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.
Volkl’s new M5 Mantra (marking the 5th iteration of the ground-breaking ski, which has continually ushered in another new era of All Mountain performance with less effort) won the All Mountain Category. Period. The majority of our testers wanted to ski the rest of the day on it, or the week, or the season, dropping over the ridge to Alta on the test models with a wave and a nod, and a quick, “Yeah, I’m good.” This is the new benchmark for high-performance multi-condition skis.
Best for Responsiveness
Elan Ripstick 96 Black EditionAll Mountain Skis, Men's All Mountain Skis, Ski & Snow & Skis
Last year we said, “The Elan Ripstick 96 is the purest, most accurate carving ski in the All Mountain Category of the Gear Institute Ski Test.” That was before Elan added a lighter, increasingly stable carbon construction (i.e., the “Black Edition”) to Amphibio Technology (a specific left and right ski with camber for hold on the inside of each tip, and rocker on the outside for ease of initiation), which makes it amazingly easy to carve medium to short-radius turns that it’s practically automatic. Along with a “Tubelite Woodcore” inserted into the wood to provide power and an even flex, the Black Edition 96 offers effortless carve and superior grip.
While the Polyurethane sidewall improves dampness and durability, the real benefit is how playful it makes the skis. For me, this is the FINDr’s biggest benefit (coupled with their more than reasonable price tag). A similar ski from Volkl (like the Katana Vwerks) will run you an additional $400. They float in backcountry powder, climb easy on the skin track, and are super fun and playful in bounds, while still being able to carve and lay down hard charging lines on groomers—It’s the do-it-all ski.
Like the Volkl V-Werk Katana and V-Werk BMT 109 Skis, the 100Eights are a powerful ski that likes to go fast and play hard. With enough mass to plow through variable snow conditions and tackle any terrain you throw at them, the 100Eights are a serious quiver of one ski. The only downside to these sticks is their almost nine pound weight, which is a little on the heavier side for a dedicated backcountry ski.
The Blizzard Firebird WRC pretty much arced away with the Best in Class Award in the Carving Category. Half of our full team of testers rated it their “Favorite” carver, while the other half rated it as “Excellent.” Also, 60 percent of our test team could not find a single thing to write in the “Bad,” or “Dislike” column on their test cards. This ski rips with ease, precision, and a sense of excitement that could make you seriously consider heading for the groomers on a powder day.
Best for Carving Pleasure
Elan Amphibio Black EditionCarving Skis, Men's Carving Skis, Ski & Snow & Skis
Elan’s Amphibio Black Edition brought a welcome level of finesse and calm confidence to a Carving Category filled with race-inspired skis. Utilizing Elan’s proprietary Amphibio technology—which includes an asymmetrical mix of rocker and camber in the shovel for ease of initiation and improved edge contact, as well as a specific left and right ski—the Black Edition has a silky smooth feel from turn to turn. It’s not the fastest ski in the class, and not the ski we would recommend for anyone who wants to race gates with their carvers. It is an excellent ski for primarily frontside, hardpack skiers looking for a luxury ride and constant control.
Rossignol’s Experience 88 was the top ski in our Frontside test last year, and this year Rossignol improved it! The new 88Ti features something Rossi is calling ‘Line Control Technology,’ a World Cup innovation that basically includes a Power Rail down the center of the ski for stability and dampening—and no counter-flexing!—and Titanal construction for exceptional Edge-hold. The ski does have super silky edge initiation and some of the smoothest arcs in the category, yet with all of the slightly wider waist widths in the class this season, it’s still a bit more of a carver than the rest. Bottomline: The new 88Ti is one of the easiest arcing skis we’ve ever tested. It’s so easy to get ripping right away on this ski, that you’ll be forgiven for shattering the speed limit.
Dynastar continues to upgrade its Legend series, with a new generation of Powerdrive construction—with a progressive rocker profile and five-point sidecut—to provide better on-snow contact, Titanal laminates for power, tip and tail for ease of initiation and hook-free carving, and poplar core for great liveliness. Last year, the brand offered the Legend X84 for the Frontside category. This year, the Legend X88 provides even more all-terrain capability without sacrificing the ski’s great quickness and awesome edge grip. The ski also has a lighter feel and more energy than a lot of other boards in the Frontside Category. For many testers, the increased maneuverability and enhanced rocker can make the ski feel more active and alive in a slalom turn than it does in a GS.
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.