Elan created the Wingman series to bridge the worlds of on-trail and off-trail skiing, planting a flagship model in both the All-Mountain East and Frontside genres. The top of the latter ladder is the Wingman 82 Cti, a strong ski with such a gentle disposition we classified as a Finesse model. Based on the TNT Technology that originated with the off-trail Ripstick series, the Wingman 82 Cti is reinforced both with a central topsheet of Titanal and twin carbon rods near the base, which mirror the shape of the sidecut. To create a step-down model, Elan eliminated the expense of the carbon rods and the cost of carving out their CNC-created channels, resulting in the Wingman 82 Ti.
Drum roll, please. The Wingman 82 Ti will most likely sell for $399. That’s without a binding, but still, $399. Does it ski as well as the Wingman Cti? No, and if you’re an already skilled skier you shouldn’t spare the shekels when buying a ski you may have tor the next decade. But if you’re buying your first pair of skis after having served your time on rentals and hand-me-downs, the Wingman 82 Ti is one of the best deals you will ever find.
Wingman is a new series from Elan that’s a hybrid of the Slovenian brand’s Frontside Amphibio collection and its off-trail Ripstick series. This formula makes the Wingman 86 CTi behave like a carving ski with a penchant for off-piste forays. It owes its hallmark tenacious edge grip – stunningly evident in all conditions – to a variety of interrelated factors.
First, its relatively deep sidecut (16.5m @ 178cm) combines with its asymmetric shape to create early edge contact that never lets go. Second, the rearbody and tail are also biased to the inside edge, so instead of whimping out at turn finish as so many rockered tails do, this Wingman drives through the arc on a solid platform. Third, Elan loads up the inside edge with more material so force concentrates there, improving stability. Finally, a brace of end-to-end carbon rods work in harmony with a sheet of Titanal to suck up shock and convert it into rebound energy that keeps the Wingman motoring even when the snow gets clumpy.
The All-Mountain East genre is split into two camps: models that represent the top end of on-trail, Frontside families (think Head V-Shape 10, Salomon XDR 88 Ti, Liberty V92) and the narrowest versions of Big Mountain fatties (e.g., Enforcer 88, Rustler 9, Kore 93). The Elan Ripstick 88 falls into the camp populated by off-trail offspring, tilting its terrain predilections towards soft snow and its pilot preference to skiers still polishing their skills.
The 19/20 Ripstick 88 replaces an 86mm-waisted version that didn’t share the same guts as the rest of the Ripstick clan. This oversight has been corrected, so the 88 now incorporates every family feature, including Elan’s signature asymmetric design, Amphibio, that puts a longer edge on the inside and longer rocker on the outside. While Amphibio helps the Ripstick 88 cope with hardpack, every other important design element, from its lightweight carbon/glass structure to its tapered tips and tails, is biased towards off-trail conditions.
Enrobing a ski in a coating of carbon is like dosing it with Xanax; it calms the nerves and helps it focus on the task at hand. The inescapable comparative adjectives are “silkier” and “smoother.” With no metal underneath its ebony hide, Elan’s Ripstick 96 Black Edition needs something other than Titanal to give it the sangfroid required to batter crud aside. Its carbon sheath muffles the rough edges caused by crud-busting without hauling around the extra ounces Titanal entails.
In lighter, softer, generally more congenial off-road conditions, the Ripstick 96 Black raises its game. It doesn’t matter if the depth of the latest layer is 3 centimeters or 3 feet, put any kind of cushion under it and it will practically purr with gratitude. Because it skis narrow, it’s also easier to find a high edge angle, which helps keep its rockered tip from getting twitchy and makes negotiating tight gaps in trees dependent more on the science of technique and less on the power of prayer.