Völkl didn’t actually invent the concept of quality control, but denizens of our little corner of the universe can be forgiven for thinking so.  It set the standard for base finish for so long, if someone gave a trophy for the best QC they’d have to name it the Völkl Prize.  Yet this noteworthy achievement probably plays only a minor role in why skiers who buy Völkls never buy just one pair; instead, they become Völkl junkies.  Not that they become dissolute, as it takes an athlete to happily co-exist with the Völkls of yore, but they do become dependent.  Mama, don’t take my Mantras (or Kenjas) away!

During Völkl’s ascension to market preeminence, it earned a reputation for powerful, technical skis with a small sweet spot and an unslakable thirst for speed. Völkl came to regard its experts-only-need-apply reputation as a stigma that limited its sales potential, so it set in motion a long-term plan to change how the brand was perceived by changing, sometimes radically, how it made skis. 

The trick in this transformation was how to wean their public off its ultra-traditional, thick, fully cambered skis without losing its established base among the sport’s elite.  It began by tampering with the Gotama, an off-trail ski that served as a logical place to excise an Old School, arched camber line and substitute a fully rockered baseline.

Once the new Gotama with the flat baseline was accepted, Völkl applied the same technique with its Frontside carvers, with the same result: the RTM 84 won instant adherents. With each passing season another venerable model passed through the modernization machinery.  

The process continued in 2014, as the Kendo and Kenja were brought into the New Age fold with double rockered baselines with just a remnant of camber underfoot, and the revered Mantra and Aura were transformed into off-trail models with a camber-less, fully rockered baseline, all the better to smear with. The power that was once the exclusive province of highly skilled athletes became accessible to the nearly skilled, as well.

When Völkl unveiled the V-Werks Katana several seasons ago, it would have been supernaturally prescient to foretell that by 2017 it would be the inspiration for nearly all important models from 81 to 108mm underfoot.  The V-Werks Katana was an experiment to see what would happen if a ski was made of a lot of highly compressed carbon and little else. It skied like the world’s fattest carving ski, not exactly a niche everyone was stampeding to occupy.

But the V-Werks Katana was onto something. It was possible to pare away a lot of material from a conventional ski construction and, if the remaining structure were strong enough, it would still perform at a high level. Völkl called this new shape 3D.Ridge, named for the raised central platform that’s forms the thickest part of the ski. 

By 2016, 3D.Ridge design permeated the Völkl line, spreading the Lighter is Better gospel to all skiers. There was only one fly in this low-fat ointment: none of the Katana’s kinder skied with the authority of the original, all-carbon 3D.Ridge, which then as now costs a fortune to make and therefore isn’t marketable to the masses. In 2018 Völkl revealed the perfect patch for the power shortage, a bottom layer of glass configured to increase the torsional rigidity, called 3D. Glass. Ingenious in its simplicity, stunning in its impact on performance, 3D.Glass was the best across-the-board product upgrade of 2018.

It’s difficult to overstate the benefits of 3D.Glass, the craftily configured sheet of fiberglass that elevated the edge grip of every model it touched.  The secret to 3D.Glass’s effectiveness was that it didn’t just lay on the bottom of the stack of laminated components, but ran up the sidewall and tucked over its top, essentially forming an anchored, open box with the other elements as filling.

3D.Glass makes a ski livelier because glass is the springiest material in the ski. It makes a ski more resistant to twist because it has its own sidewalls. It helps maintain edge contact on hard snow and bats away clumps of broken snow off trail. It can’t put your boots on for you, but it does just about everything else. 

Seven years ago, Völkl unveiled the fifth generation of its legendary Mantra, the M5.  The Mantra M5 was created to win back the experts who once formed the backbone of the brand’s market support. The key to its success was a new way of deploying Titanal, breaking the top laminate into 3 pieces.  Two long stirrups of .6mm Titanal wrapped around the tip and tail, while a third, .3mm strip occupied the center of the ski. None of the pieces connected, which allowed a honking layer of glass directly below them to “breathe.”

By that I mean the broken-up top laminate made it both easier for the skier to flex the center of the ski and, just as importantly, allows the fiberglass sheet to compress.  The instant the skier released the pressure, ping!, the glass rebounded and popped the skier into the top of the next turn. If there was one trait the original Titanal Frame could hang its hat on, it was rebound energy. 

Four years ago, Titanal Frame spread its wings, infiltrating the Frontside genre with the Deacon 84 and moving to the front of the line in the All-Mountain East category with the Kendo 88. Not coincidentally, the Kendo 88 and Deacon 84 also shared the 3D Radius Sidecut, an ingenious way of creating a classic “combi,” or hybrid GS/SL ski. If you ride the ski at a low edge angle, you’ll engage the longer radius tip and tail so you can cruise without fear of being yanked into a tight turn. To activate the slalomesque midsection, the skier needs to elevate the edge angle and apply pressure to the softened-up center section, and bingo! The ski tightens its turn radius instantly and in the same heartbeat releases the edge with enthusiasm. Once you understand how to operate it, 3D Radius is a gas to engage.

At the other end of the agility scale lay the Mantra 102, also introduced four years ago and also embellished with Titanal Frame and 3D Radius, which in this over-sized application created a ski that tried to subdue terrain rather than caress it.

Völkl has a huge fan base among strong women skiers who have three Titanal Frame models to call their own: Kenja 88, Secret 102 and the Secret 96.  None of these women’s models have been watered down to placate the masses; they’re every bit as bold and badass as their unisex counterparts. 

Beginning with the 2022 season, Völkl laid in place two more elements that will continue to influence the direction of its entire off-trail collection for the next few years, Tailored Titanal Frame and Tailored Carbon Tips. The flagships for the new technologies are the Mantra M6 and Secret 96 for women. Suffice it to say, the future at Völkl looks very bright indeed. (Dear Readers, please note this prophetic aside.)

But this is not the right time or place for brevity, so allow me to divulge the details. Tailored Titanal Frame adjusts the dimensions of the front Titanal Frame by size, a change that has the most effect on the longest and shortest sizes. The change may sound subtle, but its impact is profound. Each length is now more balanced in its behavior, and won’t balk at the top of the turn.

Working in concert with Tailored Titanal Frame is Tailored Carbon Tips, a tech first marketed in the Deacon v.werks. The technical story is that prepreg carbon only comes in limited, pre-set configurations; basically, either linear stringers or a crisscross pattern.  Tailored Carbon Tips liberates the ski designer to create exactly the matrix he or she wants. 

The marketing story of Tailored Carbon Tips is that Völkl tested dozens of TCT designs to achieve the precise degree of shock dampening desired.  This extensive testing went on despite the limitations imposed by the worldwide pandemic.

The performance story of TCT and Tailored Titanal Frame is, in a word, wow.  The Age of Rocker has led to the virtual disembodiment of the front of many, if not most, all-terrain skis. With the latest Mantra M6 and Secret 96, the technical skier can re-connect the forebody with the rest of the ski. Sure, both models are double-rockered – 3D Radius Sidecut wouldn’t work without it –  but the overall sensation is one of connection, not looseness. 

While the experts who have always loved Völkl will swoon over the Mantra M6 and the Secret 96, it’s the lower skill skiers who really benefit from the changes they embody. Now that each size is essentially its own ski, the shorter skis are exponentially easier to manage for the less skilled.  

It bears mention that Völkl created these more expensive components and elaborate constructions in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and market environment that encouraged standing pat rather than obsoleting what’s on the rack.  Völkl willfully created a new design that would raise its COG, knowing full well it couldn’t recover the added investment by jacking up its prices two years ago.

During a Zoom press briefing at the beginning of the 21/22 season, I asked Andy Mann, Völkl’s product manager for it off-trail series, how he was able to slide this puck past management’s usual insistence on maintaining gross margin. He answered that ownership and management trusted the design team to make it all work. Especially in light of the last three seasons’ peculiar circumstances, Völkl’s willingness to invest in making a better ski sets it apart from the brands that curbed their ambitions 

(Note: Everyone’s prices went up for the 22/23 season, and some brands, including Volkl, eliminated Minimum Advertised Price from its marketing mix, making MSRP the de facto norm it was always intended to be, but rarely was.)  

Three years ago, Völkl tried to stretch its market reach downward, creating a $599 Big Mountain model, the Blaze 106.  It happened to arrive just as the U.S. market demand for a hybrid, in-resort/backcountry model went ballistic. Two years, Völkl added a Blaze 86 and 86W to the mix, both at $499, which should serve as step-up models whether the skier’s ambitions lie in-bounds or out.

Völkl has always had a place in its heart and in its product line for an on-piste family that isn’t bred for racing, but neither is it for neophytes. Think of the retired Code series, or the first-generation Deacon 76. It is into this slot that Völkl has inserted the Deacon Masters, in a 76 and a 72.  I’d call them “gentlemen’s cruisers,” except they are absolute aces at short turns and they’re built more like a Racetiger than a Deacon, with a World Cup wood core, two full sheets of Titanal and a 10mm World Cup plate underfoot. If you’ve ever raced, you’ll get it, and want to get one of them. 

At the other end of the width spectrum, the Katana 108, introduced three years ago, got short shrift on these pages as we never got on one. We still haven’t seen enough data to Recommend it, but I’ve managed to get on it, and it’s a gem.  I expected it to ski like a Panzer, mowing down all before it, but it was stunningly nimble, able to swivel around tight trees and generally behave more like an acrobat than a lumberjack. 

As foretold in these pages, Tailored Titanal Frame and Tailored Carbon Tips have continued to infiltrate Völkl’s All-Mountain Freeride collection, as indeed they have, with predictably stellar results. The Kendo 88, Kenja 88 and Mantra 102 all got the “Tailored” treatment, and the difference in the two generations is palpable. The revised Kendo 88 shattered its own record for top Power score in the murderously competitive All-Mountain East genre, and also turned in the second-best score for Finesse properties, reinforcing its first-in-class position.

Last year, the Mantra 102 underwent an even more stunning personality transplant –  perhaps the most impressive change in behavior in any genre –  and it was already the top Power Big Mountain ski in our rankings. What changed was a massive dose of smoothness, subtlety and ease at rolling edge to edge. The 2022 Mantra 102’s high torsional rigidity made it ski wider than its actual width; the latest Mantra 102 is so maneuverable, its extra girth is barely noticeable.  The 2023/24 Mantra 102 still favors the skilled skier who knows how to find and maintain a high edge angle – it is, after all, a Power ski through and through – but skilled skiers appreciate Finesse attributes, too, particularly in the Big Mountain category, where the Mantra 102 continues to rule supreme.

The 2024 Season

​​If any brand in the U.S. market could afford to rest on its considerable bed of laurels, it would be Volkl, who have spent the last seven seasons extending their multiple innovations across their full-service Alpine product line.  This year, they finally applied the “Tailored” transformation to the Secret 102 – to the anticipated chorus of kudos – completing the new-technology introduction cycle.  Volkl also extended the Blaze franchise into the Powder genre with the 114; generally speaking, de-tuned tech works best in its widest executions, so we expect the Blaze 114 to be a first-rate powder ski, whether ridden in-resort or in the backcountry.

 Anytime a brand with an itch for innovation doesn’t do much scratching, it’s an indication that, behind the R&D curtain, something new is in the works. Or in Völkl’s case, the V.Werks. 

Blaze 106

From a product standpoint, Völkl has very few problems. The avatars of its latest technologies – the Mantra M6, Kendo 88, Mantra 102 and Deacon 84 – sit atop their respective genres, a stunning display of dominance. When one is so accustomed to winning, one wants to win at everything, and there was one arena where Völkl hadn’t made much headway: skis sold at lower price points.  Völkl had earned a reputation as the brand for …READ MORE

Blaze 106 W

Most Big Mountain models use a high-end construction, which is reflected in their retail pricing; the same could be said for most Völkl models, for the brand is known both for its high quality and the way its elite constructions attract a consumer crowd top-heavy with experts. The Blaze 106 W addresses both limitations, but the real reason it sold to the wall in its debut season is it fits the profile of a ski …READ MORE

Deacon 80

There’s a trail of clues that would lead a ski behavioral therapist to believe that the Völkl Deacon 80 is the inferior in the relationship with its bigger brother, the Deacon 84.  For starters, there’s its price, which works out to $100 less at retail. Price is usually an indicator of the cost of goods, and sure enough, the Deacon 80 uses glass for its 3-piece top laminate instead of the Titanal in the 84. …READ MORE

Deacon 84

Five years ago, Völkl resurrected its beloved Mantra by concocting a new technology called Titanal Frame; four years ago, Völkl applied the Titanal Frame touch to its Frontside family. The latest pater familias of the Frontside clan is the Deacon 84, and like the M5 Mantra – since succeeded by the M6 – it represents a return to traditional Völkl values. Compared to the RTM 84 it replaced, the Deacon 84 has more edge-gripping power, …READ MORE

Deacon V.Werks 84

Four years ago, I speculated that the freshly minted Deacon V.Werks wouldn’t have the same downstream impact as the Katana V.Werks, but I may have spoken too soon. One of the most esoteric features of the Deacon V.Werks was a lattice-work of carbon fibers crisscrossing the tip, which inspired the Tailored Carbon Tips of the M6 Mantra and Kendo 88.  Working in concert with Tailored Titanal Frame, Tailored Carbon Tips give the latest Mantra and …READ MORE

Kendo 88

As predicted in this space two years ago, last year Völkl has applied the same two transformative technologies to the 2023 Kendo 88 that it had debuted in the M6 Mantra the prior year. Bear in mind that the 2022 Kendo 88 was already the highest rated Power ski in the ski world’s most competitive genre, yet the 2023 version raised the bar still higher for both its Power and, most notably, Finesse scores. No …READ MORE

Kenja 88

The Kenja is the grand dame of the women’s market, and over the years she’s had more facelifts than Joan Rivers to keep her current. But none of her previous makeovers were quite as extensive – or as successful – at reinvigorating the old gal with the energy of youth as the current Kenja 88. In a word, wow. The application of Titanal Frame technology is the game changer.  By breaking the top sheet of …READ MORE

M6 Mantra

Any time a brand introduces a fundamentally new technology, it takes a couple of years to learn how to optimize it. After Völkl engineers had a few seasons to tinker with Titanal Frame, testing countless iterations, they found a way not only to perfect the benefits of Titanal Frame, but to magnify its virtues with a couple of complementary components. The marriage of Tailored Titanal Frame with 3D Radius Sidecut and Tailored Carbon Tips created …READ MORE

M6 Mantra

Any time a brand introduces a fundamentally new technology, it takes a couple of years to learn how to optimize it. After Völkl engineers had a few seasons to tinker with Titanal Frame, testing countless iterations, they found a way not only to perfect the benefits of Titanal Frame, but to magnify its virtues with a couple of complementary components. The marriage of Tailored Titanal Frame with 3D Radius Sidecut and Tailored Carbon Tips created …READ MORE

Mantra 102

Don’t let the model name fool you:  Völkl still calls this ski the Mantra 102, but the addition last year of Tailored Titanal Frame, Tailored Carbon Tips and a tweaked sidecut has totally transformed its personality. The Mantra 102 circa 2022 was a barely tamed beast, subduing all in its path; the latest incarnation is a pussycat that readily bends to its pilot’s will. Among last season’s new models, only K2’s revamp of its Mindbenders …READ MORE

Secret 102

As was the case with its men’s counterpart – the Mantra 102 – last year, the latest bundle of modifications to the Secret 102 has infused it with a complete personality transplant.  As succinctly summarized by former US Ski Team member Edie Thys Morgan in her review of the 2023 Secret 102, “This is not the ski for the faint of heart or of flex.” The 2024 Secret 102 has shed its hell-bent ways. It …READ MORE

Secret 96

Völkl takes product development very, very seriously, testing nearly 1,000 different skis a year, in every length it will manufacture. It uses a team of both in-house product designers and a dozen or so “externals” – top instructors and racers – to evaluate every design aspect. Their task is made trickier in that key design elements like Tailored Titanal Frame, 3D Sidecut, Tailored Carbon Tips and the Secret 96’s double-rockered baseline, all need to blend …READ MORE