Ski Test // November 24, 2016 // By


Big Mountain Test 2017

UNTRACKED AND UNRESTRAINED

Where All-Mountain skis skid to a stop—right around the edge of the cliff—Big Mountain takes over. These are the skis the pros ride when they’re slashing Alaskan faces or winning extreme-skiing competitions. If you aspire to the same, this is the category to get you there, with skis that offer plenty of width for the deepest days, stiffness for speed and landing big air, versatility in turn shape (tight trees or wide-open bowls) and enough edge grip to never leave you wanting. These are all-mountain skis on steroids.

by RYAN STUART  photos: SAM EGAN

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HOW TO USE THIS GUIDE

There’s no one ski that’s perfect for every skier. There’s not even one perfect ski in any one category. That’s why Ski Canada doesn’t bestow awards and declare “winners.” Instead, we break our ski reviews into categories and then for each ski, highlight what kind of skier each ski will appeal to best. To help you match yourself to those two variables, read the descriptions of the different ski categories: What kind of ski do you need? Check out our graphic: What kind of skier are YOU?

Next, check out the profiles of our Test Team and match yourself to ones most like you. Their favourite skis in each category are listed under their bios. Once you’ve done all that, also try out our app and online tool SkiFinder at skifinder.com to rank test skis based on your personal skiing characteristics. All test skis are scored using the following criteria: Edge Grip, Stability, Agility and Versatility. Read more: skicanadamag.com/test.

Take your best matches and head to your favourite ski shop. Since every ski has a unique feel and personality, try to demo the models you’re most interested in. Ultimately, it’s the best way to know which one is right for you

FIND SKIS using Ski Canada’s interactive ski test tool – SkiFinder. Also available as a free app from the iStore for iPhone & Google Play for Android.

* Length tested at Marmot Basin

ATOMIC BACKLAND FR 109 * men

$649

BEST FOR: Your first powder stick

SKIER TYPE: Intermediate-advanced; medium weight; versatile turns; finesse and cruise

LENGTHS:  175, 182*, 189  *  SIDECUT:   134/109/124  *  RADIUS:     18.5@182

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 6.8/10

The decathlete of the Big Mountain skis, the Backland FR 109 had our Ski Canada testers unanimously praising it for its versatility. “It’s lively and fun with strong edge grip,” wrote Peter Eaton. He was especially impressed with its agility in tight spaces: “So quick-turning you always have a bail-out option.” Chris Senecal was more metaphorical in his comments: “This ski floats like a butterfly and stings like a mutant bee.” Everyone also agreed that it was more a cruiser than a hard-charger, with a couple of testers suggesting it would be a great gateway ski to powder and backside terrain.

ATOMIC BACKLAND FR 109 W  *  women

$649

BEST FOR: A freeride angel’s spiritual twin

SKIER TYPE: Expert; medium-heavy weight; long turns; power

LENGTHS:  159, 167, 175*  *  SIDECUT:   133/109/123  *  RADIUS:     17.5@175

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 6.8/10

The Backland FR 109 W was at its best off-piste in soft snow going fast. “Turn up the speed and this ski comes alive. Responsive, explosive energy with a smooth, stable ride. Gobbles up the powder and crud with ease,” commented Wendy Anderson. Martina Osman wrote: “A powerful ski that likes to charge and be in charge if you let it. Best suited for a strong, aggressive big-mountain skier.” Testers were unanimous in praising its surfy feel and love of soft snow and long-radius arcs. Anderson summed it up best: “A big-mountain ripper that likes big lines and hucking big cliffs; it’s not for the faint-hearted.”

BLIZZARD BONAFIDE  *  men

$849

BEST FOR: Playful turns

SKIER TYPE: Expert; medium-heavy weight; long turns; power

LENGTHS:  166, 173, 180*, 187  *  SIDECUT:   133/98/118  *  RADIUS:     21@180

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 7.1/10

Skid. Carve. Smear. However testers turned the Bonafide, it felt stable and responsive. It plowed through soft and tracked-up snow, danced through the bumps and edged like a much narrower ski on the hardpack. But you have to “stay on top of this ski,” noted Peter Eaton. A firm tail punished backseat drivers and lighter bodies. “I needed to work to get the ski around in the trees,” said 130-pound Sean Kerrigan.  For bigger, more powerful skiers it was love after one run. “The type of ski you want to bring home to meet the parents,” wrote Ryan Petersen. “It will always be there to look after you.”

BLIZZARD SAMBA  *  women

$799

BEST FOR: Tree skiing

SKIER TYPE: Advanced; light-medium weight; versatile turns; finesse

LENGTHS:  152, 159, 166*, 173  *  SIDECUT:   131/98/116  *  RADIUS:     19@166

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 6.9/10

Testers sang their praise for the Samba, liking how it danced through tight trees and bumps with nimble agility. “Talk about responsive and playful,” raved Heather Robilliard. “This ski is the one for pounding through tight trees. Light and agile, yet stable at speed.” Most credited a soft tip that made turn initiation easy, but many testers also noted its edge hold and stiff tail that helped in variable conditions, even on the packed run back to the lift. “Fun, versatile and holds an edge when you crank it over on the groomers,” said Ally Wagorn. “It has lots of pop, so you need to be awake.”

FISCHER RANGER 98 Ti  *  men

$849

BEST FOR: Tight trees and narrow chutes

SKIER TYPE: Advanced-expert; light-medium weight; versatile turns; finesse

LENGTHS:  172, 180*, 188  *  SIDECUT:   132/98/122  *  RADIUS:     18@180

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 7.9/10

Scoring high across the board, the Ranger 98 Ti was one of the favourites in this category for lighter, more finesse-type skiers. Light and responsive, the Ranger hooked up for a strong, stable ride as soon as it was put on edge, no matter the turn shape. “Powerful, yet floaty. Very nimble and stable underfoot,” noted Chris Senecal. Peter Eaton liked the “exhilarating energy meshed with terrain-munching stability. Such a confidence-inspiring ski that you can amp up the speed but feel 100 per cent comfortable.” Mike Dempsey added: “If you need a light ski that can turn on a dime, this is it.”

FISCHER RANGER W 98  *  women

$849

BEST FOR: A domineering hard charger

SKIER TYPE: Advanced-expert; medium-heavy weight; versatile turns; power

LENGTHS:  156, 164, 172*  *  SIDECUT:   130/96/120  *  RADIUS:     17@172

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 7.3/10

“A true big-mountain, big-powder ski. Great stability in fast, fall-line turns. Silky smooth in powder and stable in the steeps,” commented Wendy Anderson. Katie Joyce also noticed its all-mountain chops: “The ski zips in and out of the trees, cruises through the soft snow and can even lay it over on the groomers. Fun and versatile.” But all those kind words only apply if you ski aggressively—all the time. Added Anderson, “It kicks like a mule if you get caught in the back, so you really need to be charging forward.” For those who do, Martina Osman called it “a first-class, all-mountain performer.”

HEAD COLLECTIVE 105  *  men

$599

BEST FOR: Big turns in big snow

SKIER TYPE: Expert; medium-heavy weight; long turns; power

LENGTHS:  171, 181*, 191  *  SIDECUT:   146/105/128  *  RADIUS:     17.5@181

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 6.8/10

The variety on our test run down Marmot Basin’s Eagle East showed off both pros and cons of the Collective 105. In the open areas, where the fresh had blown in deeper, ample waist width and a big-turn aptitude had testers hooting. In tight trees and on the groomed, some testers grumbled. “This ski wants open bowls and lots of room to let go, and a good driver to tip it up on edge,” reported Wil Comrie. Added Chris Candow: “This ski has to be skied fast in medium turns to get the full benefit.” A good choice as a dedicated powder ski at Western resorts with above-treeline skiing.

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HEAD BIG JOY  * women

$679

BEST FOR: Leaving the boys in
your contrail

SKIER TYPE: Expert; heavy weight; medium-long turns; power

LENGTHS:  158, 168*, 178  *  SIDECUT:   149/110/132  *  RADIUS:     14.8@168

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 7.6/10

Things are not always what they seem. On first impression the women all thought this big-waisted, heavy ski would be a one-trick wonder that could rip big powder turns effortlessly, cruise through crud and provide a solid platform at speed. It did. But it also surprised them with agility and playfulness in the trees, and decent edge grip on the groomers too. Barb Kupferschmidt, a more powerful skier, found that it “plowed through anything and likes to go fast. It also holds its own in the bumps.” Lighter, finesse skiers, like Sandra Haziza, need to bring some game: “What a powerhouse! You need some skills but it’s worth the effort.”

ICELANTIC NOMAD 105   *  men

$799

BEST FOR: High speed served on soft snow

SKIER TYPE: Advanced-expert; medium weight; long turns; power

LENGTHS:  161, 171, 181*, 191  *  SIDECUT:   140/105/130  *  RADIUS:     19@181

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 6.4/10

Like driving a sports car, the Nomad 105 was only happy going fast. “Fly through the powder at Mach 1 and this ski made it effortless. Hit the variable snow and it continued to perform,” said Sean Kerrigan. But in the playground zone, it became a bit unruly. “It’s stable doing large-radius arcs, but not much fun in the bumps,” wrote George Andrew. A sentiment echoed by Mike Dempsey: “Short turns were an effort. First tracks on a big open slope—now this ski would be fun!” Testers found it ready to stomp any air and stable in all soft-snow conditions, especially in wide-open terrain above treeline.

ICELANTIC MAIDEN 101  * women

$799

BEST FOR: Those who want it all

SKIER TYPE: Intermediate-advanced; light-heavy weight; versatile turns; finesse-power

LENGTHS:  155, 162, 169*  *  SIDECUT:   136/101/126  *  RADIUS:     16@169

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 7.0/10

Testers were all over the map when it came to what type of skier would like this ski. Some said light weight, others heavy. Some thought technical skiers, others straight-line specialists. Consider the yin and yang of Gillian Browning: “Light, agile, definitely a good choice for a smaller finesse skier”; and Heather Robilliard: “This ski is suited to a heavier skier who doesn’t turn much. It’s stable but not very playful or agile.” What could they agree on? That it floated well in powder, had enough edge grip to carve on groomers, and was equally adept at short and long turns.

K2 MARKSMAN  *  men

$649

BEST FOR: Smearing turns

SKIER TYPE: Advanced; light-heavy weight; versatile turns; cruise

LENGTHS:  170, 177, 184*  *  SIDECUT:   130/106/125  *  RADIUS:     20@184

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 6.9/10

By grinding off a bit of the tip and tail on this ski, K2 created an asymmetric design (dedicated left and right ski) that testers loved for its playful feel and easy turning. “Silky smooth transitions from turn-to-turn; almost predicts your every move,” wrote Paul Cunnius. It excelled in soft snow and tighter quarters, but remained stable at high speeds. Several testers noted it preferred to smear and slip turns rather than dig in and carve. “Skiers who want to get more energy and direction in the turn may not enjoy it,” said Jeremy Badcock, but recommends “pretending you’re in a ski movie and smear big turns at high speed.”

K2 FulLUVit 95  * women

$749

BEST FOR: A-types who charge

SKIER TYPE: Advanced-expert; medium-heavy weight; long turns; power

LENGTHS:  156, 163, 170*, 177  *  SIDECUT:   132/95/115  *  RADIUS:     14@170

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 7.8/10

Another big-mountain missile, the FulLUVit lit up our testers’ faces when they let it find the fastest line through open trees. It wanted to ski big and fast, and behaved itself when they reined it in. Responsive and fun were common comments. “Energetic, responsive, perfect width underfoot, solid on soft bumps. Super fun. I can’t wait to ski it again,” wrote Kathleen Buffel. Several testers noted that it punished poor form and sloppy skiing, but stay balanced and in the driver’s seat and it will be a “perfect playmate,” noted Sandra Haziza: “It can handle anything you throw at it. Floated in powder. Supple in the bumps. Pure pleasure.”

KÄSTLE BMX105 HP  *  men

$1,249

BEST FOR: Pedal-to-the-metal all over the mountain

SKIER TYPE: Expert; heavy weight; versatile turns; power

LENGTHS:  173, 181*, 189  *  SIDECUT:   134/105/123  *  RADIUS:     21@181

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 7.2/10

Just as the big shocks of a mountain bike seem to flatten out steep, rough trails, so too did the power and dampness of the BMX105 HP. Our test team unanimously praised its smooth and powerful ride. “I charged down steep pitches full of bumps and it felt like nothing was there. It made variable crud feel like a groomer. Absolutely awesome!” raved Ryan Petersen. Jeremy Badcock noted that it liked higher speeds and demanded constant attention: “This ski gives you the confidence to give’r. Stay on top of it to get the most out of the ski. Definitely for a powerful skier with good technique.”

LINE SUPERNATURAL 108  *  men

$750

BEST FOR: Powder stick for park riders

SKIER TYPE: Advanced; light-medium weight; versatile turns; cruise

LENGTHS:  172, 179, 186*  *  SIDECUT:   137/108/126  *  RADIUS:     22.3@179

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 6.9/10

Our testers discovered that this twintip skied like a big-mountain version of a park ski, turning the whole mountain into a playground. “I was jibbing and hucking off everything at big-mountain speeds,” commented Jeremy Badcock. It scored high for easy turn initiation, and swung from short, snappy turns through the bumps to more wide-open GS carves with ease. Paul Cunnius felt it was more at home in soft snow and slower speeds: “It’s fun and lively in the loose snow. A comfortable, cruisy ride.” While others, like Sean Kerrigan, found it stable no matter what: “Best for a new-school freerider who likes to huck and straightline chutes, trees and bowls.”

LINE PANDORA 95  *  women

$700

BEST FOR: Your first big-mountain ski

SKIER TYPE: Intermediate-advanced; light-medium weight; versatile turns; cruise and finesse

LENGTHS:  152, 162*, 172  *  SIDECUT:   130/95/115  *  RADIUS:     13.8@162

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 7.5/10

After testing 10 skis, you know it’s a great ski when the last one is your favourite. That was the case for Heather Robilliard with the Pandora: “What a ski to finish the morning on. Lightweight and extremely playful in the off-piste. Held its own in the category. Quick turning and lightning fast through trees.” A few of the taller, heavier ladies found the ski a little short, but most were enchanted by this light, nimble pocket rocket. “A fun, lively ski that’s best in shorter, quicker turns off-piste, but with enough stiffness to hold on groomers and be supportive in steeps,” wrote Wendy Anderson.

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MEIER BIG HOSS  *  men

$949

BEST FOR: A variety of styles in soft snow

SKIER TYPE: Expert; medium-heavy weight; long turns; power

LENGTHS:  175, 180, 185*, 191  *  SIDECUT:   144/104/133  *  RADIUS:     17@185

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 7.1/10

You would expect a ski named Big Hoss to be a hard-charging beast. To some of the testers it was, but there was no consensus. Some thought it required a strong, powerful skier, but Mike Dempsey was part of the other camp who felt it was a finesse ski: “A playful ski that helps you make short turns in the powder and moguls. A lighter skier who has rhythm will start whistling as the run progresses.” A few found it gripped groomers well enough to be an all-mountain ski, and most thought it handled soft snow best. Despite the divergence, the Big Hoss was universally liked.

MEIER MADAM  *  women

$799

BEST FOR: Powder sticks for powerful women

SKIER TYPE: Advanced-expert; heavy weight; long turns; power

LENGTHS:  169*  *  SIDECUT:   148/119/130  *  RADIUS:     13@169

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 6.3/10

There was no debate about what this made-in-Colorado ski does well. The wide shovel and generous waist performed best in the untracked. It was the most powder-oriented ski in this category, with poor short-turn and firm-snow performance. Our finesse-type testers could feel its attributes, but found it sluggish. “This ski needs a power lady for blowing through the deep stuff,” wrote Britta Gretzmacher. While the more aggressive, like Katie Joyce, liked its energetic ride: “This is my kind of ski. Strong, poppy, easy to turn, consistent flex. You could sneak it through the tight trees and bumps, but also lay it down with confidence when it opens up.”

NORDICA ENFORCER  *  men

$799

BEST FOR: A big-mountain ski that can moonlight as an all-mountain ski

SKIER TYPE: Expert; medium-heavy weight; versatile turns; power

LENGTHS:  169, 177, 185*, 193  *  SIDECUT:   133/100/121  *  RADIUS:     18.5@185

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 7.6/10

The Enforcer was stable and smooth in all turn shapes and conditions, from short to long turns and hardpack to powder. “It’s really the Swiss Army knife of big-mountain skis,” stated Jordan Kozak. Many noted the ski’s easy turn initiation and agility, said best by Mike Dempsey: “Carving is what it likes to do. Tight moguls and trees were easily negotiated as the ski performed like an old friend.” Though one tester noted that the substantial tail rocker might miff more technical skiers, our testers weren’t among them. Kozak summed up the general sentiment well: “Take up snowboarding if you don’t like this as a big-mountain ski.”

NORDICA SANTA ANA  *  women

$749

BEST FOR: Lighter skiers looking to improve

SKIER TYPE: Intermediate-advanced; light-medium weight; versatile turns; finesse

LENGTHS:  153, 161, 169*, 177  *  SIDECUT:   131/100/119  *  RADIUS:     15.5@169

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 7.7/10

Ski Canada’s female testers found the Santa Ana could do it all with ease. “A solid platform to fly around the mountain on. This ski is simple and easy, but strong and happy. A go-anywhere, do-everything ski,” said Katie Joyce. With a big sweet spot and easy initiation, this is a great ski for a lighter skier or an intermediate looking to push into powder and backside terrain, but it also has enough verve for pointing down the fall line and arcing power turns. In other words, it’s a partner to grow old with. “I loved this ski so much!” raved Ally Wagorn. “It was fast, agile and powerful.”

SALOMON QST 99  *  men

$599

BEST FOR: Jack of all turns and snow conditions

SKIER TYPE: Expert; medium weight; versatile turns; power

LENGTHS:  167, 174, 181*, 188  *  SIDECUT:   138/99/120  *  RADIUS:     19.4@181

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 7.1/10

There was nothing subtle about this ski. With lots of damp stiffness, thanks to a topsheet of carbon and flax, the QST 99 was praised for its bull-in-a-china-shop ways. “Imagine having tanks strapped to your feet. With this ski you can steamroll over everything,” noted Ryan Petersen. But it still entered a turn easily and was happy at various speeds and radii. “More of a crud-buster than a pow floater, with good agility in bumps and tight trees. Leans toward carving instead of skidding,” concluded Peter Eaton. Overall, this was a versatile ski that could handle a wide range of conditions.

SALOMON LUMEN 99  *  women

$599

BEST FOR: Hucking, big turns, tight trees, deep snow; classic big-mountain sticks

SKIER TYPE: Advanced-expert; heavy weight; long turns; power

LENGTHS:  159, 167*, 174  *  SIDECUT:   132/99/114  *  RADIUS:     18.8@167

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 6.4/10

Depending on whom you ask, this was either too much ski or just right. Gillian Browning was in the first camp: “Too much for me—but when I opened it up and went for big arcs, it rode like a Cadillac.” Kathleen Buffel found it just right, claiming it as her pick of the day: “Awesome. Super fun, energetic ski that’s responsive in demanding terrain.” Everyone agreed it would perform best under a heavier, more powerful driver, but 125-pound Sandra Haziza managed to make the Lumen light up: “Loved how playful this ski was in the glades. Quick turning and agile, it made the steeps easy and the bumps simple.”

VÖLKL 90EIGHT  *  men

$749

BEST FOR: A one-ski quiver

SKIER TYPE: Advanced-expert; light-heavy weight; versatile turns; finesse-power

LENGTHS:  163, 170, 177*, 184  *  SIDECUT:   133/98/116  *  RADIUS:     20.1@177

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 8.6/10

Rarely does a ski receive such unanimous, gushing praise. “Top marks in all performance characteristics. Great in all terrain. Lively and powerful,” commented Peter Eaton. Jeremy Badcock wanted another lap: “The mind boggles at how this ski can smear and grip on demand. No ski should have the right to be this good.” No matter the turn shape, terrain or conditions, this charmer was an instant classic. Several noted it even railed on groomers. The 90Eight was easy to turn, stable and agile, and Ryan Petersen would recommend it for anyone: “I would ski this or put my father on it.”

VÖLKL 90EIGHT W  *  women

$749

BEST FOR: A strong skier who likes big arcs

SKIER TYPE: Advanced; medium-heavy weight; versatile turns; power

LENGTHS:  156, 163*, 170  *  SIDECUT:   133/98/116  *  RADIUS:     15.9@163

OVERALL AVERAGE SCORE: 7.9/10

The dictionary defines spunky as courageous and determined, and that’s how the 90Eight W made our testers feel. “Frisky and predictable. It loved short turns in the powder and trees. Nimble and quick when you need it to be, yet stable and smooth in chopped-up snow,” wrote Heather Robilliard. A stronger, more experienced operator is required to get the most out of this stiff ski, but those with the chops, like Kathy Broderick, can expect an exciting ride: “Extremely responsive and agile. Spectacular in the bumps and powder. Dynamite flex and awesome versatility for such a heavy ski. Made me feel like a power skier.”

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