2022 Women’s All-Mountain East Skis

2022 Women’s All-Mountain East Recommended Skis

For the advanced woman, the All-Mountain East category is most likely the best place for her to hunt for her one-ski quiver.  In our view, the 88mm-93mm waisted ski possesses the optimal surface area and shape to deliver adequate flotation in broken snow without creating a ski so wide that tipping it on hard snow potentially puts the knee joint at risk. The more petite the person, the more this prescription pertains.

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When we factor in the terrain versatility the archetypical All-Mountain East provides, we’re led to the conclusion that for many female skiers, East or West, these skis bring the best bundle of behaviors to the all-terrain party.  Many American women must agree, for they made Blizzard’s Black Pearl 88 the best-selling model four straight years. The Pearl’s success no doubt inspired the competition to up its game, resulting in a market over-stuffed with options.

 The Women’s All-Mountain East genre is a crossroads category, where the DNA of skinny Frontside models mingles with that of the skinniest members of an off-trail tribe. For a category that professes to present “50/50” models that are equally at home on piste or off, the WAME is almost entirely comprised of skis descended from a fatter archetype.

 Because the Women’s All-Mountain East category is so popular, brands want to load it up with as many models as they can. There are often two or three tiers of the retail price spectrum represented, so women have more value-priced options.

 For in the final analysis, it’s the adaptability to a broad palette of conditions that makes the All-Mountain East genre the home of do-it-all ski for women. Thanks to their shape and fairly svelte mid-section, they carve up groomed runs with aplomb.  While they’re not as quick edge-to-edge as a slalom ski, they’re plenty nimble enough to snake through bumps or slip through trees.  Of course they can’t float in freshies they same way a fatter ski can, but how many runs do you get in uncut snow, even on snow days?  They have as much flotation for the average woman as a 98mm-waisted ski has for a man, which is sufficient in all but the most luscious, bottomless conditions. 

The 2022 Women’s All-Mountain East Field


The pandemic may have slowed down the amount of model turnover across all categories, but the popularity of the All-Mountain East genre assured that this pivotal genre would see new entrants come hell or high water. Atomic was still able to usher its new Maven 93 C and Maven 86 C into the world, and Rossi created a whole new sub-genre, All-Resort, to describe an emerging skier type who will cotton to the headliner of its overhauled Experience series, the EXP 86 Basalt W.

Three 21/22 models we classify as new are upgrades of existing issues. The Head Kore 91 W and Kore 85 W are part of an across-the-board amelioration of every Kore model, earning high praise from the ladies lucky enough to ski them. Liberty’s evolv 90w grew a new rib in its Vertical Metal Technology make-up, granting it more grip on hard snow and better crud-busting power off-trail.

As noted above, there’s more than one price point in the All-Mountain East genre, and filling one of the lower slots is the new Völkl Blaze 86 W, which makes the backcountry (as well as the resort) more accessible to newcomers with its $499 retail.

Women gravitate to the All-Mountain East genre because it promises a measure of proficiency off-trail without giving up the security of carving on groomers. But groomed slopes aren’t really what they’re made for. Out of 26 models we counted in the category, all but three were the slimmer members of an off-trail family.  Only the Head Total Joy, Kästle DX85 and Rossignol’s new EXP 86 Basalt are extensions of Frontside families.

If you’d like to be introduced to the ladies who contributed to these reviews, please visit our Women’s Test Roster.

Blizzard Black Pearl 88


Blizzard already had the best-selling ski in the U.S., men’s or women’s, when it made two changes to the Black Pearl 88 that made the best even better. The first major sweetener was TrueBlend, a meticulously arranged parquet of lightweight poplar and denser beech that is adapted for every length, and coordinated with modifications to the baseline and sidecut. The goal of TrueBlend is a perfectly balanced flex that feels smooth yet energetic.

The second major booster was a women’s-specific Titanal plate underfoot that spreads its calming effect over nearly the full length of the ski. “Every length is calibrated to create an optimal, round flex that travels well in all conditions,” notes Blizzard tester Cara Williams. “The latest Pearls are actually slightly heavier (+150g) than the previous model,” she notes, “but I discovered after only 3 or 4 high-speed turns, that once you click in, the function and performance outweigh the literal weight of a ski – it’s more important to be the right weight than light weight.”

Nicole Iroff from Peter Glenn was smitten from the get-go. “What can I say this ski has it all,” she raves. Click into your bindings and off you go. Super early to the edge, super easy to turn. They’re so easy to ski and so much fun they are completely effortless. This sweet weight is so easy to go from one turn into the next. I highly recommend this ski for a solid intermediate to advanced intermediate skier.”

Read the full review here

Head Kore 91 W


 The Head Kore 91 W is either the best women’s ski for off-trail skiing, or the best off-trail ski for women, take your pick.  Don’t detect a difference?  Neither do we. The properties that make the Kore 91 W a great women’s ski and those that make it ideally suited for off-piste conditions are the same.

No matter which side of this equation you’re on, the Kore 91 W got a shot in the arm this year when Head incorporated several new elements into the Kore design. First, it redecorated the interior, tearing out artificial Koroyd honeycomb and replacing it with its blended Karuba/poplar wood core.  The switch to all-wood makes a difference in the feedback the skier receives from the snow, so the ski feels supportive but not fussy about how it’s handled.

Whether you’re taking your first strides into the sidecountry – or perhaps the backcountry? – or you earned your off-trail stripes long ago, the Kore 91 W is a gas to have along for the ride. You’ll be amazed by the amount of energy you can save by skiing the right ski off-trail. The Kore 91 W reigns supreme in this department. For its many energy-saving attributes, we award the Kore 91 W a Silver Skier Selection.

Read the full review here

Head Kore 85 W

Head has so much confidence in the all-terrain capabilities of its off-trail Kore design that last year it discontinued its Monster series and chucked its classic, wood-and-Titanal construction, to make room for the Kore 87 in its collection. This year, the entire Kore family, including the re-christened Kore 85 W, was redesigned in several subtle ways to raise the performance bar even higher.

From a global performance perspective, Head understands that not all Kores will be treated equally. The Kore 85 W, as the narrowest of the clan, is expected to spend a good deal of its life on groomed snow, so it’s stiffened up accordingly. Like all the Kores, the 85 W switched out the synthetic Koroyd in its innards for more Karuba and poplar laminates, improving overall feedback from the snow.

The Kore 85 W is nonetheless an off-trail ski by dint of its baseline and sidecut, so it has a special fondness for powder. A new Kore feature that makes it even more effortless to ski in deep snow is a chamfered top edge that lets the ski slice sideways with almost no resistance. Since all powder skiing entails some foot-swiveling, this seemingly minor change has a major impact.

Read the full review here

K2 Mindbender 88Ti Alliance

A couple of years ago (pre-pandemic), K2 completely redesigned its off-trail collection, creating the Mindbender series for men and corresponding Mindbender Alliance models for women. The character-defining traits of the Mindbender Ti versions are dictated by the shape and placement of its signature Ti Y-Beam component. This much you may already know, but you may not be aware that the design of Ti Y-Beam that was ultimately industrialized was prototyped in the Mindbender 88 Ti Alliance.

Big mountain competitor and coach Emma Whiteland was part of the K2 Alliance test team throughout the Mindbender 88Ti Alliance’s development. Here’s a digest of her report on helping create the single ski that handle whatever is thrown in its path.

“Titanal Y-Beam construction evolved through the process of developing the desired weight and stiffness for the women’s 88Ti. Titanal is laid over the ski in a ‘Y’ shape creating the flex profile, producing precise turn initiation while allowing for easy release out of a turn and a wide variety of turn shapes. Having the metal laid out in a ‘Y’ allows for a savings of unnecessary weight while maintaining desired stiffness. The Titanal Y-Beam created for the Mindbender 88 Ti Alliance became the design that was applied to the rest of the Mindbender collection, both for men and women.

Read the full review here


Völkl Kenja 88

The Kenja is the grand dame of the women’s market, and over the years she’s had more facelifts than Joan Rivers to keep her current. But none of her previous makeovers were quite as extensive – or as successful – at reinvigorating the old gal with the energy of youth as the current Kenja 88. In a word, wow.

The application of Titanal Frame technology is the game changer. By breaking the top sheet of Titanal into 3 pieces, the metal is distributed where it can do the most good, and the fiberglass beneath it can breathe. The engagement of the glass layer during the turn is what creates the rebound energy that differentiates this Kenja from all who came before.

But the Kenja 88 didn’t bring just one gift to this party; its sidecut has been modified into triple-radius affair – Völkl calls it 3D Radius Sidecut – that mimics a geometry more commonly found in Technical skis. If you lay it over until the center radius is engaged, you’ll get a tidy short turn, but ride it close to the fall line and the long-radius tip and tail sections take control over trajectory. An extra patch of shock-damping carbon in the shovel helps reduce shimmy in sketchy snow.

Read the full review here


Nordica Santa Ana 93

Last season, Nordica’s 5-model Santa Ana collection was finally unified under a single design concept, Terrain Specific Metal, that closes the gap between the top edge and a single, sculpted, Titanal topsheet as the waist width shrinks. On the
Santa Ana 93, TSM moves the metal fairly close to the edge, to improve edging power on the groomed conditions it’s fated to experience.

“Being light and fairly flexible makes them fun all around,” notes Stacy Kellner from Squaw Valley Ski School, who felt the Santa Ana 93 handled better on-trail. “They’re a bit beefier ski that carves great and is easy to get on edge. Groomers were lots of fun,” she notes. Becca Pierce from Bobo’s encountered the Santa Ana 93 on a spring day when the snow evolved into porridge off-trail. “A great ski for these sloppy, slushy, sticky conditions,” she says, evidence that it’s meant for more than mere groomers. Jolee from Footloose agrees with Becca, citing the Santa Ana 93 as “Great for a one ski quiver. It can charge on hard pack and off-piste. Doesn’t have a speed limit,” she adds admiringly.

Madeline Dunn, an ex-racer turned big mountain skier, avalanche education instructor and Nordica tester, penned her impressions of the Santa Ana 93.

Read the full review here


Nordica Santa Ana 88

One of the reasons the Women’s All-Mountain East category is so popular is that it represents the first step away from prepared slopes, the featureless terrain to which the uninitiated are tethered. Perhaps it’s the peculiar nature of the frontier-America mentality, but in the U.S., where no one likes to be told what they can and cannot do, the off-piste represents freedom, escapism and breaking the bonds of convention and formality.

Sorry for the rhetorical flourishes, but for some reason Americans can’t wait to go off-trail, ready or not, so they might as well be ready. This is where the Nordica Santa Ana 88 can be of greatest service to humankind. While an expert can ski it and appreciate its merits, experts have a lot of other choices, while those who need the most help adapting to the strangeness of skiing off-trail do not.

The Santa Ana 88 will also work wonders for one of the sport’s fastest-growing niches, the in-resort/backcountry ski that will work with a hybrid Alpine/AT binding to create the ultimate all-terrain set-up.

Read the full review here


Blizzard Sheeva 9 

Both the Sheeva 9 and the Black Pearl 88 are descendants of a line of off-trail parents; the template for the Pearl was the Brahma, the little brother of the mighty Cochise and Bodacious; the model for the Sheeva 9 was the Rustler 9, a spin-off of the Rustler 10 and 11. To better understand the nuances that distinguish the Pearl 88 from the Sheeva 9, it helps to understand the families they come from.

Distilled to its essence, the Pearl 88 has a smidgeon more aptitude for hard-snow skiing.  Its Flipcore construction allows the forebody to join the rest of the ski on edge once it’s tipped and pressured, so the skier has the sense of riding the entire ski and not just a section of it.  The front of the Sheeva 9 is made to be looser, to intentionally forego early connection to a fully carved turn. That it still feels solid throughout is a testament to the security imparted by a trimmed down top laminate of Titanal.

Blizzard calls this Ti treatment Dynamic Release Technology (D.R.T.). Its raison d’être is to liberate the tip and tail to twist and deform as it moves through the heavy snow and irregular surfaces that prevail off-piste. The wall-to-wall metal in the midsection restores order to the operation so the skier feels secure underfoot. “Great balanced ski,” says Jolee from Footloose, who put the Sheeva 9 through its paces at Mammoth Mountain. “It does great turning on groomers but also charging through the choppy snow.”

Read the full review here


Rossignol Experience W 86 Basalt

The Experience W 86 Basalt from Rossignol is part of a tiny minority of Women’s All-Mountain East models that headlines a mostly Frontside collection. Rossi has completely re-imagined its Experience series, long the mainstay of its core recreational models, to fit what it perceives as a new skier type, the “All-Resort” skier. Skiing is still an important part of the overall resort experience, but it’s not the whole ball of wax for this resort visitor.  While this person is an avid skier, she’s not going to go wandering out of bounds intentionally and whatever powder she essays will be on the side of the trail.  She’ll find something else to do when the weather is lousy, and she’s not going to push too hard on the performance envelope.

In commercial terms, the EXP W 86 Basalt is a “step-up” model, most likely a first-time purchase for a skier who has survived until now on rentals and second-hand fare. Its “all-trail sidecut” will engage at the top of the turn and hold firm through the finish, encouraging skills development without insisting on it. If the skier applies a little tip pressure, its supple forebody transfers energy with gentle insistence, coaching the skier up on an edge that feels confidence-building underfoot.

Read the full review here

K2 Mindbender 90C Alliance 

K2’s Mindbender series manages to cover all of its bases with just two principal constructions, Ti Y-Beam and Spectral Braid. Substituting the cross-hatched fibers of Spectral Braid for a sculpted sheet of Titanal saves both weight and money, bringing the MB 90C Alliance price down to an economical $499.

The Mindbender 90C Alliance probably isn’t the right choice for all experts, but for someone whose off-trail skill set is still in its formative stages, it’s probably a better fit than the Mindbender 88Ti Alliance.  Here’s what veteran K2 tester – her tenure began in 1990! – and freeskiing icon Kim Reichhelm has to say about the MB 90C and its suitability for her ski camp clients.

“The Mindbender 90C Alliance is my go-to resort ski and the most popular ski for my Women’s Ski Adventure clients. The C stand for carbon; there is no metal in this ski making it more flexible tip to tail, which allows it to engage into the turn easily and be more forgiving coming out. The carbon adds torsional rigidity that keeps the ski from chattering on hard snow and adds some snap for carving and in bumps. The versatility of this ski is what makes it so fantastic. It carves, it skids, it’s fun in the bumps and even has some float in a little bit of fresh snow. The best part is, I don’t have to work hard to ski fluidly on this ski.”

Read the full review here

Head Total Joy 

Two seasons ago, the Joy family of women-specific carving skis underwent the same sort of across-the-board transformation that the Kore series experienced this year. Head’s justifiable focus on Graphene, carbon in a one-atom-thick matrix – that allows Head to tinker with flex in ways previously unimaginable – makes it sound as though the ultralight Total Joy were made of synthetics and pixie dust, but it’s actually grounded in an all-wood (Karuba and ash) core, with carbon, fiberglass and lighter-than-pixie-dust Graphene providing structural support.

Its ultralight insides aren’t all that’s unique about the Total Joy. It’s also the maven of a covey of carving skis, and it’s built more for on-piste edging than off-trail smearing. In this respect the Total Joy is the Kore 85 W’s polar opposite. Its mildly rockered, multi-radius forebody itches to find an edge, and its deep-dish sidecut wants to hold onto it like it like it was a long-lost child. It’s ideal for an accomplished frontside skier who occasionally dabbled in off-trail pursuits.

Robin Barnes, director of the Portillo Ski School and a PSIA National Team Member, gets where the Total Joy fits in the Grand Scheme of Things. If she seems to know more about Head women’s skis than most, it’s because she’s been a Head-sponsored athlete and ambassador for years. Here’s her thumbnail report on the Total Joy:

Read the full review here


Liberty evolv 90w 

Forgive me, Dear Readers, for I have sinned. I’ve included the Liberty evolv 90w here without knowing, deep-down, how women will feel about its 21/22 incarnation. You see, Liberty added a third alu strut to its innovative Vertical Metal Technology core, which will require a certain amount of energy to deflect. I’m sure Liberty understands that any skier, regardless of gender, has to be able to bend a ski to extract its best behavior. Still, I hate to render judgment based on suspicions alone.

But I’m going to, anyway. The prior generation’s carving prowess, to which the fabulous Kim Beekman alludes, below, was already first-rate, and the unisex 21/22 evolv 90 is one of the brightest stars in this year’s pantheon of All-Mountain East models. There’s every reason to suspect the new evolv 90w will perform like an elite carving ski trapped in an all-mountain model’s body.

Here’s what Kim Beekman, an editorial force in our little industry, and a damn good skier in the bargain, composed for these pages last year about the two-strut version of the evolv 90w:

“The evolv 90w is an all-mountain multi-tool designed to make your face hurt from smiling so hard. Designed with Liberty’s revolutionary Vertical Metal Technology -struts of metal sandwiched vertically between lightweight wood stringers, rather than two sheets of metal laid above and below the core – this ski has all the confidence-inspiring stability and edge-grip without the muscle-burning weight. It goads you to go faster, ski longer, explore further, and is always up for the challenge.

Read the full review here