For most of the 1970’s, 80’s and into the 90’s, Rossignol was king of the roost, the most recognized trademark in a market crammed with brands that did not survive this epoch. It built a race department that was the envy of all, with stars like Alberto Tomba and what seemed like every significant female racer in the world. Eventually, maintaining its race stable became too expensive, other companies innovated while Rossi held eroding ground and Quicksilver’s brief flirtation with ownership did neither brand any favors.
To recover from the Quicksilver debacle, Rossi needed a star product or two to restore the brand to retail relevance. The rebound began with the core of the line, the Experience series, led technically by the ultra-powerful E98 and in sales by a model that remained a mainstay until its recent retirement, the E88. In 2013, the French brand re-staked its claim to carving excellence with the HP Pursuit. In 2014, it knocked the cover off the ball with the Super 7, Squad 7 and Soul 7.
It’s rare for skis as forgiving as the 7 Series to also deliver OMG performance, but Rossi found a fresh way to deliver the stability only length provides without making a Big Mountain ski feel big when flipping edge to edge. With the Super 7, Rossignol restored the word “playful” to the Powder ski lexicon, a nearly forgotten attribute among these tanker-sized skis.
No sooner did the Soul 7 set every sales record for a Big Mountain ski than Rossi set about improving it, not just every few years, but every season. It followed its game-changing Carbon Alloy Matrix by reconfiguring its alluring Air Tip, integrating Air Tip 2.0 into the forebody and moving the contact point further forward.
Four seasons ago, this impulse to innovate was channeled into Rossi’s cornerstone Experience series. The Experience collection was made more homogeneous, in both technology and graphic presentation, than the line it replaced. To review, the previous Experience generation altered construction with every step down the price ladder. In contrast, the 2019 Experience 94 Ti and 88 Ti shared the same story, Line Control Technology (LCT). LCT is a vertical, central ribbon of Titanal, shrouded in a shock-sucking elastomer and embedded between wood laminates. It’s called “Line Control” because its role is to keep the ski from counterflexing, thereby maintaining snow contact and trajectory.
In 2021, Rossi again took a scalpel to the forebody of the Experience flagships, trimming down the sidecut dimensions so the ski behaves more like a sedan than a sports car, particularly at the top of the turn. The Experience 92 Ti Basalt and Experience 88 Ti Basalt retained the same technology package, so the choice between them was more about terrain ratios (e.g., 60/40 on-trail/off-trail) than skier talent level. The Experience 84 AI was made for a less skilled skier, substituting ABS for Titanal in its version of LCT.
The big story two years ago was the debut of Blackops as a full-fledged family and the concomitant conclusion of the legendary 7 series. We may never again see a Big Mountain model dominate sales the way the Soul 7 did, but you can’t ride the same horse forever. The Blackops collection represented a clean break with the past, but to tell its tale properly requires a quick review of recent history.
The Blackops project began in 2016/17 in response to athletes’ requests for a powder ski that didn’t oblige them to charge the fall line at warp speed. They asked for something more playful, supple and above all, twin-tipped; the ability to land backwards was essential. Another key component was a deeper sidecut that would allow a 118 to cut a short radius turn if it were laid over. Thus was born the Blackops 118, later to be rechristened as the Gamer.
The next step in the 3-year development of the Blackops clan was the creation of the Blackops 98, renamed the HolyShred for its public unveiling. Like its big bro the 118, the Blackops 98 was a twin-tip, but to upgrade its in-bounds behavior a Ti platform was added underfoot. Altering the length and width of the Ti plate allowed Rossi engineers to dial in the ideal flex for each size of the new Blackops. (Sidecut and baseline are also re-modeled for each length.) The development process that began with the secretive, athlete-driven Blackops 118 and the underground Blackops 98 led to the expanded lineup that materialized two years ago.
As Rossi considered its options for a full line of Blackops to replace the 7 series, it became clear that not every advanced, all-terrain skier expected to be landing his or her airs in reverse, so the twin-tip feature isn’t found elsewhere in the 2022 Blackops collection. The emerging star of the Blackops squad is the Sender Ti (106mm @ 187cm), that’s more powerful than the Soul 7 HD it replaces without being any harder to ski. The Sender Ti would indeed become the prototype for a whole new series of off-trail skis in 2023.
The Blackops series represents a calculated choice to make a clean break with the recent past. Relatively speaking, the Experience series changed very little in 2021, but this was the proverbial calm before the storm. In 2022, Rossi would steer the Experience clan in an entirely new direction.
Rossi had been tinkering with its Experience series for several years, but what the legendary French brand did this past season was totally redefine it and redesign it from top to bottom. Rossignol identified a new skier type and built the new Experience (EXP, for short) series around him and her. Rossi used the rubric “All-Resort” in lieu of “All-Mountain,” to underscore that this skier is a new breed. (Actually, Salomon used the term, “All-Mountain Resort” to define its XDR collection a few years ago, but the XDR models never had the market impact of the EXP’s, and Salomon wasn’t trying to define a new skier type.)
To understand what Rossi did with its EXP skis, you must first grok that they’re made for a resort visitor who doesn’t intend to ski every day of his or her precious vacation. Skiing is on the agenda, of course, but the modern resort offers so much more, starting with an app that lets you record every Instagram-worthy second.
With so much to do and so little time, the skiing part needs to be simple. All EXP baselines are double-rockered, so they’re all equally able to swivel. Viscoelastic elements in the forebody keep the center section calm, imparting a sense of perpetual security. It’s telling that the flagship ski, the EXP 86 Ti, is an All-Mountain East model, and all the narrower and/or lighter EXP’s reside in the Frontside genre, which is groomer country.
Rossignol is doubtless correct that a great many skiers engage with the sport for reasons that have nothing to do with tearing à toute vitesse straight down the fall line. Skiing with friends and family, being outdoors in the clean, winter air, enjoying the sunshine and soft snow is sufficient motivation for them. These are recreational skiers in the truest sense of that term.
Given how Rossi has defined the target skiers for the latest Experience series, the new line is a perfect fit for where and how they ski. Skiers who long for the E98 of yore can find their more developed skill set rewarded somewhere in Rossi’s massive Hero collection; the new Experience series has shifted its focus to serve the resort visitor who just wants to have fun.
The 2023 Season
As laid out in copious detail above, Rossi’s 2022 Blackops collection was an amalgamation of different designs and unrelated model names. For 2023, Rossi decided to reorganize its assets into two distinct, albeit related, families: Sender Ti and Blackops. As the best of the 2022 hodgepodge, the Sender Ti deserved to become the focal point of the new collection. Just to be sure its star product is unmistakable, Rossi makes the flagship Sender 106 Ti+ from a richer recipe than is used in the Sender 104 Ti and Sender 94 Ti. The head of the Sender Ti family is a real-deal Power ski, while the 104 Ti and 94 Ti share the same, Finesse-oriented construction. Complementing the unisex Sender Ti clan is a quartet of Rallybird models made for women.
The Sender Ti/Rallybird family are targeted at mainstream, directional skiers, which is all well and good, except that Blackops always stood for New School freeride antics, including riding switch. So Rossi kept the Blackops name to designate a pair of twintips it culled from the old Blackops clan: the 2022 Holy Shred became the 2023 Blackops 98, in two artsy, alternative cosmetics, while the erstwhile Gamer returns in the twin guise of the Blackops 118 Swamp or River, that take full advantage of their surface area to create lovely nature tableaux. To further capitalize on the Blackops mystique, a 92mm-waisted option hits the youth-market-friendly MSRP of $529.