The frontside of the mountain may not be the most topographically diverse part of the hill, but the skiers who populate are the most polyglot we’ve got. Timid intermediates, cruising seniors, the terrain park contingent, ski school classes, pods of families and lone dive-bombers all crowd into the same space and try to pretend they’re the only ones there. No wonder we refer to the frontside as a zoo without cages.
Appealing to this many constituencies requires all kinds of skis, from relative noodles to absolute rails, most with system bindings and some without, a few built for comfort and a lot built for speed. It’s the largest field we examine and perhaps the trickiest to find the perfect match. The feature all these skis share is a waist that is neither skinny nor fat and a design that expects to be exposed primarily to groomed terrain.
Almost every entry-level ski for the neophyte falls into this family, but there are also a lot of choices for skiers who prefer to fly around at 50 mph. The intended terrain is almost exclusively groomed, but the wider bodies within this family will travel off-slope if asked. Because carving turns is the aspirational activity associated with skiing on groomed trails, this genre is often tagged with the “Carving” label, but we’ve chosen “Frontside” as it’s a more ecumenical term that includes a lot of non-technical skiers in its cadre. It’s also germane to mention that the very best carving skis aren’t necessarily in this compendium as they are invariably on the narrower end of the spectrum, which is not the ski world’s current flavor-of-the-month.
The majority of skis in this genre are sold with an integrated binding that is inextricably married to a specific model. While the binding company is responsible for the binding design, it’s up to the ski maker to assemble the interface that secures it to the ski. The integrity of this linkage varies from brand to brand, but the idea behind the so-called “system ski” does not: the binding sets in or on an interface that adds damping, reduces the binding’s natural impingement on ski flex and increases the skier’s leverage over the edge.
There are countless iterations of Frontside skis not covered here for several reasons:
- The ocean of entry-level packages resides at the bottom of this pool, skis bought primarily to fit a price as much as a purpose. They are generally unavailable for ski testing or demoing.
- Skier interest in the genre is generally declining as skiers opt for wider and wider footprints. Covering 30 more models would stir up more confusion than sales.
- Skiers looking for real carving power in a ski less than 80mm underfoot often eschew the narrower recreational carvers for full-on Race skis.
Note we’re not omitting narrower carvers because we don’t like them; generally speaking, the narrower (68mm – 74mm) Technical models do a better job of digging into an arc than the models the market – that’s you, Dear Reader, and your ilk – have embraced as your preference. Rather we have given them their own proper home among our Realskiers categories, tucked between Non-FIS Race and Frontside.
The best skis in this category are unabashedly skewed to the very skilled skier who lives at a high edge angle. They do not stoop to conquer, with mushy, terrain-conforming baselines that mask a skier’s aptitude for cutting a clean edge. They like their snow hard and the throttle open. Defying both conventional wisdom and our own expectations, top Power models continue also to be among the highest rated for Finesse properties, indicating that it’s possible to make a ski that blazes down the mountain that also feels neck-reining simple to steer. Of course we unearthed a few Power potentates with a more typical disdain for slow, mincing turns, and a bevy of Finesse favorites designed to boost their pilots’ prowess and self-esteem.
The 2018 Frontside Field
If one were to look only at our Recommended models, as we are doing here, the picture of the Frontside field would be a hopelessly distorted. Our mission is to identify the best, and the crème de la crème, such as our Power winner, the Kästle MX Limited (MSRP: $1,699 flat), are among the most expensive skis known to man. At the other end of the price spectrum (e.g., $399 with binding), and at every $50 interval in between, there lies another galaxy of options that form the netherworld of the Frontside universe. (BTW, there are some great skis hiding in the forest of low price-point models. See the review for the Nordica Navigator 80, which holds the top spot in our Finesse hierarchy.)
From a field of 30 models, our testers identified 18 Recommended models. In a category that prizes carving capability, it’s fitting that 14 of these fell on the Power side of the ledger, home to high edge angles at high speeds. Skiers who would rather cruise than bruise will find their style cossetted by our fistful of Finesse favorites.