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 Shape e-V10 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.

RC One 86 GT

The Fischer RC One 86 GT is to all intents and purposes a hard-snow carving specialist with a waist just plump enough to put it in the company of a bunch of all-terrain generalists. In an effort to blend in, the RC One 86 GT has a tiny splay of tip rocker, and a tail rocker so tiny it should be called a rockette.

This masquerade lasts only as long as it takes to get the ski on the snow, where there’s no disguising its tip-to-tail connection. A 175cm seems like plenty of ski even at the upper reaches of the recreational speed range, which its ultra-supportive edge invites one to inhabit. You can set it to reel off medium-radius turns with the unalterable precision of a metronome. “Solid and rhythmic,” enthused Jan’s Jack Walzer after taking the RC One 86 GT for a spin.

Mark Rafferty of Peter Glenn filed this report after skiing the 86 GT in spring conditions at Squaw Valley. “A fun, strong entry in Fischer’s carve-oriented family of skis. I could feel the strength of the ski’s construction as I angled it for fast, high-g turns. It held great in icy conditions early in the morning and sliced through slushy snow after conditions softened. Fast or slow, the ski kept me in control in a most invigorating fashion.”

One unabashedly contrarian trait of the RC One 86 GT is its weight. Its shaped Titanal laminates are .8mm thick, twice the norm in off-trail skis that use metal. This mass is a blessing on boilerplate, or wherever the RC One 86 GT has some room to maneuver. However, in tight trees or whenever you need to throw them around, they feel none too nimble.

Another tip-off that Fischer envisions the RC One 86 GT in frontside environs is that it’s the head of a mostly Frontside (75mm-84mm underfoot) product family. Furthermore, its construction is all about maintaining snow connection, a classic Frontside obsession. The tip and tail are outfitted with Bafatex®, a synthetic compound meant to muffle shock and keep every cm of the 86 GT’s cambered baseline plastered on the snow. Not to mention all that Titanal to further cow hard snow into silence.

evolv 90

Little Liberty out of Avon, Colorado distinguished itself from scores of other small-batch brands when it made two momentous decisions a few years ago, one commercial, one technical.  On the brand-building front, it opted to establish a viable network of specialty shops, despite all the hassle and expense compared to selling direct to the consumer. On the technical, ski-building side of the business, it created a new design that used vertical aluminum struts, in lieu of horizontal sheets of Titanal, to dampen vibration and maintain snow connection.

Vertical Metal Technology was first applied in a dual-strut format to a 3-model V Series for the 18/19 season. For a brand that had built a following for its lightweight, bamboo and carbon cores in fat, freeride dimensions, the slender V skis with their hard-snow, fall-line orientation were a considerable departure.

Leaping forward to this year, VMT is still an important part of the Liberty line, which is more than can be said for the V Series. While the pioneer VMT series had several admirable qualities, the market never embraced Liberty as a carving ski provider. So, the savvy lads who run Liberty applied a 3-strut VMT to the already established all-mountain series, evolv. The evolv 90 sits in the middle of the 3-model evolv series (the other evolv models are the 84, 100 and 110) where it serves as the centerpiece, literally and figuratively, for the evolv family.

When you put the evolv 90 through its paces, its carving characteristics predominate.  In a category chock full of skis with disconnected tips, its VMT struts keep it glued to the hill for nearly every cm of its length. If you look closely at its shape, its sidecut is very similar to that of the Kästle MX88, another AME anachronism that would rather carve than drift.

Enforcer 88

The Nordica Enforcer 88 belongs on any list of the Ultimate 88’s. It looks like a shrunken Enforcer 100, but the truth is closer to the other way around: the current Enforcer 100 is based on the Energy 2 Ti construction of the Enforcer 88. Neither characterization is entirely accurate, as Nordica knew when it created the 88 that it would spend more of its life on groomers, so it tailored the Enforcer 88’s design accordingly. One could make a strong case that, when all factors, such as a skier’s skill, sex, preferred terrain and turn shape are considered, the Enforcer 88 is probably the most versatile Enforcer of them all.

For anyone who loves a short-radius carve or whose heart beats a little faster at the prospect of moguls, tight trees or the two in tandem, there’s no question the 88 is the pick of the Enforcer litter. Its oddly abrupt front rocker might make you suspicious it’ll be a floaty, disconnected smear stick. But it isn’t the 88’s Persian slipper shovel that controls its performance, whether on piste or off, but the pronounced camber zone that lies right behind it. Once you’re rolling on hard pack, you don’t notice the tip, but as soon as you’re off-trail, you’ll be glad you have it out in front, softening the blows delivered by choppy conditions.

One of the traits one expects an All-Mountain East model to exhibit is an agnostic approach to snow conditions and turn shape. In the sidecountry, you can’t insist on a single turn radius to get you down the hill.  Ideally, your ride will be able to switch from a carver to a drifter at any given moment.  The Enforcer 88 acts like it’s trained all its life for these circumstances. It’s never out of balance, which is about the highest praise an all-terrain ski can receive. 

Enforcer 94

The essential skill of Alpine skiing is balance. So it stands to reason that the primordial virtue of any ski is likewise balance, both in its blend of personality traits and its ability to impart the sensation of balance to its pilot. I mention these maxims because if there’s a single trait that encapsulates the brilliance of the Nordica Enforcer 94, it’s balance.

The key to balance lies in the ski’s flex pattern, or how it distributes force when pressured.  Even though the Enforcer 94 sports a high front rocker, it’s mercifully short, returning to a camber pocket that’s the source of its power. When loaded, all the skier notices is the tranquility emanating from the mid-section; the disconnected tip and tail never call attention to themselves.

I’m not sure if the Enforcer 94 can actually confer expert status on anyone who steps into a pair, but it sure won’t hold anyone back.  It’s able to maintain its balancing act in part because a lateral drift or trench-cutting carve is immediately accessible at all times.  I vividly recall riding up the steep banks of Gremlin’s Gulch at Mammoth, playing with edge angle to elicit exactly the degree of engagement I wanted.  Every movement felt intuitive, unforced and integrated with the flow of the mountain.

A balanced terrain diet is the calling card of the entire AME genre, so naturally the Enforcer 94 can segue from frontside groomers to backside bowls without missing a beat. The camber in its baseline continues to exert control, while the sharply rockered tip and tail shorten its effective length so it’s easier to swivel on command. Of course, it lacks the buoyancy of a true Powder ski (there’s an Enforcer 110 Free for that), but its springy flex is perfect for porpoising through a foot of fresh.  

It’s hard to pigeonhole the Enforcer 94 as a specialist at any one thing, for it has the chameleonesque ability to be whatever its pilot wants it to be. The key to its mutability is how mindlessly simple it is to transition from a crisp edge to a friction-free drift. This facility is what makes the Enforcer 94 masterful in any terrain, from brittle hardpack to fluffy powder and every crud-junk-chowder consistency in between.