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.

When the Bodacious hits a wind drift, whatever it impacts is obliterated; when the Rustler 11 probes the same surface, it contorts to match it, as if trying to disturb it as little as possible. The Bodacious expects you to be fearless, ergo good; the Rustler 11 embraces initiates with open arms. The Bodacious is about domination; the Rustler 11 is about play. The Bodacious requires strength and skill; the Rustler just wants to show you a good time.

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.

QST 118

I posted a video in the spring of 2019 on the then-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 elevation in order to get it to hold.

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.

Mindbender 116C

K2 flipped its entire freeride family last 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 tail are long and high, creating a predisposition to bank off the base rather than carve on the edge.

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 a star performer 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 Kore 117 can be as resistant to twisting and bending as Head’s engineers want it to be.