Mantra 102

Don’t let the model name fool you: Völkl still calls this ski the Mantra 102, but the addition of Tailored Titanal Frame, Tailored Carbon Tips and a tweaked sidecut has totally transformed its personality. Last year’s Mantra 102 was a barely tamed beast, subduing all in its path; the new incarnation is a pussycat that readily bends to its pilot’s will. Among 2023’s new models, only K2’s revamp of its Mindbenders made as big an improvement in Finesse properties as the Mantra 102. It behaves like a different ski.

One measure of a ski’s steering facility is the skier’s perception of width. In its first incarnation, the Mantra 102 was notable for feeling wider than it measured; the 2023 version “skis narrower than indicated, making it very easy to turn,” according to veteran tester Theron Lee.

The combined effect of its triad of new features is what makes the Mantra 102 suddenly so tractable. Like every Big Mountain ski in Christendom, the Mantra 102 is double rockered, but it feels like it has tip-to-tail contact, in part because Tailored Carbon Tips keep the entire rocker zone quiet. Tailored Titanal Frame keeps the mass in the forebody proportional to the ski’s length, facilitating earlier turn entry. The slightly wider tip encourages more pull into the turn, opening up the short-radius spectrum, while the skinny tail helps the skier stay close to the fall line, making crud and powder a hell of a lot easier to plunder.

A big contributor to the Mantra 102’s outstanding performance on any snow surface is its first-in-class rebound coming out of the turn. Part of the magic of the Titanal Frame design is the freedom its three-piece top sheet has to flex and compress a full-length glass layer that reacts to this pressure like a coiled spring. Now that the Titanal Frame is tailored by size, the whole ski is more responsive. The Mantra 102 naturally rises as it uncoils during the turn transition, so it’s unweighted while crossing the fall line.

Lighter skiers might prefer the floaty, smeary variety of Big Mountain models, but big boys need some beef under them. If you’d had difficulty finding a Big Mountain ski that’s able to support your mass and your mojo, your search has ended. I’m sure that someone whose nickname is Mongo or Moose will use the Mantra 102 as his everyday ski, but its glory is a wide-open crud field where it can cut loose like an extra-large GS race ski with anger issues.

Rossignol Sender 106 Ti+

It was only a couple of product generations ago that a Rossignol model dominated the Big Mountain genre like no other ski before or since. The Soul 7 was an almost perfect powder ski, its behavior dictated by its high and long camber line that ended, as all Big Mountain skis do, in a tapered and rockered tip and tail. Its high arch was primarily fiberglass, making it a coiled spring just begging to be compressed.

The Soul 7’s only sin was to be too popular. Rossi refreshed their star regularly, most notably with Carbon Alloy Matrix when it earned its “HD” suffix, and Rossi kept refreshing its rack appeal, which attracted skier interest even among intermediates. Nothing kills a ski’s cachet among experts quite like universal adoption by the masses, and gradually the Soul 7 lost its luster.

The Sender Ti was clearly made to win back experts disenchanted with its predecessor’s over-the-top popularity. Titanal was added to the construction formula, and the baseline was flattened out to improve snow connection. The Sender Ti was a Soul 7 with teeth, giving it a higher performance ceiling and much improved hard snow grip.

But the Sender Ti had a small problem of its own: its star quality wasn’t so easy to spot in a Blackops collection that lacked coherence, so for 2023 Rossi completely overhauled its off-trail collection, re-building its mainstream, in-resort models around the Sender (and women’s Rallybird) name. To ensure that the new head of the family wouldn’t get lost in the mix, Rossi designated the top model as the Sender 106 Ti+, enhancing its allure with extra Titanal and bringing back Carbon Alloy Matrix as a keystone structural element.

The primary character traits that derive from the “plus” features are smooth shock absorption all along the ski, largely attributable to Carbon Alloy Matrix, and firmer edge grip, a function of extending the Titanal underfoot sideways, all the way to the edge. These additions are what make the Sender 106 Ti+ a premium Power ski, while the rest of the Sender Ti clan are Finesse models more suited to slower or less skilled skiers.

Cochise 106

The Cochise 106 knows how it should be skied, even if you don’t. It’s well aware that it won’t be able to carve a short turn at minimal speed, so it keeps close to the fall line until it can shift into third. Once it reaches cruising speed, it dons its dancing shoes and shows just how indifferent to heinous crud a ski can be.

The Cochise 106 is one of the few Big Mountain models that doesn’t get the heebie-jeebies on hard pack. Its imperturbability where other skis literally tremble is due in part to its classic, wood and Titanal construction and in part to its Flipcore baseline.

The Cochise will always own a special place in Blizzard’s history as Arne Backstrom’s ski, for it was Backstrom who first conceived of Flipcore, the technology that would completely transform the Austrian brand, elevating it from obscurity to prominence in the American market. The Cochise was the first embodiment of his vision, and as such enjoys holy relic status in the halls of Blizzard’s R&D department.

The Cochise 106 represents a return to its traditional values by cutting back on some of the beefier elements in its previous incarnation without scrimping on the 2 ½ layers of Titanal that give the Cochise its indomitable determination to teach crud a lesson it won’t soon forget. The Cochise 106 whittled away at the tip and waist width and plumped up the tail, reducing the sidecut radius by 3m in a 185cm. While this encourages the rejuvenated Cochise to finish its big, banked turns, quick, little arcs are still not part of its repertoire.

To get the Cochise 106 to feel more like the original, Blizzard tinkered with several possible core changes. Blizzard attempted to modify its new TrueBlend core for the Cochise, but its added width meant more mass, inhibiting the maneuverability the R&D team was trying to augment. So, the current Cochise core added Paulownia to its matrix, lightening the load and improving its responsiveness.

Kore 111

Head doesn’t consider the addition of a urethane coating sufficient to qualify its 2023 Kore models as new, and in the case of the Kore 111 – the widest 2023 Kores we essayed – we concur. But answering the question of whether the 2023 version is a noticeable improvement over its near-clone predecessor isn’t as interesting as the fact that both ended up in the top spot in our Finesse rankings. What is it about the latest generation of Kore models that sets them apart from the rest of the pack?

Tech guru and Start Haus owner Jim Schaffner pondered this question after a day test driving the 2023 Kore collection. “This model impressed me as did the other Kore models I skied. Does Graphene work? It’s pretty easy to feel the similarity in all the Kore models. The feeling is one of power, and traction, and smoothing out the ride. I am not usually impressed with skis over 110 underfoot. Light and lively feeling, with strong feel on the edge. Very versatile,” the veteran gear tester concluded.

As I put the 111’s through their paces, it passed every exam with flying colors. Short isn’t the natural shape for a ski of the 111’s girth, but it’s so simple to foot-swivel and smear that it could change direction in a closet. Assisting its superior smudge factor are chamfered top edges that slice sideways like a sushi knife. Because there isn’t a situation in which it can’t be turned by some means, the Kore 111 is a treat in the trees, where powder can still be found past 10:00.

The biggest problem with skis as wide as the Kore 111 is that their shortcomings start to show up as the powder “day” fizzles out around mid-morning. The Kore 111 could care less that the powder is kaput. Perhaps because Head replaced the Koroyd used in previous Kore cores with Karuba and poplar, the Kore 111 provides the feedback of a classic, wood and fiberglass chassis despite belonging in the same weight class as an anorexic Alpine Touring model.

I realize this sounds like a stupid thing to say, but the Kore 111 doesn’t ski wide, or at least not as wide as it measures, in part because it lacks Titanal laminates. The Kore 111 can afford to kick Titanal to the curb because it has Graphene in its guts, carbon in a matrix one atom thick that’s absurdly strong and damp.