The Best New Skis and Why These Pros Love Them

We asked ski testers from around the country­ranging from national magazine editors to local Vermont shop buyers—for their choices for the best new skis for 2020. The answers may surprise you.      

There are very few bad skis out there today—just bad choices. By that, we mean choosing a ski that’s not right for the conditions, your ability or for the type of skiing you like to do.

“Choosing the wrong ski–say a ski that is too difficult to flex or beyond your ability, can actually hinder your ability to improve,” says Doug Stewart, a Professional Ski Instructors of America Level III examiner who also works as a boot fitter at Skirack in Burlington.

“Buy a $10,000 mountain bike and you are pretty much going to enjoy the ride,” notes Jeff Neagle, who runs SkiEssential.com’s tests here in Vermont. “But choose a high-end ski that’s beyond your ability and you simply are not going to have as much fun.”

So how do you choose?

Given how many ski tests are out there now, we thought it would be interesting to ask the top dogs at Backcountry, Powder and Ski Magazine which of the hundreds of skis they tested this year they most wanted to keep if they were skiing in Vermont—as well as which skis they would recommend to a friend who was a less aggressive skier. We didn’t stop there. We also went to three local shop experts with the same questions, as they get to test skis in Eastern conditions all year.

And we asked three veteran Vermont ski testers – people who have participated in multiple ski tests around the country-—for their choices.

What was most surprising was that there were clearly a few skis that made a lot of people’s lists of favorite all-around ski: their “Quiver of One.”  There was also consensus around several of the more forgiving skis they might recommend “For a Friend” (meaning a less aggressive skier or someone at a less advanced level).

Perhaps the best advice we got out of this?  “Ask your local shop,” says Stewart. “They know the conditions, what equipment you are currently using and will often let you demo a ski before you commit to buying.” His other piece of advice? “Dial in your boots: more than 86 percent of the skiers I see out there are in boots one size too big.” But that’s a whole ‘nother story. 

Editor’s Choices

Sierra Shafer

Editor, Powder Magazine, Carlsbad, Calif.

“As we all know, skis work differently for varying sizes and abilities and terrain, so it’s difficult to recommend one ski over another when you’re talking to our massive readership at Powder. Nearly 20 years ago, Powder assembled what has become known as the Powder Union, roughly 35 skiers from all around North America, none of them sponsored, all of them dedicated to skiing as hard and as

Sierra Shafer, 29, who recently took the helm as editor at Powder Magazine, likes her Head Kore 99s for Vermont.

fast and for as long as they can. The Union spends four straight days skiing Jackson Hole alongside the makers and marketers of each new ski. The result is a Buyer’s Guide that tells our readers which skis performed best when and where and by who, then lets the reader decide what to demo and buy.

Your Quiver of One?

From what I know about Vermont’s terrain, and my own ski style, I’d take the Head Kore 99. While this ski was new last season (for 2019), it remains one of the most impressive and versatile designs. The Karuba wood core with Koroyd and carbon layers and graphene in the tips and tails give it incredible precision for on-piste skiing. However, at 99 mm underfoot, it’s a damp, solid, and ultralight platform that will float through powder on storm days.

The Ski You’d Put a Friend On?

Women’s skis are getting better and better every year. The Powder Union collectively found the versatile K2 Mindbender 98Ti Alliance one of their favorite

The Head Kore 99.

new skis. With a narrower waist and the long effective edge, it’s easy to initiate turns on this ski despite the conditions, which gives the skier a really important sense of control. The more in control you feel on your skis, the more willing you are to push you own ability as a skier. At max speeds, this ski does get a bit squirrely, but for the intermediate skier, it’s a great choice.

Your Powder Tool?

My go-to for an East Coast powder day ski would have to be the Salomon QST Stella. The only thing that distinguishes the women-specific Stella from the well-known QST model is the top sheet. The construction is otherwise identical and at 106mm underfoot, it’s the perfect platform. I’ve been on this ski for several seasons now because it’s just fun and easy and it works pretty much anywhere—and especially well in a foot or two of snow. It’s a damp ski with a poplar wood core and was revamped for 2020 with more carbon flax weave, and Titanal for dampness and power. I never regret taking this ski out in a storm.

Coolest new technology or trend in skis for 2020?

It certainly seems like more and more brands are making the effort to design more durable skis, which ultimately makes them more sustainable, and gives us products that are more friendly to the environment. There are also an increasing number of skis that are excellent for touring, but now can handle some real skiing on the way out. It’s amazing how light and stable everything has gotten.”

Jon Jay

SKI Magazine Ski Test Manager and Digital Editor, Boulder, Colo.

I started skiing Aspen Snowmass at the age of 3, attended the University of Denver and competed for

Jon Jay goes hunting for unicorns in Rusutsu, Japan. His unicorn ski of choice is the Fischer RC One 86 GT. Photo by Crystal Sagan.

two years on the Freeskiing World Tour before moving to Almaty, Kazakhstan to cut my teeth ski mountaineering in the Tien Shan. I then moved back to Colorado for a marketing and tail guiding position at Silverton Mountain before joining SKI Magazine. I now ski at least 100 to 125 skis for SKI test, and probably another 100 between SKI Week in Vail and the On-Snow Demo at Copper Mountain. Add in another 25 to 30 pairs for backcountry ski testing and product release trips/prototypes. So I’d say I ski on 200 to 250 pairs of skis a year, total.

Your Quiver of One?

I’m a huge fan of both the Völkl Mantra M5 and the ski that won SKI Magazine’s Best in Test, the Head Kore 93. Because of my freeride background, I really prefer the playful stability of the Mantra M5’s Titanal frame construction, and I’m pretty partial to the freeride-oriented turn radius (21.2M in the 184 cm length). But the Kore 93 is super versatile and definitely can hold its own on any terrain, plus it’s light enough to use as a backcountry option. If I’ve never skied with someone and they ask me “What ski should I get?” I almost always recommend the Kore 93.

The Ski You’d Put a Friend On?

The SKI Magazine Gear of the Year and Best in Test Fischer RC One 86 GT is a bit of a unicorn ski. It can help intermediate skiers level up thanks to its ease of use and forgiveness, but can highly entertain advanced and expert skiers as well, thanks to its ability to ski with better performance as speed increases. Plus, considering it’s $900 with bindings, it’s a killer deal.

The Fisher RC One 86 GT.

Your Powder Tool?  

This is another toss up for me between the new Salomon QST 106 and the K2 Mindbender 108Ti. The redesigned QST is a little more exact with its turn shape and release, and the cork insert in the shovel keeps it quiet in crud. The Titanal in the Mindbender also keeps that ski quiet, and the rocker profile and sidecut make it incredibly easy to ski in soft conditions. I like to think of the Mindbender in particular as a pair of shoes that are comfortable as soon as you put them on, no break-in needed.”

Tyler Cohen

Editorial Director, Backcountry Magazine, Jeffersonville, VT

Beyond some long-term testing of a small handful of skis, boots and bindings (in Vermont, across the West and on a trip to Norway), I tested about 30 skis last year at Backcountry Magazine’s Gear Test Week, at Powder Mountain in Utah. We bring together a group of 30 or so ski testers from across the U.S. and upwards of 200 skis, boots and bindings, and we test for five days. The results go into the Backcountry Magazine Gear Guide.

Tyler Cohen spends as much time skinning up as he does skiing down. And the Blizzard Zero G keeps him happy going both directions.

Your Quiver of One?

I started skiing on the Blizzard Zero G 105 partway through last winter and as soon as I got on it, I stopped skiing anything else. This ski is 105 mm underfoot, which is exactly the right width for the skiing I do—mostly out of bounds but with some occasional resort skiing thrown in. It has enough tip and tail rocker to float but not feel floppy in firmer conditions, and has full sidewalls for hard-snow stability. Given its size and how well it skis, it’s shockingly light, too.

The Ski You’d Put a Friend On?

The Salomon QST 106 has been around for a few years and is an extremely popular ski, but Salomon made some updates this year to make it even more approachable—it’s redesigned to float better and turn more easily. But it’s not dumbed down, so to speak. An intermediate skier will be pleased with it and can grow and improve with it, too. It won Backcountry’s Editors’ Choice Award this year, as did the female-equivalent, Stella 106.

Blizzard Zero G 105

Your Powder Tool?

The Voilé Supercharger measures about 106 mm underfoot, but it has a fair bit of tip and tail rocker, making it floatier, surfier and turnier than similar skis of that width, and it’s been my go-to for touring in deep snow for a few seasons now. It’s not so wide or rockered that it can’t hang on harder snow, too, which is a plus. Another bonus: you can’t beat Voilé’s prices.

Vermont’s Shop Picks

Doug Stewart

PSIA Eastern Tech Team and Level II Examiner, Bootfitter at Skirack in Burlington

Over the course of the season, I probably try out about 40 different skis—some for just a solid 2,000 vertical top-to-bottom run, and others for multiple days.

When he’s not fitting boots or teaching clinics to other PSIA instructors, Doug Stewart can be found carving up slices of Stowe on the Volkl Mantra M5.

Most of my testing happens in February and March at industry demo days at Stratton and Pico when the new skis start to become available to us. As an instructor at Stowe and a Level III examiner for the Professional Ski Instructors of America, I also get to see a lot of people who are trying to progress and get to see how the right ski equipment can help.

Quiver of One?

The Völkl Mantra M5, with some metal and a 96 mm waist is strong and narrow enough to rip on the firm—which we all need to do at times—but still maintains just enough touch to handle fast runs in the woods too.  It’s my definition of a do-everything ski for the East!

The Ski You’d Put a Friend On?

The Nordica Navigator 85 has the right mix of power and finesse for someone loving blue squares and also trying some black diamond terrain. It’s at home on anything groomed but won’t kill you in some new snow either.  It’s light, quick, and can hold an edge.

The Volk Mantra M5

Your Powder Tool?

 

The Nordica Enforcer 104 Free is sans metal, but still has enough strength to deal with the solid stuff under the Eastern fluff on a powder day. It’s a great ski that is really balanced when you are up front in the driver’s seat.

Jeff Neagle

Ski Test Director, SkiEssentials.com, Stowe, 

The biggest difference between the SkiEssentials.com Ski Test and others is that we strongly believe ski performance is subjective and do not release numerical data or list skis from best to worst.  We ask our testers to give a ski numerical scores for certain criteria, but we also ask for open-ended, qualitative feedback.  This allows us to look at each tester, see what characteristics they liked about a ski and what they didn’t, and thus determine what type of skier that ski would be best for.

Jeff Neagle sometimes likes to air it out but come a powder day, a pair of Nordica Enforcer 104s is all he needs to get high. Photo courtesy Jeff Naigle

The problem with awarding skis “best in test” or ranking them is most skiers are going to be drawn to that #1 ski.  Is it a great ski?  Of course.  Is it the best ski for every type of skier?  Definitely not.  For example, an intermediate skier can slow their progression or develop bad habits by choosing a ski that’s intended for an expert.

Quiver of One?

The Nordica Enforcer 93 is a great ski for Vermont for a lot of skiers. It holds an edge well on firm snow, which we get a lot of, but it can also play around in the woods and make turns in some of the tighter trees.

Nordica Enforcer 104s

The Ski You’d Put a Friend On?

It really comes down to what’s going to benefit that particular skier’s progression the most.  Some that come to mind are the Elan Ripstick 88, K2 Mindbender 90C, Nordica Navigator 85, Rossignol Experience 84 AI, Salomon XDR 84 Ti, and Völkl Kenja, but realistically I could go on and on. 

Your Powder Tool?

On most powder days I’ll be skiing on the Nordica Enforcer 104 Free, but if it’s a really deep day I’ll bump that up to my Enforcer 110 Free.

Coolest new technology or trend in skis for 2020?

It’s cool to see carbon fiber being used in different applications instead of just a flat laminate in sandwich construction.  The same can be said about other materials; manufacturers are starting to think outside the box in terms of construction.  I also think it’s cool that a lot of skiers are tending toward narrower skis for the first time in about a decade.

Testers’ Raves

Danielle Nichols

Former race coach. Has tested skis for SKI Magazine and Ski Essentials. Stowe, VT

I am an aggressive skier and typically prefer men’s skis at longer lengths.

If there’s one thing ski testers Danielle Nichols (top, with her daughter Solden) and Kristi Brown agree on is that for girls who just want to have fun, the Volkl Kenja’s your ticket.

However, if it’s not the right fit for me, I try to assess who the ski would be suitable for. I think it’s important for people to choose a ski that helps bring them to the next level without them even knowing. There are a lot of skis out there right now that are capable of that.

Quiver of One?

The Nordica Enforcer 100 may seem a little wide in the waist for Vermont but it’s an incredibly versatile ski and I have no problem skiing it on the hardest of surfaces and in the tightest of trees. It’s fun, powerful when you need it to be, but also can be forgiving.

The Ski You’d Put a Friend On?

That really depends on the kind of terrain the skier is into. For an all-mountain ski the Völkl Kenja is super versatile and friendly. I think this ski can also help an intermediate skier take their skills to the next level.

Your Powder Tool?

The Nordica Enforcer 104!

Kristi Brown

Ski tester, ski ambassador, former UVM ski racer, Stowe, VT

A mom, a ski ambassador and one of the hardest charging skiers—men or women—you will see on her home hill of Stowe, Kristi Brown started skiing at High Pond outside Brandon, and ski raced for the University of Vermont.  She began ski testing for Snow Country Magazine in 1996 and then Ski Magazine and recently (2017) joined the new online SkiEssentials.com Gear Test. Though she’s a Völkl ambassador, she’s quick to recommend other brands. (“When I’m doing official ski tests, I don’t test Völkls,” she adds.) Brown’s best advice? Demo skis! “ You do not have to be an expert skier to feel the difference. It’s like choosing a glass of wine: you have a tasting to compare one with another and your taste buds (and your wallet) help you decide. Even better, bring a friend!” Last season Brown tested close to 150 skis and laid down tracks in Vermont, New Hampshire, Colorado, Utah, Whistler, New Mexico and Sweden.

Quiver of One?

My go-to this season is the new Völkl Kenja, 170 cm and 88 mm underfoot. The ski takes less work but still has great edge hold and endless amounts of energy.

The Volk Kenja

The Ski You’d Put a Friend On?

There are so many great skis on the market! The best ski is the one that aligns with your ability, preferred terrain and ski style. Here are a couple I recommend for frontside groomers: Völkl Flair SC is a shapely 70 mm underfoot and will let you dance your way down the hill and the Nordica Astral 78 also has a shape that’s easy to ski and rebounds in turns. The Rossignol Nova 14 ti with a 74 mm waist is a turning machine. The Liberty v76w, with some metal in it, lets you step on it and the Nordic Santa Ana 88 is a fantastic blend of power, edge-hold and playfulness. Finally, it’s great to see that women get their own Kore and the Head Kore 99w was worth the wait.

Your Powder Tool?
I have moved away from the huge fat skis to enjoy some more face shots and energy in a narrower powder ski. On an East Coast powder day, the Völkl Secret 92 floats in the light stuff but crushes mixed terrain and ice, as well.

Eric Edelstein

Founder, chief tester, Exoticskis.com. Norwich, VT

Exoticskis.com has a huge database of hard-to-find brands.  We test all sorts of skis, from the mainstream to many of the microbrands and do so all around Vermont as well as out West.  We don’t have any commercial allegiance or

The Renoun Citadel 106, a Vermont-based brand, uses HDT (“ShockStop”) non-Newtonian polymer dampening material. In other words, you’re less likely to lose a filling on those hard-as-concrete days.

advertising so it’s just our opinions, unfiltered. I test 30 to 35 skis a year and look for turn initiation, maintenance and finish; the general feel of the ski; how the binding mounting impacts its performance and, of course, what type of terrain and skier is it right for (or wrong for)? And, of course, does it look cool?

1) Quiver of One?

 There’s no one ski to do it all the way I’d like it. so I’m gonna pick two categories because I’m greedy: For hard snow, the Liberty VMT 76 gives stunning security, grip, elegant turns, control and excitement on hardpack without the overhead of keeping a true “race ski” in its narrow sweet spot all the time. On softer stuff, the Renoun Citadel 106, a Vermont brand, is truly impressive in how it behaves in mixed conditions and powder. It allows blissful or rowdy runs with variable turn shapes, speeds, floating and turning personality traits.

2) The Ski You’d Put a Friend On?

If you are looking at mainstream brands, the K2 Mindbender series (all widths). From the boutique ski builders. I’d say the Coalition Snow Rebel (frontside) or the Renoun Citadel 106.

3) Your Powder Tool?

 On a Champagne pow day: SkiLogik Powderball or the DPS Lotus 120 or Whitedot Redeemer 128. On a windpacked, storm-blown pow day: the Liberty Variant 113 or Whitedot Ragnorok 118.

Renoun Citadel 106

 

 

 

 

Featured Photo Caption: Brandon, Vt. native Kristi Brown has tested skis for most of the major magazines and skied more than 150 pairs this past season, alone. Here she stomps it at her home mountain of Stowe. Her favorite powder tools? Read on to find out. Photo by Jesse Schloff/Stowe Mountain Resort

Lisa Lynn

Editor of VT SKI + RIDE and Vermont Sports.

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