2023 Women’s All-Mountain East Skis

2023 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 2023 Women’s All-Mountain East Field

In a year of relatively light model turnover among women’s models in general, the red-hot All-Mountain East category continued to lead the field in new model generation. The notable newbies are Fischer’s Ranger 90 WS, part of a complete re-make of the longstanding Ranger series; K2’s Mindbender 89 Ti W – its unisex iteration made the biggest improvement of any 2023 model; Rossi’s Rallybird 92, also part of an across-the-board makeover of an off-trail series; Salomon’s QST Lux 92, which has been around the block a few times, in a fresh iteration that is its best by far; and Völkl’s Kenja 88, a venerable nameplate that has evolved into one of the most innovative and effective constructions, ever.

Also kinda new are Head’s Kore 85 W and 91 W.  Both models went through a slew of changes last year, so all that was new for 2023 was a top coat of urethane, which in the widest Kores seemed to make the ride a little damper, but in these narrow widths we found the urethane’s effect to be less evident. Note that the urethane’s first purpose is to protect the fleece topsheet; any extra smoothness is a bonus.

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. Of the 24 models we considered 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 EXP 86 Basalt W 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.”

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 last 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.

Within the Kore family, the design of the Kore 91 W is shifted, however slightly, in favor of edge grip on hard snow, versus smudge-ability on the soft stuff.

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 two years ago it discontinued its Monster series and chucked its classic, wood-and-Titanal construction, to make room for the Kore 87 in its collection.  Last 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.

Read the full review here

K2 Mindbender 89 Ti W

The first Mindbender Ti collection, introduced in the pre-pandemic 19/20 season, adopted the Titanal Y-Beam construction developed for the women’s Mindbender 88 Ti Alliance for the entire Mindbender Ti clan, men’s models included.  This year’s re-design focused on re-shaping the Y-Beam from end to end, adding more metal just behind the forward contact point for more secure turn initiation, running edge-to-edge underfoot and substantially expanding the width of the Ti laminate at the end of the Y-Beam’s “handle,” so the edge won’t wash out under sustained pressure.

In the 2023 men’s (a.k.a. unisex) Mindbender 89 Ti, our testers awarded the new model substantially higher scores than its predecessor, boosting it near the top of our Finesse ranks. While we don’t have a trophy for “Most Improved New Model,” if we did, it would go the Mindbender 89 Ti.   The women’s version is cut from the same cloth, so it stands to reason that it, too, will be noticeably better at, well, everything.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Read the full review here

K2 Mindbender 90C W

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 W price down to an economical $499.95.

The Mindbender 90C W 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 89Ti W.  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 W is my go-to resort ski and the most popular ski for my Women’s Ski Adventure clients.”

Read the full review here

Salomon Lux 92

Like a fairy tale princess, the Salomon QST Lux 92 was born in humble circumstances, endured an awkward adolescence and gradually transformed into a raving beauty. You see, the first edition of the Lux 92 was clearly intended for intermediates, first-time buyers and bargain hunters, as it sold for $499 and didn’t share much of the high-tech construction of its wider siblings, the Lumen and Stella. The latest Lux 92 has top-of-the-line features, including a full-length allotment of C/FX, the carbon and flax amalgam that provides the principal structural support for all the QST’s.  Also onboard is a Titanal plate underfoot that improves stability throughout its mid-section.

Read the full review here


Fischer Ranger 90

[Fischer’s Ranger women’s models are identical to their unisex counterparts.  It’s in this spirit that we reprise our unisex review of the Ranger 90, whose every word is as applicable to its “women’s” version.]

Fischer has spent the last few seasons behind the R&D curtain re-imagining its entire Ranger collection of off-trail models.  The result is a family of hybrids that blend the two branches of the previous Ranger clan, the surfy FR series and the more connected Ti models.  All the new Rangers get a dose of .5mm-thick Titanal underfoot married to a fairly loose tip and tail.  As befits the family name, they all have a decidedly off-trail bias.

Fans of earlier Rangers will find the new series are more closely related behaviorally to the easy-to-smear FR models of yore than to the metal-laden Ti fraternity. The lighter weight (all poplar) core of the Ranger 90 suggests it might be a good option for living a double life as an in-resort/backcountry, all-purpose partner-in-climb.

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.

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.

Read the full review here