Blizzard’s fortunes began to turn around several years ago when the Tecnica Group acquired the brand and factory in Mittersill, Austria, and pumped a few million euros into an overhaul. It’s often the case in the world of industry that he who builds the last factory wins, as it will have the most modern machinery and latest technical capacities. Tecnica management backed up their bet with the movement of some top design talent from Völkl to Blizzard, and the stage was set for a rejuvenated Blizzard to show what it could do.
Blizzard probably would have done just fine if they never signed Arne Backstrom to ski on their brand, but the world-class big mountain skier did more than just represent the company, he helped transform it. It was Backstrom who first conceived the idea of rockering a ski by simply flipping the core over, so the tip and tail naturally curved up instead of down. The recently anointed Blizzard engineers figured out how to execute the idea and presto, Flipcore was born.
The short history lesson matters because this flipping-the-core business makes a ski with a remarkably large behavioral envelope. In category after category, the Flipcore skis deliver elite performance with all the rough edges removed. Most skis with a limitless top end don’t suffer fools gladly – in our jargon, most great Power skis don’t exhibit many Finesse properties – but the Flipcore skis aren’t finicky. Many models with pronounced front rocker don’t ever feel connected in the forebody, but the rocker on a Flipcore ski blends with the midsection when flexed, so the edge feels engaged tip-to-tail. This intoxicating blend of behaviors has seduced countless ski testers, thrusting models like the Bonafide, Cochise, Black Pearl and Brahma into the first rank in their respective genres.
Flipcore’s most impressive validation came from an unexpected source. A few seasons ago, Blizzard decided to treat its women’s line more seriously, moving away from mimicking men’s construction and developing women-specific lay-ups. Blizzard fostered women’s focus groups to gather feedback and clarify its design objectives. While it continued to use unisex tooling, it switched to Woman Specific Design and the once unthinkable happened: a women’s ski sold more units than any other model in the American market.
The emergence of the Black Pearl as a sales star, when put in historical context, is a case study in brand resurrection that defies probability. Before the Tecnica Group acquisition, Blizzard was flat on its back in the U.S. market and invisible on the women’s front. Women’s skis did not matter, period. The brand was deaf to market input, among other liabilities. Racing was very important, carving the key to the consumer market and freeride was for loonies like the French and Americans.
The ascension of a woman’s freeride ski that leads an insular Austrian brand to prominence and profitability is a less likely scenario than the story of Joan of Arc. Right behind the Black Pearl 88 in popularity is a pair of perpetual star products, the men’s Bonafide and Brahma. The recently introduced Rustler/Sheeva series of freeride models is earning its own small army of adherents, securing Blizzard’s reputation as the current king of the All-Mountain models.
It’s tough to bat 1.000 across all genres, and Blizzard is working to strengthen its presence in the carving categories that are important in the central European market Blizzard calls home. Its Firebird series of race skis enhance a traditional, woodcore/dual Ti laminate sandwich with vertical carbon laminates that boost acceleration through the bottom of the turn. Both the Non-FIS Race Firebird WRC and SRC are fantastic, no-nonsense race skis that are a gas to ski even if they never clip a start wand. The Firebird HRC (126/75/107) applies the same race-caliber construction to a Frontside version for those who want a little more versatility in a high-velocity package.
For the past few seasons, Blizzard has faced the enviable task of improving on excellence, specifically how to keep its franchise Flipcore collection firing on all cylinders. Last year, it extended the brand-within-a-brand franchise down to the 82mm-waisted Brahma 82, pushing its off-trail design down into the Frontside genre. It also created yet another Black Pearl, also an 82, squeezed in between the dowager Black Pearl 88 and the recently retired Black Pearl 78. For 20/21, the brand would have to find some way other than model proliferation to keep growing its core business.
In order to change as little as possible, Blizzard changed nearly everything. In other words, Blizzard didn’t want to lose the high-end performance that had fueled its phenomenal growth, but he who fails to innovate perishes. So Blizzard tweaked a lot of its basic elements, changing length, baseline and sidecut in every size. The trigger for all these tweaks is the debut of TrueBlend, a precise reconfiguration of dense beech stringers among a stack of softer poplar laminates. The result is a rounder, more even flex that maintains snow contact in unruly terrain.
Last season, TrueBlend was applied to the Bonafide 87, Brahma 88, Black Pearl 87 and Black Pearl 88, which means model selection for these new beauties is more important than ever. In the Bonafide 97, for example, the 189cm isn’t just a bigger 183cm: each is its own ski. The net effect of scaling performance along with length is it opens up the ability range for a given model. A less skilled man can now handle a size-appropriate Bonafide, just as a more high-powered lass can push the new Black Pearl 97 in a 177cm.
The 2022 Season
Coming out of last ski season, there was only one product segment that lagged behind the rest of its excellent line, Blizzard’s recreational carving collection. Consider the problem solved with a vengeance. The new Thunderbird R15 WB and Phoenix R14 Pro for women seem to have an almost molecular bond with hard snow, driving eagerly into the top of the turn and exploding off the edge at the finish. They are not made to pamper the occasional skier but to exhilarate an expert. In a single stroke, Blizzard has re-set the bar in this category.
While several factors contribute to the new carvers’ tenacious grip, the ease with which this powerhouse flexes has to be attributed in large part to a hard-snow version of Blizzard’s new TrueBlend core design. The ratio of dense beech to soft poplar is considerably higher (11/3) in the on-piste TrueBlend (7/3) than it is in the All-Mountain iteration introduced just last year. Although it’s stiff as a brick underfoot where the core is thickest and the concentration of beech is highest, the forebody and tail section are supple, facilitating turn entry and igniting turn exit.
The All-Mountain version of TrueBlend was integrated into the design of the Brahma 82 this year, turning this seemingly mild-mannered, off-trail model into a Frontside carver that can keep up with the elite in a category stocked with high-energy chargers like the T-Bird R15 WB. In its first iteration, the Brahma 82 seemed like an odd duck to be in the Frontside pond. Now it feels more like it belongs, for there’s nothing wrong with how it connects to a deep-dish carve.
On the distaff side, the Black Pearl 82 also went TrueBlend, making this $600 model and even more exceptional value for women with ascending skills.
The Black Pearl 82 underwent the TrueBlend make-over two years ago, a fairly complex process given that the model’s sidecut remained a constant. What changed was how high-density beech and low-weight poplar are scattered across the core to create a perfectly balanced flex for every size. Once committed to this level of customization, Blizzard went ahead and synchronized the baseline, sidecut and flex for every length, which in the case of the Black Pearl 82 …READ MORE
Blizzard already had the best-selling ski in the U.S., men’s or women’s, when it made two changes to the Black Pearl 88 that made the best even better. The first major sweetener was TrueBlend, a meticulously arranged parquet of lightweight poplar and denser beech that is adapted for every length, and coordinated with modifications to the baseline and sidecut. The goal of TrueBlend is a perfectly balanced flex that feels smooth yet energetic. The second …READ MORE
The Black Pearl 97 borrows its sidecut and baseline from the unisex Bonafide 97, and purloins its Woman Specific Design (W.S.D.) from the Black Pearl 88. Three seasons ago, both of its parents upgraded to the TrueBlend core, that perfectly matches flex to shape and size, so naturally the Black Pearl 97 followed suit. Included in the W.S.D. package of enhancements is a Titanal mounting plate that improves, well, everything about the Pearl 97. It’s …READ MORE
The Blizzard Bonafide has been at or near the top of our All-Mountain West rankings since it burst on the scene over a decade ago. While it’s undergone four or five tweaks since its debut, its enduring excellence is due primarily to what hasn’t changed: the original Flipcore construction that removes all stress from the rocker/camber transition. As soon as the ski is pressured, the transition zone disappears and the full length of the ski …READ MORE
Two years ago, we opined in this space that this descendant of an off-trail brood looks out of place among carvers with an on-trail pedigree. Skis with a patently off-piste baseline have no business infiltrating the ranks of Frontside models, by definition the domain of deep sidecuts and highly arched camber lines. How does a ski whose Flipcore baseline is practically already bowing manage to mingle with the second cousins of true race skis? It …READ MORE
The Brahma 88 has been a mainstay of Blizzard’s freeride Flipcore collection since its lauded launch many moons ago. It has retained its relevance over time with a series of subtle refinements, without ever straying from its roots. It many ways, it is a perfectly balanced ski, built on the time-tested foundation of wood, metal and carbon. Part of its enduring popularity is that it will dance to whatever tune you want to play. It …READ MORE
The Cochise 106 knows how it should be skied, even if you don’t. It’s well aware that it won’t be able to carve a short turn at minimal speed, so it keeps close to the fall line until it can shift into third. Once it reaches cruising speed, it dons its dancing shoes and shows just how indifferent to heinous crud a ski can be. The Cochise 106 is one of the few Big Mountain …READ MORE
There are three balancing acts that a Big Mountain ski needs to pull off in order to rise to the top of the ranks. One, it has to make the transition from firm snow to soft and back again feel so smooth it’s barely perceptible. Two, it has to execute short turns and long turns without an obvious bias for one or the other. And three, the ski itself needs to feel balanced, with a …READ MORE
I’m leery of recommending a Powder ski for all-terrain skiing, for if it’s equally adept at all conditions, why not ski it every day? A ski so polyvalent would not only render any notion of ski categories an absurd pretension, it would erode the very foundations of logic itself. Well, the new Blizzard Rustler 11 comes pretty damn close to pulling down the twin pillars of logic and methodology, for it seems to transition from …READ MORE
The new Rustler 9 from Blizzard isn’t a little bit better than its predecessor; it’s much, much better than its namesake. Among its myriad changes is a slight boost in its overall width, which tipped the new Rustler 9 into the hotly competitive All-Mountain West genre. Instead of slipping in the standings, it rose from a middle-of-the-pack position among All-Mountain East models to near the top of the All-Mountain West category. No other new ski …READ MORE
Blizzard’s Sheeva 10 optimizes the best qualities of Blizzard’s latest freeride technology, FluxForm. Introduced across six new models, 3 Rustlers for men and 3 corresponding Sheevas for women, Fluxform deploys Titanal in a different fashion than was last used in these models’ 2023 iterations. Instead of a single, truncated top sheet of Ti, FluxForm concentrates its Ti laminates directly over the edges, in strips that run nearly tip to tail. In the center of the …READ MORE
No new ski model made as significant an improvement in its performance range as Blizzard’s Sheeva 9. A longtime member of the Blizzard Freeride collection, the Sheeva 9 – along with its men’s counterpart, the Rustler 9 – went through a significant re-design this year, boosting its abilities in any terrain it’s likely to encounter during its lifetime. In Realskiers’ terminology, the Sheeva 9 shifted from a Finesse ski to a Power ski, albeit a …READ MORE
In the fat ski genres where Americans buy the vast majority of their skis, Blizzard is riding a decade-long hot streak. If you only look at skis over 85mm at the waist, it seems like Blizzard hasn’t missed a beat since the launch of its Flipcore baseline. But if you take a step back and look at the world market, there’s a category or two of carvers, skis meant to execute perfect, technical turns on …READ MORE