Ski Test // December 30, 2016 // By


Fat & Fabulous – Powder Skis Test 2017

The guides at Mike Wiegele’s were happy to ride these plus-sized beauties.

I spent 14 glorious years as a heli-guide in the most majestic ski terrain on the planet at Mike Wiegele’s in Blue River, B.C., home once again to the Ski Canada Powder Test. And over the course of those years I’ve seen plenty of seemingly reasonable, stable adults reduced to tears—all because on one particular day or another, their skiing sucked. There were folks who showed up at the lodge in great shape from countless mornings at the gym, lunchtimes spent on treadmills or exercise bikes, or sessions with dedicated personal trainers, only to be disappointed by poor equipment choices, poor ski technique or both.

Skiing deep powder isn’t always like the sick shots you see in Ski Canada. Sometimes it’s ugly and difficult. These are the true stories from the powder zone: burning thighs from sitting back, exhaustion from picking yourself up for the umpteenth time, sweating so much your goggles are like a Halifax fog… But when it all comes together, you’re floating, flying, laughing out loud.

So here’s how you go from “I hate this s@#*!!” to “Did you see how many faceshots I just got!” Ski lots. Go faster. Don’t sit back. Get on good skis. That’s it. Some of my ski instructor friends will argue there’s a bit more to it, but that’s basically it. As always, we’ve turned it over to the Wiegele powder professionals to guide you to the “good skis” part of the equation. Here’s their pick of the best choices for 2017.

by RON BETTS  *  photo: JOHN SCHWIRTLICH  *  Test co-ordinator: JASON MARTIN in December 2016 issue

? Price includes binding  * LENGTH TESTED AT WIEGELE’S

ATOMIC BACKLAND FR 117

$749  *  LENGTHS: 179, 186*, 193   *  SIDECUT:  140.5/117/129.5  *  RADIUS:    19@186

Atomic never fails to deliver a ski that works across a wide range of skiers. It makes skis for the fastest skiers on the World Cup, and all that R&D is bound to show up across its entire product line. The Backland FR 117 is no exception. It has a powerful overall feel but managed to score well for versatility and agility—just don’t get into the backseat or it runs away without you. Mike Hainault, a long-time tester with a great feel for a ski, had this to say: “If you remember some of the predecessors to the Backland FR 117, this ski is much more versatile and lively. It’s light, nimble and playful. It’ll turn just about anywhere in any conditions.”

BLIZZARD BODACIOUS

$899  *  LENGTHS: 177, 185*, 193  *  SIDECUT:  137.5/118/126.5  *  RADIUS:    27@185

The Bodacious was a favourite among our speed-freak guides. It’s a solid, burly ski that isn’t afraid to go fast. That said, its lowest scores were in agility, where some of the test team thought it lacked a bit of finesse. When the speed was amped up, it cut through everything in front of it, like a European in a lift line. This ski might not be for the faint of heart but if you’re aggressive this may be it. This is who Mike Hainault thought would like this ski: “If an Austrian national team GS skier was designing a powder ski for himself, this would be it. It loves big high-speed turns, and is ultra-stable, predictable and slices through anything.”

FACTION CT 4.0

$929  *  LENGTHS: 176, 182*, 188, 194  *  SIDECUT:  140/118/134  *  RADIUS:    23@182

Most of our testers found the CT 4.0 (named for Candide Thovex, one of the top freeskiers in the world) performed adequately in the soft conditions, but it required a balanced and skilled operator to really perform. It scored lowest in initiation and that was reflected in many comments from our team, who found the ski challenging to initiate and a bit unresponsive at slower speeds. But when the pace picked up, this ski responded well. On his test run Bill Mark didn’t feel like Candide looks: “If you don’t work this ski, it feels unresponsive. If you add pressure, the ski wakes up. It’s somewhat twitchy in slabby conditions, requiring active control.”

FISCHER RANGER 122

$899  *  LENGTHS: 185*, 192  *  SIDECUT:  145/122/136  *  RADIUS:    20@192

The Ranger didn’t disappoint, in fact, it was a favourite of our test team. They raved about the combination of playful feel and aggressive tendencies. If you like speed, soft pillows, big air and a modern geometry, this might be your ski. Jordan Steifvater certainly enjoyed being young, wild and free while on the Ranger: “Surf’s up, amigos! This isn’t your dad’s powder ski. The near centre mount and long tip and tail make this ski float and pivot effortlessly underfoot. As long as you maintain a good centred stance over this ski, the even and stiff flex will handle almost any speed.”

HEAD CYCLIC 115

$699  *  LENGTHS: 171, 181, 191*  *  SIDECUT:  149/115/132  *  RADIUS:    21.7@191

Most of our testers noticed the weighty feel of this ski, commenting that it felt heavy and stiff. It needed some speed to really come alive, but when it did nothing got in the way. If skiers aren’t balanced over the top of the ski, they will likely get left behind. On the other hand, balanced, aggressive skiers will like the way this ski tears up everything in its path. Colin Altman was riding the thunder: “Buckle up and crank the volume to ELEVEN! This bad boy wants to charge. Slow, short turns need not apply. Lean it over and it will hold that turn long after your legs give out. Wind waves, old tracks and avalanche debris are quickly forgotten with this ski.”

ICELANTIC NOMAD 125

$879  *  LENGTHS: 170, 180*, 190  *  SIDECUT:  152/125/148  *  RADIUS:    22@180

If this ski were a boxing match, you’d have to call it a split decision. While the best praise came in the form of someone calling it their favourite, a couple of the testers felt the softness wasn’t suited to heavier skiers. Some testers went middle of the road and thought that it was a great all-rounder and had really good initiation. For the real deal, here’s Riel MacBoudreau’s comment on the Nomad 125: “It’s nice and stable for the ski’s weight, and has smooth initiation and good rebound. It’s slightly short for me at 200 lbs with a guide’s pack. The ski seemed to excel in a variety of conditions.”

K2 PINNACLE 118

$849  *  LENGTHS: 177, 184*, 191  *  SIDECUT:  145/118/135  *  RADIUS:    23@184

There was a wide range of comments about this offering from K2. While most testers found the Pinnacle 118 to be a really versatile ski with easy turn characteristics, a couple found it challenging to initiate and control. Jordan Stiefvater was a fan of this ski after his test run: “Great all-round ski that’s versatile in deep and shallow powder, and groomed. It’s fun and fast in large- and short-radius turns. The stiff tail keeps you centred and charging. Lots of fun!” To balance things out, the flying Kiwi, Bill Mark, said, “If you want to make this ski work, it needs a lot of effort. If you want to cruise straight and fast, this might be the ski for you.”

KÄSTLE BMX115

$1,149  *  LENGTHS: 177, 185*, 193  *  SIDECUT:  141/115/130  *  RADIUS:    24@185

Often in this category we see skis that have an aggressive personality, which seems to be the case with the BMX115. Our testers needed to be at their best to get the most out of this ski, and any lapses in concentration or balance were noticed. The ski got top marks for edge grip and stability, which is no wonder Sam Ozana had this to say: “This is a whole lot of ski! Long contact point and strong legs needed to initiate a turn. Once you’re in the turn, the ski and the sidecut do the work. You certainly have to earn every turn with this ski, but once you’re in it, it does a great job.”

LINE PESCADO

$950  *  LENGTHS: 180*  *  SIDECUT:  158/125/147  *  RADIUS:    19@180

This ski left some of our bigger testers wanting a bit more. A bit more stability, a bit more stiffness and a bit more length. In the Pro column, it had great initiation and was nice and light underfoot. Some Cons were the length and for larger testers anyway, how unstable it felt in bumpy and challenging conditions. For the last word, though, here’s Ryan Bush: “It skis great in deep powder. It’s a shame this ski is only manufactured in 180 cm. In a longer version with more sidecut it would be an awesome ski. It’s lightweight with a surfy feel.”

MEIER HERITAGE TOUR

$949  *  LENGTHS:174, 184*  *  SIDECUT:  133/115/123  *  RADIUS:    17@184

This ski scored high in initiation, not so well in edge grip, with above-average scores in all other test characteristics. That’s probably why one of our testers said that it was a ski that everybody would enjoy. All in all, the Heritage Tour was a really fun ski that our testers agreed on. For his take, here’s what Marius Marginean wrote on his test card: “This ski is responsive, agile, versatile and easy to control. It’s stable, predictable and forgiving at low to moderate speeds, and has good flotation. It was a bit unstable and wanting to overturn at higher speeds, especially on harder, wind-pressed pow. Decent rebound.”

SALOMON QST 106

$699  *  LENGTHS: 167, 174, 181, 188*  *  SIDECUT:  142/106/127  *  RADIUS:    20@188

The QST 106 was unanimously praised for its ability to feel strong, stable, nimble and agile all at the same time. Often those attributes don’t necessarily go together. Testers liked how the ski initiated and how playful and loose it felt. No locking up and going straight for this ski. It was light and nimble enough to tackle tight trees, but still held its own under speed. Guide Sam Ozana had a good time testing the QST 106: “This ski is awesome. Not so stiff that it can’t be forgiving if you happen to find yourself in the backseat. It’s very nimble and easy to initiate turns, with enough plank to feel confident stomping any size drop.”

VÖLKL CONFESSION

$899  *  LENGTHS:       179, 186, 193*  *  SIDECUT:  144/117/133  *  RADIUS:    26.5@193

Our team took out the 193-cm model and while some commented it was too long, most testers found that the ski remained well-balanced and easy to handle, despite its length. Sometimes a long ski will sacrifice agility and short turns, but this didn’t seem to be the case with the Confession. Bill Mark, our tallest tester, was impressed with its versatility: “I skied this in the 193-cm length and it was still manoeuvrable in the trees with short turns. It was also stable and easy on longer-radius turns at faster speeds. A great ski for deep powder in the backcountry, but if you had to go into the ski area, you could still make a carved turn.”