Rustler 9

The fraternal relationship between Blizzard’s two All-Mountain East entries, the elder brother Brahma 88 and its upstart sibling, the Rustler 9, encapsulates the contrasting cast of characters that populate this crossroads category. While both skis belong to off-trail families, their personalities couldn’t be more different than, well, two brothers.

The Brahma 88 is the Type A personality that exudes strength and resolve. For a ski with a double-rockered baseline, it handles like a technical ski that’s accurate in every phase of a turn. Its baby bro, the Rustler 9, is not interested in following its elder’s tracks. Its comparatively loose, tapered tip wants to party. The Titanal laminate just below its topskin restores order underfoot, but nothing can suppress its youthful exuberance.

Scott Sahr from Aspen Ski and Board identified the Rustler 9’s topline traits when it debuted several seasons ago: “Light, easy to change turn shape, with perfect playfulness/stability ratio. Also, rocker is not over done; good loft with minimal tip vibrations.” Bob Gleason from Boot Doctors in Telluride gave the same diagnosis: “Notice the light feel and ease in directional change and quickness,” says the ever-ebullient Bob. “Does a delightful dance through the bumps and tight places. Best for the intermediate to lower level advanced,” prescribes Dr. Gleason.

Ski buyers always ask at some point in their give-and-take with the salesperson, “How is it in the bumps?” While the flip reply is always, “As good as you are,” in the case of the Rustler 9, the ski actually is well suited to today’s hacked-up mogul formations.

Thunderbird R15 WB

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 just last year, 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. 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.

Firebird HRC

The Blizzard Firebird HRC isn’t really a race ski – its dimensions run afoul of FIS regulations – but don’t tell it that. Despite its 76mm waist, the HRC thinks it belongs right between the Firebird WRC and Firebird SRC, Blizzard’s non-FIS GS and SL models, respectively.

Please don’t get defensive, but if you don’t care for the HRC’s comportment, you may not be good enough for it. It uses bi-directional carbon weave both horizontally underfoot, for power at the top of the turn, and in vertical struts that keep it plastered to the snow through turn exit. The combination makes a ski that Corty Lawrence describes as feeling like a “quintessential GS. It needs to be stood on, no complacency allowed, don’t get lazy.

“When you stand on the edge at operating speed,” Corty continues, “the HRC is exceedingly rewarding. Super confident underfoot, it enters turns with enthusiasm (better be on the front of your boots!) and comes off the turn with ample energy. Turn shape can be modulated with authoritative subtlety, which isn’t the contradiction it sounds like. Shorter turns can be accomplished at speed, but at pedestrian velocities it must be muscled,” Corty concludes.

Perry Schaffner detected the same behavior, noting “it’s nice and that you can do two different radius of turns: it’s easy to just let its shape take you on a wider turn, but it also has the option – if you put some extra power into it – to make pretty snappy short turns. Once you get going and up to speed, it gets on edge quite a bit more easily, making it more suitable for a stronger skier.”

Brahma 82

Last season 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, while 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, the 21/22 Brahma 82 added another line to its resume. Last year its core design upgraded 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.

This 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. 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.

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 faced 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 last year 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.

For 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 2023 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.