MX88

The Kästle MX88 has been around long enough – over a decade – to be secure in its own identity. It does not lack for self-confidence. When confronted with a surface that would cause most double-rockered baselines to quake, the nearly fully cambered MX88 yawns. You can almost hear it say, “That all ya got?”

The MX88 never wavers because it has the bravado that comes from knowing it’s ready down to the last detail. Its constituent elements check all the boxes of elite design: an all-wood, poplar and beech core encased in a glass and Titanal sandwich, with a dash of extra damping. In Kästle’s case, it’s hard to miss the bonus shock-absorbing element, as its signature Hollowtech tip, now in its third iteration, can be ID’d from 100 meters.

There are some skis in the AME genre that do all they can to keep the tip off the snow; the MX88 is obsessed with the opposite concern, how to maintain contact over a rumpled surface that defies it. Its natural camber line extends almost to the shovel, where the Hollowtech insert suppresses low frequency shocks before they get any fancy ideas about disrupting edge contact at the top of the turn. There are a couple of other models in the All-Mountain East segment that belong to carving-centric clans – RC One 86 GT at Fischer and V-Shape 10 from Head come to mind – but these are outliers in a culture of loosey-goosey baselines.

If the MX88 has a character flaw, it’s that it can’t resist the urge to show off. It’s ability to stay blasé when other skis are getting buffeted around like a teacup in a typhoon can’t be evinced unless the pilot is willing to lay on the gas. So what if it’s not great at slow, short turns? That’s no way to ski crud and it’s certainly a boring means of consuming groomers. One pays a pretty penny for a MX88; what you’re paying for is its unperturbed ride when it kicks into a gear most skis in this genre don’t possess.

FX86 Ti

I ski the Kästle MX83 on a regular basis, so I can’t help judging the FX86 Ti by the standard set by its stablemate. It’s not a fair comparison, because the two skis are aiming at different targets. They don’t ski much alike because they’re made to ski differently. Let us count the ways.

Starting from the tips, the MX83’s full camber line is made to connect as early as possible, while the tapered and well-rockered (280mm) tip of the FX86 Ti is meant to do just the opposite. Moving to the middle of the ski, both models use a wood core and lots of Titanal in a combination Kästle calls Tri Ti, but the two constructions are subtly and importantly different. The changes make the FX86 Ti’s edge more supple, matching the mood set by the ski’s relatively low camber.

Both models’ tail sections also reveal their opposite orientations. The MX83’s is square, flared and stiff; the rear of the FX86 Ti is rounded-off, softer and rises gradually off the snow for its last 210m’s. When all their differences are tallied, it’s clear why the FX96 Ti has no more chance of behaving like the MX83 than a giraffe has of bearing kittens.

So how does the lighter and looser FX86 Ti behave? For starters, all the evidence points to a ski that prefers its snow light and loose, as well. Its orientation is unabashedly off-trail, where its turns of choice are mid-radius. As long as one’s speed is also kept at a comfortable mid-range, the FX86 Ti remains cool, calm and collected. Theron Lee described it as “smooth and comfortable,” and John Beesley captured its essence as “playful,” a nod to its freewheeling spirit.

MX83

Kästle’s current MX83, now in its third season, is both typical of a current trend and atypical in a way all its own. The trend it’s party to is how a series of modest modifications amount to a significant change, especially in Finesse qualities. It’s unique among such upgraded models in that the name it’s re-assuming happens to be the legendary MX83, inarguably one of the greatest Frontside models ever made.

Unlike many Frontside models, the MX83 has no shock-sucking binding interface to muffle snow feel. If purchased as a system, the Tyrolia binding it’s mated with connects toe and heel but remains relatively close to the ski. This gives the MX83 a sensitive feel for the snow surface that would be smothered by heavy plates and lifters. “This ski has great feel for the snow,” confirms Bobo’s Theron Lee.

The reason the revival of the MX83 ought to interest experts everywhere is because it responds so intuitively to technical commands. All you have to do is look where you want to go, and you’re there. Its fully cambered baseline feels super-glued to the snow, inviting speeds that would cause lesser lights to shake loose. Most skis this torsionally rigid don’t flow over and around moguls too well, but the MX83 has an almost liquid flow bred into its bones. Cautionary note: if mogul performance really matters to you, stay away from the 182cm length, as it’s not too nifty a drifter, and it’s too long for troughs cut by shorter skis and boards.

One of the best indicators of a great ski is how well it performs in conditions for which it wasn’t made. By this measure, the MX83 remains an all-time great. Sure, it’s a gas to make deep trenches in corduroy at speeds that on another ski would be terrifying, but the MX83 adopts the same attitude towards all terrain. It doesn’t care where you point it because it’s confident in its abilities, a self-assurance that invariably rubs off on its pilot.

MX98

The MX98 is an outlier in the All-Mountain West genre, the only ski in the category that headlines a family of fully cambered carving skis. Its only concession to the requirements of off-trail travel is a long (270mm) front rocker that’s so gradual it’s imperceptible. Given that its classic core of wood (silver fir and poplar), fiberglass and Titanal (.5mm sheets) isn’t particularly lightweight, how can it ski comparably to an armada of competitors with double-rockered baselines and lighter weight constructions?

Well, it doesn’t. It behaves differently from most (not all) of its competition in how well it maintains snow contact. What’s remarkable is how well this translates to the irregularity of off-trail skiing. While the MX98 can float in fresh snow, it’s not bobbing on the top as much as it is trenching through whatever lies ahead, regardless of depth or consistency. Its chassis may be built for carving, but its 98mm girth at the waist allows it to plane sideways – in test-card parlance, to drift – over the most manky crud with a calm that would make the Buddha proud.

When pointed downhill, the MX98 gets the message to giddy-up, hewing close to the fall line. Finishing a short-radius turn on edge isn’t going to happen, but the MX98 can switch from a carve to a drift, and visa versa, in the blink of an eye, so it can always swivel across the hill to brake or change route.

Few conditions are as intimidating as bone-flat light, where all terrain features disappear in a miasma of misty grey. Not that this is anyone’s idea of Nirvana, but it happens, and when it does it would be good to be on the MX98. It exudes confidence, a blessing when the pilot has little of his own. Like the Bonafide 97 and the Mantra M6, the MX98 doesn’t care where you aim it. Its tendency is to stay pinned to the planet, rolling over whatever is presented in its path. While one wouldn’t call it agile, neither is it nervous or indecisive. Whether flat or on edge, it’s a ski you can trust, which is of paramount importance when you can’t see squat.

FX96 Ti

Kastle fans everywhere can rejoice now that the latest FX series has been restored to something like its original self, with twin Titanal laminates around a poplar, beech and Paulownia core. Compared to the last FX flagship, the new FX96 Ti is a slightly heavier ski, but the added stability in all conditions has doubled its performance ceiling, well worth the roughly 50 extra grams.

With the FX96 Ti returned to something closer to its original self, its performance ceiling has doubled, leaving little doubt that, within the new FX family, the FX96 Ti is the star product. Not surprisingly, it’s quicker on and off the edge than the plumper FX106 Ti, but what is eyebrow-raising is it feels more tenacious on edge and responsive off it than its narrower sibling, the FX86 Ti. A peek at its test results confirms its off-piste predilections, as its score for Drift out-points its edging accuracy in every phase of the turn.

An aggressive expert may tear directly downhill on the FX96 Ti to test its limits, but it doesn’t need to be driven in overdrive to be appreciated. It performs perfectly predictably at medium speeds when fed a steady diet of medium-radius turns. Because its lower camber line makes it easier to bow and its well-rockered baseline is simplicity to steer, we confer upon the new FX96 Ti a Silver Skier Selection.