Enforcer 94

The essential skill of Alpine skiing is balance. So it stands to reason that the primordial virtue of any ski is likewise balance, both in its blend of personality traits and its ability to impart the sensation of balance to its pilot. I mention these maxims because if there’s a single trait that encapsulates the brilliance of the Nordica Enforcer 94, it’s balance.

The key to balance lies in the ski’s flex pattern, or how it distributes force when pressured.  Even though the Enforcer 94 sports a high front rocker, it’s mercifully short, returning to a camber pocket that’s the source of its power. When loaded, all the skier notices is the tranquility emanating from the mid-section; the disconnected tip and tail never call attention to themselves.

I’m not sure if the Enforcer 94 can actually confer expert status on anyone who steps into a pair, but it sure won’t hold anyone back.  It’s able to maintain its balancing act in part because a lateral drift or trench-cutting carve is immediately accessible at all times.  I vividly recall riding up the steep banks of Gremlin’s Gulch at Mammoth, playing with edge angle to elicit exactly the degree of engagement I wanted.  Every movement felt intuitive, unforced and integrated with the flow of the mountain.

A balanced terrain diet is the calling card of the entire AME genre, so naturally the Enforcer 94 can segue from frontside groomers to backside bowls without missing a beat. The camber in its baseline continues to exert control, while the sharply rockered tip and tail shorten its effective length so it’s easier to swivel on command. Of course, it lacks the buoyancy of a true Powder ski (there’s an Enforcer 110 Free for that), but its springy flex is perfect for porpoising through a foot of fresh.  

It’s hard to pigeonhole the Enforcer 94 as a specialist at any one thing, for it has the chameleonesque ability to be whatever its pilot wants it to be. The key to its mutability is how mindlessly simple it is to transition from a crisp edge to a friction-free drift. This facility is what makes the Enforcer 94 masterful in any terrain, from brittle hardpack to fluffy powder and every crud-junk-chowder consistency in between. 

QST 92

The Salomon QST 92 has risen from humble origins to its new position among the elite of the genre.  Originally conceived to meet a lower price point ($500) and therefore underserved in the technology department, Salomon has been steadily enhancing its construction to match the latest innovations already added to pricier models, like the flagship QST 106.  Just last year, the QST 92 adopted two features introduced two years ago in the QST 98, Double Sidewalls and full-length C/FX, Salomon’s signature carbon/flax combo.

While the latest improvements no doubt contributed to the QST 92’s stellar performance, the bones they’re built on were pretty stout to begin with: an all-wood (poplar) core, full sidewalls (i.e., no cap), cork inserts to muffle shocks and a central Titanal plate that makes the entire ski feel more substantial. Beginning in 2023, the QST 92 has also mimicked the slightly lower rocker profile launched two years ago in the QST Blank and QST 98, so it feels more connected on all snow surfaces.

Once you put it all in motion, you wouldn’t guess you’re piloting a price-point ski intended to retail at $550. The security on edge is fantastic on anything softer than boilerplate, it feels energetic crossing the fall line and it can switch between a carve and a drift on command.  A lower-skill skier can’t find a more tolerant ski with such a high-performance ceiling. For a ski whose DNA is all about off-trail conditions, the QST 92 feels right at home on groomers. It feels light and quick off the edge in bumps and placid as a glacier in long, spooling GS turns.

Maverick 88 Ti

Depending on where and how you ski, the Maverick 88 Ti may be the best of the top 3 models in the current all-mountain series from Atomic, despite residing on the lowest rung of the pricing ladder.  It arcs the best short-radius turns of the bunch despite a mid-radius sidecut that’s equally comfortable when allowed to run for the barn. Its tail is supportive without being flashy, gradually releasing its grip as it crosses the turn transition.

As the narrowest of the Maverick Ti trio, the 88 Ti is the best fit for today’s arrhythmic bumps, and its ability to access a short arc in a jiffy is a huge asset in the trees.  When I let it run on a long, gradual ballroom on the sunny side of Mt. Rose, it remained predictable and trustworthy as I raked up the edge angle, banking off a receptive layer of solar-softened cream.  Its baseline is more cambered than its siblings (15/75/10), so there’s a longer platform under the pilot in all conditions, without sacrificing its ability to swivel a turn in a pinch.

I’m not sure I would have been so confident on a surface much steeper and harder; after all, the Maverick 88 Ti is, in concept and execution, an off-trail ski.  It’s ready and willing to smear at all times, although its secure edge is always there for the summoning should circumstances change on the fly. Its tips would prefer that the snow find it, rather than the other way around. This makes it a hero in spring snow, where its rockered forebody can buffer the blows delivered by ever-softening conditions.

Stance 90

To understand where the updated Salomon Stance 90 fits in the All-Mountain East pantheon of Recommended models, it’s helpful to first understand its role within Salomon’s line, where it is cagily categorized as All-Mountain Frontside, a mash-up of two adjacent Realskiers categories.  The blended genre succinctly captures the intent of the Stance series, to create what are essentially Frontside skis with wanderlust, always interested in what lies off-trail yet easily persuaded to lay down a neatly carved turn on corduroy.  It’s the Frontside orientation that differentiates the three Stance models from Salomon’s other all-terrain series, QST, with its decidedly off-trail bias.

Within the cross-brand context of the All-Mountain East genre, the Stance 90 stands apart from the crowd in several respects. While its twin Titanal laminates put it toe-to-toe with the eminent Power players in the genre (think: Blizzard Brahma 88, Völkl Kendo 88), it responds to a light rein, emphasizing ease over brute force. While it’s positioned as having a Frontside bias, unlike other carving-centric AME skis – such as the Fischer RC One 86 GT, for example – it isn’t built on a Frontside chassis, but an all-mountain, double-rockered foundation. 

Salomon made a few alterations to the Stance construction this year, to further differentiate it from the crowded field. Already a comparatively light design, the Stances shed a few more grams by mixing ultralight Karuba with the earlier Stance’s all popular makeup. More importantly, the top layer of Titanal has been modified to minimize full-length metal laminates’ tendency to lock onto the turn. The goal of the new TwinFrame 2 design is a little looser connection to the snow that feels more playful and maneuverable in off-trail conditions.

Testers detected a definite improvement in the Stance 90’s ease of operation. “Surprisingly improved ski,” said one tester who pinpointed the upgrades’ impact. “The modification of the core makes this ski extremely versatile, easy to ski while maintaining high performance ski feel and characteristics.”

Kore 87

How can a ski as narrow-waisted as the Kore 87 come across as the most versatile ski in its wide-body family?  After all, the Kore collection is 100% an off-trail creation; its avatar should be the Kore 111, not this string bean.

The improbable polyvalence of the Kore 87 is partly explained by a sleight of hand Head pulled off in the make-up of the narrowest Kore models just two years ago. Taking advantage of Graphene’s ability to affect flex without a commensurate effect on mass, Head beefed up the Kore 87 to account for the certainty that it will spend much of its life on groomers. Its power quotient might have gone up another tick in 2022 with the substitution of poplar and Karuba for Koroyd, which subtly enhanced its feedback on hard snow.

Last year, Head coated all the Kores with a sheath of urethane, mostly to protect the top and sides from minor nicks and scratches, with the added benefit of further smoothing out the ride. Our stats suggest the new topskin had less effect on the Kore 87 than it did on wider Kore models, but no matter what its contribution is to the ski’s overall behavior, the experience the Kore 87 delivers remains remarkable for its trustworthy edge grip and quickness on and off the edge.   Renowned bootfitter Jim Schaffner dubbed the 2023 version of the Kore 87, “Fun, easy skiing, yet enough high performance to hold well on harder snow. This is a very good execution of a one-ski quiver ski for the aging crowd!”

The recent improvements made to the Kore’s capacities on brittle hardpack don’t seem to have diminished its inherent talent for off-trail travel. The sidecut is fairly straight underfoot, so it’s simple to swivel, an action made even more greasy by a beveled top edge that slices sideways without resistance.  But the primary contributor to the Kore 87’s ease of operation off-trail is its ethereal light weight.