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.
As the widest of Head’s Joy line, the Great Joy behaves like a fat slalom ski, capable of carving and flotation, with a progressive flex and high vibration absorption. In short turns the generous girth delayed edge grip and the ski rewards skiers who have a more aggressive stance. All in all, the Great Joy comes closest to the pin for one-ski quiver capabilities in terms of Stability in varied snow conditions, flotation in soft snow and carving performance.
Best Blend of Lightness and Performance
Elan Ripstick 94 WAll Mountain Skis, Ski & Snow, Skis & Women's All Mountain Skis
The Elan Ripstick 94 W is a strong freeride ski with an extensive lightweight construction. The combination of TNT technology, Amphibio inside/outside edge rocker profile, lightweight tips and full sidewalls results in a ski that testers scored high for Carving and Resort Float. The Amphibio profile has assigned right and left skis designed for maneuverability and edge grip. In that vein, the Ripstick 94 takes work to figure out and not as intuitive as other skis. The rockered edges extend up to the tip laden with Vapor Tips, which act as they sound, in order to reduce weight and vibration. Some testers felt the ski was shaky on cat tracks in the flats. To that end, testers praised the Ripstick 94’s acuity in the steeps and many called it “a charger.” Overall the favorable scores for Carving and Resort Float show that Elan’s mission of “taking progressive ladies anywhere and everywhere” succeeds.
The Volkl RTM 84 is one of the most versatile skis in the Carving Category, with the ability to quickly lock onto short swing, medium, and long-radius turns with exceptional grip – as well as an ease of initiation that few carving skis can match. Featuring an exquisitely constructed mix of tip and tail rocker with traditional camber underfoot, along with Volkl’s 3D.Ridge construction, which moves denser, power-transmitting materials underfoot and lighter materials to the shovel/tail and edge, results in a ski with easy to access performance and effortless arc. Ranked as their “Favorite” ski in the Carving Category by 25 percent of our test team, and “Excellent” by everyone else, this is an advanced- to expert-level carver that also features some strong off-piste performance.
The Blizzard Quattro RX is an amazingly smooth, accurate, hardpack-specific carver with grip, especially in mid to long-radius turns. Built with Blizzard’s Sandwich Compound Sidewall IQ, the ski features a layup of wood, titanium and carbon for damp, consistent ski-to-snow contact, that is at its best on groomed and hard to icy conditions. An even, forgiving flex makes it an absolute pleasure to load the shovel of the ski from turn to turn, especially at higher speeds where the overall stability of the RX is positively confidence building. This is a “groomers-only” ski that loses performance off-piste and does feel out of its comfort zone in tighter turns. We highly recommend it for carvers who make an art out of arcing the groomed.
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!
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.
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.
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.