2020 Powder

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.

The 2020 Powder Field

If you’re one of those who would rather see the movie than read the book, you can skip the introductory remarks and cut to https://realskiers.com/realskiers-tv/powder-skis/ where I’ll regale you with a brief tour of the genre. The rest of you, please read on.

Because the Powder ski genre is not particularly remunerative for suppliers, there’s little motive for them to refresh the contents of this category. There’s only one all-new model, K2’s Mindbender 116C, a change mandated by the launch of the Mindbender series. Dynastar moved production of its Proto Factory out of the race room and tied it to the Menace family of twin-tips. That’s it. The rest of the Powder population returns intact.

Also unchanged is my peculiar protocol where Powder skis are concerned. Trying to connect Powder skis to powder days is a tough game to play, so I’ve given up chasing a hopeless cause. I report on every Powder ski I can get on and don’t worry about collecting corroborating data. As the statistical relevance of this exercise is at or below zero, I don’t register scores or rank the field in some sort of hierarchy.

What I do instead is segregate the field into three families:

  • Finesse models fulfill the primary mission of making powder simple to ski. They’re ideal for anyone for whom powder poses problems.
  • Power skis are for experts who don’t need any help, as they plan to charge the fall line with all engines firing.
  • Naturals aren’t as beastly to bend as the Power picks, nor are they as loose as the Finesse faves. They feel like normal all-terrain skis, just a helluva lot wider.

Every model I tried is 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.

Power Picks: Shredding the Gnar

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.

Head Kore 117

Head did an amazing job of positioning its Kore series as “light done right,” catching the “Lighter is Better” wave with the right message at the right time. The brand’s focus on the light part of the story was so effective it overshadowed the real point of the slogan, the “done right” bit. What makes the Kore 117 isn’t that it’s ultralight – it’s not close to being the lightest in the Powder genre – but that it’s freakishly powerful. The deeply tapered tip acts more like a bumper than an avid turn initiator and the rounded tail is intended to release the turn as if it were a wounded sparrow. Right underfoot the sidecut is fairly straight, so the center section can be foot-steered more easily. What keeps the Kore 117 on track in choppy chunder is its overall stiffness. Thanks to Graphene’s absurd strength to weight ratio, the
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Blizzard Bodacious

The Blizzard Bodacious has been around long enough to collect a pension, yet it remains one of the most badass big skis you can buy, bursting with youthful exuberance. Only one other ski in the genre, Nordica’s Enforcer 115 Free, deploys two sheets of Titanal, which in a ski of the Bodacious’ gargantuan dimensions creates a crud-buster with the power of a Panzer. Once they’re pointed downhill, momentum is not the problem, but keeping up with their preferred pace can be. Because it’s built like an all-mountain ski, its ability to hold an edge is well above average for the genre. Not that you want always to ride the edge on a ski with a 30.5m sidecut radius (186cm), but the Bodacious won’t back down even on boilerplate so you could ski it – and ski it well – in any condition. And should you get in trouble and need
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Blizzard Spur

I’ve tried for several seasons to strap on a pair of Blizzard Spurs, but I’ve always been thwarted. For several years no powder fell during test season and the few pairs in circulation were needed elsewhere. Once the product manager wouldn’t send me a pair to test because he knew they were unlikely to see any new snow. Since every one of its 192 centimeters was built for winter powder, not spring slush, he withheld his favors. I considered the Spurs to be my ever-elusive white whales, although these whales happen to be murdered-out black. After finally getting on a pair in appropriate conditions, I understand why Blizzard put the kibosh on testing the Spur on whatever happens to be handy. The Spur is meant for making movies in Alaska. Its gigantic surface area rides so high it can be pivoted in a pipeline chute despite having the turn radius
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Nordica Enforcer 115 Free

Most powder skis are made for those who either don’t ski powder so well or those who ski it so well they need a crazy-wide ski to make their living. The Nordica Enforcer 115 Free leans towards those of elite ability who point their skis downhill a lot more than they turn them sideways. It takes an aggressive attitude to pilot this ski because its long turn radius and extra length (note it only comes in a 191cm) need speed to turn these traits from liabilities to assets. If you like to tiptoe through the trees or make tidy, little turns to control your speed, you are reading the wrong review. The reason the Enforcer 115 Free skis like a GS race ski in a fat suit is because it’s still a wood and metal ski, with two sheets of .4mm Titanal to give this big board the power of
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Völkl Confession

When the Powder ski genre was just gaining traction, Völkl’s Snow Ranger stood head and shoulders above the field, largely because it was so powerfully built. Völkl has made many sorts of Powder skis since, including the legendary Katana – perhaps the studliest Powder ski ever – the infinitely rockered Shiro and the twin-tipped Bash. The Confession, the German brand’s current Powder specialist, is perhaps closest in spirit to the Snow Ranger. It’s lighter than the Katana, cambered so its more connected than a Shiro and most definitely directional. The Confession is so stable through its midsection that it can be railed on hardpack, but steering its 23.8m-radius sidecut and tilting its 117mm of waist width high enough to lock on a carved turn is no connection for old men. It’s so strong that with a little muscle it can be steered through anything, but it does require a firm
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Finesse Favorites: Easy Access for All

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.

Salomon QST 118

I posted a video last spring on the current state of the Powder ski genre. My principal argument was that despite being made for the same purposes, every ski in the category has its own distinct personality. Some beg to run hot, staying close to the fall line until they hit their tipping point. Others are loosely linked to the snow and are much better at smearing than carving. The Salomon QST 118 resides somewhere in the middle, a Finesse ski that hides its power reserve in powder, where it drifts lazily through a mid-radius turn on its own volition. When the powder is kaput, so are a lot of made-for-powder models, but the QST 118 handles the transition to carving conditions as if it were a gentleman’s cruiser. It doesn’t take much edge angle or pressure to engage it, so there’s no need to exaggerate the degree of edge
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Blizzard Rustler 11

Big as he is, the Rustler 11 will always be the Bodacious’ little brother, and like many baby bros, the Rustler 11 tries hard to be his elder sibling’s antithesis. The biggest difference in the younger’s personality is how he behaves at the point of attack, where the ski meets the snow. Put simply, the Bodacious is a puncher, and the Rustler 11 is a counter-puncher. Another way to characterize how the Rustler 11 differs from the Bodacious is the latter expects a little more from its pilot – more speed, more skill, more aggression – while the Rustler will happily accept you as you are, warts and all. That it surrenders some support on hardpack only matters if you want it to. Kept to the pow, it’s as easy as pie and a perennial recipient of a Silver Skier Selection.

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K2 Mindbender 116C

K2 flipped its entire freeride family this year, closing the Pinnacle period and beginning the Mindbender era. Mindbenders come in two flavors, with a Titanal yoke or a variable carbon weave as the principal structural component. Mindful of the need to keep fat skis on a diet, the Mindbender 116C is of the metal-free variety. The dip in torsional rigidity makes the Mindbender 116C feel narrower when it’s tipped and pressured, so traditional powder technique’s rhythmic turning style fits its strong suit. But if you never attempt to stand on the edge, you can still smear your way along just by twisting your feet sideways. Not being as stiff or heavy as a Ti-laden model, the Mindbender 116C is easier to manhandle when necessary and never refuses an invitation to drift around a turn. As you’d expect from the Kings of Rocker at K2, the rocker at both tip and
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Line Line Sick Day 114

There’s a lot of subtext to the Sick Day collection, of which the 114 is the fattest and ipso facto the floatiest. Sick days are all about not showing up, and with a tip rocker that rises two centimeters off the deck, mated with a pulled-back forward contact point, the Sick Day 114 always cuts the first class. Even when it’s asked to turn nicely, it doesn’t sit up straight but sort of slouches through the turn. Riding a high edge on a ski this wide is a lot like work, so it drifts through the turn stress-free. If this sounds like the Sick Day 114 would rather get terminal acne than carve a turn, let’s just say it performs like the solid “C” student that surprises you on test day. It’s actually very simple to steer, taking the hint from light pressure to find its way across the fall
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Fischer Ranger 115 FR

The Fischer Ranger 115 FR is an interesting amalgam of suppressed carving tendencies and overt desires to drift around every corner. Like any decent Powder ski, it’s first duty is to drift, but its ultralight Air Tec Ti core is sheathed in a sliver of Titanal, generating the security underfoot necessary to stay on course in heavy, cut-up crud. Despite its inherent prejudice for smearing, it’s on its best behavior when mimicking giant slalom technique through an open snowfield. The one move it can’t copy is a short-radius, carved turn, a virtual impossibility given its front and rear rocker. This limited liability is shared by all Powder models, and is readily overcome by simply swiveling one’s feet. The Ranger 115 FR’s facility as a power drifter is further assisted by its Carbon Nose, which lowers swingweight, and its domed, Aeroshape top surface that slips sideways with silken ease.

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K2 Catamaran

To the degree that there’s a generational rift splitting the Powder category in two – Boomers still holding onto the idea that technical skiing can translate to bottomless snow, while Millennials’ idea of powder technique is to get airborne as often as possible – the Catamaran lands squarely (switch, of course) on the side of the kinder. The Catamaran’s signature asymmetric sidecut presumably helps keep this natural drifter from getting in its own way, but the forebody is so rockered the imbalance between inside and outside effective edge length is disguised. The Catamaran’s tail is also rockered, but not to the point where it can’t support someone tossing a gainer into a couloir. This is, after all, an athlete-driven ski, with Sean Pettit and Pep Fujas lending their street cred to its popularity.   How well what they regard as de rigeur is adapted to your personal, inimitable style, I leave
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The Naturals: Brilliant Balance

As I was sorting the Powder skis I’d essayed at Snow Basin and 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.

Dynastar Menace Proto F-Team

The Dynastar Menace Proto F-Team floats so high it doesn’t encounter much resistance no matter how you choose to turn it. The Menace Proto’s ability to levitate despite its heft – an inevitable consequence of so much width – makes it particularly easy to swivel around trees and old tracks. Because it’s so easy to rotate, you can charge the fall line, knowing you can toss them sideways in a heartbeat. Once all the powder has been plundered you can ride the edge almost as if it were a carving ski. It even has a lively kick off the bottom of its preferred long arc, which makes it feel lighter through the turn transition.

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Rossignol Super 7 HD

Rossignol’s 7 series began a decade ago with a model that was 115mm underfoot and abundantly rockered tip and tail. In its first incarnations it had no metal, which contributed to a loose ride on groomers but great flotation and ease in the soft snow for which it was intended. Later on in the 7 series’ long trajectory came the Super 7, which at the time meant Rossi incorporated Titanal laminates into its lay-up, making for a more stable platform. By the time the Soul 7 appears in 2013, the Super 7 shed its metal, getting its energy from a long and responsive camber pocket. The entire 7 series stepped up in power and responsiveness when it adopted Carbon Alloy Matrix, a grid composed of carbon and basalt fibers. The Super 7 HD went through a gamut of renovations over a 3-season period that changed its baseline (less rocker), tip
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Atomic Bent Chetler 120

By the look of it, the Atomic Bent Chetler 120 will ski like a flat-bottomed boat. Both bow and stern are rockered front-to-back and side-to-side, forming convex contact points that can serve as a prow when going forwards or a pivot point to rotate into rearward. Given how greasy this platform looks, it’s a surprise when it behaves… normally. Of course the Horizon Tech shovel, as the multi-axis rocker is called, wants to drift a bit before connecting to a turn, but when tilted on edge it knows what to do. After a few turns you become less conscious of its width and more aware of what a smooth, balanced ride it delivers. Any ski of the Bent Chetler 120’s substantial dimensions will deliver the goods in pristine powder; the real test comes when the fresh stuff runs out. This is when all that surface area and relatively straight sidecut
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