The fattest of the fatties (>113mm) are true specialty sticks, meant for when the snow is so deep even a 108mm won’t float high enough. This reality won’t keep some folks from sporting them every day, but this is lunatic-fringe behavior as hauling a barge around on hard snow is no picnic for the knee joint. If you live in the West it makes sense to own a Powder board as a second pair; if they’re your only pair of skis, we hope you also own a helicopter. Even though the performance of these skis depends largely on their shape and surface area, there are still large behavioral differences among models. One particular divide occurs along the carve/smear schism, models that still retain a preference for a directional, arced turn versus rides that want to pivot and slide sideways down the hill.
Some ski makers seek a compromise between the ability to drift and the capacity to carve by reinforcing the support underfoot while rockering the tip and tail so they’re barely detectable. (The presumption is that powder will fill the void between the loose tips and tails.) Whether the baseline is rockered end to end or maintains a measure of camber, all Powder skis find a way to keep the extremities from interfering with a quick foot swivel, which may or may not result in a change in direction but which should at least scrub some speed.
One reason most Powder skis are made easy to swivel sideways is that they’re naturally not so nifty flipping edge to edge. They’re made to be buoyant, not nimble. Since getting them up on edge is a chore, they don’t lend themselves to technical skiing even if they’re capable of it. All of these models make powder skiing easier, but not all are content just poking their way down the hill.
Once a ski is over 114mm wide at the waist, any pretense that it’s somehow an “all-mountain” ski is piffle. A Powder ski’s only purpose is what’s in its name. Can one be skied on hard snow? Of course, any tool can be misapplied. But Powder skis on slick, hard snow are hard to steer, limited largely to a controlled skid. Even if the skier is comfortable with this concept, if he can’t steer accurately on crowded slopes, he can’t ski safely.
The 2018 Powder Field
Testing the Powder category has been an ongoing exercise in futility, like trying to catch fish with your teeth. Even this past winter, when the Sierras were hit with wave after wave of powder, whenever a trade fair was scheduled, the conditions would turn to pounding rain or howling wind. With the test window closed to a slit, any test cards that were recorded focused on more mainstream categories.
I decided that rather than keeping the Powder field unexamined for another year, I would round up all Powder candidates I could lay my hands on and head down to Mammoth. The objective was to intersect with at least one powder day, God willing, two. But once again, God was not willing.
I made the best of it. It’s one of Jackson’s Axioms that the measure of a great ski is how well it performs in conditions for which it was not designed. In this regard, the test conditions were ideal: groomed snow that rapidly degraded into corn, then sludge, then potage.
This sounds sub-optimal, but the problem with optimal conditions – two feet of perpetually renewed freshies – is that all distinguishing traits get lost in a haze of tester euphoria. Of course all these super-fat skis can cope with deep snow; how do they digest all the other courses on the menu?
After examining the field, my notes reveal three distinct species within the Powder genus. Some are clearly meant for highly skilled skiers who aren’t looking for a pair of powder crutches but a set of depth charges that will explode everything within their blast radius. On the other side of the Power/Finesse divide are those with just the right amount of energy to make floating side-to-side feel effortless.
After a sort along these lines, 3 skis remain that are so evenly balanced, it seems wrong to throw them in either the Power or Finesse camps. So they have their own sub-set, the Naturals.
As this is in no way a statistically relevant enterprise, there are no test scores to report. All models tested are Recommended as all are well adapted to parting their way through new snow. As all are equal in our eyes, they’re presented here in random order.