On the whole, last season went much better than anyone expected, at least as events transpired in America. In the spring of 2020, during a window in the calendar when suppliers ought to be counting orders, they were instead inundated with cancellations. Forecasts fell like an Otis with cut cables, and as budgets shrank, so did rank-and-file personnel. There were a few cool heads that looked at how well the ski market was faring pre-pandemic and didn’t slash their budgets to the bone, but it was hard to stick to any plan when uncertainty was the order of the day.
Then winter, or some semblance thereof, appeared, and wherever skiers could go, they went. And they behaved. I have little doubt that occasionally the wrapped-up skier sitting at the other end of the six-passenger chair we shared thought mask mandates were at best a folly and undoubtedly an infringement on their freedom, but they, too, pulled their masks over their collective noses lest they lose access to precious uphill transportation.
Meanwhile, new product developers whose progeny were near the end of the pipeline found creative ways to complete the mission. Despite strict travel restrictions in the Alps, R&D continued on secret snowfields into the evening, when it would be safer returning to a darkened town after curfew.
If this sounds a bit obsessive, with a whiff of illegality, you should know that ski equipment designers and their cohort sweat the details with all the religious ardor of medieval monks calculating, one-by-one, the number of angels who could dance on the head of a pin. Obsession comes with the territory.
But plucky escapades aside, R&D was nonetheless reined in, as the constraints placed on travel in central Europe cratered winter tourism. Retailers were unable to turn their inventory, clogging the rack space that would normally clear sufficiently to make room for future deliveries. Panicked dealers pressured suppliers to suppress any unnecessary changes that would obsolete their stock.
So, the ski world enters the new season with one foot perforce in the past as the other strides towards the future. As what’s past has had a year to leave a mark on your memory, we’ll limit the scope of this preview to what’s new for the 2021/22 season. To give this overview a structure that mimics this upside-down year, we’re presenting what’s new from the brands we cover in reverse alphabetical order.
This tour d’horizon of the season’s nouveautés only covers the unisex field. Information regarding 2022 women’s models will be covered in brief yet somehow exhaustive detail in next week’s Revelation.
The New Kids on the Block
Völkl has been busy improving the M5 Mantra since the moment it was launched three years ago. Three new technologies have been folded into the 2022 M6 Mantra recipe: 3D Radius Sidecut, Tailored Titanal Frame and Tailored Carbon Tips. The combination is insanely good at making high performance skiing accessible.
Note the buzz word, “Tailored.” It means components have been modified to match the length, baseline and sidecut of each size. This is The Theme of 2022, Dear Readers: now more than ever, regardless of brand, each size is its own ski, as though it had been built from scratch. The significance of this development is that skiers at the edges of the size curve – the largest and the smallest of us – will have a much better experience on the right size and a much worse experience on the wrong size.
In the core categories that concern the U.S. market, Stöckli has, for the most part, stayed with a winning hand, confining its impulse to innovate to a new Stormrider. The Stormrider 102 steps into the stalwart shoes of the SR 105; it will be interesting to see how Stöckli zealots assess whether the 102 is a step forward, backward or sideways.
The success of Salomon’s Stance series has led to a brilliant line extension in the Stance 84, one of the best $499 skis ever, and a re-conception of the QST 99, which couldn’t match the on-piste chops of the Stance 96 and was therefore laid to rest. The new QST 98 is in no danger of competing with the Stance 96 anywhere except in powder, a condition for which Salomon – and all other brands – already have superior options.
The skier whose performance expectations are most likely to be met by the QST 98 has been clearly identified by arch-rival Rossignol in its 2022 product story about its totally re-imagined Experience collection. In a subtle but significant shift in emphasis, Rossi has labeled the new sub-genre “All-Resort,” in lieu of All-Mountain. Rossignol persuasively postulates a resort visitor for whom skiing is but one of many diversions to be scheduled on the resort app and immortalized on Instagram. It’s a development of sufficient import to merit a Revelation of its own in the near future.
Nordica just homogenized its crazy-good Enforcer series last season, anticipating the trend to size-specific components, baseline, shape and flex. What news there is at Nordica is in the ladies’ section, where a svelte Santa Ana 84 and women-specific Wild Belle DC 84 debut.
Liberty bids adieu to its underappreciated V-Series, but keeps its 3-rib Vertical Metal Technology alive by transferring it to its 5-model evolv family. It makes for an interesting blend of an all-terrain shape with a carving ski’s concentration on snow connection.
Kästle re-introduces Titanal to its off-trail FX series, which isn’t technically a miracle, but is nonetheless a godsend to off-piste skiers who remember the FX series of the last decade. Of equally divine provenance is the new ZX100, which jettisons Titanal to hit a $749 price without surrendering legendary Kästle stability on edge.
K2’s latest flagship, the Disruption Ti2, is a Technical ski (111/71/96) that boasts it’s laden with two times the amount of Titanal as the Disruption MTi introduced last year. It could be made from gold and some magical metal and it wouldn’t matter to the U.S. market, where Technical skis enjoy the same popularity as leprosy. Riding even lower below American market radar are three online “projects,” Mindbender 100 Ti USA Alliance ($839.30), Mindbender 106 Ti USA ($1,199)and Disruption Ti2 USA ($1,224.30).
Head’s Kore series has elevated the Austrian brand’s presence in the off-trail market segments from absent to first-rank. The whole Kore cast was treated to the same upgrades: using more wood (Karuba/poplar) in lieu of synthetic Koroyd in the core; slanting the sidewall so it slices sinuously sideways; reducing the size split to 7cm and creating two chassis: one for hard snow in the narrower Kores and one for fluff in the wide-bodies. There’s even an all-new Kore, the 111, and it’s going to make a lot of powderhounds happy.
Fischer’s latest carving series, RC One GT, is exquisite in its hard-snow domain, ably filling the gap between Fischer’s near-real-deal non-FIS race models and its off-trail Ranger series. It’s the latter that’s due for an overhaul, where we expect the influence of Mike Hattrup to create an off-trail series as good as Fischer’s carvers have always been.
Dynastar’s M-Line, introduced just last season, has been applying a size-specific methodology to all the M-Line skis from the get-go. In other words, the new M-Free 99 skis differently in each of its three sizes because all design parameters have been calibrated by length as if each size were the only model in the series.
Blizzard has enjoyed so much sustained success in the last decade that it’s hard to imagine there’s a cylinder that’s been misfiring, but its magic touch hasn’t extended to carving skis. Until now. The new Thunderbird R15 WB is a New Age carver with O.G. values. It has a stranglehold on a carved turn that can’t be disrupted by marble-hard ice or blazing speed. Weirdly in the same genre is the Brahma 82, now with a TrueBlend core. As with all members of the TrueBlend fraternity, baseline, sidecut and flex pattern are size-specific.
Atomic made big moves in two big genres, improving its Redster race skis, not because they needed it, but because race-obsessed Atomic is always out to shave a tick off the clock. The other change will have more impact in the all-terrain-driven American market, where Atomic has chucked its top Vantage models in favor of a 4-model Maverick family. Atomic’s talents at making a low-cost, carbon ski are again on display in the surprisingly spunky Maverick 86C.
What’s New at Realskiers
After a season in which I left my Dear Readers without any data to gnaw on, I have restored test statistics to the members’ view of each unisex Recommended model. While I would not have done so had I not seen the merit in showing test data, I still have reservations about how much weight ought to be given to statistically insignificant numerals. Allow me to share the following insight gleaned from the pages of The New Yorker.
“Numbers are a poor substitute for the richness and color of the real world. It might seem odd that a professional mathematician (like me) or economist (like Harford) would work to convince you of this fact. But to recognize the limitations of a data-driven view of reality is not to downplay its might. It’s possible for two things to be true: for number to come up short before the nuances of reality, while also being the most powerful instrument we have when it comes to understanding that reality.” – Hannah Fry, reviewing Tim Harford’s “The Data Detective” in the March 29, 2021 issue of The New Yorker.
Thank you, Ms. Fry, for making my point so eloquently. Numbers are nice, but an informed narrative provides the best indicator of what you’re buying. Real life is hard enough to capture in prose; expecting numbers to delineate what words cannot is a reach even if the numbers had more merit. Realskiers members will note that the reviews posted to the subscription site are usually substantially meatier than the scraps left in the public trough.
While I devoutly wish it were not so, men’s skis and women’s skis are not getting equal treatment. There simply aren’t enough women’s score cards and comments. [Insert primal scream here.] But rather than leave my female followers high and dry, I’ve composed 49 reviews of made-for-women skis. An exceedingly long explanation of the entire subject of women’s skis will be posted here next week.
In a normal year, if such a thing exists anymore, I would cover two categories that aren’t represented at this year’s opening bell: Non-FIS Race and Powder. Both are of marginal interest to the mainstream American skier in the best of years and are therefore hard to cover even when the world isn’t convulsed by viral contagion. I hope my Dear Readers will grant me clemency for these omissions until the cloud cast by the pandemic has passed. Meanwhile, members can revel in the Realskiers ski review archives, where they’ll find coverage of these largely unchanged categories.