Any time a brand introduces a fundamentally new technology, it takes a couple of years to learn how to optimize it. After Völkl engineers had a few seasons to tinker with Titanal Frame, testing countless iterations, they found a way not only to perfect the benefits of Titanal Frame, but to magnify its virtues with a couple of complementary components. The marriage of Tailored Titanal Frame with 3D Radius Sidecut and Tailored Carbon Tips created a new benchmark for the genre, that will, in all probability, soon be recognized as one of the greatest all-terrain skis of all time.
The key to Titanal Frame is breaking what is normally a uniform topsheet of metal into three sections. The fore and aft sections of Titanal are shaped like an elongated “U”, with metal concentrated around the perimeter. The alu alloy here is .7mm thick, much thicker than usual, which accentuates the tip and tail’s connection to the snow, somewhat counterintuitive for an all-terrain ski.
The center section, which doesn’t mesh with the tip and tail pieces, is .3mm thick, a brilliant touch as it makes the center of the ski more flexible without losing its damping qualities in the critical underfoot area. This feature matches up perfectly with 3D Radius Sidecut, which we’ll get to in a moment.
New for 2021/22 was Tailored Titanal Frame, that trimmed the width of the front section of Titanal to fit each size. This has the direct effect of making longer lengths noticeably beefier than their shorter kinder. If you’re used to skiing a 184cm, you might consider dropping to a 177cm to maximize the M6’s versatility.
Not content with all the forebody stability delivered by Titanal Frame, Völkl added a delicate braid of carbon fiber to the shovel, part of the ski most other all-terrain models leave floating inertly in space. Völkl made 100’s of iterations of Tailored Carbon Tips, searching for just the right response. The patch of fleece containing the carbon matrix has to be hand-laid into the mold, a level of artisanship that many skiers assume is the exclusive province of luxury brands.
Despite all these embellishments, the $749.99 MSRP for the 2023 M6 Mantra is less than it was two years ago for the M5 Mantra ($825). During a Zoom call prior to the M6 launch, I asked product manager Andreas Mann how it was possible, in an age when many brands strive to cut costs, Volkl ownership allowed R&D to increase their costs, to make a better, rather than a cheaper ski. His reply was the design team had the full confidence and support of upper management. This is what happens when product comes first.
With its ultra-secure snow connection, the M6 behaves like an obese Technical carver, with an on-trail bias despite its off-trail girth. Yet the M6 is only as carve-obsessed as its pilot is: it can drift into a turn as readily as any ski its width and its extremities are modestly rockered. The Mantra M6 fears nothing; it’s the crud that should be afraid of it.
Don’t let the model name fool you: Völkl still calls this ski the Mantra 102, but the addition of Tailored Titanal Frame, Tailored Carbon Tips and a tweaked sidecut has totally transformed its personality. Last year’s Mantra 102 was a barely tamed beast, subduing all in its path; the new incarnation is a pussycat that readily bends to its pilot’s will. Among 2023’s new models, only K2’s revamp of its Mindbenders made as big an improvement in Finesse properties as the Mantra 102. It behaves like a different ski.
One measure of a ski’s steering facility is the skier’s perception of width. In its first incarnation, the Mantra 102 was notable for feeling wider than it measured; the 2023 version “skis narrower than indicated, making it very easy to turn,” according to veteran tester Theron Lee.
The combined effect of its triad of new features is what makes the Mantra 102 suddenly so tractable. Like every Big Mountain ski in Christendom, the Mantra 102 is double rockered, but it feels like it has tip-to-tail contact, in part because Tailored Carbon Tips keep the entire rocker zone quiet. Tailored Titanal Frame keeps the mass in the forebody proportional to the ski’s length, facilitating earlier turn entry. The slightly wider tip encourages more pull into the turn, opening up the short-radius spectrum, while the skinny tail helps the skier stay close to the fall line, making crud and powder a hell of a lot easier to plunder.
A big contributor to the Mantra 102’s outstanding performance on any snow surface is its first-in-class rebound coming out of the turn. Part of the magic of the Titanal Frame design is the freedom its three-piece top sheet has to flex and compress a full-length glass layer that reacts to this pressure like a coiled spring. Now that the Titanal Frame is tailored by size, the whole ski is more responsive. The Mantra 102 naturally rises as it uncoils during the turn transition, so it’s unweighted while crossing the fall line.
Lighter skiers might prefer the floaty, smeary variety of Big Mountain models, but big boys need some beef under them. If you’d had difficulty finding a Big Mountain ski that’s able to support your mass and your mojo, your search has ended. I’m sure that someone whose nickname is Mongo or Moose will use the Mantra 102 as his everyday ski, but its glory is a wide-open crud field where it can cut loose like an extra-large GS race ski with anger issues.
From a product standpoint, Völkl has very few problems. The avatars of its latest technologies – the Mantra M6, Kendo 88, Mantra 102 and Deacon 84 – sit atop their respective genres, a stunning display of dominance. When one is so accustomed to winning, one wants to win at everything, and there was one arena where Völkl hadn’t made much headway: skis sold at lower price points. It was partly to appeal to the greater swath of the market who shun the pinnacle of the price pyramid that two years ago Völkl launched the Blaze series. At a $599 street price, the Blaze 106 hoped to attract the economy-minded in the market for a lightweight, off-trail ski. To hit the lower price point, it reduced its use of Titanal down to a mounting plate and lightened up the core considerably: a 186cm Blaze 106 weighs in at a mere 1772g, compared to 2330g for a 184cm Katana 108.
While the lower price no doubt made the Blaze 106 more attractive, it was its super-light chassis that made it an overnight star. The demand for skis that would work both in-resort and in the backcountry has created a new sub-category into which the Blaze 106 fits neatly. The Blaze 106 waltzed into what was, until recently, a niche market, hoping for a warm reception, and instead encountered a firestorm of demand for its new hybrid.
Meghan Ochs is power personified; you’d expect her to fold the Blaze 106 (which also comes in an identical women’s version) like it was made of meringue. Instead, she was stunned by its capabilities, calling it “one of my favorite skis I’ve ever skied at this width. Shocking!”
A Finesse ski that leaves real experts impressed with its Power attributes, the Blaze 106 punches well above its price point. Sure, it skis best when it has a little snow to push against, but that’s true of a great many Big Mountain models. The metal in the mid-section does a stunning job of quieting most of the ski, remarkable in a ski light enough to take to the backcountry.
Völkl takes product development very, very seriously, testing nearly 1,000 different skis a year, in every length it will manufacture. It uses a team of both in-house product designers and a dozen or so “externals” – top instructors and racers – to evaluate every design aspect. Their task is made trickier in that key design elements like Tailored Titanal Frame, 3D Sidecut, Tailored Carbon Tips and the Secret 96’s double-rockered baseline, all need to blend together for the magic to happen.
I mention this because the Secret 96 is essentially the same ski as the M6 Mantra, which sounds like a short-cut way to gin up a women’s ski. Far from it. One of the essential design goals of both new skis was to precisely tailor all aspects for all sizes, a process particularly beneficial for the largest and smallest sizes. Every decision was challenged in service to the main goals: more liveliness when pressured; accessible, tighter turn shapes; and smoother behavior in the turn transition, the “drift-to-carve” moment. The intent was to open up both the M6 Mantra the Secret 96 to more skiers, especially in the shorter lengths, i.e., those made for women.
The Völkl Secret 102 does not condescend. If you want to tear through crud as if it were rice paper, this is your ride. The Secret 102 has all the goodies: Titanal Frame coupled with 3D Radius Sidecut creates a ride that secretes power. Listen to the testimony of former US speed-event racer Edie Thys Morgan, a lady who has spent a lot of her skiing life in the upper end of the speedometer.
“The Secret102 may look like a fatty—and it’s definitely got the girth to plow through the powder of your dreams and its skied-out aftermath—but it’s no one trick pony. The ski gets happier as you dial up the intensity, which is also to say, it performs best when you’re the boss.
“For best results, you need to stay centered and be prepared to move forward and drive. This ski loves momentum. If you want to be able to maneuver through the woods and chutes with frolicky ease and then run it out and hit the groomers with some heat, this is your ski.