Four years ago, I speculated that the freshly minted Deacon V.Werks wouldn’t have the same downstream impact as the Katana V.Werks, but I may have spoken too soon. One of the most esoteric features of the Deacon V.Werks was a lattice-work of carbon fibers crisscrossing the tip, which inspired the Tailored Carbon Tips of the M6 Mantra and Kendo 88. Working in concert with Tailored Titanal Frame, Tailored Carbon Tips give the latest Mantra and Kendo the same clear connection to the front of the ski found in the Deacon V.Werks.
All carving skis are judged by how well they maintain edge connection throughout the turn on hard snow. Classically, the key to keeping a ski quiet all along its edge was to ladle on the Titanal, a proven method that achieves its damping objective in part by its mass. As an innovator in lightweight design, V.Werks instead turned to its wheelhouse material, carbon, to make a damp, non-metal ski that would be light and responsive.
Several factors work together to make the Deacon V.Werks easy to steer into a tight-radius turn without a lot of encouragement from the pilot. The cambered center section of its 3D Radius Sidecut is slalom-turn tight (14m@172cm); all the skier has to do to activate it is tilt the edge to a high angle, a normal move for anyone who knows how to carve. To make it easier to depress into a deep carve, the abbreviated camber line underfoot is fairly shallow and soft. The tip and tail rockers are long and gradual so the long-radius zones at front and rear don’t interfere with the ski’s quickness edge to edge.
The absence of metal and low elevation of the Marker system give the Deacon V.Werks a clarity of snow feel and lively energy that’s relatively rare among elite carvers. Most skis this damp and quiet on the edge are anything but nimble, but the Deacon V.Werks feels agile, quick to find the edge and lively coming off it. Jim Schaffner called it, “Idiot proof!!! This ski has great range. I found that the fore/aft balance was perfect, and the sweet spot as big as a locomotive. A powerful yet compliant arcing machine, it’s like having an auto-correct feature that makes it easier to ski.”
Five years ago, Völkl resurrected its beloved Mantra by concocting a new technology called Titanal Frame; four years ago, Völkl applied the Titanal Frame touch to its Frontside family. The latest pater familias of the Frontside clan is the Deacon 84, and like the M5 Mantra – since succeeded by the M6 – it represents a return to traditional Völkl values.
Compared to the RTM 84 it replaced, the Deacon 84 has more edge-gripping power, more energy out of the turn and an overall bigger performance envelope. It’s not just better than its predecessor; in its debut season, it out-pointed the entire, enormous Frontside field in Total Score, buoyed by the top Finesse score in the category, not bad for what is inherently a Power ski.
What is it about the Deacon 84 that allows it be all skis to all (Frontside) skiers? It’s the alluring combination of a fiberglass torsion box and tactically placed Titanal parts that nullify shock without stifling the glass structure’s naturally springy nature. It’s exceptional rebound – it will lift you right off the snow if you punch it – derives from the Deacon 84’s 3D Glass, top and bottom glass laminates that come together above the sidewall to create a torsion box. The 3-part Titanal Frame anchors the forebody and tail while allowing the center to react to pressure, so the glass can compress and load up energy for the turn transition.
As if immaculate edge grip weren’t enough, on the Deacon 84 it comes in three sizes, small, medium and large, facilitated by a triple-radius sidecut that gives the pilot total control over turn shape. Jim Schaffner, a Masterfit University instructor and longtime coach, “found this ski to be very versatile. This ski was super easy to pivot/ drift, yet at the same time, on medium pitch runs where I could go for it and really engage the front of the ski, I could feel the power and control. This is going to be a very popular ski for a large group of the market,” he presciently predicted.
In the fat ski genres where Americans buy the vast majority of their skis, Blizzard is riding a decade-long hot streak. If you only look at skis over 85mm at the waist, it seems like Blizzard hasn’t missed a beat since the launch of its Flipcore baseline. But if you take a step back and look at the world market, there’s a category or two of carvers, skis meant to execute perfect, technical turns on hard snow, where Blizzard is all but invisible, at least in the U.S. For whatever reasons, its Quattro series never captured the imagination of the American carving public. The only way Blizzard was able to penetrate the Frontside segment stateside was with a tiny-waisted, off-trail model (Brahma 82), which is sort of like entering the category via the service entrance.
Consider the problem solved. The Thunderbird R15 WB, introduced two seasons ago and given a modest upgrade for 23/24, doesn’t try to mask its racing pedigree with a carbon overdose; the communication with the angled edge is crisp and clear. The Thunderbird’s snow feel is like HDTV compared to the Quattro’s low-def reception. One reason the T-bird R15 WB feels so sublimely connected is its TrueBlend core has been modified to fit the hard-snow environment. By re-positioning tendrils of high-density beech within strata of lighter poplar, TrueBlend creates a perfectly balanced flex for each size. This may sound like esoterica only an expert can feel, but it’s palpable, and it’s wonderful.
Complementing TrueBlend is a carbon platform underfoot to help muffle shocks without losing the precision of the ski/snow connection. (This critical interface was the focus of the most recent upgrade.) Called Active Carbon Armor, it’s essentially the carbon inlay under the topskin of the Blizzard Firebird race skis brought to the surface, where it can free up the core to bend more freely. With this combination of wood and carbon, Blizzard has finally found a way to make a carver that is both quiet on the edge and explosive off it. And boy, is it fun to drive.
Head didn’t invent the shaped ski, but when the Carving Revolution was in its infancy it was the first major brand to commit to the concept with its Cyber series. Over the last quarter century its commitment hasn’t wavered, consistently offering several skis in its collection with curvaceous sidecuts. For the last decade, the focus of Head’s non-race carving models has been the Supershape series, a family that remains intact in 23/24, returning unchanged from the incarnations introduced just three years ago.
In light of its long history of making category-crushing carvers, it’s saying something to assert that the latest batch of Supershapes is the best ever and that among them the e-Rally hits the sweetspot. As it approaches a new turn, the e-Rally is like the smarty pants in class who is practically jumping out of his seat because he knows the right answer. At the first hint of recognition that its pilot wants to change direction, it dips and tugs into the turn; all it needs is a little more encouragement in the form of a tilted edge and it’s cutting a short-radius arc you couldn’t bobble if you tried. As the skier’s energy shifts to the tail at arc’s end, the e-Rally provides an earthquake-proof platform for transitioning to the next exhilarating turn.
With its 54mm-drop between tip and waist width along with two thick, end-to-end, wall-to-wall sheets of Titanal, you’d surmise the e-Rally isn’t open to suggestion about turn shape. But you’d be wrong. Sure, if you take full advantage of its sidecut you can cut a world-class slalom turn, but back off the edge angle and you can extract whatever shape you want.
A parallel point can be made about the e-Rally’s attitude about speed: it’s not mandatory to go 40 mph, but you’ll never discover the amazing effect of Head’s Energy Management Circuit (EMC) if you don’t give it some gas. The EMC converts vibration to electric current at precisely 80Hz, so you have to generate enough shock to trigger the EMC conversion. When you have sufficient energy coursing through its system, the e-Rally becomes both calmer and more responsive, reacting to a jolt of added pressure with palpable forward propulsion.