Bonafide 97

The Blizzard Bonafide has been at or near the top of our All-Mountain West rankings since it burst on the scene over a decade ago. While it’s undergone four or five tweaks since its debut, its enduring excellence is due primarily to what hasn’t changed: the original Flipcore construction that removes all stress from the rocker/camber transition.  As soon as the ski is pressured, the transition zone disappears and the full length of the ski finds the snow.  A Bonafide feels engaged from tip to tail because it is.  This is the foundational reason for its sustained success. The Bonafide came out of the chute so well made that the biggest challenge its designers face was figuring out how to fix something that wasn’t broken.

But sustained stardom always attracts naysayers, so over its relatively long lifespan, the Bonafide has found a few thorns in all the roses thrown its way.  One criticism is that its brawny build is best managed by experts, and there’s something to this claim in that the Bonafide 97 performs better with some energy flowing through it, meaning it likes to be ridden fast.  Some find it boring and wonder what the big deal is. In the Bonafide’s defense, all high-performance skis perform better under an expert’s guidance and an affinity for speed is not, by itself, a demerit. Furthermore, if you want rebound energy out of a Bonafide, you have to load it.  If you just stand there looking cute, it won’t react because you haven’t told it to.

While there are worse problems to have, being known as an experts-only ski is a concern nonetheless, one Blizzard addressed two years ago with the introduction of the TrueBlend core. The objective of TrueBlend was a smooth, round flex adapted for every size, married to a flex pattern and baseline likewise adapted by length.  The key to its execution was the precise location of denser strips of beech in a predominantly poplar core. Each size was treated like its own model, so the shorter skis were also softer and more accessible to lighter and lower skill skiers.

In 2023, Blizzard took another remedial step towards making the Bonafide easier to bow: they made its TrueBlend core a tad thinner.  Not much mind you, but enough to make it noticeably easier to bend.  Now that it can be loaded up at lower speeds and/or less force application by the skier, the 2024 Bonafide is a more mellow, tractable ride.  The Bonafide hasn’t lost its essential character, which I would describe as complete terrain indifference, but it has improved its handling throughout the recreational speed range.

Black Pearl 97

The Black Pearl 97 borrows its sidecut and baseline from the unisex Bonafide 97, and purloins its Woman Specific Design (W.S.D.) from the Black Pearl 88.  Three seasons ago, both of its parents upgraded to the TrueBlend core, that perfectly matches flex to shape and size, so naturally the Black Pearl 97 followed suit.

Included in the W.S.D. package of enhancements is a Titanal mounting plate that improves, well, everything about the Pearl 97.  It’s grip on hardpack far exceeds expectations, and it makes mincemeat out of choppy crud. Its women-specific TrueBlend core finds the right balance between relatively light weight for maneuverability but enough substance to subdue a tracked-up fall-line.

“I would recommend the Black Pearl 97 to any intermediate/advanced skier looking to explore more terrain off the groomers,” says ex-college racer and current PSIA National Team member Brenna Kelleher. “The new Pearl 97 is made with a slightly modified sidecut and baseline in every size, so each length is a perfect match for its pilot. Blizzard added a 177cm to the line-up which is a welcome addition for stronger and/or more skilled women.”

Thunderbird R15 WB LTD

In the fat ski genres where Americans buy the vast majority of their skis, Blizzard is riding a decade-long hot streak. If you only look at skis over 85mm at the waist, it seems like Blizzard hasn’t missed a beat since the launch of its Flipcore baseline. But if you take a step back and look at the world market, there’s a category or two of carvers, skis meant to execute perfect, technical turns on hard snow, where Blizzard is all but invisible, at least in the U.S.  For whatever reasons, its Quattro series never captured the imagination of the American carving public. The only way Blizzard was able to penetrate the Frontside segment stateside was with a tiny-waisted, off-trail model (Brahma 82), which is sort of like entering the category via the service entrance.

Consider the problem solved. The Thunderbird R15 WB, introduced two seasons ago and given a modest upgrade for 23/24,  doesn’t try to mask its racing pedigree with a carbon overdose; the communication with the angled edge is crisp and clear.  The Thunderbird’s snow feel is like HDTV compared to the Quattro’s low-def reception. One reason the T-bird R15 WB feels so sublimely connected is its TrueBlend core has been modified to fit the hard-snow environment.  By re-positioning tendrils of high-density beech within strata of lighter poplar, TrueBlend creates a perfectly balanced flex for each size. This may sound like esoterica only an expert can feel, but it’s palpable, and it’s wonderful.

Complementing TrueBlend is a carbon platform underfoot to help muffle shocks without losing the precision of the ski/snow connection.  (This critical interface was the focus of the most recent upgrade.) Called Active Carbon Armor, it’s essentially the carbon inlay under the topskin of the Blizzard Firebird race skis brought to the surface, where it can free up the core to bend more freely.  With this combination of wood and carbon, Blizzard has finally found a way to make a carver that is both quiet on the edge and explosive off it.  And boy, is it fun to drive.

Brahma 82

Two years ago, we opined in this space that this descendant of an off-trail brood looks out of place among carvers with an on-trail pedigree. Skis with a patently off-piste baseline have no business infiltrating the ranks of Frontside models, by definition the domain of deep sidecuts and highly arched camber lines. How does a ski whose Flipcore baseline is practically already bowing manage to mingle with the second cousins of true race skis?  It still seems like the Brahma 82 is trying to crash a party hosted by club to which it doesn’t belong.

You see, Frontside skis are supposed to share a mutual obsession with maintaining a continuous carve, whereas the double-rockered Brahma 82 seems ill suited to the task. Where is the performance-enhancing binding interface, the elevated standheight, the wasp-waisted sidecut, the squared-off tail? It’s unadorned by rods or plates. How can it hold its own against a genre full of pumped-up trench diggers?

In its quest to prove it belongs, in 21/22 the Brahma 82 added another line to its resume, upgrading its core construction to TrueBlend, Blizzard’s way of micro-managing its poplar and beech laminates to produce the optimal flex pattern for every length. It bears mention that the rest of the Brahma 82’s lay-up is mostly made up of carbon and 2 ½ layers of Titanal, as rich a construction as you’ll find in the genre. 

Last year, Blizzard shaved the Brahma 82’s TrueBlend core profile down a skosh, so it’s even easier to bow into a clean, round turn, a trait that’s particularly beneficial in today’s hacked-up bumps. With its off-trail, Flipcore baseline, the Brahma 82 is one of the few Frontside skis that actually feels made for moguls. It double-rockered baseline slithers around in torturous troughs that many carvers can’t conform to. Even though it’s more than capable of holding its own on hardpack, it’s actually bred for the backcountry. It doesn’t look at moguls and crud as trouble city, but like a hometown playground. Not many other skis in the Frontside genre have this ability to perform at a high level in any terrain.

Black Pearl 82

The Black Pearl 82 underwent the TrueBlend make-over two years ago, a fairly complex process given that the model’s sidecut remained a constant. What changed was how high-density beech and low-weight poplar are scattered across the core to create a perfectly balanced flex for every size.  Once committed to this level of customization, Blizzard went ahead and synchronized the baseline, sidecut and flex for every length, which in the case of the Black Pearl 82 is a lot (145cm – 173cm).

A key component in the Woman Specific Design of the Pearl 82 is a dash of Titanal underfoot which helps this off-trail design hold its own on hardpack. Combined with the new flex pattern, the Titanal’s effect on edge grip extends beyond its actual dimensions. While this still doesn’t convert the Pearl 82 into a full-on carver – where is the elevated platform or the tight-waisted shape? – it won’t wimp-out on groomers.