Enforcer Free 104

The Nordica Enforcer 104 Free and Enforcer 110 Free are both first-class Big Mountain Finesse skis – they’ve each recently held top billing in the genre – but they earn their high ratings for ease of use in different ways. The Enforcer 110 Free is inherently better at drifting and flotation, simply by dint of its superior surface area. These are critical properties for a Big Mountain ski, but they aren’t the only admirable attributes.  The Enforcer 104 Free out-finesses its bigger bro with easy-steering agility, able to hew to a tighter radius whether on edge or off.

The Enforcer 104 Free even feels quicker than the narrower 185cm Enforcer 100, because you don’t detect its extra 4mm of width as much as you notice its lively response to lighter pressure.  It seems to hover like a water bug over wind-battered crud, floating just above the havoc underfoot where it’s still able to move freely side to side. It smooths out the ruffles in the most ravaged terrain, turning a ratty collage of ruts into a dance floor. 

Back-to-back runs on the 110 and 104 in 10 inches of partially tracked powder confirmed what one might suspect a priori – that the narrower ski was noticeably easier to steer no matter how you slice it. Whether pivoting your feet to make a short turn shorter or banking off a wind drift, the Enforcer 104 took less force to guide.  To the obvious question – is a 104-waist width really necessary in a line that already has cornerstone models on its flanks in the original Enforcer 100 and the 110? – we have an equally obvious answer: oh, yes.

There are times when just a small change in geometry lands on a magic combination of shape and energy that amplifies the best qualities in a particular design. The arrival of the Enforcer 104 Free marks just such an occasion. The newest kid on the block already feels, not merely like a member of the band, but its front man.

Ranger 102

The qualities that made the 102 FR the star product of the old Rangers were its smeary, playful baseline, its metal-free construction – making it lighter and torsionally softer – and the fact that it had the most distinctive snow feel compared to its competition in the Big Mountain genre. As Fischer made the transition to the new Ranger series that adds a dab of Titanal to every model, preserving the on-snow properties of its flagship Ranger was likely to be a high priority.

The qualities that made the 102 FR the star product of the old Rangers were its smeary, playful baseline, its metal-free construction – making it lighter and torsionally softer – and the fact that it had the most distinctive snow feel compared to its competition in the Big Mountain genre. As Fischer made the transition to the new Ranger series that adds a dab of Titanal to every model, preserving the on-snow properties of its flagship Ranger was likely to be a high priority. Once you have an established fan club, you don’t want to disappoint it.

Devotees of the retired Ranger FR 102 can relax. If you loved the FR for its surfy attitude, you’ll be at least as enamored of the 2024 Ranger 102. This is still a decidedly soft snow ski, as several testers lamented who essayed the Ranger 102 in 2022’s skinny season. “In fresh snow, you’ll love this ski,” reassured Mark Rafferty from Peter Glenn. “Plenty wide and playful for first tracks. If no new fresh for a few weeks, the Ranger 102 will rip fast turns on the groomers. Strong for blasting through crud. A true marvel,” he raved.

Not everyone was smitten by the Ranger 102’s soft extremities, particularly when the powder it definitely prefers is in short supply. The race-bred Jim Schaffner over-powered the Ranger 102’s forebody, undermining its edging accuracy on hard snow. “The snow was perfect for testing this type of ski,” the Start Haus owner noted, “however I found that it was too loose for my style of skiing . I can see the benefit for a skier that only seeks out the softer untracked snow and who enjoys the art of drifting and skidding.

As Schaffner’s remarks suggest, whether the Ranger 102 is your cup of tea depends on style, not ability, although the Ranger 102’s soft flex is especially well suited to those making their first forays into sidecountry. The .5mm-thick Titanal plate in its midsection sits astride a substantial beech and poplar core, so security underfoot shouldn’t be an issue for skiers who aren’t as big and aggressive as erstwhile race coach Schaffner.

All things considered, the 2024 Ranger 102 amplifies its forebear’s best assets without changing its fundamental character.

Ranger 108

Now that the Fischer Ranger series share a common construction, they also share a similar behavioral profile. Nothing affects a modern ski quite as much as the addition or subtraction of Titanal, so when Rangers were made both with and without Ti laminates, their performance profile would change radically from one model to the next.  In 2023, Fischer homogenized the Ranger line by doling out a measure of metal in every model. By dint of its extra width, the Ranger 108 earned a mite more in its midsection, making it the smoothest Ranger in the new family.

The Ranger series has always been aimed squarely at off-trail skiing, where surface area dictates the degree of flotation which in turn has a direct bearing on how easy a ski is to swivel. News bulletin: skiing deep snow isn’t like skiing hardpack. Not just in the obvious way that snow you sink into and snow you can barely dent require different tactics, but in the subtle ways that deep snow affects stance and turn finish, which can’t be carved and therefore has to be swiveled to come across the fall line. 

The point of the previous paragraph is that the wider the off-trail ski, the closer it inherently comes to optimizing its design, at least for the purposes of skiing powder, which is the only reason to own a Big Mountain model in the first place.  If test conditions two winters ago had only cooperated, scores for the Ranger 108 would have shot up, elevating both its Power and Finesse rankings.  Of all the new Rangers, the 108 was most compromised by inappropriate test conditions, yet its superior skill set was evident despite this considerable handicap.

Blessed with more flotation and power than its stablemate, the Ranger 102, the Ranger 108 delivers the sort of elite performance experts expect. When allowed to run across a field of syrupy corn snow, it’s a gas to lay over like its waist was 20mm thinner.  Of course, connection at the top of the turn is inhibited by the usual steep front rocker and pulled-back contact point found in virtually every Big Mountain ski, but most of the Ranger 108 is in the snow and unperturbed by the jolts delivered by irregular terrain.

Sender 104 Ti

There are several clear signals that the Rossignol Sender 104 Ti isn’t meant for the same skier as its big brother, the Sender 106 Ti+. While the only difference in their sidecut is the 104’s narrower waist, that’s about where the similarities end. The first hint that they aren’t equals is the plus symbol attached to the fatter ski. It’s meant to imply that there’s an extra dose of Titanal in the slightly more expensive ($100) 106, as indeed there is. But the 106 Ti+ also sports other embellishments that make it preferable for an expert who knows how to charge the fall line.

As important as Titanal is to ski behavior – we’ll dive a bit deeper into its usage here in a moment – it only covers so much territory, as neither model runs its Ti laminates from tip to tail. The end-to-end element that governs both skis is a weave of carbon and basalt fibers; on the Sender 106 Ti+ the combination dubbed Carbon Alloy Matrix is richer in carbon, so the ride feels more cushioned throughout and remains calm at higher velocity.  The basalt-biased blend in the Sender 104 Ti, called Diago fiber, serves the same purpose but with less pronounced shock damping for the skier who isn’t pouring on the gas.

To adapt the top Titanal laminate to the less aggressive target skier, Rossi trims the Ti down 2mm on the sides, so it doesn’t reach the edge, and limits its longitudinal reach to just past the binding.  Two millimeters may not sound like much, but keeping the Titanal away from the sidewall allows the latter to flex, mellowing the connection to the snow. Concentrating the Titanal underfoot keeps the swingweight down, for easier swiveling, and lowers the overall mass so the ski feels more nimble and easier to foot-steer.  While the Sender 104 Ti’s extremities are fairly loose, the grip underfoot is confident and secure.  For the Finesse skier for whom it is intended, the Sender 104 Ti is a better ski than its beefier bro.

FX106 Ti

Any clear-eyed assessment of what transpires on a powder day at any popular resort would conclude that the “powder” part of the day begins around 9:00 and ends around 10:00.  For the rest of the day, all accessible terrain devolves into something considerably less idyllic.  The Kästle FX106 Ti is built to cope with this reality, for it wields its smear-ability like a weapon when deep snow switches from a fluffy texture to something closer to tapioca.

During the “powder hour,” any ski with approximately the FX106 Ti’s dimensions will spool out mid-radius turns with unconscious ease; once perfect conditions are in the past, the real work begins. It’s in the slop that the FX106 Ti’s stout, wood-and-Titanal construction proves its mettle, planing over afternoon porridge that would kick a lesser ski off course.  With two full sheets of Titanal in its guts, the FX106 Ti isn’t one of those fat skis where the width isn’t noticeable; rather, its heft imparts confidence that in the battle against crud, its pilot is well armed.

Left to its own devices on firmer snow, the FX106 Ti likes its turns long and laid over.  Not that its probable owner is likely to be a big fan of groomers, but they’re an unavoidable aspect of resort skiing, so you might as well make them fast and fun. Of course, the FX106 Ti won’t hook up at the top of the turn like a carving ski, but it’s more than solid enough so you can open up the throttle on the dash back to the lift.