The fattest of the fatties (>113mm) are true specialty sticks, meant for when the snow is so deep even a 108mm won’t float high enough. This reality won’t keep some folks from sporting them every day, but this is lunatic-fringe behavior as hauling a barge around on hard snow is no picnic for the knee joint. If you live in the West it makes sense to own a Powder board as a second pair; if they’re your only pair of skis, we hope you also own a helicopter. Even though the performance of these skis depends largely on their shape and surface area, there are still large behavioral differences among models. One particular divide occurs along the carve/smear schism, models that still retain a preference for a directional, arced turn versus rides that want to pivot and slide sideways down the hill.
Some ski makers seek a compromise between the ability to drift and the capacity to carve by reinforcing the support underfoot while rockering the tip and tail so they’re barely detectable. (The presumption is that powder will fill the void between the loose tips and tails.) Whether the baseline is rockered end to end or maintains a measure of camber, all Powder skis find a way to keep the extremities from interfering with a quick foot swivel, which may or may not result in a change in direction but which should at least scrub some speed.
One reason most Powder skis are made easy to swivel sideways is that they’re naturally not so nifty flipping edge to edge. They’re made to be buoyant, not nimble. Since getting them up on edge is a chore, they don’t lend themselves to technical skiing even if they’re capable of it. All of these models make powder skiing easier, but not all are content just poking their way down the hill.
Once a ski is over 114mm wide at the waist, any pretense that it’s somehow an “all-mountain” ski is piffle. A Powder ski’s only purpose is what’s in its name. Can one be skied on hard snow? Of course, any tool can be misapplied. But Powder skis on slick, hard snow are hard to steer, limited largely to a controlled skid. Even if the skier is comfortable with this concept, if he can’t steer accurately on crowded slopes, he can’t ski safely.
Not much has changed since last season. There are no totally new models in this over-served category, and only four, the Salomon QST 118, Fischer Ranger 115, K2 Pinnacle 118 and Bent Chetler 120, tweaked their construction but without changing their shape.
Not much changed in my ability to collect data on Powder skis, either. Last year all I could manage was to ski a large pile of Powder models by myself, in conditions that could hardly be called ideal. There wasn’t much point in repeating that exercise, so I tried to accumulate a fair number of Powder skis at one venue and funnel a few testers through said site. I was determined to get more skiers on more models in more appropriate conditions. I came up short on all counts.
As I haven’t anything new to report save a profile of the Dynastar Proto Factory that slipped through my grasp last season and an update on the updated models, all I’ve done is re-arrange the words I assembled on this subject last season, beginning with the following reprise of how these Powder results are presented.
It’s one of Jackson’s Axioms that the measure of a great ski is how well it performs in conditions for which it was not designed. In this regard, the test conditions in which most of these skis were skied were ideal: groomed snow that rapidly degraded into corn, then sludge, then potage.
This sounds sub-optimal, but the problem with optimal conditions – two feet of perpetually renewed freshies – is that all distinguishing traits get lost in a haze of tester euphoria. Of course all these super-fat skis can cope with deep snow; how do they digest all the other courses on the menu?
After examining the field, my notes reveal three distinct species within the Powder genus. Some are clearly meant for highly skilled skiers who aren’t looking for a pair of powder crutches but a set of depth charges that will explode everything within their blast radius. On the other side of the Power/Finesse divide are those with just the right amount of energy to make floating side-to-side feel effortless.
After a sort along these lines, 4 skis remain that are so evenly balanced, it seems wrong to throw them in either the Power or Finesse camps. So they have their own sub-set, the Naturals.
As this is in no way a statistically relevant enterprise, there are no test scores to report. All models tested are Recommended as all are well adapted to parting their way through new snow. As all are equal in our eyes, they’re presented here in random order.
Any ski over 113mm underfoot can be thrown into a skid, but some would prefer it if the pilot knew how to point ‘em. Our Power picks not only aren’t afraid of speed, they live for it and to one degree or another, require it. Imagine you’re heli-skiing on a pitch so steep every turn triggers a slough line that seems intent on catching you from behind. You have a choice: accelerate or be swept over the next cliff band like a piece of luggage. It’s in moments like these that our Powder Power Picks were designed to rise to the occasion, keeping their cool when the going gets gnarly.
The Kore 117 looks the size of a life raft in a 189cm, but it steers easily despite its girth. The skier doesn’t feel its heft, only the ease it imparts by drifting like a putty knife, smearing over the choppy terrain. Mercifully, it doesn’t need a high edge angle to remain stable and even stays calm when running flat. Almost any Powder ski will help a lower skill skier survive; it takes a strong ski to satisfy an expert who intends to lay it over and charge the fall line. The Kore 117 is as exhilarating for experts as it is forgiving to those in need of forgiveness.
If you attack the fall line like it insulted your mother and spend so much time on your QST’s looking for pow that you inevitably have to send them down groomers, the new QST 118 is your kind of stick. Last season the 118 led the list of Finesse skis in this genre. This year, the infusion of torsional stiffness and shock dampening puts the 2019 QST 118 squarely among the Powder Powers.
The experienced tester can tell in the first 100 yards that the Blizzard Bodacious is going to require some room to express itself. Like leaving the station on a bullet train, it doesn’t take long to realize speed is intrinsic to the experience. The Bodacious aims for the bottom of the mountain and annihilates any snow condition in its path. As stable as Gibraltar, the skier can trust the edge to hold through the thickest porridge or the thinnest ice crust; the Bodacious can’t be knocked off its course by anything made of snow.
If you live at the base of a big western mountain and still possess the strength and stamina of youth, you might want to make the Völkl Confession a daily ritual. Lord knows it has the strength to lay down rails on hardpack, thanks to a top sheet of Titanal that doesn’t run the full length of the ski because it doesn’t have to. The Confession dominates just fine as is, aided by a camber pocket underfoot that instills life into this powder-devouring glutton.
When I refer to a Power Powder ski’s ability to carve like a much narrower ski, I’m not kidding, but neither am I telling the whole story. A wide ski with camber in the belly of its baseline, like the Kästle BMX115, provides a solid platform that won’t swim under pressure. On groomers, the skier notices the slender edge that’s dug in the snow more than the behemoth slab of ski that isn’t. As long as the ski is on edge, awareness of its ballooned dimensions is suppressed.
When Atomic first introduced the Magic Powder around 1990, it was a mere curio, a fringe ski for punters in over their heads on a heli trip. Ten years later, the landscape had flipped over so the widest skis were “AK” models made for the guides, not their ducklings. Gradually both paradigms were able find a foothold in the marketplace because both opened up new terrain possibilities for their respective communities. Our Finesse favorites had to be able to smudge a turn on a whim, so lower-skill skiers can check their speed. The best of them also have the wherewithal to amp it up should the pilot choose to charge the fall line, attributes it never hurts to have in reserve.
The deeper the freshies or the heavier the slop, the brighter the Rustler 11 shines. Feeding it crud is like giving it oxygen. The tip that’s busy looking for something to do on groomers is in its element, rolling up and over wind berms and generally conforming to whatever it meets. The solidity underfoot breeds confidence and the tail is supportive when it needs to be. “A big mountain charger,” assesses Lucas from Footloose. “Surprisingly playful for its size, it’s a confidence booster.”
If all you knew about the Line Sick Day 114 were its waist width (114mm), sidecut radius (23.9m) and that it’s tip and tail were tapered, you’d expect it to turn with all the agility and grace of the Exxon Valdez. And you might be right if Line ladled on the Titanal, but the Sick Day 114 is unshackled by metal bonds. It retains the springiness of an all-glass ski, and lo and behold, it steers with ease of a far shapelier ski. Its tapered tip keeps it from diving into a turn at the very top, so it smears its way through turn entry before settling on an edge that rolls comfortably through rubble.
Fischer introduced the Ranger 115 XTi only last year, and already it’s been run through the mild makeover machine. Fischer didn’t tamper with the Ranger’s shape or turn radius, so it retains its affinity for long turns, and it still has the torsional rigidity to latch onto a high edge angle when summoned, but its regular style might be called “authoritative drift;” you may not be riding the edge, but you have everything under control.
The Catamaran’s fully rockered, twin-tip design is made by and for athletes who prize creativity over convention. Drifting isn’t a demerit but a form of passive aggression, a way for the skier to hit the brakes, focus in and straight-line to a massive air. The Catamaran can sustain this sort of treatment because its aspen/fir core is bolstered by carbon stringers strong enough to support a skier dropping forty feet to a switch landing.
As I was sorting the Powder skis I’d essayed at Mammoth into Finesse and Power piles, three models emerged that resisted categorization. To pigeonhole them as Power skis would obscure their exceptional willingness to operate from any stance and remain tractable at any speed. They can even hold a continuous edge on hard snow without trembling, although why anyone would want to escort them around groomed runs I can’t imagine.
Each is a riot in powder and unfazed by crud in all its incarnations. Although they prefer to be submerged in pow, they share a talent for holding their line even if all they can manage to stick in the snow is a tendril of edge. Too easy to ski to be considered Power models but with high end performance that will have experts grinning ear to ear, these are the Naturals, skis that will feel totally intuitive for a wide swath of advanced and expert skiers.
The Pinnacle 118 was already nearly perfect pow ski before K2 decided to devote a spindle or two of its unique weaving octopus to carbon fiber, creating the Carbon Boost Braid. The all-glass Pinnacle 118 of yesteryear weighed almost as much as comparable models with two sheets of Titanal; the addition of carbon means the subtraction of glass, empowering the 2019 Pinnacle to do more with less. The interlacing of carbon and glass augments the Pinnacle 118’s established ability to ride just a thin rail of edge when all the pow it used to lean into is gone. In a field of drifters, the Pinnacle 118 is one of the few that can carve its way out of trouble
The widest ski examined in these pages, Atomic’s Bent Chetler 120 not only doesn’t ski as wide as it measures, it actually behaves “normally,” instead of ultra-adapted for pow, which is what it is. The Bent Chetlers (there are now two, with the debut of a Bent Chetler 100) are adorned with HRZN Tech, extremities that are rockered both longitudinally, which is customary, and laterally, which is unique to them. HRZN Tech creates a 3D surface that behaves like the bow of a ship, forever in contact with the surface it’s shoving aside It also allows the skier to use either end of the ski as a point of rotation, a thought I must admit never occurred to me.
Only available in a 189cm length, the Proto Factory performs like a Technical ski in a fat suit. Despite its bulbous girth, it readily responds to its pilot’s carving intentions, getting into the turn as soon as its rockered and tapered tip permits. The midsection of its 5-point sidecut is powerful, energetic and totally trustworthy. Ready to break into a smear or cut into a carve on a moment’s notice, the Proto Factory is a decathlete of off-trail skiing.
The Super 7 HD’s behavior is perfectly in synch with how most advanced to expert skiers prefer to ski fresh snow: set a rhythm from the first turn-and-rise cycle and keep that beat going with the regularity of a pulse. The Super 7 HD is essentially a giant spring with soft ends. The tapered and rockered tip and tail act as buffers to ease turn entry and exit, setting the stage for the powerful midsection to generate the energy that propels the ski up and over the turn transition.