There are two opposing archetypes for a wide, all-terrain ski: light and smeary or beefy and more connected. Salomon had the surfy side covered with the OST 99; its new Stance 96 is meant to wrestle with wood-and-metal powerhouses like the Blizzard Bonafide and Nordica Enforcer 100.
Salomon wasn’t going to win this battle with a cap construction, so the Stance 96 uses square sidewalls. To match up with metal you have to use Titanal, so the Stances are equipped with “Twin Frame” Ti laminates. You can’t get a wood core feel without a wood core, so all the unisex Stance models have an all-poplar center.
All that said, the Stance 96 doesn’t strictly imitate the benchmark skis that it presumes to supersede. Its rockered tip works better when buffering blows against loose snow; it feels a little loose on groomers and consequently a bit late into the top of the turn. But when it’s fully laid over it grips confidently regardless of the snow surface.
The Stance 96 handles speed well, which is a good thing, as it likes to hew closely to the fall line. Its long turn shape is the product of an narrow tail that helps keep the skier oriented downhill. A rectangular cutout in the Titanal topsheet pares off a few ounces so the Stance 96 feels more agile than its girth measures.
The one condition that separates the best All-Mountain West skis from the merely excellent is crud. It’s the dream of perpetual powder that drives the category – there’s no other reason to have a ski this wide – but the reality is uncut powder is over and done within the first few minutes after any big mountain’s opening bell. Then you have to navigate a wildly variable condition that continues to deteriorate hour by hour. The skis no longer have a clean surface to plane over and the tracked –up terrain tugs them in multi-axis directions. The only way to prevail is to gun it, which on a weak reed will feel like very bad advice.
The Stöckli Stormrider 95 gets it. It knows that the winning strategy is to pummel crud into submission. You don’t have to pick a line, for the Stormrider 95 will create its own path through the rubble. All the pilot has to do is move his feet across the fall line and otherwise remain calm, poised and aimed downhill.
Not everyone is constitutionally equipped for this exercise. If the idea of blazing down a 40-degree pitch covered in total crap sounds more insane than idyllic, there are plenty of Finesse skis in the AMW genre to serve you. But for those who revel in busting through wind berms, there’s only a fistful of models that feel comfortable in the chaos of high-speed crud skiing. The Stormrider 95 is arguably the best in the world at this game.
Fischer has been tinkering with its off-trail Ranger collection over the span of several seasons, searching for the fine line between lightweight, with its attendant ease of operation, and elite carving capability that can handle the transition to hard snow. The Ranger 99 Ti tilts the scales in favor of stability, amping up the carving power by reverting to square, ABS sidewalls straddling a classic, wood-and-Titanal sandwich. A carbon inlay in the tip lowers swingweight and overall mass, which is substantial enough to keep it calm on corduroy, yet feels comparatively light when tearing through crud.
By tweaking everything – core, baseline, sidewalls – Fischer transformed this commercially important model from a lightweight who got beat up by mean conditions like hard snow or chunky crud into a lean machine that doesn’t take any crap from any kind of snow, no matter what the Eskimos call it.
Realskiers testers lauded the Ranger 99 Ti’s agility for a ski of its girth, calling it “nimble and quick to turn,” “light and playful,” and “best short turns of the big mountain, soft snow skis.” Its relatively zippy reflexes belie a sublime stability at speed that eluded the previous generation of Rangers but is inbred in the new 99 Ti. “It’s a solid edition to the Fischer family,” vows Jack Walzer of Jan’s, who has been an aficionado of Fischers for a generation.