2021 Powder Skis

2021 Powder Recommended Skis

The fattest of the fatties (>113mm) are true specialty sticks, meant for when the snow is so deep even a 108mm won’t float high enough.  This reality won’t keep some folks from sporting them every day, but this is lunatic-fringe behavior as hauling a barge around on hard snow is no picnic for the knee joint. If you live in the West it makes sense to own a Powder board as a second pair; if they’re your only pair of skis, we hope you also own a helicopter.  Even though the performance of these skis depends largely on their shape and surface area, there are still large behavioral differences among models.  One particular divide occurs along the carve/smear schism, models that still retain a preference for a directional, arced turn versus rides that want to pivot and slide sideways down the hill.

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Some ski makers seek a compromise between the ability to drift and the capacity to carve by reinforcing the support underfoot while rockering the tip and tail so they’re barely detectable. (The presumption is that powder will fill the void between the loose tips and tails.) Whether the baseline is rockered end to end or maintains a measure of camber, all Powder skis find a way to keep the extremities from interfering with a quick foot swivel, which may or may not result in a change in direction but which should at least scrub some speed.

One reason most Powder skis are made easy to swivel sideways is that they’re naturally not so nifty flipping edge to edge.  They’re made to be buoyant, not nimble.  Since getting them up on edge is a chore, they don’t lend themselves to technical skiing even if they’re capable of it.  All of these models make powder skiing easier, but not all are content just poking their way down the hill.

Once a ski is over 114mm wide at the waist, any pretense that it’s somehow an “all-mountain” ski is piffle. A Powder ski’s only purpose is what’s in its name.  Can one be skied on hard snow?  Of course, any tool can be misapplied. But Powder skis on slick, hard snow are hard to steer, limited largely to a controlled skid.  Even if the skier is comfortable with this concept, if he can’t steer accurately on crowded slopes, he can’t ski safely.

The 2021 Men’s Powder Field

If you’re one of those who would rather see the movie than read the book, you can skip the introductory remarks and cut to https://realskiers.com/realskiers-tv/powder-skis/ where I’ll regale you with a brief tour of the genre as I saw it at the end of the season in 2019. The Powder genre has been almost stagnant since then, so my seemingly dated remarks remain relevant today.

The only significant changes to the 2021 Powder field are two new models with a new name but old shape and another with an old name but a new everything else. One new name comes courtesy of Dynastar, that kept the sidecut and sizing of its retired Menace Proto F-Team in the newly christened M-Free 118.  (A review of the departing Menace Proto can be found in the Realskiers.com Review Archives, accessible to members.)  The other returnee with a new identity is the Rossignol Blackops Gamer that was part of the underground Blackops series of last season.

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The newest ski in the genre has an old name, the Blizzard Spur. Gone is the one-length-only, asymmetric, flat underfoot, metal-topped Spur of yore, replaced with a cambered Carbon Flipcore design in a thinner overall silhouette that’s available in four sizes.

For obvious reasons – little new snow followed by a pandemic – I was unable to ski any of the new 2021 models.  All the reviews you’ll find here are cloned from last year’s reports.

How we present Powder results is as unchanged as the category’s composition. If I can ski a Powder model, I report on it. There are no scores to divulge, no rankings to apply.  What I do instead is segregate the field into three families:

  • Finesse models fulfill the primary mission of making powder simple to ski. They’re ideal for anyone for whom powder poses problems.
  • Power skis are for experts who don’t need any help, as they plan to charge the fall line with all engines firing.
  • Naturals aren’t as beastly to bend as the Power picks, nor are they as loose as the Finesse faves. They feel like normal all-terrain skis, just a helluva lot wider.

Every model I tried is Recommended as all are well adapted to parting their way through new snow. As all are equal in our eyes, they’re presented here in random order.

Power Picks: Shredding the Gnar

Any ski over 113mm underfoot can be thrown into a skid, but some would prefer it if the pilot knew how to point ‘em.   Our Power picks not only aren’t afraid of speed, they live for it and to one degree or another, require it.   Imagine you’re heli-skiing on a pitch so steep every turn triggers a slough line that seems intent on catching you from behind.  You have a choice: accelerate or be swept over the next cliff band like a piece of luggage.  It’s in moments like these that our Powder Power Picks were designed to rise to the occasion, keeping their cool when the going gets gnarly.

Head Kore 117



Head did an amazing job of positioning its Kore series as “light done right,” catching the “Lighter is Better” wave with the right message at the right time. The brand’s focus on the light part of the story was so effective it overshadowed the real point of the slogan, the “done right” bit. What makes the Kore 117 a star performer isn’t that it’s ultralight – it’s not close to being the lightest in the Powder genre – but that it’s freakishly powerful.

The deeply tapered tip acts more like a bumper than an avid turn initiator and the rounded tail is intended to release the turn as if it were a wounded sparrow.  Right underfoot the sidecut is fairly straight, so the center section can be foot-steered more easily. What keeps the Kore 117 on track in choppy chunder is its overall stiffness. Thanks to Graphene’s absurd strength to weight ratio, the Kore 117 can be as resistant to twisting and bending as Head’s engineers want it to be.

Read the full review here

Blizzard Bodacious



The Blizzard Bodacious has been around long enough to collect a pension, yet it remains one of the most badass big skis you can buy, bursting with youthful exuberance. Only one other ski in the genre, Nordica’s Enforcer 115 Free, deploys two sheets of Titanal, which in a ski of the Bodacious’ gargantuan dimensions creates a crud-buster with the power of a Panzer.  Once they’re pointed downhill, momentum is not the problem, but keeping up with their preferred pace can be.

Because it’s built like an all-mountain ski, its ability to hold an edge is well above average for the genre. Not that you want always to ride the edge on a ski with a 30.5m sidecut radius (186cm), but the Bodacious won’t back down even on boilerplate so you could ski it – and ski it well – in any condition.  And should you get in trouble and need to pull the ripcord by straight-lining to safety, no other Powder ski is as stable at speed as this Blizzard.

Read the full review here

Nordica Enforcer 115 Free



Most powder skis are made for those who either don’t ski powder so well or those who ski it so well they need a crazy-wide ski to make their living. The Nordica Enforcer 115 Free leans towards those of elite ability who point their skis downhill a lot more than they turn them sideways. It takes an aggressive attitude to pilot this ski because its long turn radius and extra length (note it only comes in a 191cm) need speed to turn these traits from liabilities to assets. If you like to tiptoe through the trees or make tidy, little turns to control your speed, you are reading the wrong review.

The reason the Enforcer 115 Free skis like a GS race ski in a fat suit is because it’s still a wood and metal ski, with two sheets of .4mm Titanal to give this big board the power of plutonium. Were it to depend on fiberglass for its liveliness, it would weigh as much as the Queen Mary; the switch from glass to carbon is what enables Nordica to retain the Ti laminates and the special stability at speed that they confer.

Read the full review here

Finesse Favorites: Easy Access for All

When Atomic first introduced the Magic Powder around 1990, it was a mere curio, a fringe ski for punters in over their heads on a heli trip. Ten years later, the landscape had flipped over so the widest skis were “AK” models made for the guides, not their ducklings. Gradually both paradigms were able find a foothold in the marketplace because both opened up new terrain possibilities for their respective communities. 

Our Finesse favorites had to be able to smudge a turn on a whim, so lower-skill skiers can check their speed.  The best of them also have the wherewithal to amp it up should the pilot choose to charge the fall line, attributes it never hurts to have in reserve.

Salomon QST 118



I posted a video in the spring of 2019 on the then-current state of the Powder ski genre. My principal argument was that despite being made for the same purposes, every ski in the category has its own distinct personality. Some beg to run hot, staying close to the fall line until they hit their tipping point.  Others are loosely linked to the snow and are much better at smearing than carving.

The Salomon QST 118 resides somewhere in the middle, a Finesse ski that hides its power reserve in powder, where it drifts lazily through a mid-radius turn on its own volition. When the powder is kaput, so are a lot of made-for-powder models, but the QST 118 handles the transition to carving conditions as if it were a gentleman’s cruiser. It doesn’t take much edge angle or pressure to engage it, so there’s no need to exaggerate the degree of edge elevation in order to get it to hold.

Read the full review here

Blizzard Rustler 11



Big as he is, the Rustler 11 will always be the Bodacious’ little brother, and like many baby bros, the Rustler 11 tries hard to be his elder sibling’s antithesis. The biggest difference in the younger’s personality is how he behaves at the point of attack, where the ski meets the snow.  Put simply, the Bodacious is a puncher, and the Rustler 11 is a counter-puncher.

When the Bodacious hits a wind drift, whatever it impacts is obliterated; when the Rustler 11 probes the same surface, it contorts to match it, as if trying to disturb it as little as possible. The Bodacious expects you to be fearless, ergo good; the Rustler 11 embraces initiates with open arms. The Bodacious is about domination; the Rustler 11 is about play.  The Bodacious requires strength and skill; the Rustler just wants to show you a good time.

Read the full review here

K2 Mindbender 116C



K2 flipped its entire freeride family last year, closing the Pinnacle period and beginning the Mindbender era. Mindbenders come in two flavors, with a Titanal yoke or a variable carbon weave as the principal structural component.  Mindful of the need to keep fat skis on a diet, the Mindbender 116C is of the metal-free variety.  The dip in torsional rigidity makes the Mindbender 116C feel narrower when it’s tipped and pressured, so traditional powder technique’s rhythmic turning style fits its strong suit.

But if you never attempt to stand on the edge, you can still smear your way along just by twisting your feet sideways.  Not being as stiff or heavy as a Ti-laden model, the Mindbender 116C is easier to manhandle when necessary and never refuses an invitation to drift around a turn. As you’d expect from the Kings of Rocker at K2, the rocker at both tip and tail are long and high, creating a predisposition to bank off the base rather than carve on the edge.

Read the full review here

Fischer Ranger 115 FR



The Fischer Ranger 115 FR is an interesting amalgam of suppressed carving tendencies and overt desires to drift around every corner. Like any decent Powder ski, it’s first duty is to drift, but its ultralight Air Tec Ti core is sheathed in a sliver of Titanal, generating the security underfoot necessary to stay on course in heavy, cut-up crud.  Despite its inherent prejudice for smearing, it’s on its best behavior when mimicking giant slalom technique through an open snowfield.

The one move it can’t copy is a short-radius, carved turn, a virtual impossibility given its front and rear rocker.  This limited liability is shared by all Powder models, and is readily overcome by simply swiveling one’s feet. The Ranger 115 FR’s facility as a power drifter is further assisted by its Carbon Nose, which lowers swingweight, and its domed, Aeroshape top surface that slips sideways with silken ease.

Read the full review here

The Naturals: Brilliant Balance

As I was sorting the Powder skis I’d essayed in 2019 at Snow Basin and Mammoth into Finesse and Power piles, three models emerged that resisted categorization. To pigeonhole them as Power skis would obscure their exceptional willingness to operate from any stance and remain tractable at any speed. They can even hold a continuous edge on hard snow without trembling, although why anyone would want to escort them around groomed runs I can’t imagine.

As you can see from the cast of one below, two of the Naturals were retired when Rossignol and Dynastar introduced new lines this season. But the 2021 Dynastar M-Free 118 bears an awfully close family resemblance to the passé Menace Proto, so it’s likely to exhibit the same instant accessibility.

Atomic Bent Chetler 120



By the look of it, the Atomic Bent Chetler 120 will ski like a flat-bottomed boat. Both bow and stern are rockered front-to-back and side-to-side, forming convex contact points that can serve as a prow when going forwards or a pivot point to rotate into rearward.  Given how greasy this platform looks, it’s a surprise when it behaves… normally.  Of course the Horizon Tech shovel, as the multi-axis rocker is called, wants to drift a bit before connecting to a turn, but when tilted on edge it knows what to do. After a few turns you become less conscious of its width and more aware of what a smooth, balanced ride it delivers.

Any ski of the Bent Chetler 120’s substantial dimensions will deliver the goods in pristine powder; the real test comes when the fresh stuff runs out. This is when all that surface area and relatively straight sidecut lets the skier use the Chetlers like giant putty knives. It doesn’t matter if the snow is clumpy or broken into choppy fragments, once you’ve poured over it on your Chetlers it will be smooth again. If all that drifting sounds lame, you can always resort to charging the fall line where you’ll find the Bent Chetler 120’s rise to the occasion.

Read the full review here