It wouldn’t be unfair to lump all skis over 100mm at the waist into a giant bucket labeled, “Powder,” and leave it at that. Obviously, the fatter the ski the better the flotation, so pick a ski based on how high you want to ride on new snow and you’re good to go. We decided to divide the powder pie in two because there are big behavioral differences between the Big Mountain bundle of skis (101mm-113mm) and the cluster over 120mm.
The very fact that most manufacturers make (at least) one model in each genre verifies that there are reasons to make two distinct models to serve the Big Mountain and Powder categories. The best of the Big Mountain brotherhood are everyday skis for strong riders on – you guessed it – big mountains. But there are also easy riders in the Big Mountain corral; skis that will help the less talented whip their powder skills into shape.
The split personality of the Big Mountain genre is a result of the evolution of the fat ski phenomenon as a whole. Twenty years ago, when the concept of powder skis was still in its infancy, fat boys were conceived as learning aids for the uninitiated. Experts initially avoided the budding category as if they were badges of ineptitude – until they tried them. When Shane McConkey straight-lined a legendary couloir on a pair of 90mm Volant Chubbs, the collective attitude of the elite was tweaked. Suddenly a new mini-market emerged for high-octane athletes seeking first descents on previously unskiable pitches. Movies from Matchstick Productions and Teton Gravity Research showcased a new frontier in adrenaline sports, and the race was on to see who could make the best tool for these new school, big mountain athletes.
Flashing forward to today, both communities – those who want to maintain their speed in new snow and those who want to maintain their dignity – are being over-served by a brilliant buffet of options. Whether you tear into powder or tiptoe in, the right Big Mountain ski will make slicing knee-deep fresh snow nearly effortless.
There are two major provisos that need to be shouted from the rooftops: one, acquiring an everyday ski that is too wide poses an increased risk of joint fatigue and even injury to the skier, even if he or she never falls; and two, skiers charging full speed on skis with huge girth but little effective contact area and perhaps no capacity for clean edging pose a danger not just to themselves, but every other person in their flight path.
Please pay attention, because this is why our test criteria are more important today than ever. Heavily rockered skis in the Big Mountain waist width zone of 101mm to 113mm can easily inspire the illusion that their owner suddenly has skills. After all, he can now kill it in the freshies, charging like an off-the-rails locomotive. When he rolls his act out on the groomers, still hauling, still squatting over the middle of his skis, his ultra-rockered tips and tails wildly slapping the snow, his ability to change trajectory and avoid the downhill skier is next to nil.
This is perhaps the most important slope safety issue of our time. Please, people, restrict your use of Big Mountain skis to the off-trail terrain for which they were designed.
The 2018 Big Mountain Field
“An embarrassment of riches” describes the 2018 Big Mountain field to a tee. Almost every ski in the genre earns a Recommended medallion, and every one is on merit. The average score for the field was close to 82 for both Finesse and Power skis. To give you an idea of the depth of the category, the last two skis listed among our Power Picks, the Völkl 100Eight and Head Kore 105, are both stellar new skis that could just as credibly hold the top two positions.
There are three primary reasons why the men’s Big Mountain category seems to be inundated with great skis. First, there really are that many extraordinary models in the genre, but each is slightly different in subtle but important ways. Second, our scoring criteria aren’t modified to reflect all the ways a ski in this genre may excel, which can result in some peculiar scoring as testers wrestle with how to interpret what they just skied numerically.
Third, because the Power and Finesse averages don’t really capture the essence of these wide-bodies, there’s more value in the behavioral snapshot provided by the copy than in the study of data. It’s more useful to think of the pantheon of Recommended models as forming a circle instead of a ladder. We’ve listed them in order of either their Power or Finesse score because that’s Realskiers SOP, and because the enormous field begs for some sort of organization beyond splitting the cast into Power and Finesse camps.
It bears mentioning that the ensemble of Finesse skis is particularly good at what they do. While they are optimal for advanced intermediates who want a second ski for powder, their mild demeanor disguises a deep energy reserve. None of them are weak skis; they’re merely easier to bend. Most of our Finesse Favorites have no metal in them and the few that do use Titanal sparingly, which makes our typical Finesse ski lighter and livelier than the burlier boys’ club on the other side of the Power/Finesse divide.