Overview

Kästle isn’t what it used to be, and that’s a good thing.

Not to dis the current Kästle’s ancestry, but Kästles of yore could be clumped in two camps: race skis it took a god like Zurbriggen to bend, and kooky creations that should have been euthanized in development, like the Echo Thesis and B-52. All of which has little intersection with the Kästle of today except that both have a dominant strain of Austrian DNA and the new Kästle has re-occupied the founding factory in Hohenems.

The current Kästle camp relies on modern execution of a traditional construction, with a signature damping system called Hollowtech adorning every tip. Colorful Hollowtech inserts catch both the eye and the snow, as they’re meant to dissipate shock faster than a conventional shovel. Not many brands are concerned with early contact any more, but a ride on the latest iteration of the venerable MX83 will remind you not only of what camber does, but why you ski.

Kästle has moved back into the facility in Hohenems where Anton Kästle created the first skis to bear his name, where its engineers can concoct prototypes and execute small production runs. But this detail, while redolent with misty-eyed history, buries the lede: Kästle’s new owner, ConsilSport, has its own plant in the Czech Republic to handle the brand’s production. The 20/21 season was the first in over two decades to see in-line Kastle skis produced in a Kastle-owned facility.

As recently as three years ago, the core of Kästle’s Alpine line was segmented into three series: the cambered MX series of Frontside carvers, the abundantly rockered FX series of all-mountain skis and BMX Big Mountain models. In 2020, the BMX name was eliminated in favor of extending the FX family into its turf.  

Once upon a time, Kästle made a women’s ski named Vogue; in 2020, it revived the Vogue name to serve as an umbrella for three women-specific models, the DX73 W, DX85 W and FX96 W.

 Because Kästle cuts no corners, its skis customarily command a premium at retail. This means most skiers will never know what they’re missing. It also helps explain why Realskiers’ testers can’t wait to ski them year after year. They don’t get re-skied because testers forgot how they skied; they’re re-skied every year because skiers can’t forget how incredibly they ski. It’s like a designer drug (one imagines): once you try it, you’re hooked.

The seeds of the 2022 season were planted in 2018, when ConsilSport, a Czech manufacturer owned by former ski racer Tomáš Němec, acquired a majority stake in Kästle.  Two years ago, production moved to the Czech factory in Nové Město na Moravě, while Kastle maintained offices and a limited production capacity at the brand’s original site in Hohenems, Austria.

Building one’s own skis may not sound like a bold move, but the MX83, MX88 and MX98 aren’t just well remembered by the skiers who once rode them; they’re revered. If the new versions didn’t live up to expectations, the ramifications for the brand weren’t likely to be pretty.  So Kastle fans should be reassured that the first MX models to issue from the Czech facility were first-rate in both design and finish. Kästle’s enraptured fan base won’t be disappointed by the revived MX83 and MX88, and the latest MX98 is better than its venerated namesake. 

If you’ve never skied a Kästle before, any of the MX’s will make an excellent first impression.  The MX series’ current construction uses poplar in lieu of silver fir in the core, so they’re a bit lighter now, but two stout layers of Titanal and fully cambered baselines keep them welded to the snow.  Because of their Old School design, the MX’s have a different snow feel than the rockered baselines and tapered sidecuts that dominate current all-mountain ski design.  For skilled skiers who don’t need help with their technique, demoing a Kastle MX model is a dangerous thing to do, for once you experience their exquisite connection to the snow, you will have to have it. 

Kästle is keenly aware that its prices are above the market norm, so last year it created the ZX108 so skiers who aren’t fiscally flush could afford to ride a Kästle on powder days.  The ZX108’s MSRP of $749 is right in line with other top Big Mountain models, bringing Kastle quality within reach of the less affluent.

The 2022 Season

The big news at Kästle this year is its reconceived FX off-trail series, but I’m more excited about what Kästle is up to further down its product line.  Last year, Kästle trailed a toe in relatively low-priced waters with the ZX108, which I’m pleased to confirm is an outstanding ski. This year, the ZX100 plays the same role in a more useful shape for everyday skiing.  Simply put, it’s a gas. 

The new Czech plant must have an affinity for assembling skis without Titanal, because the returning PX81 handles with the authority of a metal laminate ski without the heft.  Like the ZX models, the PX81 is competitively priced ($750), with a suitable Tyrolia binding included in the tariff. There are lots of worse ways to spend 750 bucks on a user-friendly Frontside ski.  For the first-time buyer who plans to spend most of his time on-piste, the PX81 is a steal.

The new FX series represents a return to traditional values. The construction is classic Kästle: poplar and beech in the core’s center, Paulownia instead of beech over the edge, all sandwiched between twin layers of Titanal and glass. What makes this amalgam suitable for off-trail pursuits is an amply rockered baseline (320mm of rise in the tip, and 230mm at the tail of the FX96 Ti), a low camber line and a tapered tip and tail. Each of the 3-model series is partial to the loose snow found off trail, with the FX96 Ti exhibiting the best balance between bite on hard snow and drift off-piste.

MX83

Kästle’s current MX83, reprised from last season, is both typical of a current trend and atypical in a way all its own. The trend it’s party to is how a series of modest modifications amount to a significant change, especially in Finesse qualities. It’s unique among such upgraded models in that the name it’s re-assuming happens to be the legendary MX83, inarguably one of the greatest Frontside models ever made. The reason the revival of …READ MORE

FX86 Ti

I ski the Kästle MX83 on a regular basis, so I can’t help judging the FX86 Ti by the standard set by its stablemate. It’s not a fair comparison, because the two skis are aiming at different targets. They don’t ski much alike because they’re made to ski differently. Let us count the ways. Starting from the tips, the MX83’s full camber line is made to connect as early as possible, while the tapered and …READ MORE

MX83

Kästle’s current MX83, reprised from last season, is both typical of a current trend and atypical in a way all its own. The trend it’s party to is how a series of modest modifications amount to a significant change, especially in Finesse qualities. It’s unique among such upgraded models in that the name it’s re-assuming happens to be the legendary MX83, inarguably one of the greatest Frontside models ever made. The reason the revival of …READ MORE

MX88

If the MX88 has a character flaw, it’s that it can’t resist the urge to show off. It’s ability to stay blasé when other skis are getting buffeted around like a teacup in a typhoon can’t be evinced unless the pilot is willing to lay on the gas. So what if it’s not great at slow, short turns? That’s no way to ski crud and it’s certainly a boring means of consuming groomers. One pays …READ MORE

FX96 Ti

Kastle fans everywhere can rejoice now that the latest FX series has been restored to something like its original self, with twin Titanal laminates around a poplar, beech and Paulownia core. Compared to the last FX flagship, the new FX96 Ti is a slightly heavier ski, but the added stability in all conditions has doubled its performance ceiling, well worth the roughly 50 extra grams. With the FX96 Ti returned to something closer to its …READ MORE

FX96 W

This year, Kästle completely redesigned its off-trail FX series, returning to a metal laminate construction. Kästle’s FX96 Women, however, wasn’t part of this transformation, returning to the line where it first debuted in the 2019/20 season. The cornerstone of the FX96 W design is a poplar and beech wood core inside a fiberglass torsion box that is itself encased in a laminate, with poplar and Paulownia bookending the central core. The torsion box rides higher …READ MORE

MX98

Few conditions are as intimidating as bone-flat light, where all terrain features disappear in a miasma of misty grey. Not that this is anyone’s idea of Nirvana, but it happens, and when it does it would be good to be on the MX98. It exudes confidence, a blessing when the pilot has little of his own. Like the Bonafide 97 and the Mantra M6, the MX98 doesn’t care where you aim it. Its tendency is …READ MORE

ZX100

Any ski with a Power/Finesse Balance score above 90 is doing a lot of things right. The flex of the new ZX100 from Kästle is balanced and even, and the ZX100 resides comfortably on the borderline between drifting and edging as it dances close to the fall line. If you want to make a tighter turn that’s more carve than swivel, be prepared to work for it, but that’s the case for just about every …READ MORE

FX106 Ti

Any clear-eyed assessment of what transpires on a powder day at any popular resort would conclude that the “powder” part of the day begins around 9:00 and ends around 10:00. For the rest of the day, all accessible terrain devolves into something considerably less idyllic. The Kästle FX106 Ti is built to cope with this reality, for it wields its smear-ability like a weapon when deep snow switches from a fluffy texture to something closer …READ MORE