Every brand, large and small, foreign or domestic, has to make a choice about how they want to build a ski. Once they settle on a construction and the equipment to execute it is on premises, they tend to stay with it for the long haul. Head’s wheelhouse construction could not be more fundamental or more sound: while other brands have obsessed with making a cheaper, higher margin ski, Head has stayed with what it knows will never fail them: a stout wood core, two sheets of titanal and carefully calibrated, pre-impregnated fiberglass to wrap it all up. To those who might quibble some of Head’s skis are over-built, we would counter, wouldn’t you rather own a brand that errs on the side of excellence?
As an Austrian brand, Head has always placed a premium on race results, and its investments in this area have paid impressive dividends. In a sport where wins can be measured in the thousandth of a second, who comes out on top may appear serendipitous; when athlete after athlete is holding up a crystal globe recognizing a season of superiority, something other than serendipity is afoot.
While Head’s victories on the World Cup can’t be discounted, translating gold medals into dollars hasn’t been easy. The American market is not race-driven, to put it mildly. Americans want to go where they wanna go, do what they wanna, wanna do; we’re all about freeride, dude! Head, to its great credit, is first and foremost about technique. Head was the first major brand to treat the Carving trend seriously and make it part of its identity. Hooking into the top of a turn is part of the brand’s essential make-up. Even its recently retired off-trail Monster series had a baseline and tail design more like a carving ski than the typical smear sticks found in the Big Mountain genre. It shouldn’t surprise that Head’s off-trail skis once languished in anonymity in the U.S.
Until the 2017/18 season, when Head unveiled the Kore series. Three years earlier, in 2014/15, Head had changed its entire women’s collection, centering the new series on its use of Graphene, carbon in a matrix one-atom thick. Since then, Graphene has spread through every product category, finally reaching the off-trail Kore collection. Capitalizing on Graphene’s obscene strength-to-weight ratio, Head matched it with Koroyd honeycomb, a triaxial weave of carbon and ultralight Karuba wood to build the Kore’s core, topping it with fleece to minimize mass.
It’s no exaggeration to say the Kore series has catapulted Head into hitherto unknown sales territory for its All-Mountain, Big Mountain and Powder models. Head attempted another coup five years ago with a new lightweight series of system carving skis called V-Series (for its high taper ratio between tip width and tail width). The V-Series used Graphene in a construction dubbed LYT Tech, applying the same materials used in Kore models to make exceptionally lightweight carving skis. Paired commercially with the Nexo-LYT boot – also built with Graphene and made to be as light as possible – Head pioneered a new generation of skis that don’t require as much mass to be stable at speed.
Head is betting heavily that the LIB trend isn’t a fad but a here-to-stay reality. The V-Series of (mostly) Frontside skis replaced the Instinct system skis that were built along the same Old School lines as the Monsters. The Monsters have followed the Instincts into retirement, yielding their spot in Head’s line-up to the narrowest Kore, the 87.
The contrast between Head’s two carving collections, Supershape and Shape (née V-Shape), couldn’t be starker. When Head added Graphene to the Supershapes a few seasons ago, it used the weight savings to add more metal to the mix. The Shapes eliminate metal everywhere but in the edges. The Supershapes aim exclusively at skiers with elite skills; the Shapes hit every price point from coach to first class. The Shapes also have companion LYT Tech boots, a high degree of product integration often seen in backcountry ensembles but not much elsewhere in the current market.
That Head should continue to offer two families of carving skis with contrasting personalities speaks to both the popularity of on-trail skiing in Europe and the brand’s long-standing commitment to carving as the cornerstone of the recreational market. Since the advent of shaped skis, no other brand has been as invested in the carving category, both financially and philosophically, as Head. Its 5-model Supershape series has been the benchmark for dual-track carving tools for a decade.
Three years ago, the Supershapes received a new electronic damping system called Energy Management Circuit (EMC). Unlike the KERS technology it replaced, EMC operates both fore and aft of the binding, where it intercepts and neutralizes shock waves when they hit 80Hz. At speeds when many other skis begin to wobble, the latest Supershapes purr contentedly along.
While the current Supershape e-Speed and e-Magnum retained their 2020 dimensions, the 2022 e-Rally plumped up to 78mm underfoot and the e-Titan grew to 84mm. The change more clearly differentiates the Rally and Titan, with the former the pure carver and the latter a more versatile all-terrain tool. Head has once again re-set the performance bar for classic carving instruments.
Head is the only major brand to make an entire women’s collection from scratch, without reference to a single unisex template. Head refreshed its original Joy collection four seasons ago, beefing up their construction with more wood in the core to go along with its Graphene-infused glass. In 2021, Head created a new Joy at the top of the series, the aptly named Power Joy, that uses Head’s premium Worldcup Sandwich Cap construction, embellished with EMC to ensure it has no top end. (The Joy collection received another significant re-design for 2024, which we’ll dissect below.)
Two years ago, the big news at Head was a series of small but significant tweaks to every one of Head’s popular Kore series, including the introduction of a new model, the Kore 111. The main structural change was the elimination of synthetic Koroyd in favor of a full dose of Karuba and poplar in its now all-wood core. The flex pattern has also been fiddled with, creating a stiffer stick in the thinner widths that will spend more time on hard snow, while the wider versions are softer and more responsive.
Another small change with a big effect was beveling the top edge, so the ski can slide sideways almost without resistance. On a Big Mountain model with the girth of the new Kore 111, this makes a huge difference in how easy it is to swivel the bottom of the turn, a labor-saver that will prolong your powder day.
The revitalized Kore line comes in more sizes, at 7cm increments, so skiers can find the length that’s tailored to their specifications. Taken in toto, the various modifications made to all the Kore models, men’s and women’s alike, improved the skis’ snow feel to the point that, light weight aside, it’s indistinguishable from a well-made traditional ski.
In 2023, Head added one more modification to all the Kores, an added coating of urethane, intended to improve the durability and appearance of the top sheet. Particularly in the narrower Kore models, the urethane also added a smidgeon of smoothness the 2022 series lacked, earning these models a “NEW!” designation, even though Head doesn’t present the 2023 Kore series as meaningfully altered.
Also new for 2023 was a complete overhaul of Head’s lightweight V Series of system carvers, re-christened Shape. The actual sidecut and essential construction of the 2023 Shape models are identical to the V-Shape series sticks they replace; what’s new are the addition of EMC shock dampening devices on the top two models, a new, low-profile binding interface neatly integrated into the midsection, and the new Protector binding with lateral heel release on the top models.
The 2024 Season
For 2024, Head has once again re-fashioned its Joy series of women’s skis, the only women’s models on the market that aren’t derived from a unisex template. The most obvious change from the Total Joys of yore is a new tip shape that shaves away 6mm, trimming the forebody and diminishing its propensity for digging in hard at the top of a turn. Its slimmer silhouette opens up its sidecut radius, which in turn expands its receptivity to variable terrain and improves handling in deep snow.
While the change in forebody geometry has a profound effect on performance, the most significant change in the 2023 Joy series is in the plate that connects it to its integrated Tyrolia binding. What makes the re-design of the Joy binding platform important is that it solves a puzzle that has plagued ALL system skis: the effect of boot sole length on ramp angle. All demo-style systems have moveable toes and heels with a fixed height that remains the same whether the boot going into it is large or small. There’s no way to avoid the fact that the ramp angle between heel and toe will be shallow on long boots and steepest for the short boots most likely to be used by a woman.
Head’s solution is a two-piece plate that automatically accounts for the variance in toe and heel height so that the platform maintains a constant .55o ramp angle regardless of boot sole length. Now every skier gets the performance advantage of being positioned in the ideal stance to retain balance and apply force efficiently.
The binding perched atop the new plate is from Tyrolia’s Protector series that includes a separate adjustment for lateral release at the heel. Given the inherently heightened exposure of a woman’s knee to twisting forces, riding on a Protector binding offers an extra measure of protection.
The sole new ski in 2022’s Women’s Big Mountain genre was Head’s Kore 103 W. The year before, Head had pushed the Kore collection down to an 87 on the skinny side of the width spectrum; the only direction left in which to extend the Kore clan was to go fatter. Hence the Kore 103 W. The last time Head ventured a women’s model in the Big Mountain category, it was the Joy collection’s first …READ MORE
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 …READ MORE
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 …READ MORE
Head has so much confidence in the all-terrain capabilities of its off-trail Kore design that three years ago it discontinued its Monster series and chucked its classic, wood-and-Titanal construction, to make room for the Kore 87 in its collection. Two years ago, the entire Kore family, including the re-christened Kore 85 W, was redesigned in several subtle ways to raise the performance bar even higher. From a global performance perspective, Head understands that not all …READ MORE
How can a ski as narrow-waisted as the Kore 87 come across as the most versatile ski in its wide-body family? After all, the Kore collection is 100% an off-trail creation; its avatar should be the Kore 111, not this string bean. The improbable polyvalence of the Kore 87 is partly explained by a sleight of hand Head pulled off in the make-up of the narrowest Kore models just two years ago. Taking advantage of …READ MORE
The Head Kore 91 W is either the best women’s ski for off-trail skiing, or the best off-trail ski for women, take your pick. Don’t detect a difference? Neither do we. The properties that make the Kore 91 W a great women’s ski and those that make it ideally suited for off-piste conditions are the same. No matter which side of this equation you’re on, the Kore 91 W got a shot in the arm …READ MORE
Head ran its entire Kore collection through the re-design wringer just two seasons ago, so it was a bit of a surprise when only a year later all the Kores were given another collection-wide enhancement, in the form of a urethane topsheet. Chosen primarily for its protective qualities, the urethane layer also added a noticeable dose of smoothness to what was already a fabulous ski. A close examination of the cumulative scores for the 2023 …READ MORE
Head’s Kore series provides a perfect example of why a great off-trail ski and an ideal women’s ski share the same design criteria. In 21/22, the changes made to the unisex Kore collection were ipso facto applied to its women’s iterations. The same alterations that make the new Kore 99 a better all-terrain ski also make the Kore 97 W a better women’s ski. The most visible change was to the topsheet, which is now …READ MORE
Just last season, Head invigorated its Kore series by making a handful of product changes that palpably improved every Kore model’s performance. You’d think the Austrian brand would rest on its considerable laurels, but it elected to add a urethane topcoat – like frosting on the proverbial cake – to help protect the top and sides from nicks and scratches. Lo, and behold, the addition of an end-to-end dampening layer gave the new Kores a …READ MORE
Over the last decade, the Frontside field has evolved to such a degree that Head’s Super Joy, the consummate carving machine, now looks more like an outlier than the norm. Over that time span, the Super Joy’s construction and shape have undergone a series of major alterations; it’s still focused on carving up groomers and it still enjoys the unique advantages of having Graphene in its make-up, but the last two upgrades have altered the …READ MORE
Head didn’t invent the shaped ski, but when the Carving Revolution was in its infancy it was the first major brand to commit to the concept with its Cyber series. Over the last quarter century its commitment hasn’t wavered, consistently offering several skis in its collection with curvaceous sidecuts. For the last decade, the focus of Head’s non-race carving models has been the Supershape series, a family that remains intact in 23/24, returning unchanged from …READ MORE
Of the four Supershape models, the one that underwent the most telling transformation three years ago was the e-Titan. In previous generations, the Titan and Rally were very close in every respect. In the current Supershape family, the e-Titan has put more distance between it and its thinner sibling. It’s not just that the e-Titan plumped up to an 84mm waist; it also was trimmed down at tip and tail. By taking some of the …READ MORE
No one can accuse the Head Total Joy of being a copycat model. Fifteen years ago, it debuted as the centerpiece of new series of women’s skis built from scratch, without reference to any unisex model. It was also the first time Head industrialized Graphene in a ski, a bold experiment that has paid off in spades. At this stage of the Total Joy’s evolution, Head engineers have figured out how to optimize this unique …READ MORE