2020 All-Mountain East

The “East” modifier is meant to imply that this narrower collection (85mm-94mm) of All-Mountain skis is a match for skiers who go on groomed trails most of the time but want the freedom to foray into the untamed backside of the mountain when conditions merit. The cream of this crop have settled on a waist width between 88mm and 93mm underfoot, creating a very versatile profile that qualifies for the “All-Mountain” moniker. Some brands differentiate their “88” from their “98” (All-Mountain West) model by making the former in a less burly construction that will slip into a slightly lower price point. They make excellent “re-entry” skis for consumers who have been out of the ski market for several years.

Bear in mind that only a decade ago a ski 90mm underfoot, such as the Salomon Pocket Rocket, was presumed to be a pure powder ski. This collection has no such pretensions in a market inundated by an avalanche of skis over 2cm wider – and therefore inherently that much more buoyant – at the waist. But if a 88mm board could float just fine in boot-top powder in 2003 it can manage the feat in 2020, and the best of today’s crowded field don’t care what the snow condition is.

Digging deeper into this genre’s make-up, it’s divided along behavioral lines into two bundles: the friendly, easy-going rides versus the high-performance, Type-A personalities. The former are accessible to almost any skill level and as such are great transition skis for those caught in intermediate limbo. At this width they are easy to balance on yet retain most of the properties of Technical skis so they still cut a precise arc when so instructed. The latter, high-energy bunch either require elite skills or are best appreciated by those who know how to occasionally achieve a high edge angle and/or drive a directional ski over 40mph.

The 2020 All-Mountain East Field

The All-Mountain East family is a polyglot lot that can be roughly divided into two camps: wide carvers and narrow off-piste models. Every sort of snow connection imaginable is on display, from fully cambered to double rockered. Despite the wide range of design diversity, all AME models purport to solve the same problem: creating an all-terrain tool that is equally happy off piste or on.

Think of the AME field as the Compromise Category, not quite as precise as Frontside skis on hard snow nor as surfy as Big Mountain models in powder, but built to perform ably in either circumstance. None of the diverse 2020 field (29 unisex models examined by our test panel) strikes the perfect, 50/50 balance between hard and soft snow performance as each retains a slight bias depending on the traits of the larger family of models to which it belongs.

As befits a category of its commercial importance, the All-Mountain East genre saw more model turnover than the market as a whole. Elan and Fischer each introduced a new model family – Wingman for the former, RC One GT for the latter – headlined by an AME flagship, and the Nordica Enforcer 88, Elan Ripstick 88 and Fischer Ranger 92 Ti all represent the latest and narrowest incarnations of well-established series. Other new models of note include the K2 Mindbender 90 Ti, Kästle DX85, Liberty evolve 90 and the latest edition of Salomon’s QST 92, which made a quantum leap in quality.

Any skier beyond entry-level ability should consider adopting an AME model as his or her one-ski quiver. There are a great many forgiving models in this field, ideal for masking the technical foibles of weekend warriors. There are also a slew of powerhouses that should appeal to advanced and expert skiers with a full skill set. No matter where you fall along the Power/Finesse divide, you’ll find your match in a category with more flavors than Baskin Robbins.

The new Völkl Kendo 88 deserves special mention for re-setting the performance bar for its generation. Every technology has a width, baseline and flex that optimize its benefits; Völkl’s innovative Titanal Frame has found its sweet spot in the Kendo 88. This category is all about handling mixed conditions. No other model we tested did it better.

If you’re one of the many lapsed skiers who are returning to the sport after a long lay-off, the All-Mountain East genre is probably the best place to shop for a ski that embodies the best of current technology without feeling weird or unnatural to an Old School skier returning to the skiing fold.

Power Picks: High-Geared & Gifted

The better your ability, the more you’ll appreciate one of our Power Picks. Not that one has to be a flawless technical skier, but there’s not much point in saddling up a Power ski unless one has the talents to extract its best behaviors. If honest self-appraisal suggests that you might be more into recreation than perfection, you’ll find a better match among the plentiful supply of Finesse winners.

But if you have the talent, boy, are you in for a treat. Our Power Picks are crazy versatile, up for any turn shape at any velocity from puttering to pedal-to-the-metal. Best of all, they’re ready for any snow condition from knee-deep to boilerplate. They turn the entire mountain into an all-you-can-eat buffet. Bon appétit.

Völkl Kendo 88

Unless you were on the moon last year, you know the M5 Mantra and its Titanal Frame design had a wildly successful debut. What’s all this Mantra mention got to do with the new Kendo 88? The new kid has finally stepped out of its sibling’s shadow. In the most hotly contested category, All-Mountain East, that’s loaded with star products, the Kendo 88 earned the highest score for every Power attribute as well as for Finesse/Power balance, the catchall criterion for overall excellence. The single most important quality an all-mountain ski can possess is total indifference to terrain selection. On this score, the Kendo 88 has no peer. It transitions from wind-affected crud to crisp corduroy as if those two conditions were the same. On hard snow, it’s so quick to the edge the skier can’t even tell it’s rockered and it’s so stable in crud you can relax, drop
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Nordica Enforcer 88

When Nordica introduced the original Enforcer five years ago, it already had a 100mm-underfoot model in its line, the NRGy 100, and the more acutely rockered Enforcer could have been misconstrued as redundant. Yet the Enforcer immediately earned a name for itself as a new breed of all-terrain ski that disguised a fully cambered baseline – and all the power it entails – between rockered extremities. As the Enforcer family grew, first wider, then skinnier, the arrival of an Enforcer 88 became inevitable. Now that the long and winding road between the first Enforcer and the last has reached its destination, one can only wonder, what took them so long? This ski is a marvel, stable enough to navigate scoured wind crust yet ready to pounce turn to turn on hardpack with barely a transition between the two contrary conditions. Its score for short-radius turns is off the charts, yet
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Kästle MX89

There’s stability, then there’s MX89 stability. Nothing fazes it. Send it through crud and it bashes every sodden clump of set-up snow out of its way. Toss it on ice and it acts right at home, begging its pilot to tip it further on edge and trust it to hold a honking arc. If it has a speed limit, chances are you’ll never find it. The MX89 exceeds expectations because it flies in the face of current fashion. It is not worried about its weight. Its camber line runs uninterrupted from shovel to tail, as does its sidecut. Its core is made from silver fir and beech, not cork, Koroyd or Paulownia. The top and bottom sheets of Titanal are a stout .5mm thick and paired with sheets of 0o/90o fiberglass weave. Aside from its shock-damping Hollowtech tip, its construction couldn’t be more traditional and its merits couldn’t be more
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Elan Wingman 86 CTi

Wingman is a new series from Elan that’s a hybrid of the Slovenian brand’s Frontside Amphibio collection and its off-trail Ripstick series. This formula makes the Wingman 86 CTi behave like a carving ski with a penchant for off-piste forays. It owes its hallmark tenacious edge grip – stunningly evident in all conditions – to a variety of interrelated factors. First, its relatively deep sidecut (16.5m @ 178cm) combines with its asymmetric shape to create early edge contact that never lets go. Second, the rearbody and tail are also biased to the inside edge, so instead of whimping out at turn finish as so many rockered tails do, this Wingman drives through the arc on a solid platform. Third, Elan loads up the inside edge with more material so force concentrates there, improving stability. Finally, a brace of end-to-end carbon rods work in harmony with a sheet of Titanal to
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Liberty V92

Last season represented a sort of coming out party for Liberty, a small brand that had carved out a niche as a bamboo-and-carbon specialist with a knack for making lightweight wide-bodies. Then they figured out how to industrialize the integration of an aluminum strut into their wheelhouse construction, trimmed down their usual silhouette to something more svelte and boom, they elevated to a whole new level of performance. After having skied two generations of Vertical Metal Technology models from Liberty, two global qualities standout. One, every sinew of the ski seems dedicated to maintaining snow contact. If the modestly rockered tip deflects upward for a microsecond, the struts manage the moment so the edge underfoot is never perturbed. Two, all the VMT models require zero adaptation on the part of the pilot. Don’t worry about loading the tip or exaggerating edge angles. Just ski from a centered stance with whatever
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Nordica Enforcer 93

The Nordica Enforcer 93 is only three years old and already it’s a legend. It debuted to instant acclaim and has since maintained its position among the top models in this most competitive of categories. It continues to earn accolades for one all-important reason: the Enforcer 93 takes the term “all-terrain” very much to heart. The quintessential characteristic of any great all-mountain ski is the ability to transition from one terrain extreme to another and always feel like its the right ski for the job. Jim Schaffner filed this report after taking the Enforcer 93 through mixed conditions at Snow Basin, Utah. “Conditions: about 8 inches of slightly compact powder. A super well-balanced ski, so it’s really easy to find home base in terms of positioning. “Super predictable and not in a negative way,” Schaffner continues. “Very good at transitioning from powder to cut-up to previously groomed, back into the
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Blizzard Brahma 88

The only change to the Blizzard Brahma for 20/20 is the addition of “88” to its moniker, the better to distinguish it from its new little brother, the Brahma 82. As surface area roughly equates to flotation and ease of operation in irregular, off-trail conditions, the Brahma 88 remains the better choice as a one-ski quiver. While we are encouraged by the trend to narrower skis, there’s no doubt that from the perspective of terrain versatility, a wider ski offers more benefits than liabilities. The Brahma 88 has been among the top models in the All-Mountain East genre since it’s debut. The reasons for its sustained popularity are several, beginning with its Flipcore construction. To give you an idea of how different Flipcore construction is, when you get a Flipcore ski like the Brahma too hot when ironing on wax, the ski will try to revert to its originally molded
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Fischer RC One 86 GT

To grok the essence of the new Fischer RC One 86 GT, think of it as a carving ski with wanderlust. As an Austrian brand, Fischer’s collective mind rarely meanders far from the racecourse, so it’s natural that the RC One 86 GT is a carving machine first and an off-trail implement second. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. All a ski this wide really needs to navigate most off-trail conditions is a dash of tip rocker, aka, early rise. The tip-off that Fischer envisions the RC One 86 GT in Frontside environs is that it’s the head of a mostly Frontside (75mm-84mm underfoot) family. Furthermore, its construction is all about maintaining snow connection, a classic Frontside obsession. The tip and tail are outfitted with Bafatex®, a synthetic compound meant to muffle shock and keep every cm of the 86 GT’s fully cambered baseline plastered on the snow. Not
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Head Monster 88 Ti

It seems like almost every ski made for this mixed-condition category prioritizes facility in ungroomed conditions, willingly sacrificing a measure of steering accuracy on hard snow to obtain leniency on unmanicured trails. This trade-off benefits the less frequent and/or less talented skier, but what if you’re already more than capable of taking care of yourself off-trail and don’t care to surrender any edging power and snow contact that you could put to good use when roaring down groomers? You turn to the Head Monster 88 Ti. It’s not a stepping stone ski, or a crutch to lean on for backside neophytes. Perhaps the best way to think about what sort of ski it is would be to not classify it at all. It’s not a groomer ski, or a sidecountry ski or some kind of hybrid; it’s just a ski. A damn good ski that you can take anywhere you
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Dynastar Legend X 88

As an all-terrain tool, the Legend X 88 is expected to perform at an elite level on groomers as well as off-piste. The basic design is already optimized for off-trail antics, so Dynastar elevated its hard snow chops by adding metal laminates for good measure. (The 88 is the only Legend X model so equipped.) The increases in horsepower allowed the Legend X 88 to slip in among our Recommended Power models. While the inclusion of metal indubitably makes the Legend X 88 a better ski than its mates, it still shares with them a fundamentally easy-going disposition. “It’s a great all-around ski,” confides Bobo’s Theron Lee, an admitted Dynastar admirer. “Smooth and stable at speed, easy to turn. Tip does move a lot, but not as distracting as it sounds. 88 width makes it good in both firm and soft snow.”

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Finesse Favorites: The Friendly Fraternity

Our Finesse Favorites are dedicated to making life easier for their owners. They don’t require a high edge angle to be responsive and flex under relatively light pressure. Unlike most of the Power Picks, they don’t need to run at high rpm’s to elicit their best behavior. Most of our Finesse Favorites are built with an off-trail bias, with double rockered baselines and tapered tips, which facilitate the development of off-piste technique. The umbrella trait of all our Recommended choices is forgiveness, providing off-trail access without penalty.

Salomon QST 92

Let the record show that no ski made as giant a leap forward in 2020 as the Salomon QST 92. In its two earlier incarnations it barely met our Recommended minimum standards, barely hanging on the tail end of the Finesse ski standings. Now it resides at the top, and the result is no fluke. The new QST has more of everything you want – edging power on trail, a better shape for off-trail, a more solid platform – and less of what you don’t want: tip chatter, indifferent grip, overall looseness. Salomon pulled off this coup by reconfiguring how it used its primary components, flax, basalt and, of course, carbon. The basalt and carbon are now woven together in an end-to-end matrix, while the flax gets its own mat directly underfoot. An all-poplar core is reinforced by a patch of Titanal in the mid-section and finished with new cork
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Head Kore 93

Last year we anointed the Head Kore 93 as our All-Mountain East Ski of the Year, a title it richly deserved. In the Era of Lighter is Better, almost all mainstream brands have sought a variety of ways to strip away any excess fat in their designs. When Head acquired a license to use Graphene in sporting equipment, the Austrian brand possessed a material advantage in the race to make the lightest ski that didn’t suck. The reason the market hasn’t been awash in lightweight skis for years is because mass is part of what makes a ski damp, or able to absorb vibration. Lighter weight formulae have been tried for decades, always with the lamentable downside that they couldn’t hold an edge any better than Florence Foster Jenkins could hold a note. Head spent several years working with Graphene before it applied the superlight material – carbon in a
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Liberty evolv90

What does it take for a small brand to stand out in market awash with small-batch producers? It certainly helps to have distinctive new technology that not only works as advertised but exceeds performance expectations. By converting what are normally horizontal strips of Titanal into vertical alu struts, Liberty created a shock-damping system that constantly seeks snow contact while retaining the subtle snow feel that Ti tends to muffle. The result is remarkably consistent performance in all snow conditions. Given its wide range of application, it would be a shame to shackle the evolv90 to groomers. Not that it can’t handle corduroy; it’s nearly full cambered, with only a smidgeon of early rise in the tip, so connection on hardpack is a given. But groomers are only one note in the melody the evolv90 has memorized. It’s specialty is having no specialty. Crud is a kick, pow is a blast
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Blizzard Rustler 9

The fraternal relationship between Blizzard’s two All-Mountain East entries, the elder brother Brahma 88 and its upstart sibling, the Rustler 9, encapsulates the contrasting cast of characters that populate this crossroads category. While both skis belong to off-trail families, their personalities couldn’t be more different than, well, two brothers. Put in Realskiers’ terms, the Brahma 88 is a Power ski while the Rustler 9 is a Finesse ski. The Brahma 88’s best scores are for performance criteria like carving accuracy and stability at speed; its GPA drops off for comfort qualities like forgiveness and low-speed turning. The Rustler 9’s marks reveal a model with a high aptitude for off-trail conditions with a peppy personality that’s easy to get along with. It’s not that it’s bad at edging, it’s just doesn’t care for the regimented lifestyle of a carving ski. It prefers life off-trail where it has the freedom to smear
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Head V-Shape 10

The obvious point about the V-Shape 10’s LYT Tech design is it’s much lighter than the norm among men’s Frontside models. But the big trick in LYT Tech’s bag is how it uses Graphene to change one of a ski’s most fundamental features, its core profile. Through all the disruptive design changes that have roiled the ski world in the past 30 years – shaped skis, fat skis, rockered baselines – you could always count on a ski being thicker in the middle and thinner at the ends. But Graphene’s ability to affect stiffness without affecting mass allows Head to toy with flex distribution in unique ways. The V-Shape 10 is made thinner through the middle so it can be loaded with less exertion, a major differentiator between it and, say, an i.Supershape Titan. The V-Shape 10 is a system ski, meaning it comes with its own binding, but there’s
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Elan Ripstick 88

The All-Mountain East genre is split into two camps: models that represent the top end of on-trail, Frontside families (think Head V-Shape 10, Salomon XDR 88 Ti, Liberty V92) and the narrowest versions of Big Mountain fatties (e.g., Enforcer 88, Rustler 9, Kore 93). The Elan Ripstick 88 falls into the camp populated by off-trail offspring, tilting its terrain predilections towards soft snow and its pilot preference to skiers still polishing their skills. The 19/20 Ripstick 88 replaces an 86mm-waisted version that didn’t share the same guts as the rest of the Ripstick clan. This oversight has been corrected, so the 88 now incorporates every family feature, including Elan’s signature asymmetric design, Amphibio, that puts a longer edge on the inside and longer rocker on the outside. While Amphibio helps the Ripstick 88 cope with hardpack, every other important design element, from its lightweight carbon/glass structure to its tapered tips
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Rossignol Experience 88 Ti

The Experience 88 has been a fixture in the Rossignol line and an award-winning player in the All-Mountain East genre since it first materialized back in the days when I was a rank-and-file tester for SKI magazine. Up until last season there was no “Ti” in its name or in its guts. The E88 played perpetual second fiddle in a series headlined by the Experience 98 for the first few seasons and later by the Experience 100 and 100 HD. Last year Rossi leveled the playing field, introducing Line Control Technology in both the Experience 94 Ti and 88 Ti. A vertical strip of Titanal runs down the 88’s midline helping to absorb vibration and maintain snow contact. The E88 Ti also had its sidecut trimmed by a substantial 7mm’s at both ends, essentially converting it from a Frontside orientation to a more off-trail disposition. The straighter shape allows the
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Line Supernatural 92

Twenty-five years ago, Jason Levinthal began making skiboards, skis just long enough to make room for a primitive, non-releasable binding. Because they were first, foremost and forever about tricks, they had curled-up tips at both ends. It wasn’t long before Jason graduated to making full-length twin-tips, which attracted the attention of kids who wanted to take skiing in a new direction. Little by little, Line infiltrated the mass market, not by adopting its rules, but by being change agents who would help redefine the sport. Just how high Line has climbed in market share is hard to say since online sales bypass monitored retailing, but it’s safe to assume Line has been the most successful start-up since its inception. Because the kids who continue to be its principal patrons are all about breaking the rules and taking the party to the slopes, its communications focus on fat, smeary powder skis
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K2 Mindbender 90Ti

K2 completely changed every core model in its 19/20 line, without straying one centimeter from its core values. True, the new Mindbenders are built differently than the Pinnacles of yesteryear, using all wood cores in their Ti incarnations (say ta-ta to Nano-tech), and more Titanal in the tail section to increase rear support compared to the passé Pinnacles. Even though the new Mindbender Ti series, of which the 90Ti is the narrowest, aims for a better class of skier (if you’ll pardon the expression), they’re not so stout they can’t be controlled by adventurous intermediates. The Mindbenders’ Ti Y-Beam construction puts Titanal over the edge in the forebody but moves it away from edge in the tail. This adjusts the skis’ torsional rigidity requirements to create more bite in the forebody and easier release of the tail, without affecting their even, balanced flex longitudinally.

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2020 Women’s All-Mountain East

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.

Most of our top picks are remarkably balanced, meaning they deliver outstanding performance yet are eerily easy to ski. Blizzard’s Black Pearl 88 has sustained this delicate balancing act for several seasons, becoming the number one selling ski in America over that span. Its boffo box office inspired its competitors to raise their game in response, flooding the AME with more options for the advanced woman than any other genre.

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.

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-wasited ski has for a man, which is sufficient in all but the most luscious, bottomless conditions.

The 2020 Women’s All-Mountain East Field

We’ve been writing for several seasons that most women will find their bliss on an AME model. That statement is more true today than ever, and it applies to women of all abilities equally. The Frontside category is stocked with options for beginners and intermediates, but has little to offer an expert. The All-Mountain West genre has a more limited offering of off-trail models that will usually be a second pair reserved for powder days. Only the AME women’s field has something for everyone, including models strong enough for women with a history of skiing men’s models.

The reason this field remains so vital is embodied in its unrivaled star, Blizzard’s Black Pearl 88, which somehow seems to be all things to all women (skiers). It’s pure composure on groomers and uninhibited about attacking untamed terrain. The Pearl 88’s huge success is but the leading example of what makes this category the go-to genre for women. The latest luminaries to join the party are Völkl’s Kenja 88 and Head’s Kore 93 W, both undiluted unisex models in smaller sizes with particular appeal for Power skiers.

Power Picks: Off-Piste Explorers

Our Power Picks aren’t for women who are looking for a helping hand as much as a ski-by-my-side partner for their forays all over the hill. These skiers have a well-developed skill set that isn’t satisfied by poking along on manicured runs. If they’re on groomers, they want to blaze; it they’re in radical off-piste terrain, they’re going to keep on tearing it up, too. For women who can ski with the boys but don’t feel any particular need to do so, one of these skis could be your next BFF.

Dynastar Legend W 88

Ever since Dynastar introduced the Cham series what seems like several centuries ago, the brand has moved metal in and out its model matrix, trying to find the right fit for its 5-point sidecut design. It first offered a metal-laden option for the flagship Cham 97 and its bigger bros, the Cham 107 and even the Champ 117. It soon became apparent that all that massive material in a 117 was overkill, and gradually metal also disappeared from the 107mm-width and, in due course, the 97 as well. When Dynastar resurrected a modified Cham baseline and sidecut in the form of the Legend X and Legend W series, to keep the wider skis’ weight down it cut the metal out of the 106 and reduced it to an insert in the 96. The 88 had the perfect dimensions to handle the weight of two sheets of Titanal without feeling like
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Völkl Secret 92

The Völkl Secret 92 has sufficient surface area to qualify as an off-trail specialist, but temperamentally she’s a carving kind of gal. Far from being a bit loosey-goosey in the tip, like many skis meant to travel off-piste, the Secret 92 is built to keep its slightly rockered tips and tails from inhibiting the prime directive: stay connected. Maybe the Secret 92’s little secret is that she would rather be carving. With a 16m-sidecut radius in a 163cm, short turns are easily summoned with a modest application of edge angle. Because the Secret 92 craves snow contact, it’s good at following the fragmented terrain found in today’s moguls. Should the off-piste beckon, the Secret 92 can take its carving tools off-trail and let its broad beam take care of the occasional need to drift.

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Fischer My Pro MT 86

As is universally the case among high-end skis with a low-mass objective, carbon plays a key role in keeping the My Pro MT 86 light, agile and responsive. To reinforce edging power without resorting to Titanal, the My Pro MT 86 uses square sidewalls for crisp energy transfer. Its most obvious effort at trimming mass is also so subtle it may pass notice: the top corners of what would normally be a rectangular ski have been lopped off, so there’s simply less there there, as Gertrude Stein might have said. (Ten points to whomever gets this oblique reference.) The thinner edge this creates slices more easily into the clumpy snow it’s likely to encounter off-trail.

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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 new 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
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Head Kore 93 W

What new women’s ski this year was a unisex ski last year? Answer: the three smallest sizes of the Kore 93. As has been observed on these pages before, the construction requirements of an off-trail ski and a women’s ski are virtually identical. Having already created an immaculate lightweight construction, all that remained to make its highly acclaimed Kore 93 a women’s ski was to move the mounting position two cm’s ahead and add a W to its name. By anointing the Kore 93 with a “W,” Head felt it could part ways with the Wild Joy and Great Joy. Let us pause a moment to mourn the passing of two pioneering women’s skis. The Wild Joy was remarkably supportive for its weight, an identity crisis that may have hurt its ability to attract a larger following. The Great Joy should have been the star of the original Joy series,
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Finesse Favorites: Accessible Versatility

Unbridled power and liquid finesse are opposing ski attributes and therefore as unlikely an amalgam to find together as Republicans and Democrats at a joint fund-raiser. The top rides among our Finesse Favorites pull off this improbable feat, oozing ease but capable of implacable grip. Best of all, these skis can take their talents anywhere, from trees to bumps to knee-deep powder. When you’re ready to ski the whole mountain, these are your all-terrain training wheels.

Blizzard Black Pearl 88

The Blizzard Black Pearl 88 is the Michaela Shiffrin of the U.S. ski market: now in its fourth year of dominance, it’s crushing the women’s field and setting sales records that leave all the men’s models in the dust, too. Like a cartoon snowball rolling downhill, its sales success grows each season as a new legion of adherents joins the chorus of praise, spreading the gospel in countless one-on-one chairlift chats. If you break down the dynamics of a ski sale, you’ll discover how the Black Pearl 88 edges out the competition. Every sale hinges on a description of a skier’s current status and her wish list of what she wants the new ski to be able to do for her. It almost doesn’t matter how a recreational skier assesses her ability or her desires, the Black Pearl 88 will end up on the very short list of most desirable
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Liberty Genesis 90

[The Genesis 90 is unchanged from last year, as is its review.] As we have often observed in these pages, the interests of the off-trail skier and the preferences of the fairer sex converge in that both parties want lighter weight that doesn’t compromise performance. And so we find the Liberty Genesis 90 perched among the leaders for Finesse properties in a genre that prizes off-piste proficiency. Even though the Genesis 90 earned estimable Power scores as well, it’s fair to say that its principal appeal is the ease with which it travels off-trail. “A very good ski in powder and afternoon slush,” avers Clare Martin from Peter Glenn, who essayed the Genesis in Colorado spring conditions. “I felt very confident picking up speed in both conditions,” Clare continues. “I had to work a little harder than I’d like to get on edge on piste. A great ski for pow
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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
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Nordica Santa Ana 93

Much as I hate to undermine my own methodology, I encourage you to ignore the niggling difference between the Santa Ana 93’s Power and Finesse scores that allowed it to migrate from the Power collective to the Finesse family this season. Its personality didn’t change over the summer, but a couple of new scores shifted it from one side of the Power/Finesse border to the other. The Santa Ana 93 still favors the strong, technical skier who is comfortable carrying speed, but it’s so good at off-trail skills like drifting and staying calm while crud-busting that it can’t help but earn high marks for Finesse properties. The very fact that the Santa Ana 93 can slip so easily across the Power/Finesse divide tells you that it’s neither one nor the other, but both. One look at its double-rockered baseline reveals why it moves so smoothly from on-trail to off: the
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