REVIEWS AND TESTS
Next Year's Gear - 1st Runs...
Speed Dating 19 Skis From Small Companies At Stratton Industry Demo Days 2018-2019
While most on-snow industry demo day events for retailers are generally populated by the big-10 brands (Head, Kastle, K2, Elan, Dynastar, Fischer, Rossignol, Line...etc.), trying to get retailers to commit to ordering their products for the next season, several smaller (sometimes downright tiny brands) invest in buying tent space, tents, hotel rooms, meals and putting staff and product in front of retailers in hopes they can get some penetration into the brick-and-mortar stores around the country. Some only sell into retail stores, while others pursue a hybrid model of direct-to-consumer over the Internet as well as brick-and-mortar retail models. Every season, there are some brave newcomer ski companies to the retailer demo day events, as well as some regulars who show up each year.
Here is a quick sampling of first-impressions of some skis found at the Stratton event in February, 2018. These are not really "reviews" , but notes taken during the "speed dating" sessions of taking 2 or 3 runs on each ski, then moving on to another pair...rinse and repeat...for 3 days straight. Someone has to do it.... ;-)
Day 1 = groomed, dry, packed powder and excellent hardpack carving surfaces in some places. Excellent visibility and conditions.
Day 2 = 12 inches of fresh fluff overnight continuing during the day...low visibility, awesome pow day.
Day 3 = "Day after the storm" conditions with powder, cut-up powder, groomed and ungroomed areas. Excellent visibility and conditions. No hardpack.
This carbon-infused narrow carver from DPS is super fun, sporty, quick and zippy for the groomer-only crowd. Surprisingly stable for its width and length. Can produce multiple turn shapes and radii easily. Great carving instruction ski since it has a high degree of accuracy and response when delivering carved turn on packed surfaces, but does not require race-ski levels of attention.
Very light feel underfoot, yet has a surgical grip on the snow with good vibration dampening. Auto-completes its turns once you initiate it and press the midbody of the ski into the snow. Not a race ski, but a technical carver for those who don't want a race-carver mass and resistance underfoot. Can become a bit shaken at high speeds on boilerplate. Totally fun on squeeky tight manmade surfaces.
Everyone should have one of these in their quiver to remind them how much fun groomers can be when there is no fresh snow to be had anywhere. Instructors teaching people to carve will find this tool extremely useful to demonstrate carving progression at speeds students can follow carefully on the hill. Nice work and completely confounding for hard-core DPS fans who don't understand DPS's venture into carving geometries when the Wailer & Lotus models are so addicting.
I'm lumping these together since they are so similar, but have a distinct difference in only a few behaviors. These are technical carvers with composure under pressure and speeds their Foundation siblings lack. (We've been testing the Cassiar F82 and F87 in Vermont the last month or so and will have full reviews soon...stay tuned). The Alchemist layup for 2018-2019 really achieves DPS's quest to quiet their carbon-infused ski behavior and underfoot feel down to levels acceptable by the masses. Pure 3 was a pretty good advancement over their original carbon pre-peg construction, but still "tinny", "abrupt", "too-much-feedback" or "too high-energy" for some people. The newest Alchemist construction really shuts down all the characteristics any nay-sayers found objectionable or uncomfortable, yet delivers a chassis with great energy and ability to take lots of pressure with quiet composure to give a top-performance, carbon-enhanced response underfoot. The C87 and C82 in Alchemist layup are sold-feeling underfoot, with a quiet, almost vague feeling until you get them engaged, at which point they communicate an accurate, crisp feel on-edge telling you exactly what kind of surface your riding across, and can change radii at will into a variety of nicely shaped turns. Both models can take expert-level pressure really well without faltering and are not too picky about surface conditions, as long as you keep them out of deeper snow, where their width is a drawback.
I found the C87 more versatile than the C82 because the C82 had some tight turn shapes it likes...but really wants to stay inside its SL-like behavior envelope more than running at cruising-speeds, while the C87 liked pretty much everything from tight turns to cruising at various speeds. Both skis have a highly accurate feel to them to keep technical skiers happy, and perform really well, but not in a really exciting way like DPS's previous Hybrid Cassiar 85 did for us. These are great packed-surface technical carvers when built with the Alchemist layup, but somewhat disappointing in the Foundation construction. For the price jump of $799 to $1,299, I would ignore the Foundations and invest in the Alchemists...no hesitation. You have to try the C82 and C87 for yourself to see if you like their personalities. I personally liked the Alchemists a whole lot, but was disenchanted with the Foundations.
DPS's Wailer 106 in Alchemist construction is a rippingly good all-terrain tool that can surf with totally acceptable civility through soft and mixed conditions, yet trench arcs into firmer and inconsistent surfaces with solid authority under intense pressures without ever yielding. Tons of skiers are swearing by the the Wailer 106 as a true all-mountain ski with professional prowess, and in the Alchemist carbon construction, I agree. I found I could ski it fairly lazily and never experience any protest underfoot, yet it begged to be driven into high-edge-angle situations under as much pressure as I could deliver at higher speeds while remainging quiet and confident.
The highly responsive Alchemist construction delivered an energetic and active ski in mixed conditions, but never darty or deflective. You can hold a solid line through pretty much any crappy snow at will with the Wailer 106 Alchemist. Zero deflection. More directional than surfy. There's lots of power and energy on tap, and it's remarkably agile for a 106mm waisted ski. Hard snow grip is probably best-in-class ( even with the Renoun Citadel 106 coming next year...but a different feel). This is an addicting ski for athletic or technically-inclined all-mountain enthusiasts who like to actively drive a ski rather than passively ride it. Worth every penny. I love this ski every time I try it.
OK. This ski is a dangerously addicting drug you need to avoid if you can't afford the habit. The Stöckli SX should be one of the World's reference standards for its no-holds-barred, simply stunning ability to grip a hard surface and deliver an authoritative, unwaivering, super-solid, ultra-confident arc at intense pressures perfectly. Case closed. The damp, yet powerfully energetic body of this ski has a viciously silky grip on the surface and begs to be bent and released on-edge over and over again, increasing pressure each time until the skier cries uncle or ends up in the weeds...whichever comes first....or at the same time... I fell in love with this ski since it was fresh out of the wrapper, just mounted and released for the first time on snow under my feet at the demo event (well, I might have been the third person on it). Superbly intuitive turn initiation, feed-through and finish under varying pressure levels with elegant authority and confidence. It begs to be put on edge right away and feels unfamiliar when running flat. Tip it over and drive it, or tip it over and let your weight sink into the center of the ski, and it delivers an addicting ride no technical skier can resist. This is a ski that could make hard-core freeride-only purists wear a disguise and wait in line for the first chair for fresh corduroy days, then tell their friends they has a dentist appointment and couldn't make runs with them that morning. Don't get lazy on the Laser SX. Simply stunning.
This is a "more civilized" version of the SX with a 78mm waist instead of the 70mm waist found on the SX, along with a teeny-weeny bit of tip rocker. The radius is 15.9m instead of 15.4 and the ski utilizes a "turtle shell comfort" layup feature rather than "turtle shell racing" feature to modify how the Titanal layers interact during flexing. The result is a ski with incredibly intense grip and composure under pressure, with a slighly less-demanding personality, letting you start your turn with a little more delay before engagement and a little more forgiving hookup before you get to the slot-car-like grip underfoot.
Think of it as the high-end race-carver for the slightly less obsessed fanatic who needs something that won't punish lazy behavior so instantly. The SX is a marvel in smooth, fluid grip for frontside groomer addicts. Great feel and race-carver-like performance.
Sego skis is a small craft ski builder from Victor, Idaho trying to penetrate the retailers with their brand as an alternative to the big-10 ski companies typically found in retail shops. They also sell direct-to-consumer. The Cleaver 88 is their frontside carver with an unusual amount of rockered tip rise for a groomer-oriented ski, making it ski shorter than its measurements would indicate. It had a really decent grip when you wanted it, but had a defintely surfy personality rather than frontside-carver personality. The Cleaver 88 has a Titanal stringer, and was very playful, quick and eager, feeling like a more surfy, western 88m ski rather than a grippy, carve-oriented Eastern frontside ski. Damp and poppy and a bundle of fun...but definitely short-feeling...size up on this one. Build quality looked pretty good, graphics were kinda ho-hum minimalist.
The Sego Bighorn 106 is their "playful all-mountain ski" with a definite Western bias for soft snow rather than Eastern conditions. The hardpack grip lacked authority, and mixed conditions were a blast due to the surfy nature of this fairly well-rockered design. Like its Cleaver sibling, the Bighorn was damp and quiet, with a fun, surfy and playful personality in mixed conditions but came up short of most other 106mm waisted skis in gripping performance.
Meier is another small ski builder trying to penetrate brick-and-mortar retailers with its brand as well as sell direct-to-consumer via its website. The High Noon is their all-mountain offering just under 100mm underfoot having a surprisingly quick response and edge-to-edge transfer speed. It has a distinctive forebody float with pretty good grip underfoot and in the tail with good playful feel in a light chassis. Some skis in the Meier lineup can fell a bit dull, while others are responsive and lively. This one is lively and worth a demo if you can hook up with them at their many demo events.
Libtech's ultra-ecologically sensitive manufacturing facility is a big deal to Mervin's brand, and their unique "Magna-Traction" wavy edge feature has been a selling point for years. The new Wunderstick 96 is billed as all-mountain daily driver, but I found it lacked grip on hard surfaces, while feeling fun, loose and semi-surfy.
The geometry felt a bit odd in the way it didn't finish the turn as expected. The chassis itself was nicely damp and felt solid, but the lack of grip and odd turn finish behavior left me wondering what this ski was supposed to do really well.
This is one of the coolest looking skis with its machined metal inserts embedded into the sections of the layups, as well as tip and tail, and felt super light underfoot, but was unstable at speed. It almost felt like a touring ski was dressed up to go downhill in alpine mode, but didn't get the upgrades it needed to perform strongly.
Normally, I like the Icelantic feel with a damp and playful personality, but the Sabre series disappointed me compared to other skis of similar widths at the event.
Dan Chalfant is the driving force behind Liberty's designs, and for 2018-2019, Liberty is launching an entirely new line of frontside-oriented technical carvers called the "V Series" in 76, 82 and 92mm widths underfoot. These essentially replace the old "Variant" series of freeride skis infused with carving abilities. I tried them all and was stunned at what Liberty (most often thought of as the creator of the popular, surfy Helix and Origin series of skis) has delivered for hardpack skiers. Quite simply, I loved every model of the V Series carvers.
These are ripping frontside carvers capable of dead-serious race-carver turns on hard surfaces with confident, quiet and quick behaviors. Liberty is resurrecting a construction technique previously found in DPS's carvers where vertical ribs of metal are embedded into the bamboo-poplar core. Bottom line: if you like carving on packed surfaces, demo these new Liberty skis. They feel damp and controlled without being heavy, while delivering an energetic response and agility and great turn shapes that auto-complete as you ride them through their arcs. They can be ridden casually, but crave to be driven into high-angle situations under pressure. These things are fun and take Liberty into a brand-new market. Their graphics are handsome and attractive with good rack-appeal for retailers. It's exciting when a ski company delivers a really capable ski into a category they previously omitted from their lineup. Great stuff.
Liberty dropped the Orgin 116 for the narrower, and spunkier Origin 112 design introduced with a modified carbon infusion in the layup and all-new geometry. The result is a stout, sporty-feeling 112mm waisted ski with lots of rebound energy and a higher degree of feedback underfoot than previous Liberty models. The Origin 112 has a good degree of grip along its edge once it's rolled up and pressured into the surface, and maintains a surfy forebody with more directional feel in the midbody and tail than the previous Origin 116. The new Origin 112 is not a subtle ski and appears aimed directly at an athletic, faster skier type than the 116 was.
The new 112 has very good power handling ability and is quick on its feet, yielding a somewhat "active" feel at higher speeds, yet fairly damp when under pressure. Definitely get a ride on the 112 and see what you think of Liberty's new personality. The Origin 112 is a hopped-up version of the niche the 116 previously occupied.
OK, the $499 MSRP is not a typo. The guys at the Liberty demo tent said..."yeah...you REALLY need to try THIS..." This could be the bargain of the season for people looking for a directional, GS-like all-mountain jib or comp ski that loves to ride big turns at high speeds as smooth as glass. I was blown away at the secure and confident high speed turns the Helix 98 can deliver. It feels rock-solid and fully-engaged when pressed into an arc, and can handle tons of pressure with silky response and authority...something I did not expect from Liberty's Helix lineup. It almost feels like a traditionally-shaped ski, but its bamboo-poplar core, slight tip rocker and long camber section underfoot gives it a modern feel without the burden of a fully-cambered carving design. This ski rips at speed and doesn't care about crud or junky conditions..it just holds its line like its being pulled on a string. Tight conditions reveal this ski is stout underfoot and is not a flexible flyer, so a strong pilot will get the best results in bumpy or tight terrain. At $499, you'd be crazy to not try it as an all-mountain ripper. "Wow" was the only word I had to describe it to the Reps at the Liberty tent....they all just shook their heads in agreement when I came back with my mouth hanging open.
Black Crows is taking the World by storm with a killer social media campaign, catchy, addictive graphics, hot-shot athletes and brand ambassadors all focused on a wide variety of models that seem to hit the mark for each category they represent. The 2018-19 Corvus model is billed as their 107mm big mountain crusher with the addition of a new 3/4 length Titanal metal layer to bump up the stability and dampening of this popular ski. I found the Corvus to be super solid and quiet underfoot with a grip approaching that of the class-leading DPS Wailer 106 Alchemist, but with a slightly more surfy and loose feel to make it more nimble and less demanding in tight situations.
Great power handling ability under pressure and a feeling of engaging the entire ski on-edge when depressing it into a turn. A grippy and agile crud cutter. I can see why people love this ski. Plus, they print cool phrases into their sidewalls on each model.
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