  Skis with wider waists tend to float more in powder whereas narrower skis with more of an hourglass shape, or more sidecut, are better for carving turns on the groomers

Blizzard Brahma 88  Sidecut: 128/88/110 | Radius: 16m @ 177cm | $840

Historically, softer skis haven’t been able to withstand the vibrations induced by traveling fast over hard snow. In short, they handle as well as a Yugo with bald tires. So, it’s a joy to discover the new Brahma, an all-terrain ski with the strength and stability of an old school GS race ski that can be reined in to less than 40mph and still move edge to edge with the ease of a figure skater. The old Brahma 88 already used a poplar/beech core and two sheets of Titanal, so it wasn’t the “power” side of the power/finesse divide that needed shoring up. Two performance points in particular required attention: a flex pattern that allowed for easier turn entry/exit and optimizing flex, shape, and baseline by size. The reason flex is primordial is because if a ski is easier to bend without losing its grip on hard snow, the pilot can use less of his/her precious energy to get from turn to turn. Like a gifted drummer, this year’s Brahma can keep the beat no matter what tune you ask it to play.

Fischer RC One 86 GT  Sidecut: 130/86/116 | Radius: 17m @ 175cm | $799.99

The essence of the Fischer RC One 86 GT?  Think of it as a carving ski with wanderlust. An Austrian brand, Fischer’s collective mind rarely meanders far from the racecourse, so it’s natural that the RC One 86 GT is a carving machine first and an off-trail implement second. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The tip and tail are outfitted with Bafatex®, a synthetic compound meant to muffle shock and keep every inch of the 86 GT’s fully-cambered baseline plastered on the snow—not to mention 0.8mm’s of shaped Titanal to further cow hard snow into silence. For a ski with all-terrain dimensions, the RC One 86 GT shows a decided preference for carving over drifting, and hard-snow, technical skiing versus flotation. If your everyday surface is groomed—but when powder appears, you want to pounce on it—Fischer’s latest spin on a frontside ski with off-trail pursuits deserves your attention.

.Head Kore 87  Sidecut: 130/87/110  | Radius: 16m @ 180cm | $750

Head was selling freeride skis before it cooked up the Kore series. But we’ll bet you can’t name one of them as they barely sold a stick in the U.S. The three-model launch of the Kore series changed all that overnight. The first vintage sold out immediately, so Head quadrupled production. And sold out again. Then along came the Kore 99 to fill the space between the wildly successful 93 and the series sweetspot, the 105, and it sold to the wall, too. When you’re on a roll, it’s hard to pass the dice, so this year Head pushed the boundary of its off-trail collection down to the Kore 87. Considering that initially the focal point of the Kore series was the 105, an 87 is a mighty skinny sibling. (BTW, this phenomenon, once a rarity, is now commonplace.) But as the Kore concept has proven in its every iteration, when the name of the game is off-trail versatility, Kores come to play. For off-piste playgrounds like moguls and trees, the Kore 87’s crazy-light construction and narrow silhouette allow it to slither through spaces where bigger boards flounder.

K2 Mindbender 90 TI Sidecut: 127/90/114  | Radius: 17.9m @ 177cm | $800

Last year, K2 completely changed every core model in its line, without straying one centimeter from its core values of forgiveness and ease of operation. Even though the Mindbender Ti series, of which the 90Ti is the narrowest, aims for a more advanced  skier, the skis area not so burly they can’t be controlled by adventurous intermediates. The Mindbenders’ Ti Y-Beam construction puts Titanal over the edge in the forebody but moves it away from the edge in the tail. This adjusts the skis’ torsional rigidity requirements to create more bite in the forebody and easier release of the tail, without affecting their even, balanced flex longitudinally. Light and responsive to a gentle hand on the reins, the Mindbender 90Ti may at first blush feel a tad too loose in the tip to trust at warp speed, but it proves trustworthy if given a chance to run at high rpms. An elevated platform connected to the core by its robust sidewall gives the Mindbender 90 Ti turbo power when rolled on edge. “It turns the way you ask it to and holds with confidence on hardpack,” attests reviewer Ward Pyles.

Kästle MX88  Sidecut: 130/88/114  | Radius: 17m @ 175cm | $1,249

The return of the MX88 to the Kästle line is a significant re-launch, as it’s not only a revered model with more than 10 years of history, it’s also one of the first skis made by Kästle for Kästle in over two decades. To get to the point, the resuscitated MX88 is a gem, perhaps the smoothest, most unperturbed ride in a genre overstocked with stellar skis. The changes to the new MX88 are similar to the tweaks applied to the Blizzard Brahma 88 and Nordica Enforcer 94 in that the particulars sound inconsequential, yet the total effect is stunning. Using poplar in the core in lieu of silver fir makes the MX88 considerably lighter than the MX89, so the new model feels more nimble. The forebody now has a hint of early rise but it doesn’t compromise snow contact because the new Hollowtech 3.0 tip design muffles shock before it can knock the edge offline. All these embellishments make the MX88 easier to bow and more subtle in its transition from edge to edge. The new MX88 takes less effort to guide without surrendering an ounce of its power quotient, so it’s more amenable to the movements of the less skilled skier. While it’s not necessary to ski the MX88 with the speedometer pegged, it would be a shame not to let it run.

Liberty V92  Sidecut: 133/92/120  | Radius: 17.5m @ 175cm | $950

Liberty was a small brand that had previously carved out a niche as a bamboo and-carbon specialist with a knack for making lightweight wide-bodies. Then, in 2018, they figured out how to integrate an aluminum strut into their construction, trimmed down their usual silhouette to something more svelte and BOOM, Liberty stepped up to a whole new level of performance. The second generation of Liberty’s Vertical Metal Technology (VMT) came to market last year. Version 2.0 added anonther strut to the original dual vertical laminates, a modification that pays off when skied aggressively. That said, the V92 doesn’t require high speeds or steeply angled edges to feel utterly in control. Every sinew of the ski seems dedicated to maintaining snow contact. If the modestly-rockered tip deflects upward for a microsecond, the struts manage the moment so the edge underfoot is never perturbed. Like all the V-Series, the V92 requires zero adaptation on the part of the pilot. Just ski from a centered stance with whatever means of angulation floats your boat, the V92 will hold an edge no matter how you stand on it. It’s an ideal match for someone who hasn’t bought a new ski in ages, wants the benefits of new technology, but doesn’t want to re-learn the sport.

Nordica Enforcer 94 Sidecut: 127/94/115.5  | Radius: 16m @ 179cm |$800

Whenever a brand invests in new molds, it has an opportunity to re-examine every detail. For the Nordica Enforcer, this meant creating five new sizes, each with a unique baseline and sidecut. Adjusting the rocker/camber intersections for every length results in a ski that feels fully-cambered, its abrupt but brief rocker zones solid and unflappable, both literally and figuratively speaking.  The Enforcer 94 may not actually confer expert status on anyone who steps into a pair, but it sure won’t hold anyone back. It’s a nearly perfect ski in that a lateral drift or trench-cutting carve is immediately accessible at all times. Every movement feels intuitive, unforced, and integrated with the flow of the mountain. It’s hard to pigeonhole the Enforcer 94 as a specialist at any one thing, for it has the chameleonesque ability to be whatever its pilot wants it to be. The key to its mutability is how mindlessly simple it is to transition from a crisp edge to a friction-free drift. This facility is what makes the Enforcer 94 masterful in any terrain, from brittle hardpack to fluffy powder and every crud-junk-chowder consistency in between. It’s the epitome of an all-terrain tool.

Salomon Stance 90 Sidecut: 126/90/108  | Radius: 18m @ 176cm | $800

No ski can ever truly be great for groomers and for powder as every model is part of a design family that‘s inherently biased to one side of the mountain or the other. This prelude explains why Salomon felt compelled to create a second off-trail line, named Stance, when they already had a successful freeride series in the QSTs. The latter are unmistakably meant for off-piste, while the Stance 90 tilts the 50/50 equation in favor of frontside features, beginning with two sheets of Titanal and a shallower sidecut with a more slender silhouette that’s quicker edge to edge. Its square tail in particular is appreciably narrower than the norm in this genre, but it keeps the ski’s orientation down the fall line. The impression of quickness off the edge is enhanced by its lightweight design that in fact weighs less than the QST 92 and far less than Salomon’s Frontside flagship, the S/Force Bold. The Stance 90’s lightweight structure certainly contributed to our testers giving it higher aggregate scores for finesse properties versus power attributes, the only one of our top eight recommended models to do so.

Völkl Kendo 88 Sidecut: 129/88/111   | Radius: 17m @ 177cm | $775

The quality that continues to distinguish the Kendo 88 from a very strong field is that it seems able to raise its game in every circumstance. No matter how or where the skilled pilot asks it to stretch its performance—go faster, react quicker, ride more quietly, dice up bumps, or cruise groomers—the Kendo 88 handles it all in stride. The single most important quality an all-mountain ski can possess is total indifference to terrain selection. On this score, the Kendo 88 has no peer. It transitions from wind-affected crud to crisp corduroy as if those two conditions were the same. On hard snow, it’s so quick to the edge the skier can’t even tell it’s rockered, and it’s so stable in crud you can relax, drop the reins, and let the boys run. The Kendo 88 uses a “3D Radius Sidecut” with a long radius forebody, a tight shape in the midsection and longest radius in the rear. This allows it to behave like a GS cruiser at relatively low edge angles and morph in a moment to a snappy SL stick when it’s tilted and pressured. An energetic turn finish isn’t unique to the Kendo 88, but it’s nonetheless a relatively rare commodity in today’s market.

THE BEST NEW WOMEN’S SKIS

While many skis are unisex, many of the following skis were developed for women with input and testing by women. Here’s the best of the bunch,

Blizzard Black Pearl 88  nSidecut: 128/88/110 | Radius: 14m @ 165cm | $780

Cara Williams, part of Blizzard’s Women2Women movement for nearly six years now,  says “the technology that Blizzard has created from our feedback keeps getting better.”  Enter TrueBlend Woodcore, a game-changing core at the heart of the new Black Pearl 88. The new Black Pearl 88 delivers stability at high speeds and in all types of conditions. The 2020 skis are actually slightly heavier (+150g) than the previous model, but once you click in, the function and performance outweigh the literal weight of a ski.  The new Black Pearl 88 is less nervous, especially on harder and steeper snow, which is partly due to a women-specific Titanal platform in its midsection that runs edge to edge underfoot. The subtle rocker at tip and tail has less contact with the snow for added float and liveliness. In all conditions, the Black Pearl 88 gives skiers —novice to expert— a smooth and confident ride. Blizzard added a 177cm length and changed to 6cm size breaks that give the buyer more options. Every length is calibrated to create an optimal, round flex that travels well in all conditions.

Dynastar M-Pro 90 W Sidecut: 118/88/108 | Radius: 13m @ 162 cm | $900

The M-PRO 90 W is an all-new woman’s freeride ski and part of Dynastar’s new M-Line collection. Featuring a directional freeride shape, the M-Pro 90 bridges the freeride/all-mountain segments offering fast, precise performance for advanced to expert women skiers. In terms of construction, the new M-Pro W range is totally different from the previous Legend W series skis. The goal was to develop a more modern product with a better balance of power and playfulness, something that was very performance-oriented but also didn’t lose sight of the fun factor. The M-Pro 90 is quick and nimble, yet strong and damp: the perfect combination for a fun, confident everyday ski that’s not overly demanding yet delivers strong performance and pure all-mountain versatility.

Head Kore 93 W Sidecut: 127/85/107 | Radius: 14.3m @ 171cm | $750

The Kore 93W shows great versatility. It’s gentle and easy to tip and carve at lower speeds. But throw it into gear, and it rips robust trenches or massacres any ungroomed condition that you throw at it. The ski is equally stunning at high-edge angles or low-edge angle steering, pivoting, and shmearing. Tester Robin Barnes said “It dazzled me on groomers, sliced and diced through the crud, and perhaps most astonishing was the way it deftly handled frozen coral-head bumps covered in 10 inches of heavy pow.”  At 93mm underfoot, there is really no reason to fret about which ski to bring for the day. It does it all and makes you feel like a champ doing it. The Kore 93 is the ski for a skilled skier who wants  a ski that can handle the hard-charging days as well as the cruise-y days. The Kore W series is adopted from Kore line with little modification – just moving recommended mounting point 1 cm forward to make front of ski more accessible.

K2 Mindbender 90C Alliance  Sidecut: 127/90/113 |  Radius: 14.5 m @ 163 cm | $650

“My days of being a big mountain ripper are past. I have a closet full of trophies and a body covered in scars. My goal these days is to be the most fluid skier on the mountain. I want my skis to complement my style and not punish me when I make a mistake,” says tester Kim Reichelm.  The Mindbender 90C Alliance is her go-to resort ski and the most popular ski for her Women’s Ski Adventure clients. The C stands for carbon; there is no metal in this ski making it more flexible tip to tail, which allows it to engage into the turn easily and be more forgiving coming out. The carbon adds torsional rigidity that keeps the ski from chattering on hard snow and adds some snap for carving and in bumps. Says Reichelm.  “It carves, it skids, it’s fun in the bumps and even has some float in a little bit of fresh snow. The best part is, I don’t have to work hard to ski fluidly on this ski.” 

Nordica Santa Ana 93  Sidecut: 125/93/112 | Radius: 14.4 m @ 158 cm | $750

A former Junior Olympic and NorAm level ski racer, Madeline Dunn needs a ski that can turn on a dime, float in the powder and rip the groomers, often on the same run. The Santa Ana 93 does just that for her, day after day. Says Dunn: “It’s my go-to ski for any day that I plan to take at least a few groomer laps, knowing I’ll be off-piste on every other run.” This year’s collection of Santa Ana skis dials down the dosage of metal to a single sheet of Titanal that varies in dimension by model and size. This shift to one piece of metal instead of two (as is the case with the Enforcer) in the women’s line has been a game changer for the brand. One piece of metal delivers just the right amount of sturdiness while also keeping the ski lighter for a lady who likes to ski bell-to-bell.

Renoun Earhart Sidecut: 127/88/111 | Radius: 14.5 m @ 170 cm | $899

Born and bred in Vermont, Renoun builds skis that are made to handle those days when the slopes are hard as asphalt. Renoun uses non-Newtonian polymer, VibeStop (HDT), which actually stiffens under stress and helps reduce chatter. The Earhart, the first ski Renoun has made for women, like its brethren, holds tight when the going gets fast and doesn’t lose its grip. With a slightly tighter turn radius than its brother, the Endurance 88, and a touch of rocker in the tip and tail, this ski isn’t one you have to muscle into a turn and it’s perfectly happy taking some spins into the sidecountry.  If most of your turns are going to be front-side, this ski will help you pick up the pace and feel more confident on slick conditions, open the throttle as you cruise the corduroy or pop into the trees to find hidden pockets of powder.

 

Rossignol Experience 88 Ti W Sidecut: 127/88/117 | Radius: 14 m @ 166 cm | $750

Whether you’re a seasoned intermediate starting to explore off-piste terrain or an expert skiing all over the mountain in any conditions, these skis will take you where you want to go with confidence. The Experience 88 transitions from off-piste to on-piste terrain with ease, making them the choice for the majority of days on the mountain. “I know I’ll always have a good time no matter the conditions,”  coach and TV host Claire Challen notes. “ I use my Experience 88s for my own free-ski play days because I like to explore off-piste, but I also to like to ski fast on groomed trails. They’re also fantastic do-all skis for instructing because I can confidently navigate all terrain and snow conditions, switching up trail choices per the needs of my clients.  The 88s are playful and easy to turn yet also stable at higher speeds. I can go from solid carving turns on groomed and hard-pack conditions and hop over to an un-groomed trail for some fresh powder turns.”

Völkl Secret 92  Sidecut: 130/92/113 | Radius: 16 m @ 163 cm |$825

The Secret 92 is the single ski quiver for the powerful female skier. Says tester Kaylin Richardson: “It is the first ski I’ve had the pleasure of owning that I can pull out on any given day, with any given conditions, and never have any regrets. The Secrets rip in virtually every condition.” At 92mm underfoot they lay big, aggressive arcs on corduroy, rivaling any carving ski, while transferring to off-piste crud effortlessly. “I was skeptical that the narrow waist would perform as well in deep powder, and granted, when it is super fluffy, I don’t get as much float. However, they still do well, and I have had many awesome powder days on my Secrets,” she says. “As a former ski racer who is 5’10”, I can overpower many women’s skis when I really go for it. The Secrets are slightly stiffer than some of their contemporaries, and I love that.”  Their multilayer woodcore and full sidewall design make for a ski that holds an incredible amount of energy without requiring a Herculean effort. The Titanal Frame creates a stability at speed on any surface, they are playful without being squirrely, and can cut through virtually any snow condition like butter. n

Lisa Lynn

Editor of VT SKI + RIDE and Vermont Sports.

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