Overview

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.

Phoenix R14 Pro

The fate of Blizzard’s new Phoenix R14 Pro epitomizes the plight of the entire genre: although it’s almost certainly the highest performing Women’s Technical ski Blizzard has ever made, neither it nor its stablemate, the Frontside Phoenix R13 Ti, will make it to our shores this season. What a pity, as we can infer from its unisex incarnation, the Thunderbird R15, that the Phoenix R14 Pro would be a ripper. This is not a design …READ MORE

Black Pearl 82

The Black Pearl 82 underwent the TrueBlend make-over this season, 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 is …READ MORE

Brahma 82

Last season we opined in this space that this descendant of an off-trail brood looks out of place among carvers with an on-trail pedigree. How does a ski whose Flipcore baseline is practically already bowing manage to mingle with the second cousins of true race skis? It still seems like the Brahma 82 is trying to crash a party hosted by club to which it doesn’t belong. In its quest to prove it belongs, the …READ MORE

Firebird HRC

The Blizzard Firebird HRC isn’t really a race ski – its dimensions run afoul of FIS regulations – but don’t tell it that. Despite its 76mm waist, the HRC thinks it belongs right between the Firebird WRC and Firebird SRC, Blizzard’s non-FIS GS and SL models, respectively. It may not be exactly what a meld of the WRC and SRC would look like, but it mimics their race-room construction and does its best to match …READ MORE

Phoenix R13 Ti

Blizzard applied its well-honed knack for morphing a unisex template into a genuine women’s model to its new Thunderbird/Phoenix series of mostly Frontside rides.  The flagship Phoenix R13 Ti cuts a women’s specific (W.S.D.) TrueBlend core into a unique sidecut that shifts the entire shape forward 1cm, then moves the mount point to match it. The Phoenix R13 Ti isn’t a watered-down design, but a brilliant, high-energy carver meant for women who know how to …READ MORE

Thunderbird R15 WB

Compared to other elite carvers in the Frontside genre, the R15 W stands out for its rebound energy. If you give it a little jab in the belly of the turn, it will lift you off the snow – a dual-track carving heresy – and air mail you across the fall line. The energetic response is largely due to the R15 WB’s fully cambered baseline; Blizzard alleges there’s 2mm of rocker at the tip and …READ MORE

Black Pearl 88

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

Brahma 88

It’s a joy to discover an all-terrain ski with the strength and stability of an Old School GS race ski that can be reined in to less than 40mph and still move edge to edge with the ease of a figure skater. The Brahma 88’s softer extremities allow it to roll over terrain so smoothly it’s as if the ski were part of the flow of the run and not a separate component. In keeping …READ MORE

Rustler 9

I gained a fresh perspective on the Rustler 9 when I had occasion to ski it at Jackson Hole two years ago. It was a lovely day; however, I was anything but: sick, bone-tired, with a tweaked L4/L5 and a gas tank running on fumes. After an undistinguished descent of Rendezvous Bowl, I straggled my way into the serpentine bumps of Bivouac Woods. If not for the Rustler 9’s mercifully soft tip and tail that …READ MORE

Sheeva 9

Both the Sheeva 9 and the Black Pearl 88 are descendants of a line of off-trail parents; the template for the Pearl was the Brahma, the little brother of the mighty Cochise and Bodacious; the model for the Sheeva 9 was the Rustler 9, a spin-off of the Rustler 10 and 11. To better understand the nuances that distinguish the Pearl 88 from the Sheeva 9, it helps to understand the families they come from. …READ MORE

Black Pearl 97

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.  Last season 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 grip …READ MORE

Bonafide 97

Over its relatively long lifespan, the Bonafide has found a few thorns in all the roses thrown its way. One criticism is that its brawny build is best managed by experts, and there’s something to this claim in that the Bonafide performs better with some energy flowing through it, meaning it likes to be ridden fast. Some find it boring and wonder what the big deal is. In the Bonafide’s defense, all high-performance skis perform …READ MORE

Cochise 106

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

Rustler 10

A powerful skier might prefer the more connected feel of the Blizzard Cochise 106, but for the majority of off-piste skiers, the Rustler 10 is a better fit. When the nearly expert skier really needs help, the Rustler is a godsend. Imagine being in flat light – a common condition when the goods are there to be gotten – and not being able to tell what your tips are going to encounter next. That’s where …READ MORE

Sheeva 10

Buttery.  That’s the best single word for the Sheeva 10 and her plumper big sister, the Sheeva 11 ($820, 140/112/130). Four varieties of lightweight wood and a smidgeon of milled foam are sandwiched between layers of glass embedded with carbon stringers. The major juju that gives the Sheeva 10 her spine, literally and figuratively, is a top plate of Titanal that’s tailored for each size. It’s either a skimpy version of a sidewall-to-sidewall sheet of …READ MORE