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.”

RC One 86 GT

The Fischer RC One 86 GT is to all intents and purposes a hard-snow carving specialist with a waist just plump enough to put it in the company of a bunch of all-terrain generalists. In an effort to blend in, the RC One 86 GT has a tiny splay of tip rocker, and a tail rocker so tiny it should be called a rockette.

This masquerade lasts only as long as it takes to get the ski on the snow, where there’s no disguising its tip-to-tail connection. A 175cm seems like plenty of ski even at the upper reaches of the recreational speed range, which its ultra-supportive edge invites one to inhabit. You can set it to reel off medium-radius turns with the unalterable precision of a metronome. “Solid and rhythmic,” enthused Jan’s Jack Walzer after taking the RC One 86 GT for a spin.

One 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) product 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 cambered baseline plastered on the snow. Not to mention all that Titanal to further cow hard snow into silence.

Brahma 88

It’s a joy to discover an all-terrain ski with the strength and stability of an Old School GS race ski that can be reined in to less than 40mph and still move edge to edge with the ease of a figure skater. The Brahma 88’s softer extremities allow it to roll over terrain so smoothly it’s as if the ski were part of the flow of the run and not a separate component. In keeping with the best the All-Mountain East genre has to offer, it’s as comfy on glassy groomers as it is in 18-inches of fresh.

“This is a fun, nimble ski,’ says Rafferty from Peter Glenn. “Comfortable in short-radius turns in the steeps, comes around happily in moguls and gives a smooth ride at high speeds. If you prefer a slightly softer feel than the Bonafide without giving up significant performance, the Brahma 88 is worth considering. I never felt that it was doing anything counter to my efforts. I think of this as a friendly ski.”

To keep things friendly, pay close attention to length selection. If you’re not one of the biggest lads on the hill, you don’t need a 189cm. Remember, the Flipcore baseline doesn’t reduce its effective edge length once it’s tipped and pressured, so when you’re between sizes you’re probably better off going shorter, particularly if you like trees, bumps and chutes.

Mindbender 88Ti 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 can 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.”

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.”