The Best Skis

Our expert ski testers have a long history of critically evaluating skis. One of Gear Institute’s founders came from a ski industry background, and he has brought his knowledge base and skills on the slope to testing and reviewing gear. We have divided our ski reviews into four categories: carving skis, frontside skis, all mountain skis, and powder skis. Each of these categories is defined by the conditions where those skis excel, and that is determined primarily by the waist width—the width of the ski where the binding is mounted, a.k.a. underfoot. Additionally, each of these four categories is further divided into men’s and women’s categories. Scroll through the skis we tested below and scroll to the bottom of the page if you’re not sure what ski is best for you. We provide a description of each type to help you find the best ski for the kind of skiing you do.

Skis Reviews
Kastle FX95 HP

When more than 35 percent of your test team says a ski is their “Favorite,” and the rest rate it “Excellent,” it’s pretty clear you’ve found a pair of boards that truly stand apart. Which is exactly what happened with Kastle’s FX95 HP, which pulled away from the rest of the class. The secret is in matching Kastle’s typically bomber full woodcore sandwich sidewall construction and two layers of Titanal with “Dual Rise” rocker in the tail and the tip. Suddenly, a ski with already impressive edge hold and stability is able to also offer ease of initiation both on-piste and off. Make no mistake, this is an experts-only ski, that needs to be moving at a decent clip for all its features to click. It also doesn’t do short turns as well as the Volkl 90Eight, and a couple testers would have preferred a touch more sidecut. Still, we rarely have this many testers agree on which boards they think earn the Best in Class.

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Blizzard Bonafide

Blizzard did some interesting tweaks to its well-regarded Bonafide in the offseason, most notably widening the tip and tail to improve its carving ability with a deeper sidecut. The result is an All Mountain ski that still blows through the crud but also holds an even better edge on the hardpack. This is not a ski that likes to go slow or has much pop, but it offers thrilling all-terrain performance with unshakeable hold and very smooth ski-to-snow contact underfoot.

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Rossignol Experience 88

When one of your hardest grading – and grumpiest – testers says, “Anyone who tries this ski will find a way to own it,” you know you’re looking at a potential Best in Class. With “Excellent,” to Favorite,” rankings on the majority of test cards, and only two testers ranking it a mere “Good,” (“Awful” is our lowest, and least marked overall ranking), you become very curious to see how the numbers add up. Spoiler alert: They’re right at the top. This ski soars with its ability to handle all Frontside terrain, all speeds, and a variety of abilities with a clean, exciting sense of response. It is more damp than lively, and needs to be on edge, in a carve (preferably medium radius) to perform at its best. But unlike most of the other skis in the Frontside Category, it doesn’t just reward a hard or lighter touch. In this case, the ski does both, giving standup style foot turners quick edge-to-edge capabilities, and deep angulating carvers the kind of race style arc they love the most. How’s the Experience 88 HD? Really sweet!

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Atomic Vantage 90 CTI

Atomic hit it out of the park with the Vantage 90 CTI, a ski that combines power, finesse, and lots of fun and excitement with a lightweight feel. It does prefer to be on edge all the time, and offers a little less float than some of the other skis in this class, but so what. The Vantage 90 owns lift-serve conditions and could easily be your go-to ski for all but the deepest days on the hill.

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Blizzard Rustler 10

Blizzard’s new Rustler 10 pretty much dominated the Powder Category of our ski test, earning “Favorite” picks from more than 80 percent of the testers who skied it. “Playful yet stable;” “Strong yet nimble;” and “One of the best skis of all time,” were just a few of the superlatives heaped onto the test cards in praise of this big mountain machine, which tore through every condition we threw at it. Mixing a lightweight woodcore of paulownia, balsa, poplar and beech with Blizzard’s new D.R.T. (Dynamic Release Technology) carbon Flipcore, this ski felt more lively and maneuverable than most Blizzards, a brand we consistently praise for its power and dampness. That doesn’t mean the ski lost any stability – not by a long shot! What it did was add the ability to feel more versatile in all conditions, from the powder to the hardpack. Bottom line: This is a powder ski that could easily be your all-season ride if you want.

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Atomic Backland FR 109

Atomic’s Backland FR 109 is damp and accurate enough for skiing big days in-bounds, with a lightweight feel for anyone who wants to put some tech bindings on it as a backcountry specific turn-earning machine. The ski has great Float, thanks to significant rocker, is maneuverable off-piste, and has a confident, damp feel underfoot. There are more energetic skis in the Powder Category, especially if you want a big ski that will offer more edge hold and Stability if you decide to ski the Backland from the lifts. The ski did not stand out in any one of our specific test classifications – good or bad. All of our testers did comment on how fun it is to ski, providing a consistently playful, reliable turn shape.

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Find The Best Skis For You

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The Best Carving Skis

If you love making big, arcing turns at high speeds, you probably want a carving ski. Carving skis are for those familiar with ski racing, but who want to have fun on the mountain outside of race days. These skis are for hard pack only, not for powder, and specifically excel on groomers, through gates, and over machine-prepped snow. These are designed for skilled skiers who know how to lay down a turn and want a performance piece of equipment to use in all firm conditions on the mountain.

When selecting a ski, the dimension that will tell you the most about a ski’s preferred conditions is its waist width, or the wideness of the ski underfoot. In the case of carving skis, you want them to have a waist width between 65-80mm. This narrow dimension allows the ski to have a tight turn radius and quick edge-to-edge action when carving turns on firm snow.

The Best Frontside Skis

A frontside ski is for exactly what the name implies: skiing all over the front side of the mountain. You can start the morning on fresh corduroy, wiggle your way through a bump run, and carve your way down the firm (or if you’re lucky, freshly groomed) steeps. Skis in this category are slightly more versatile than a carving ski and will do best in well-skied conditions, but are not going to excel in powder.

Frontside skis will have a waist width from 80-95mm. This is slightly wider than a carving ski but still narrower than an all mountain or powder ski. So, if you mostly stay on hard pack and groomed runs or love moguls and tight trees, look for a nimble, frontside ski. If you are hoping to explore in fresh powder, you might prefer a slightly wider all mountain ski.

The Best All Mountain Skis

All mountain skis are designed to be the most versatile type of ski. This is the style you buy if you only want to own one pair of skis instead of an entire quiver. The perfect all mountain pair will handle a range of terrain and a variety of speeds, so you can carve turns on fresh groomers, make first tracks on a fluffy powder day, and plow through chopped up, refrozen snow (a.k.a. crud). You can take an all mountain model anywhere at a resort, both on piste and off piste. All mountain skis will perform better in powder than your standard frontside ski but not as well as a dedicated powder ski. However since an all mountain ski is a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type of equipment, there are limitations to how well they perform in different conditions.

All mountain models typically have mid-range waist widths, between 95-105mm, and will perform slightly better in powder and soft snow than on groomed snow or hard pack. If you ski most often in the west and spend a majority of your time in search of soft snow but want something that carves better than a fat powder ski, look for an all mountain ski with a slightly wider waist width than a frontside ski so you can stay on top of the fluffy stuff.

The Best Powder Skis

For powder hounds the most fun part of skiing is the floating sensation when on fresh, fluffy powder. For many, the lure of freshies is a major driver. With the right technique and conditions you can achieve this incredible sensation (and have tons of fun!) on just about any ski, but a powder ski will make skiing in deep snow easier.

A powder ski is defined as any ski with a 105mm-130+mm waist width. Waist width is the dimension of the ski that makes the most difference in terms of float, where the wider underfoot, the greater the surface area, the more easily you can stay on top of the snow. These days the trend is not to go completely super-fat, but stay somewhere between 110-120mm underfoot, when you get optimal float but can still turn and control the skis on the hard pack. Modern powder skis also incorporate rocker into the design, which is when the tip and tail curve upwards off the snow, to increase maneuverability in deep snow as well as to provide that surfy feel.

Since a powder ski is designed with a specific condition in mind, it may go without saying that it is a specialty tool meant to be brought out after a big snowfall or when heading into the backcountry. Skis in this category will not become your go-to every day pair, but rather a bonus pair to bring out when the night’s snowfall reaches above 12 inches. Powder skis will not carve particularly well, and won’t have outstanding edge hold in icy, firm conditions, but the fun feel on powder days will more than make up for this weakness. If you purchase a pair of powder skis, you will also want an all-mountain pair, and maybe even a carving pair, adding up to a closet full of fun-sticks.

The Best Women’s Skis

For each of the above categories, there are men’s or unisex versions and there are usually also women’s specific versions. If you are a female shopping for skis, first determine which type of ski you want, and then look through both the men’s versions and the women’s versions to find the exact model that will work for you.

Women’s specific skis are slightly different than the equivalent men’s versions. Typically, women’s versions come in shorter lengths, lighter weight, and with less stiffness to account for women’s shorter heights and lower body weights. They also come with different graphics to distinguish between the models. Similar to how a women’s jacket is more likely to fit a woman’s body shape better than a men’s jacket, a women’s pair of skis will most likely better fit a woman’s dimensions and be easier to turn and maneuver. However, very advanced women sometimes prefer a stiffer men’s or unisex ski.