Salomon was riding a string of ridiculously successful product introductions when the brand introduced its first ski in 1989. The monocoque shell was the big story, creating such a groundswell of demand that all the ski brands that came before had to re-tool to some kind of cap ski design or risk a swift, painful death.
Salomon followed up the ski launch a few years later with an idea that continues to reap rich rewards for all brands to this day. Salomon declared that experts didn’t possess a single, monolithic skill set, but that they could be divided into 3 fields, Equipe, Force and EXP, each with its own rationale for an expert-level – and most importantly, expert-price – product. This was the moment when the market began to invert its product pyramid, to go from a base of a gazillion, low-cost package skis to a foundation built from expert skis in a minimum of 7 iterations from every supplier.
To put things in perspective, Salomon’s initiation of multiple expert ski genres has been as beneficial to the entire ski market over time as the career of Tiger Woods has been to the golf world.
Eventually, Salomon’s magic touch wore off. It looked down its Gallic nose at the arriviste shaped skis, raising eyebrows by being behind the trend for once. Its transition away from rear-entry boots wasn’t smooth, although it’s safe to say that rocky era is well behind it. Although the brand would have star products again – X Scream and Pocket Rocket come to mind – it didn’t always display its formerly flawless feel for the market. Important launches such as the BBR failed to get off the ground.
This led to a period of retrenchment during which Salomon relied on the lower cost of monocoque manufacturing to pursue a price-advantage strategy. Consumers responded well to the easy-skiing style of the Q series, but opinion leaders shied away from skis they perceived as too soft.
This takes us up to the 2016/17 season, when Salomon unveiled the QST series of off-trail-oriented skis. With a weave of carbon and flax (C/FX), Salomon finally found a formula for a lightweight ski that didn’t flop around on hard snow like a carp on a hot dock. With the QST series, the brand bid adieu to monocoque, building these models instead with square sidewalls from tip to tail. The top 3 QST’s, the 118, 106 and 99, also inserted a segment of Titanal underfoot so the edge won’t wash out in ratty terrain.
In 2018/19, Salomon doubled down on C/FX, adding transverse strands to create a carbon and flax grid that makes the many models that rely on it more powerful and responsive. C/FX3 was the defining ingredient across the top of four product families: QST, QST Women’s, XDR and the Aira collection for women. The QST 106 and QST 99 also received a layer of basalt between the base and core to better withstand the battering of harbor chop.
It’s unusual to overhaul a product family’s design two years in a row, yet in 2019/20, Salomon again reconfigured its mix of basalt, carbon and flax fibers, separating out the flax into its own layer and braiding the carbon and basalt into crosshatched strands. Koroyd, a synthetic honeycomb integral to the QST design since its inception, was replaced in the tip and tail with bits of cork that Salomon assessed to be 16 times more shock absorbent than Koroyd.
And the suite of 19/20 changes didn’t stop there. Salomon also altered the shape and sidecut radius of every QST, reducing the width at tip and tail. The prior generations’ deep sidecuts had a tendency to over-steer and didn’t slice as evenly through broken snow as the new editions. The net effect was that the last crop of QST’s were more directionally stable, quieter on edge and gave the pilot more control over trajectory.
While the 2019/20 QST’s were Salomon’s best off-trail collection ever, they still didn’t perform on a par with the Enforcers, Bonafides and Mantras of this world. The QST collection always prioritized light weight, so it minimized the role played by Titanal. To battle the big boys for dominance in the key All-Mountain genres, Salomon had to fight metal with metal. So last season Salomon introduced Stance, a 5-model series that added two full sheets of Titanal to the C/FX equation.
The Stances are all comfortable at speed, which is useful as their flat, narrow tails keep them close to the fall line. Their design is a hybrid of sorts: the rear is built like a Frontside ski, while the forebody has the rocker and slightly softer torsional flex associated with all-mountain models. The front end keeps them calm in crud while the rear gives them the propulsion and precision to tear through any terrain.
The 2022 Season
While the Stance series solved one problem, it created another. Now that Salomon had two complete off-trail series competing head-to-head for the same consumer, some redundancy was inevitable. The odd ski out turned out to the QST 99, which had finally found its ideal shape and construction only to be euthanized in its infancy.
The well-balanced QST 99 went bye-bye because it had gotten too good at hard-snow performance, encroaching on the turf being established by the Stance 96, a stout, fall-line attacking stick with a Frontside bias. The new QST 98 is in no danger of being mistaken for a Stance 96.
The 21/22 QST 98 skis much looser and lighter than either the QST 99 or the Stance 96. On hard snow, it’s as nervous as a 13-year old on a first date. It takes some fresh snow under it to calm it down. There’s a market for step-up skis with an off-trail orientation, but this skier often spends more time on groomers, where the QST 98 seems out of its element.
All was explained when I saw a promo shot for the QST 98 in its element: upside down on the brink of a half-pipe. Little wonder it seems out of place on-piste.
A better solution for the less skilled skier is the new Stance 84. Not to bury the lede, it’s arguably the best value in the 2021/22 market. It sheds a laminate of Titanal to make its $499 retail possible, but the single sheet that remains still packs a wallop. It performs as well on groomers as many skis selling for upwards of $100 more.
At the other end of the ability spectrum lies the new QST Blank, a 112mm-underfoot Big Mountain behemoth that’s meant for Salomon’s freeride team athletes. If you’re not trying to out-race your own slough to the next cliff band, the Blank is probably not your ski.