Kore 93

Head ran its entire Kore collection through the re-design wringer only last season, so it was a bit of a surprise when only a year later all the Kores were given another collection-wide enhancement, in the form of a urethane topsheet. Chosen primarily for its protective qualities, the urethane layer also added a noticeable dose of smoothness to what was already a fabulous ski.

A close examination of the cumulative scores for the 2023 Kore 93 compared to its immediate predecessor’s strongly suggests that the addition of a tip-to-tail shock silencer improved every trait we track. In light of the evidence, we’re anointing the 2023 Kore series as “new,” even though everything else about the 2022 and 2023 versions is identical.

We are fortunate to have as a regular contributor to Realskiers test program, Jim McGee of Peter Glenn’s, who was so impressed with the 2022 iteration that he bought a pair. So, McGee knows of what he speaks when he notes, “Head took an almost perfect ski and improved it. Even more grip and better dampening. I sold a bunch of my other skis because of the Kore 93.”

Fellow Peter Glenn stalwart Mark Rafferty was singing from the same hymnal when he mused, “Every now and then a perfect ski comes along. The Head Kore 93 was already almost there. This upcoming season’s model of the ski has nailed it. Strong, quick, comfortable, fast, grippy. All the things you hope for when you head down the hill. The latest Kore 93 comes though better than anything. And an intermediate skier would feel great on it but as that same skier improves, this ski would be right there to bring you to that higher level.”

If the Kore 93’s personality profile could be condensed to a single word it would be, “intuitive.” All the skier has to do is aim. The ski is so light, it feels effortless to steer, yet you can rev it up to the red line and it stays the course. “Great ski for the 85 to 95mm group,” crowed Jim Schaffner from Start Haus. “Did everything well with style and expertise! These skis will work well for a wide range of performance and snow conditions.

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 115 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. This year, the QST 92 adopted two features introduced last season 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. The 2023 QST 92 also mimics the slightly lower rocker profile launched last year in the QST Blank and 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 $675. 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.

Jim Schaffner is a strong skier whose race background is evident in his every arc. The QST 92 he essayed was a 176cm, which I feared might fold up like a soft taco, but Schaffner stepped off the QST 92 with the bemused smile of the positively impressed. “The QST92 was very nicely balanced. I was feeling comfortable at all speeds, all turn shapes, on all snow conditions. I found that I could apply pressure to anywhere along the edge and get the ski to turn well.”

Mindbender 89 Ti

Of all the new 2023 skis that are upgrades to existing models, none took a greater leap up in all key averages – Total Score, Power and Finesse – than K2’s Mindbender 89Ti and 99Ti. In the case of the Mindbender 89Ti vis-à-vis the Mindbender 90Ti that it supplants, the new ski blows the doors off its forebear no matter how you slice it. The retiring 90Ti languished near the bottom of our rankings last year; the new iteration ranks near the top, a strong indication that things have improved underfoot.

As indeed they have, for the Titanal Y-Beam that provides the backbone for the 89Ti’s design has been significantly reconfigured. The metal laminate is still shaped like a slingshot, but the yoke in the forebody has been beefed up and the tail section re-shaped to cover a lot more area. The result is a serenity on edge that won’t shake loose under heavy pressure on hard snow.

This quality matters, particularly in a daily driver that will perforce be fed a diet rich in groomers. The Mindbender 89Ti retains a bias for off-trail conditions, as evident in its baseline, sidecut and build, but the extra Titanal in the new edition makes all the difference in the world when the off-trail is iffy. The new Mindbinders are archetypes of the all-terrain, in-resort ski that loves to play around in new snow but can get down to business when the untracked turns packed.

Theron Lee is both a world-class ski mechanic and a technically precise skier accustomed to skiing slalom race models. He spotted the improvement in the Mindbender 89Ti from the first turn. “The ski has a lot of power underneath the foot with the new metal configuration. The tip and tail have a lot more power to them and the ski makes a very round turn, unlike in the past. The ski was a lot of fun to ski and the roundness of the turn and the power of the ski made it made it a complete jam to ski.”

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 latest 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. Bear in mind, it earned its highest marks for forgiveness and other Finesse traits, so it shines on softer surfaces.