Kore 111

Last year, Head didn’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 concurred. But answering the question of whether the 2023/24 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.

In last year’s review of the Kore 111, I shared the tale of my favorite run of the 21/22 season, cavorting in one of the few powder days of that sorry snow season. Last season, of course, was one of the most powder-choked ever, and on my annual hegira to worship at Snowbird the snow was uber-abundant, often shutting down all activity in Little Cottonwood Canyon. On one perfect morning, as soon as the inter-lodge closure was lifted, we were able to get on the first tram.  It was my first run on a fresh pair of Kore 111’s, but the idea of reining in my enthusiasm because I was unfamiliar with the ski never occurred to me.

Throughout a transcendental morning, the Kore 111’s were immaculate. Light and easy to toss around in tight trees, I could stomp on them while scorching down the inevitable groomer and they never skipped a beat. 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. Titanal accentuates torsional rigidity, which in turn augments the sensation of width because there’s no give along the longitudinal axis of the ski. Two sheets of Titanal is also a heavy load to haul around, particularly in powder, where they promote sinking over floating. 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.

QST 106

Salomon’s QST 106 was already pegged as a star product when it was introduced in 2016/17, and Salomon has been enhancing the QST flagship on a regular basis ever since.  The latest batch of improvements aim to boost power and grip while trimming a few grams off its total weight. First, the woven mat of carbon and flax (C/FX) that is the QST 106’s primary structural element now extends the entire length of the ski, for extra stability in heavy crud. To improve torsional rigidity and amplify force application, the 2023/24 QST 106 doubles up on its full-length sidewalls with extra strips of ABS underfoot. And the latest version has a lower rocker profile,  so it stays in better snow contact regardless of the conditions.

Two other innovations introduced during its previous make-over a couple of years ago contribute mightily to the QST 106’s remarkably quiet ride: Cork Damplifier at the tip and tail, and a Titanal binding platform underfoot.  The cork elements are reputed to be 16 times more effective at sucking up shock than the Koroyd honeycomb they replaced, and the Ti plate’s influence definitely extends beyond its mid-ski boundaries. Together with C/FX and Double Sidewalls, they give the QST 106 the stability on edge of a Frontside ski in a ski made for everywhere that isn’t groomed.

One trait that has been preserved in the QST 106 over the years is that it maintains the right blend of stability and agility, so it doesn’t ski as wide as it measures.  If a typical expert male were to ski a QST 106 in a 181cm while blindfolded (which I am not encouraging), after a run he probably wouldn’t guess he was on either a 106 or a 181, as it has the quicks of a narrower ski and the quiet ride of a longer one.  It just doesn’t feel fat, even though its weight and width are roughly average for the genre. “It’s a 106 that skis like a wide 100,” as Jim Schaffner from Start Haus condensed its character. It’s the epitome of an all-terrain ski, in that its competence and comportment don’t change as it moves from corduroy to trackless snowfields and yes, even bumps. In Schaffner’s words, the QST 106 is “very well blended, a true all-mountain all-star!”

M-Free 108

It was only a few product cycles ago that Dynastar transformed its brand identity with the debut of the Cham series. It was a bellwether moment, both for Dynastar and the burgeoning freeride market segment. The Chams were the first collection from a mainstream brand that used what was then referred to as a “5-point” sidecut, the two extra points indicating the ski’s widest points, which were pulled back from their traditional location at the tip and tail.  What came to be known as tip taper has now been universally adopted by every Big Mountain model in the known world.

Flash forward to today, and Dynastar’s signature powder ski, the M-Free 108, retains a few strands of the Cham DNA, but in several respects it’s the exact opposite of the Cham 117.  The key carry-over features include the obligatory double-rockered baseline and tapered forebody and tail, both magnified to the max. The biggest difference is the overall sense of snow connection. Despite its shape and baseline, the Cham 117 was trying to maintain the sort of snow connection one gets with an all wood-and-metal laminate. The connection of the baseline of the M-Free 108 feels as solid as soup.

The M-Free 108 isn’t meant to be tethered to the planet for very long.  It’s not a twin-tip by accident, but by intent: it expects its pilot to break the bonds of gravity at every opportunity, and doesn’t want to limit his options. When one is taking off and landing in loose, uneven snow, the instinct to smear is essential to survival.

When there are only three lengths in a size run, length selection is critical.  The 3 sizes of the M-Free 108 couldn’t be more different. If you want it to feel “extremely stable for the amount of tip and tail rocker,” as Sawyer Alford from Bobo’s found it, you’d best be on the 192cm.  Don’t worry about the M-Free 108 losing its capacity for short turns, as its progressive shape and short platform underfoot can always be twisted sideways.

The M-Free 108 is able to stay calm while tearing through crud in high gear because it wraps its unusual PU and poplar core in a fiberglass torsion box, which is essentially a giant, coiled spring.  Just because there’s just a touch of Titanal in it underfoot – a lesson learned in the Cham series history – doesn’t mean it’s some sort of dainty pixie. It has some heft to it, enabling it to stand up to crispy crud.

Kore 105

Last year, Head coated all its Kore models in a urethane top coat, primarily as a protective measure, but it definitely also dampened the narrower Kores.  On the Kore 105, the urethane and may have made the raised the ski’s overall performance range, as attested by veteran tester Jim Schaffner, who tried it in both its 184cm and 177cm lengths.

“In the shorter size, I felt the 105 to have even greater range and playfulness than the 184cm,” asserted the founder of Start Haus. “I must credit Head for delivering a ton of performance in the Kore line. With the exception of the 105, I skied all of the Kore models in the 177, and they all had amazing horsepower for a svelte 230 pounder like me.”

Schaffner’s experience underscores the importance of length selection. I, too, skied the 2023 Kore 105 in both a 184cm and 177cm, and found the shorter length to be substantially more maneuverable, playful and fun. Keep that thought in mind as you peruse the prose penned two years ago about the 2022 Kore 105, that embodied several important changes that carry over to this season’s iteration.

The Head Kore 105 is the perfect ski for our times. No, it doesn’t promote universal love and understanding among all people, but it does what it can, considering that it’s a ski. It’s not just that it’s the lightest ski in the genre, it’s how that light weight contributes to a quickness off the edge that makes the Kore 105 feel narrower than its actual dimensions.

Another reason that the Kore 105 behaves like a skinnier ski is it adheres to a metal-free diet; the absence of Ti laminates softens its torsional rigidity, enabling it to conform to terrain rather than attempting to subdue it.  This business about feeling narrower matters because it makes it reasonable to consider the Kore 105 as an everyday ski for western resort skiing. 

Its ultra-light weight also makes the Kore 105 an ideal in-resort/backcountry hybrid. The biggest concern any backcountry skier has about a super-light ski is that it will be great going uphill and suck on the way down, which sort of defeats the whole purpose.  There’s zero chance the Kore 105 will flame out on the descent, as it’s far more substantial than any AT model of which I am aware.

Blaze 106

From a product standpoint, Völkl has very few problems. The avatars of its latest technologies – the Mantra M6, Kendo 88, Mantra 102 and Deacon 84 – sit atop their respective genres, a stunning display of dominance. When one is so accustomed to winning, one wants to win at everything, and there was one arena where Völkl hadn’t made much headway: skis sold at lower price points.  Völkl had earned a reputation as the brand for experts; lesser lights need not apply.

It was partly to appeal to the greater swath of the market who shun the pinnacle of the price pyramid that three years ago Völkl launched the Blaze series. At a $599 street price, the Blaze 106 hoped to attract the economy-minded in the market for a lightweight, off-trail ski. To hit the lower price point, it reduced its use of Titanal down to a mounting plate and lightened up the core considerably: a 186cm Blaze 106 weighs in at a mere 1772g, compared to 2330g for a 184cm Katana 108.

While the lower price no doubt made the Blaze 106 more attractive, it was its super-light chassis that made it an overnight star. The demand for skis that would work both in-resort and in the backcountry has created a new sub-category into which the Blaze 106 fits neatly. The Blaze 106 waltzed into what was, until recently, a niche market, hoping for a warm reception, and instead encountered a firestorm of demand for its new hybrid.

Meghan Ochs is power personified; you’d expect her to fold the Blaze 106 (which also comes in an identical women’s version) like it was made of meringue. Instead, she was stunned by its capabilities, calling it “one of my favorite skis I’ve ever skied at this width. Shocking!”

A Finesse ski that leaves real experts impressed with its Power attributes, the Blaze 106 punches well above its price point. Sure, it skis best when it has a little snow to push against, but that’s true of a great many Big Mountain models. The metal in the mid-section does a stunning job of quieting most of the ski, remarkable in a ski light enough to take to the backcountry.