2023 Women’s All-Mountain West Skis

2023 Women’s All-Mountain West Recommended Skis

In yet another example of our cutting-edge journalism, permit us to point out that men and women are different.  The pertinent manifestation of this principle is that the same width ski that makes an ideal men’s all-terrain tool is a tad too wide to be an everyday ride for all but the most talented lasses.  Put more succinctly, if you don’t instinctively ride an elevated edge angle, a ski from the All-Mountain West genre should be a second, soft-snow pair of skis.

Read More

The primary reason for taking this precaution is that a wider ski takes more effort to roll up on edge. A lower skill skier is more likely to just push it around, all fun and games in soft snow but a bit like an unguided missile when the snow firms up. Lower skill skiers tend to regard our Power Picks as lacking in forgiving traits, while the experts who log many miles a season don’t detect any unfriendly attitudes no matter where or how they ski them.

So what woman does belong on an All-Mountain West model?  As long as it’s a second ski reserved for soft snow conditions, there’s really no upper or lower suitability threshold for any of our favorites.  And yes, it can be an everyday ski for a strong, athletic woman and probably is serving that function for those lucky enough to ski over 50 days a year.  They do make it look effortless, but it’s worth noting these are ladies who drop their hips within inches of the snow as a matter of course.

The 2023 Women’s All-Mountain West Field

A ski with a waist width between 95mm and 100mm is already a wide ski for a woman, which means most models sold in this genre are likely to be a second pair, intended for soft-snow days or perhaps set up for touring.  Because this market is more limited, brands don’t offer as many options in the All-Mountain West category. On the Realskiers test roster, every ski supplier offered only one model in AMW, while most brands shoehorn at least two choices into Women’s All-Mountain East.

Because of its smaller size, the Women’s All-Mountain West category has a lower rate of model turnover.  Usually, a WAMW model only changes when its little sister in Women’s All-Mountain East is also receiving more than a face lift. This year, we saw only two new WAMW skis, both part of  larger line makeovers at Fischer and K2, the Ranger 96 and Mindbender 99Ti W, respectively.

Blizzard Black Pearl 97

The Black Pearl 97 borrows its sidecut and baseline from the unisex Bonafide 97, and purloins its Woman Specific Design (W.S.D.) from the Black Pearl 88. Last season both of its parents upgraded to the TrueBlend core, that perfectly matches flex to shape and size, so naturally the Black Pearl 97 followed suit.

Included in the W.S.D. package of enhancements is a Titanal mounting plate, that improves, well, everything about the Pearl 97. It’s grip on hardpack far exceeds expectations, and it makes mincemeat out of choppy crud. Its women-specific TrueBlend core finds the right balance between relatively light weight for maneuverability but enough substance to subdue a tracked-up fall-line.

This is how PSIA National Team member Brenna Kelleher portrayed her experience with the Black Pearl 97: “Whether you are new to off-piste terrain or a high-level ripper, the Black Pearl 97 does not disappoint. I would recommend the Black Pearl 97 to any intermediate/advanced skier looking to explore more terrain off the groomers.”

Read the full review here

Dynastar E-Pro 99 W

The M-Pro line that Dynastar introduced two years ago is hierarchical, with the M-Pro 99 and 99 W sitting on top of a 3-model range. This means the M-Pro 99 W isn’t just the widest ski in the range, it’s the also the best. Women who’ve attained advanced ability should probably be on the M-Pro 99 W even if they’re likely to spend half their time on groomed terrain.

I make this suggestion despite the fact that the M-Pro 99 W’s baseline and build are clearly intended for off-piste terrain. It’s topsheet of Titanal peters out about half way up the forebody so the front of the ski stays loose and free to conform to uneven conditions. It’s the Ti in the mid-section and tail that calm the M-Pro 99 W down on groomers, earning the admiration of Lara Hughes Allen, who filed this dispatch: “I skied it on a day where we had gotten about a foot of new snow over crud/ice and it had a lot of float through the soft snow, but also charged through the crud. Surprisingly grippy on the groomers as well.”

Read the full review here


K2 Mindbender 99Ti W

It’s instructive that the 99 Ti is the widest women’s Mindbender with Titanal Y-Beam; the next widest Mindbender, the 106 C W, uses carbon as its principal structural element, as does the 115 C W. This underscores the dividing line between a true all-terrain, in-resort ski like the MB 99 Ti W that will spend roughly half its life on hard snow, and a powder-specific board like the 106 C that could double as a sidecountry touring model.  The metal that makes the 99 Ti W proficient on rock-hard groomers would add so much mass to a 106 it would be hard to push around off-trail and murder for climbing.  Expert women who want an everyday, all-condition ski for in-bounds skiing should opt for the MB 99 Ti W and leave the wider Mindbenders for the rare powder day.

Read the full review here

Völkl Secret 96

Völkl takes product development very, very seriously, testing nearly 1,000 different skis a year, in every length it will manufacture. It uses a team of both in-house product designers and a dozen or so “externals” – top instructors and racers – to evaluate every design aspect. Their task is made trickier in that key design elements like Tailored Titanal Frame, 3D Sidecut, Tailored Carbon Tips and the Secret 96’s double-rockered baseline, all need to blend together for the magic to happen.

I mention this because the new Secret 96 is essentially the same ski as the M6 Mantra, which sounds like a short-cut way to gin up a women’s ski. Far from it. One of the essential design goals of both new skis was to precisely tailor all aspects for all sizes, a process particularly beneficial for the largest and smallest sizes.

Read the full review here

Head Kore 97 W

Head’s Kore series provides a perfect example of why a great off-trail ski and an ideal women’s ski share the same design criteria.  In 21/22, the changes made to the unisex Kore collection were ipso facto applied to its women’s iterations.  The same alterations that make the new Kore 99 a better all-terrain ski also make the Kore 97 W a better women’s ski.

The most visible change was to the topsheet, which is now smoothly beveled so the ski slips sideways virtually without resistance, a big help when the snow is deep. A top coating of urethane was added for 2023, to help protect its fleece top. Inside, the Kore’s core was modified by eliminating Koroyd honeycomb and replacing it with more of its Karuba-poplar wood core.  This delivers a subtle change in snow feel and feedback that makes the ride feel smoother and more predictable.

Read the full review here

Nordica Santa Ana 98

It’s not entirely coincidental that the Santa Ana 98 debuted two years ago along with Terrain Specific Metal, Nordica’s way of doling out just the right amount of metal for each of its five Santa Ana models. The Santa Ana 98 was needed because its predecessor, the Santa Ana 100, used wall-to-wall, end-to-end sheets of Titanal, so they skied like supercharged rockets. Skiers who just wanted a ski to make powder easier were over-served.

But just because the Santa Ana 98 doesn’t ski like an Enforcer 100, don’t think for a second that it’s been gutted.  Within the Santa Ana clan, the 98 falls on the side of the threesome that are intended to live at least part of their lives on hard snow. It wasn’t created to ski powder at the expense of competence when carving up groomers; it’s meant to live comfortably on the border of both worlds.

Read the full review here

Kästle FX96 W

This year, Kästle completely redesigned its off-trail FX series, returning to a metal laminate construction. Kästle’s FX96 Women, however, wasn’t part of this transformation, returning to the line where it first debuted in the 2019/20 season.

The cornerstone of the FX96 W design is a poplar and beech wood core inside a fiberglass torsion box that is itself encased in a laminate, with poplar and Paulownia bookending the central core. The torsion box rides higher than the outer sections, creating a 3D top surface, which is the first weight-saver. Second is the concentration of hard woods in the center, so lighter woods can be used in the remaining 2/3 of the core. Third is using a thicker core profile in the central torsion box, which gives it more power without adding more materials.

The proof of the FX96 W’s terrain proclivities is found in its double-rockered baseline.  This creates a relatively short contact length that works in concert with its slalomesque sidecut (14m @ 164cm) to create a fat ski that skis skinny.

Read the full review here

Fischer Ranger 96

Given that its double-rockered baseline is biased towards soft snow that gives the tip and tail something to push against, the Ranger 96 is more at home off-trail than on. Skiers who possess a more upright, centered stance may share the reaction of Peter Glenn’s Mark Rafferty, who pondered the question, “How can a ski be both playful and hard charging? Magic, I guess. But the Ranger 96 has all the carve that the Ranger series has been great at for years with an easy-going feel.”

While the Ranger 96 has a forebody built for off-trail travel, there’s no faulting its edge grip and stability from the mid-body to the tail, that even a skier as talented and strong as Jim Schaffner appreciates. “A big improvement over the Ranger 102,” opines the Start Haus owner.  This ski belongs in the group of versatile  90+ mm underfoot, as a one-ski quiver, Tahoe model.”

Read the full review here