Snowbird offers the kind of world-class terrain that allows us to test skis in almost every imaginable condition, from expertly groomed hardpack to tight trees, windswept bowls, big bumps, steep chutes, endless cornices and all-around mixed conditions. With many top name ski manufacturers — Armada, Atomic, Dynastar, DPS, Rossignol, Salomon, etc. — having their headquarters in Utah (including several, such as Blizzard, with satellite offices in the Beehive State), we can also easily coordinate with the brands to ensure that we test products in exactly the kinds of conditions in which they were designed to excel. We don’t test Powder skis on hardpack, and we don’t test Frontside skis when the Wasatch is experiencing one of its legendary storms. Each day of our test we check the weather conditions, and test the right skis for those conditions accordingly.
We do test skis head-to-head, one after the other, rating them on the same criteria that we feel is most relevant to each specific category, with an emphasis on top of the line products for advanced to expert skiers who know how they want a ski to perform. In the Frontside Category, that includes a ski’s Carving Pleasure, for how accurately and consistently it maintains contact with the snow, Edge Hold for how confident the ski feels in an arc at a variety of speeds, Stability, Turn Shape Variability, and Float for how well the ski initiates a turn, particularly in off-piste conditions. We test Frontside Skis on groomers, moguls, in the trees, off Snowbird’s famous Cirque, and in some light powder/crud, cut-up snow to evaluate how well they perform in the kind of lift-served conditions skiers can typically expect to find throughout the season at their local mountain or home hill.
Carving Pleasure Overview
Elan’s 84 XTi is one of the best pure carving skis we’ve ever tested, but that could be said for many of the skis in the Frontside Category. A majority of the skis in this category use a mix of Titanal and wood in the core of the ski for equal parts power and flex. The result is, skis like Dynaster Legend X84, Atomic Vantage 90 CTI, Fischer Pro Mtn 86 Ti, Kastle MX89, Rossignol Experience 88 and Volkl Kendo all scored 8s, 9s, or 10s (out of a possible 10) in the Carving Classification.
Several skis earned higher scores in the Float Classification, such as the Armada Invictus 89TI, Black Crows Orb, K2 Pinnacle 88, Liberty Origin 90 and DPS Cassiar, but did not do as well in the Stability or Carving Pleasure Classification. We found that in general, the more tip rocker and ease of initiation — especially in off-piste conditions— the less overall Edge Hold it had on the hardpack. The Rossignol Experience 88, which earned Best in Class in the Frontside Category, did also earn a score of 8 for Float (out of a possible 10), while the versatile Salomon XDR 84 Ti, also earned 7 while garnering a score of 9 in the Carving Classification. The majority of the top skis for Edge Hold and Stability in the Frontside Category, however, such as the Head Monster 88, Elan 84 XTi and Kastle MX89 received 5s or 6s for their relative lack of Float.
Turn Shape Variability Overview
Along with the Float Classification, Turn Shape Variability was where we saw some of the biggest discrepancies in the Frontside Category. Skis such as the Dynaster Legend X84, Fischer Pro Mtn 86 Ti, Rossignol Experience 88 and Salomon XDR 84 Ti showed remarkable versatility, often because of a progressive sidecut for better edge to snow contact in a variety of turn shapes, as well as a slightly softer shovel flex. Stiffer skis, such as the Head Monster 88, Blizzard Brahma and Volkl Kendo made great GS style turns, especially at moderate to higher speeds, but were difficult to move into shorter turns while still maintaining a round turn shape. Softer flexing skis, such as the K2 Pinnacle 88, made great short swing turns, but felt overpowered at higher speeds, especially on hardpack.
Stability and Edge Hold Overview
Thanks to the aforementioned use of metal and wood laminates in the construction of the majority of skis in the Frontside Category, along with a traditional sidewall sandwich in which the skis basically layered from the base up, Stability and Edge Hold were consistently good across the board. In stiffer skis such as the Blizzard Brahma, Head Monster 88, Kastle MX89, Line Supernatural 92 and Rossignol Experience 88, Stability Classification scores ranged from 8 (out of a possible 10) to as high as a 10 for the Head. Lighter weight skis, particularly cap/sidewall construction hybrids (in which a cap over the sandwich construction covers the laminates) exhibited slightly less Edge Hold and Stability, especially on the hardpack. Overall though, Stability scores in the Frontside Category were consistently above average.