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Ski Test 2011: Big Mountain

By Test Editors IAN MARCH, RON BETTS, ANNE SLADE AND IAIN MACMILLAN

Like the name says—and beyond This freeride category continues to test the limits. Twintips long ago evolved from the terrain park to the trees and off under the ropes. Big Mountain skis continue to be seen more and more all over the mountain—and age spectrum. Manoeuvrability and stability make them popular choices for tricky off-piste terrain as well as high-speed riding, taking air and landing switch. Playful cambers, binding positions and flex patterns make these skis the most difficult category to judge. Waist 90+.

Length marked with † is length tested; Prices marked with * include bindings

Average score based on average of all tester scores for the 8 categories of characteristics – initiation, edge grip, stability, agility, versatility, short radius, long radius and overall. Point system is 1 to 10.

ARMADA | ATOMIC | BLIZZARD |DYNASTAR| FISCHER | GOODE| HEAD | K2 | KASTLE |LIBERTY |MOMENT |NORDICA | PRIOR | ROSSIGNOL | SALOMON |VOLKL

ARMADA ANT PRO

.. men $920 sidecut: 133 107 123 radius: 26@181
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 181 †,191
BEST IN: LONG RADIUS, EDGE GRIP
This ski came as a nice surprise to many of our testers. Comments emphasized how well the ski performed at moderate speeds as well as when it was allowed to run. The Ant originally came in only a 191 length, however Armada has released this ski in a 181-cm version that will appeal to a much wider audience. The tip is soft enough to allow for easy initiation, and the tail is stiff enough to feel powerful through to the end of the turn. Drew Bragg was pleasantly surprised: “It’s easy to turn, yet it laid over and arced when the speed ramped up.” Mark Stein said, “This ski gives you confi dence to ski the tight spots as well as look for the snow.”

average score: 6.9

ARMADA ARVw

.. women $860 sidecut: 120 89 109 radius: 19 @165
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 165 †
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP
The ARVw is a women’s-specific ski designed to open up the backcountry as well as the rest of the mountain, including the pipe or park. It’s a full twintip ripper with 89 mm underfoot to provide plenty of fl otation in the soft stuff. Armada has built this ski to meet the highest performance demands of its pilots, while using materials that keep the weight down for women’s specifi c needs. Our testers had to do some searching to fi nd the sweet spot, but when they did, they liked the agility and playfulness the ski offered. Anne Terweil offered these tips: “Think when piloting this ski. Keep your feet right under you, weight centred, patient edge application. When you get it right, the ski performs, especially in soft snow.” Nina Gretzmacher found the sweet spot “slightly forward. Once you fi nd this spot, the ski performs well in powder, bumps and short-radius turns. With some speed it felt stable and solid underfoot.”

average score: 6.1

ATOMIC ACCESS

.. men $799* sidecut: 130 100 121 radius: 20@181
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 151,161,171,181 †,191
BEST IN: INITIATION, AGILITY
There are always lofty expectations on the major manufacturers at ski tests. This offering from Atomic certainly lived up to those expectations. The Access is truly designed to be at home anywhere on the mountain. The ski features a rocker tip with conventional camber underfoot. The result is a ski that initiates easily without losing any of the benefi t of its ample sidecut. Noticeable were the positive comments from testers in a wide weight range. Lighter skiers like Drew Bragg said, “I don’t know what they feed this ski, but I want some. It’s nimble in the bumps with incredible grip in big arcs.” Barton Lane, a powerhouse on skis, said, “I felt as if I were its master and it was my slave.” Tester consensus was that this is a ski that has many uses.

average score: 7.9

ATOMIC CENTURY

.. women $549 sidecut: 128.5 100 120.5 radius: 18 @166
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 146,156,166 †,176
BEST IN: STABILITY, SHORT RADIUS, LONG RADIUS
One thing’s for certain, when you get a group of great skiers and put them on a great ski, there are going to be smiles all around. The girls loved this offering from Atomic. The Century is a big-mountain machine with the heart of a sports car. Technology-wise, it combines the best of both worlds: a rockered tip and tail for flotation and ease of pivoting, along with conventional camber underfoot to carve your way back to the lodge after a great powder day. The sense I got from reading the testers’ comments was confi dence; this was a ski that allowed the testers to push their limits with ease. Martina Osman said, “I can’t wipe the smile off my face. This ski is a dance queen in uneven terrain.” Janet Kuijt found fifth gear on this ski: “Wow! I loved the liveliness in short turns and bumps. Mach 9 here I come.”

average score: 8.3

BLIZZARD TITAN ATLAS

.. men $1,349* sidecut: 130 94 116 radius: 20@179
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 172,179 †,186
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP
Blizzard has been making quality skis since 1945 and has a reputation for producing well-built, high-performance products. A partnership with the Tecnica group in 2006 has allowed Blizzard to keep this reputation intact. The company uses sandwich construction with wood cores to ensure skis with great edge grip and precision. It’s always had a good reputation on the World Cup race circuit, with a crystal globe in Slalom in 2010 for its efforts. Its entry in the Big Mountain category impressed our most aggressive testers. George Terwiel had this to say about the Atlas: “It gives a solid ride with solid grip; performs best when you ski it aggressively.” Josh Foster said, “It’s grippy and strong feeling underfoot. Point this and be prepared for an exciting ride.” Tester consensus was that this ski was suited to ggressive skiers and was at its best when the speed limit was raised.

average score: 7.4

BLIZZARD TITAN CRONUS

.. women $1,199* sidecut: 125 88 111 radius: 19 @180
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 159,166,173 †,180
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP
At 173 cm long and 88 mm underfoot, the Titan Cronus was one of the longest skis tested in the women’s category, as well as one of the narrowest underfoot. The width underfoot was certainly appreciated on the groomed, where this ski impressed with its carving abilities. Some of the test team felt that the length and stiffness of the ski made it more suited to aggressive power skiers, rather than finesse types. Wendy Anderson said that this ski had “a lot of life and energy. At times it needs a little taming to keep it focused on the task at hand. It loved short and long turns, bumps or trees.”

average score: 7.1

DYNASTAR 6TH SENSE SLICER

.. men $675 SIDECUT: 132 98 120 RADIUS: 23@181
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 161,169,175,181 †,187
BEST IN: AGILITY
The Slicer is designed with no limits in mind. Its twintip and tip and tail rocker make it at home in the park, and its 98-mm waist gives it enough sidecut to carve both the powder and the groomers. This ski is constructed with a wood core and is designed to take whatever you throw at it. There was a range of comments on the best speeds for the Slicer. Mark Stein felt that “a light touch was required to enjoy this ski.” Ross Coutts said the ski “works well in uncut snow” and that it was best at moderate speeds. Kristian Armstrong noted that this was “one of the best twinnies I’ve ever skied.” Most testers thought this ski would best suit light- to medium-weight fi nesse rather than power skiers.

average score: 7.3

DYNASTAR EXCLUSIVE LEGEND PARADISE

.. women $649 sidecut: 132 98 120 radius: 20@169
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 161,169 †,175
BEST IN: STABILITY, SHORT RADIUS
This was another crowd-pleaser; the consensus from the test team was that the Exclusive Paradise easily hit the mark in the category. This women’s-specific ski comes equipped with 98 mm of crud- busting width underfoot and a 20-metre turn radius. It excelled wherever it was taken. Of the 14 comments, the word “fun” appeared in nearly every one. In fact, Gillian Browning was so impressed she said it more than once: “Now I’m alive. This ski has pizzazz. It has lots of zip in varied terrain and is easy to manoeuvre. Fun, fun, fun!” Kate Hopley loved it, too: “It loves to turn anywhere on the mountain, yet feels stable and solid underfoot. It’s versatile and so much fun—a ski with a lot of spunk for a little girl who’s a big-mountain skier.”

average score: 7.9

FISCHER WATEA 94

.. men & women $999 sidecut: 130 94 118 radius: 22@186
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 170 †,178 †,186
BEST IN: LONG RADIUS, INITIATION, EDGE GRIP
With the Watea 94, Fischer has proven that it doesn’t need to follow trends to build a functional big-mountain weapon. This ski has a conventional shape with traditional camber and sidecut—and it works. It delivered the goods in soft snow and crud, and kept the operator smiling on the groomed. From the women the praise was sincere, and the men were complimentary in their wording: “fun and playful,” “nimble and precise” and “exceptional edge hold and quickness.” This ski offers the powder hull, and tester Mark Stein picked up on this innovative feature: “It floats like a luxury liner in the soft and chopped. A strong weapon to attack the mountain.” Anne Terwiel liked it so much she wanted to keep it: “I love it. It’s fluid and strong, with an even flex and large sweet spot. It gives you confidence to push the speed limit. Send me to a steep chute, please.”

average score: 7.3 men

average score: 8.2 women

HEAD PEAK 88

.. men & women $900 sidecut: 126 88 112 radius: 19@175
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 164,169,175,180,186 †
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP, STABILITY
Tester comments on the Peak 88 ranged from “big powerful ski, would rather be in the open than trees and bumps” to “quick and lively, making turn initiation easy.” Many felt it might be for a heavier skier and needed to be skied aggressively. Consensus was reached in turn shape, where this ski preferred GS-type turns to shorter turns and needed some speed to really come alive. Demo a pair and decide for yourself. Kristian Armstrong called it “a fun versatile ski with a do-everything attitude.” Lauralee Bowie, who certainly knows how to tip and rip a ski, said: “Top ski of the day. It was smooth through slush, and fast on groomed. Excellent big-mountain ski.” Gillian Browning thought that “a heavier skier than me would probably love this ski. I had to work at cranking it around in short radius. A power skier would feel the zing. It’s very stable at higher speeds in long turns.”

average score: 7.2 men

average score: 7.7

women

GOODE CARBON 95

.. men & women $1,250 sidecut: 125 95 113 radius: 24@162
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 162 †,172,182 †,192
BEST IN: INITIATION, AGILITY
This ski wasn’t for all our testers, especially those who like to push the aggression envelope, but as an entry-level Big Mountain ski, the Carbon 95 will appeal to lighter skiers who obey the speed limit. This lightweight, easy-fl exing ski will open up parts of the mountain previously off-limits to them. Ian March called this ski “a fun, responsive, soft-snow cruiser.” Josh Foster, a heavier more aggressive skier, said, “It has a very light feeling underfoot, which makes it a bit nervous at higher speeds.” Kathy Broderick felt that “this is a nice forgiving ski that would suit a lighter intermediate skier. It’s very responsive, with a sweet spot more to the back.” Martina Osman added, ldquo;This ski has a laid-back personality. It would be happiest in soft ungroomed powder.”

average score: 5.4

men

average score: 5.7

women

K2 SIDESTASH

.. men $770
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 167,174,181 †,188
BEST IN: STABILITY
K2 produces skis that stand up to, and exceed, the expectations of off-piste lovers everywhere. The SideStash gets some of its strength from metal laminate Hybritech sidewall construction, which is a fancy way of saying that K2 uses a metal laminate to give the ski strength and flexibility. It also has some very intuitive features, such as a subtle tip rocker for float, flat tails for sticking the skis into snow (for anchors or staking down your tent), and tip and tail attachment points for skins. Don’t insult this ski by keeping it on the groomed—it’s made to play in all the best stashes. Many testers commented on how versatile this ski felt in a variety of conditions. Barton Lane’s description is very apt: “It felt like a 4×4 rally car with a monster truck suspension.”

average score: 7.5

K2 MISSBEHAVED

.. women $650 sidecut: 133 102 127 radius: 14@159
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 149,159,169 †
BEST IN: AGILITY
K2’s MissBehaved takes advantage of the latest technology by combining a slightly rockered tip and tail with conventional camber and sidecut. This ski also features twintips, increasing its versatility by making it a practical park-and-pipe ski. Our testers took some time to fi nd her sweet spot, and commented that the test length felt more suited to short turns. The overall consensus was that this was a truly versatile ski that could do more than just play in the powder all day. Take it in the trees, the park, the bumps—it was ready for whatever. Nina Gretzmacher echoed the versatility sentiment: “Wow! This ski is full of energy. It loves the bumps and has great rebound. It’s very versatile and stable.”

average score: 7.7

KASTLE MX108

.. men $1,099 sidecut: 132 108 122 radius: 32@187
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 177,187 †,195
BEST IN: STABILITY
There was agreement from the test team that the MX108 was meant to be skied fast. The performance quality of this ski would probably be lost on someone who skis more slowly and ventures into the powder only occasionally. However, if you’re looking for a solid platform for ripping lines and sticking landings, this ski fits the bill. A look at the technical data on this ski confirms that it’s an extremely well-built product and designed to last. Much thought was given to strength-to-weight ratio and that shows in the choice of beech and poplar in the wood core, which adds strength and reduces weight. Guy Paulsen thought this ski was “not for the faint of heart; ride it hard.” Samuel Würsch said, “This ski likes it fast, fast, fast—a good ski for longer turns.”

average score: 5.5

KÄSTLE FX94

.. women $1,199 sidecut: 128 94 117 radius: 20@176
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 166,176 †,186
BEST IN: LONG RADIUS, STABILITY
This was one of the longest skis in the category for our female testers and their comments defi nitely related the length of the ski to its stability. Words like stable, strong, trustworthy and aggressive appeared on their test cards. The FX94 has performance at its heart, but has found ways to reduce the overall weight of the ski. The core is made of poplar and ash, woods chosen for their strength, but also their lighter weight. The ski has a hollowtech tip, which also reduces the weight and makes pivoting easier. With this ski, Kästle is looking to offer consumers a high-performing, lightweight choice— perfect if you like to “earn your turns” by touring or hiking. Melanie Kamphuis liked the result: “A very stable ski. It just sliced through the crud and felt like it was glued to the slope on groomers. It was surprisingly agile in short turns.”

average score: 8.0

LIBERTY HELIX

.. men $725 sidecut: 135 105 122 radius: 22@176
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 167,176 †,187
BEST IN: INITIATION
You won’’t find Liberty skis on a World Cup race podium; their testing ground is the pipes, parks and hidden stashes of ski towns everywhere. Liberty uses quality materials and prides itself on skis that are made by skiers, for skiers. Its designs are progressive and it’s not afraid to experiment with things like centred binding mounts and tip and tail rocker. The Helix, our test ski in the Big Mountain category, came with a generous 105 mm underfoot. The comment cards had words like fun, playful, nimble, loose and lively ride. This isn’t a ski that looks at the mountain and sees a racecourse; it’s a ski that sees a playground. According to Guy Paulsen, the Helix has “a progressive flex with a huge sweet spot.” Josh Foster said, “It wraps around your foot in a nice round arc—a fun ski.”

average score: 6.7

MOMENT BELAFONTE

.. men $775 sidecut: 135 106 124 radius: 25.7@182
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 174,182 †,192
BEST IN: LONG RADIUS, INITIATION
Moment skis are handmade from start to finish and this gives the manufacturer complete quality control over its products. In a relatively short time Moment has established a reputation for building rider-inspired shapes, and are a recognized face in the park and pipe as well as the big-mountain circuit. Most testers found that the Belafonte was happiest in soft snow and less so on the groomed. So if a groomed run is what you take to get to the soft stuff, this might be your weapon. Ian March said, “Easy, floaty feel in the powder and cut-up snow. It’s more responsive as the snow gets deeper; definitely meant for the soft stuff.” Drew Bragg found it was “super-easy turning and playful in all turn shapes. It inspired me to go looking for off-piste entertainment—as the snow gets softer this ski gets better.”

average score: 6.1

MOMENT PIKA

.. women $700 sidecut: 141 111 129 radius: 19.5@170
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 150,160,170 †
BEST IN: INITIATION, STABILITY
While bigger manufacturers have the benefit of race technology, advanced production facilities and bigger budgets for research and development, smaller companies like Moment rely on rider feedback and a healthy sense of discovery and invention. This has been a great advancing factor in some of the skis to hit the market in the past five years. Our testers liked the Pika for its powder potential. They felt that soft snow was its forte, but could get the edge to work well with a bit of speed. Kate Hopley said, “It’s light and agile, yet reliably stable on any big-mountain terrain. Fun, fun, fun!” Michelle Ostafew was also impressed: “Wow! This ski loved to charge, especially in long radius. On big powder days, this is the one to bring. It’s very stable on groomed.”

average score: 6.0

 

 

NORDICA ENFORCER

.. men $829 sidecut: 135 98 125 radius: 19@177
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 161,169,177 †,185
BEST IN: STABILITY
The true mark of an exceptional big-mountain ski is versatility. If a ski only performs at one speed or one turn shape, it might be considered too specialized. Testers put this Nordica model in the exceptional category. The challenge with big-mountain skis is that they need to perform in soft snow conditions, as well as on the groomers and in tight places. Nordica gets the Enforcer to meet all requirements by using a laminate wood core for a predictable, stable fl exing ski. The ski also features an easy rise tip, a gradual curving tip that floats in the soft stuff. But don’t take my word for it, listen to tester Mike Manara, “A big-mountain ski with the heart of a carver. It’s quick and nimble, yet strong and stable.” Ian March called this ski “a powerful carver that likes to eat up crud. It’s powerful with finesse.”

average score: 8.0

NORDICA NEMESIS

.. women $829 sidecut: 135 98 125 radius: 17@169
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 161,169 †,177,185
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP, STABILITY, LONG RADIUS
It used to be that women’s skis were predictable: soften the ski, make the graphics a soothing colour and away you go. Somewhere along the way manufacturers realized that there are lots of women who rip, so they started making gear for them. From the comments that came back on this ski, it’s obvious that Nordica got it right with the Nemesis. This ski was equally at home in the bumps, trees, groomers and off-piste. It features a healthy 98 mm underfoot and handled everything our testers threw at it. This comment from Julie Markussen was typical of how the testers felt about the Nemesis: “Fantastic! It easily takes ski of the day. A great all-mountain ski; every turn was beautiful, with so much energy on any kind of terrain. Moguls were so effortless and fun. Best ski ever.”

average score: 8.1

PRIOR HUSUME

.. men & women $999 sidecut: 125 104 112 radius: 25@181
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 163,169 †,175,181 †,188,193
BEST IN: INITIATION, EDGE GRIP
The Husume was designed with a generous amount of sidecut to keep it fun on the groomed, and the 104 mm underfoot will give you plenty of fl oat for those powder days. Jared Hetherington was impressed by the versatility in such a big ski: “Edge-to- edge was effortless. This ski built confi dence.” Hank Shannon had this to say: “This ski defines the category. It’s incredibly light feeling, yet has superb stability in all turns and speeds.” The women enjoyed the stability and power of this ski, but thought it lacked a bit of versatility. Nicola Widsson was able to make the Husume work for her: “This ski loves powder and it fl oats effortlessly. It’s very powerful, with fantastic edge grip on hardpack conditions.” Kathy Broderick’s impression was: “Straight down the fall line with this one. If you like to lay big lines, then this is the one to draw them with.”

average score: 7.4

men; 6.0 women

ROSSIGNOL S3

.. men $675 sidecut: 128 98 118 radius: 23@186
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 159,168,178 †,186
BEST IN: INITIATION, AGILITY
Rossignol has been at the forefront of building excellent big-mountain skis for as long as Big Mountain has been a category. With some of the most talented skiers in the world as test pilots, Rossignol has never shied away from pushing the limits in terms of design and geometry. The S3 is a versatile ski that will let its operator carve hard when the situation arises, or butter if that’s what it takes to get the job done. The trick is in the Amptek camber profile, which means the ski has a mild rocker in the tip and tail for flotation, with conventional camber underfoot for carving. Josh Foster said, “Pipe and park, backside and frontside—it might even cook you dinner. This is a ski for all occasions.” This ski had some of the highest consensus among the test team—it was a crowd-pleaser.

average score: 7.8

ROSSIGNOL S90W

.. women $549 sidecut: 122 92 115 radius: 20@170
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 140,150,160,170 †
BEST IN: INITIATION, AGILITY
At ski tests there are always differences in opinion between testers, but every once in a while a ski comes along that everyone agrees on. That was the case with the S90W. A read through of the comment cards was like a love-in from the ’60s. Our testers were full of praise for the versatility, agility and playfulness of this smile-maker. It has a 92-mm waist, so powder was no problem, but where this ski excelled was in its ability to go seamlessly from one condition to another. Here’s a bit of love from Julie Markussen: “This is a user-friendly ski. It’s light and easy to turn and carve, but is still a thrilling big-mountain ski.” And from Melanie Kamphuis: “The ski was a blast on and off-piste. It carved through crud and bumps. When I got back on the groomers, it acted like a race ski.”

average score: 7.5

SALOMON SENTINEL

$849 sidecut: 129 95 121 radius: 21@184
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 170,177,184 †,191
BEST IN: LONG RADIUS, STABILITY
Salomon has done a great job of refocusing its ski line to the all-mountain, freestyle/freeski demographic. As an industry leader in twintip technology—remember the 1080?—Salomon has continued to build on that foundation and progress that technology into the big-mountain arena. The Sentinel, like others in the category, features a slight rocker in the tip and tail, as well as conventional camber underfoot. It was a favourite with the speed demons in the group, with many testers commenting on how solid and stable this ski felt at speed. Mike Manara is a big fan: “Thisall-mountain ripper has the heart of a GS race ski. It absolutely rips in big turns. Power skiers will love the progressive stiffness at the end of the turn. It’s easy to initiate in all turn shapes, with great edge grip and stability.”

average score: 7.4

SALOMON GEISHA

$849 sidecut: 128 99 118 radius: 23 @173
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 153,164,173 †
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP
The Geisha has a waist more like a sumo wrestler; it’s designed to give you all the float you’ll need for even the deepest days. However, this is no one-trick pony – the Geisha is truly an all-mountain mistress. The ski features a slight tip and tail rocker, a semi-twintip design and great core materials. With a layer of bamboo for strength and a basalt layer for dampening, Salomon has done all the hard work, now the rest is up to you. This ski carves like a samurai sword, is tough like a ninja and, all clichés aside, will have you feeling like the mountain is your own bullet train line. Kathy Broderick said, “It’s nice and stable, quick and versatile. I loved it when I put the pedal down. This is an honest and trustworthy ski.”

average score: 7.4

VOLKL GOTAMA

$850 sidecut: 137 106 122 radius: 26 @178
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 170,178,186 †,194
BEST IN: LONG RADIUS, EDGE GRIP, STABILITY
Volkl has a solid reputation for consistently producing high-performance, well- built skis. With more than 85 years of experience, it certainly has the know-how to get it right. The Gotama has a generous 106 mm of ski underfoot, enough to rip up even the deepest days. What makes this ski such a well-rounded performer is the Extended Low Profile, or ELP, rocker design. The profile features a smooth gradual bend toward the tip and tail for optimum float and maximum edge contact. Josh Foster commented that this ski has “a race-ski feel in a big-mountain shape. It’s a no-limits hard charger.” Mark Stein called it “an all-mountain attack machine.” The Gotama is best suited to heavier, aggressive skiers.

average score: 7.6

VOLKL KIKU

$850 sidecut: 137 106 122 radius: 23.6@170
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 154,162,170 †,178
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP, STABILITY, LONG RADIUS
The Kiku is Volkl’s first rockered ski for women, and judging by our tester’s comments, it works. This ski has Volkl’s ELP, or elongated low profile technology, which means that the rocker is less extreme and the ski won’t sacrifice great edge contact and grip on the groomed. It’s constructed with a multi-layer wood core for strength and, keeping in mind its target audience, that means it’s soft enough for most women to bend and carve it. Gillian Browning was impressed, to say the least: “Do I really have to give this ski back? It’s truly BMW comfortable, feels safe and has a smooth ride at all speeds with great steering. A great ski overall.” Here’s Lauralee Bowie’s take: “It’s so stable, with a huge sweet spot that’s larger than life. Open ’em up and enjoy the ride.”

average score: 8.0

Ski Test 2011: Big Mountain

By Test Editors IAN MARCH, RON BETTS, ANNE SLADE AND IAIN MACMILLAN

Like the name says—and beyond This freeride category continues to test the limits. Twintips long ago evolved from the terrain park to the trees and off under the ropes. Big Mountain skis continue to be seen more and more all over the mountain—and age spectrum. Manoeuvrability and stability make them popular choices for tricky off-piste terrain as well as high-speed riding, taking air and landing switch. Playful cambers, binding positions and flex patterns make these skis the most difficult category to judge. Waist 90+.

Length marked with † is length tested; Prices marked with * include bindings

Average score based on average of all tester scores for the 8 categories of characteristics – initiation, edge grip, stability, agility, versatility, short radius, long radius and overall. Point system is 1 to 10.

ARMADA | ATOMIC | BLIZZARD |DYNASTAR| FISCHER | GOODE| HEAD | K2 | KASTLE |LIBERTY |MOMENT |NORDICA | PRIOR | ROSSIGNOL | SALOMON |VOLKL

ARMADA ANT PRO

.. men $920 sidecut: 133 107 123 radius: 26@181
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 181 †,191
BEST IN: LONG RADIUS, EDGE GRIP
This ski came as a nice surprise to many of our testers. Comments emphasized how well the ski performed at moderate speeds as well as when it was allowed to run. The Ant originally came in only a 191 length, however Armada has released this ski in a 181-cm version that will appeal to a much wider audience. The tip is soft enough to allow for easy initiation, and the tail is stiff enough to feel powerful through to the end of the turn. Drew Bragg was pleasantly surprised: “It’s easy to turn, yet it laid over and arced when the speed ramped up.” Mark Stein said, “This ski gives you confi dence to ski the tight spots as well as look for the snow.”

average score: 6.9

ARMADA ARVw

.. women $860 sidecut: 120 89 109 radius: 19 @165
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 165 †
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP
The ARVw is a women’s-specific ski designed to open up the backcountry as well as the rest of the mountain, including the pipe or park. It’s a full twintip ripper with 89 mm underfoot to provide plenty of fl otation in the soft stuff. Armada has built this ski to meet the highest performance demands of its pilots, while using materials that keep the weight down for women’s specifi c needs. Our testers had to do some searching to fi nd the sweet spot, but when they did, they liked the agility and playfulness the ski offered. Anne Terweil offered these tips: “Think when piloting this ski. Keep your feet right under you, weight centred, patient edge application. When you get it right, the ski performs, especially in soft snow.” Nina Gretzmacher found the sweet spot “slightly forward. Once you fi nd this spot, the ski performs well in powder, bumps and short-radius turns. With some speed it felt stable and solid underfoot.”

average score: 6.1

ATOMIC ACCESS

.. men $799* sidecut: 130 100 121 radius: 20@181
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 151,161,171,181 †,191
BEST IN: INITIATION, AGILITY
There are always lofty expectations on the major manufacturers at ski tests. This offering from Atomic certainly lived up to those expectations. The Access is truly designed to be at home anywhere on the mountain. The ski features a rocker tip with conventional camber underfoot. The result is a ski that initiates easily without losing any of the benefi t of its ample sidecut. Noticeable were the positive comments from testers in a wide weight range. Lighter skiers like Drew Bragg said, “I don’t know what they feed this ski, but I want some. It’s nimble in the bumps with incredible grip in big arcs.” Barton Lane, a powerhouse on skis, said, “I felt as if I were its master and it was my slave.” Tester consensus was that this is a ski that has many uses.

average score: 7.9

ATOMIC CENTURY

.. women $549 sidecut: 128.5 100 120.5 radius: 18 @166
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 146,156,166 †,176
BEST IN: STABILITY, SHORT RADIUS, LONG RADIUS
One thing’s for certain, when you get a group of great skiers and put them on a great ski, there are going to be smiles all around. The girls loved this offering from Atomic. The Century is a big-mountain machine with the heart of a sports car. Technology-wise, it combines the best of both worlds: a rockered tip and tail for flotation and ease of pivoting, along with conventional camber underfoot to carve your way back to the lodge after a great powder day. The sense I got from reading the testers’ comments was confi dence; this was a ski that allowed the testers to push their limits with ease. Martina Osman said, “I can’t wipe the smile off my face. This ski is a dance queen in uneven terrain.” Janet Kuijt found fifth gear on this ski: “Wow! I loved the liveliness in short turns and bumps. Mach 9 here I come.”

average score: 8.3

BLIZZARD TITAN ATLAS

.. men $1,349* sidecut: 130 94 116 radius: 20@179
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 172,179 †,186
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP
Blizzard has been making quality skis since 1945 and has a reputation for producing well-built, high-performance products. A partnership with the Tecnica group in 2006 has allowed Blizzard to keep this reputation intact. The company uses sandwich construction with wood cores to ensure skis with great edge grip and precision. It’s always had a good reputation on the World Cup race circuit, with a crystal globe in Slalom in 2010 for its efforts. Its entry in the Big Mountain category impressed our most aggressive testers. George Terwiel had this to say about the Atlas: “It gives a solid ride with solid grip; performs best when you ski it aggressively.” Josh Foster said, “It’s grippy and strong feeling underfoot. Point this and be prepared for an exciting ride.” Tester consensus was that this ski was suited to ggressive skiers and was at its best when the speed limit was raised.

average score: 7.4

BLIZZARD TITAN CRONUS

.. women $1,199* sidecut: 125 88 111 radius: 19 @180
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 159,166,173 †,180
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP
At 173 cm long and 88 mm underfoot, the Titan Cronus was one of the longest skis tested in the women’s category, as well as one of the narrowest underfoot. The width underfoot was certainly appreciated on the groomed, where this ski impressed with its carving abilities. Some of the test team felt that the length and stiffness of the ski made it more suited to aggressive power skiers, rather than finesse types. Wendy Anderson said that this ski had “a lot of life and energy. At times it needs a little taming to keep it focused on the task at hand. It loved short and long turns, bumps or trees.”

average score: 7.1

DYNASTAR 6TH SENSE SLICER

.. men $675 SIDECUT: 132 98 120 RADIUS: 23@181
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 161,169,175,181 †,187
BEST IN: AGILITY
The Slicer is designed with no limits in mind. Its twintip and tip and tail rocker make it at home in the park, and its 98-mm waist gives it enough sidecut to carve both the powder and the groomers. This ski is constructed with a wood core and is designed to take whatever you throw at it. There was a range of comments on the best speeds for the Slicer. Mark Stein felt that “a light touch was required to enjoy this ski.” Ross Coutts said the ski “works well in uncut snow” and that it was best at moderate speeds. Kristian Armstrong noted that this was “one of the best twinnies I’ve ever skied.” Most testers thought this ski would best suit light- to medium-weight fi nesse rather than power skiers.

average score: 7.3

DYNASTAR EXCLUSIVE LEGEND PARADISE

.. women $649 sidecut: 132 98 120 radius: 20@169
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 161,169 †,175
BEST IN: STABILITY, SHORT RADIUS
This was another crowd-pleaser; the consensus from the test team was that the Exclusive Paradise easily hit the mark in the category. This women’s-specific ski comes equipped with 98 mm of crud- busting width underfoot and a 20-metre turn radius. It excelled wherever it was taken. Of the 14 comments, the word “fun” appeared in nearly every one. In fact, Gillian Browning was so impressed she said it more than once: “Now I’m alive. This ski has pizzazz. It has lots of zip in varied terrain and is easy to manoeuvre. Fun, fun, fun!” Kate Hopley loved it, too: “It loves to turn anywhere on the mountain, yet feels stable and solid underfoot. It’s versatile and so much fun—a ski with a lot of spunk for a little girl who’s a big-mountain skier.”

average score: 7.9

FISCHER WATEA 94

.. men & women $999 sidecut: 130 94 118 radius: 22@186
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 170 †,178 †,186
BEST IN: LONG RADIUS, INITIATION, EDGE GRIP
With the Watea 94, Fischer has proven that it doesn’t need to follow trends to build a functional big-mountain weapon. This ski has a conventional shape with traditional camber and sidecut—and it works. It delivered the goods in soft snow and crud, and kept the operator smiling on the groomed. From the women the praise was sincere, and the men were complimentary in their wording: “fun and playful,” “nimble and precise” and “exceptional edge hold and quickness.” This ski offers the powder hull, and tester Mark Stein picked up on this innovative feature: “It floats like a luxury liner in the soft and chopped. A strong weapon to attack the mountain.” Anne Terwiel liked it so much she wanted to keep it: “I love it. It’s fluid and strong, with an even flex and large sweet spot. It gives you confidence to push the speed limit. Send me to a steep chute, please.”

average score: 7.3 men

average score: 8.2 women

HEAD PEAK 88

.. men & women $900 sidecut: 126 88 112 radius: 19@175
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 164,169,175,180,186 †
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP, STABILITY
Tester comments on the Peak 88 ranged from “big powerful ski, would rather be in the open than trees and bumps” to “quick and lively, making turn initiation easy.” Many felt it might be for a heavier skier and needed to be skied aggressively. Consensus was reached in turn shape, where this ski preferred GS-type turns to shorter turns and needed some speed to really come alive. Demo a pair and decide for yourself. Kristian Armstrong called it “a fun versatile ski with a do-everything attitude.” Lauralee Bowie, who certainly knows how to tip and rip a ski, said: “Top ski of the day. It was smooth through slush, and fast on groomed. Excellent big-mountain ski.” Gillian Browning thought that “a heavier skier than me would probably love this ski. I had to work at cranking it around in short radius. A power skier would feel the zing. It’s very stable at higher speeds in long turns.”

average score: 7.2 men

average score: 7.7

women

GOODE CARBON 95

.. men & women $1,250 sidecut: 125 95 113 radius: 24@162
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 162 †,172,182 †,192
BEST IN: INITIATION, AGILITY
This ski wasn’t for all our testers, especially those who like to push the aggression envelope, but as an entry-level Big Mountain ski, the Carbon 95 will appeal to lighter skiers who obey the speed limit. This lightweight, easy-fl exing ski will open up parts of the mountain previously off-limits to them. Ian March called this ski “a fun, responsive, soft-snow cruiser.” Josh Foster, a heavier more aggressive skier, said, “It has a very light feeling underfoot, which makes it a bit nervous at higher speeds.” Kathy Broderick felt that “this is a nice forgiving ski that would suit a lighter intermediate skier. It’s very responsive, with a sweet spot more to the back.” Martina Osman added, ldquo;This ski has a laid-back personality. It would be happiest in soft ungroomed powder.”

average score: 5.4

men

average score: 5.7

women

K2 SIDESTASH

.. men $770
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 167,174,181 †,188
BEST IN: STABILITY
K2 produces skis that stand up to, and exceed, the expectations of off-piste lovers everywhere. The SideStash gets some of its strength from metal laminate Hybritech sidewall construction, which is a fancy way of saying that K2 uses a metal laminate to give the ski strength and flexibility. It also has some very intuitive features, such as a subtle tip rocker for float, flat tails for sticking the skis into snow (for anchors or staking down your tent), and tip and tail attachment points for skins. Don’t insult this ski by keeping it on the groomed—it’s made to play in all the best stashes. Many testers commented on how versatile this ski felt in a variety of conditions. Barton Lane’s description is very apt: “It felt like a 4×4 rally car with a monster truck suspension.”

average score: 7.5

K2 MISSBEHAVED

.. women $650 sidecut: 133 102 127 radius: 14@159
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 149,159,169 †
BEST IN: AGILITY
K2’s MissBehaved takes advantage of the latest technology by combining a slightly rockered tip and tail with conventional camber and sidecut. This ski also features twintips, increasing its versatility by making it a practical park-and-pipe ski. Our testers took some time to fi nd her sweet spot, and commented that the test length felt more suited to short turns. The overall consensus was that this was a truly versatile ski that could do more than just play in the powder all day. Take it in the trees, the park, the bumps—it was ready for whatever. Nina Gretzmacher echoed the versatility sentiment: “Wow! This ski is full of energy. It loves the bumps and has great rebound. It’s very versatile and stable.”

average score: 7.7

KASTLE MX108

.. men $1,099 sidecut: 132 108 122 radius: 32@187
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 177,187 †,195
BEST IN: STABILITY
There was agreement from the test team that the MX108 was meant to be skied fast. The performance quality of this ski would probably be lost on someone who skis more slowly and ventures into the powder only occasionally. However, if you’re looking for a solid platform for ripping lines and sticking landings, this ski fits the bill. A look at the technical data on this ski confirms that it’s an extremely well-built product and designed to last. Much thought was given to strength-to-weight ratio and that shows in the choice of beech and poplar in the wood core, which adds strength and reduces weight. Guy Paulsen thought this ski was “not for the faint of heart; ride it hard.” Samuel Würsch said, “This ski likes it fast, fast, fast—a good ski for longer turns.”

average score: 5.5

KÄSTLE FX94

.. women $1,199 sidecut: 128 94 117 radius: 20@176
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 166,176 †,186
BEST IN: LONG RADIUS, STABILITY
This was one of the longest skis in the category for our female testers and their comments defi nitely related the length of the ski to its stability. Words like stable, strong, trustworthy and aggressive appeared on their test cards. The FX94 has performance at its heart, but has found ways to reduce the overall weight of the ski. The core is made of poplar and ash, woods chosen for their strength, but also their lighter weight. The ski has a hollowtech tip, which also reduces the weight and makes pivoting easier. With this ski, Kästle is looking to offer consumers a high-performing, lightweight choice— perfect if you like to “earn your turns” by touring or hiking. Melanie Kamphuis liked the result: “A very stable ski. It just sliced through the crud and felt like it was glued to the slope on groomers. It was surprisingly agile in short turns.”

average score: 8.0

LIBERTY HELIX

.. men $725 sidecut: 135 105 122 radius: 22@176
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 167,176 †,187
BEST IN: INITIATION
You won’’t find Liberty skis on a World Cup race podium; their testing ground is the pipes, parks and hidden stashes of ski towns everywhere. Liberty uses quality materials and prides itself on skis that are made by skiers, for skiers. Its designs are progressive and it’s not afraid to experiment with things like centred binding mounts and tip and tail rocker. The Helix, our test ski in the Big Mountain category, came with a generous 105 mm underfoot. The comment cards had words like fun, playful, nimble, loose and lively ride. This isn’t a ski that looks at the mountain and sees a racecourse; it’s a ski that sees a playground. According to Guy Paulsen, the Helix has “a progressive flex with a huge sweet spot.” Josh Foster said, “It wraps around your foot in a nice round arc—a fun ski.”

average score: 6.7

MOMENT BELAFONTE

.. men $775 sidecut: 135 106 124 radius: 25.7@182
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 174,182 †,192
BEST IN: LONG RADIUS, INITIATION
Moment skis are handmade from start to finish and this gives the manufacturer complete quality control over its products. In a relatively short time Moment has established a reputation for building rider-inspired shapes, and are a recognized face in the park and pipe as well as the big-mountain circuit. Most testers found that the Belafonte was happiest in soft snow and less so on the groomed. So if a groomed run is what you take to get to the soft stuff, this might be your weapon. Ian March said, “Easy, floaty feel in the powder and cut-up snow. It’s more responsive as the snow gets deeper; definitely meant for the soft stuff.” Drew Bragg found it was “super-easy turning and playful in all turn shapes. It inspired me to go looking for off-piste entertainment—as the snow gets softer this ski gets better.”

average score: 6.1

MOMENT PIKA

.. women $700 sidecut: 141 111 129 radius: 19.5@170
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 150,160,170 †
BEST IN: INITIATION, STABILITY
While bigger manufacturers have the benefit of race technology, advanced production facilities and bigger budgets for research and development, smaller companies like Moment rely on rider feedback and a healthy sense of discovery and invention. This has been a great advancing factor in some of the skis to hit the market in the past five years. Our testers liked the Pika for its powder potential. They felt that soft snow was its forte, but could get the edge to work well with a bit of speed. Kate Hopley said, “It’s light and agile, yet reliably stable on any big-mountain terrain. Fun, fun, fun!” Michelle Ostafew was also impressed: “Wow! This ski loved to charge, especially in long radius. On big powder days, this is the one to bring. It’s very stable on groomed.”

average score: 6.0

 

 

NORDICA ENFORCER

.. men $829 sidecut: 135 98 125 radius: 19@177
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 161,169,177 †,185
BEST IN: STABILITY
The true mark of an exceptional big-mountain ski is versatility. If a ski only performs at one speed or one turn shape, it might be considered too specialized. Testers put this Nordica model in the exceptional category. The challenge with big-mountain skis is that they need to perform in soft snow conditions, as well as on the groomers and in tight places. Nordica gets the Enforcer to meet all requirements by using a laminate wood core for a predictable, stable fl exing ski. The ski also features an easy rise tip, a gradual curving tip that floats in the soft stuff. But don’t take my word for it, listen to tester Mike Manara, “A big-mountain ski with the heart of a carver. It’s quick and nimble, yet strong and stable.” Ian March called this ski “a powerful carver that likes to eat up crud. It’s powerful with finesse.”

average score: 8.0

NORDICA NEMESIS

.. women $829 sidecut: 135 98 125 radius: 17@169
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 161,169 †,177,185
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP, STABILITY, LONG RADIUS
It used to be that women’s skis were predictable: soften the ski, make the graphics a soothing colour and away you go. Somewhere along the way manufacturers realized that there are lots of women who rip, so they started making gear for them. From the comments that came back on this ski, it’s obvious that Nordica got it right with the Nemesis. This ski was equally at home in the bumps, trees, groomers and off-piste. It features a healthy 98 mm underfoot and handled everything our testers threw at it. This comment from Julie Markussen was typical of how the testers felt about the Nemesis: “Fantastic! It easily takes ski of the day. A great all-mountain ski; every turn was beautiful, with so much energy on any kind of terrain. Moguls were so effortless and fun. Best ski ever.”

average score: 8.1

PRIOR HUSUME

.. men & women $999 sidecut: 125 104 112 radius: 25@181
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 163,169 †,175,181 †,188,193
BEST IN: INITIATION, EDGE GRIP
The Husume was designed with a generous amount of sidecut to keep it fun on the groomed, and the 104 mm underfoot will give you plenty of fl oat for those powder days. Jared Hetherington was impressed by the versatility in such a big ski: “Edge-to- edge was effortless. This ski built confi dence.” Hank Shannon had this to say: “This ski defines the category. It’s incredibly light feeling, yet has superb stability in all turns and speeds.” The women enjoyed the stability and power of this ski, but thought it lacked a bit of versatility. Nicola Widsson was able to make the Husume work for her: “This ski loves powder and it fl oats effortlessly. It’s very powerful, with fantastic edge grip on hardpack conditions.” Kathy Broderick’s impression was: “Straight down the fall line with this one. If you like to lay big lines, then this is the one to draw them with.”

average score: 7.4

men; 6.0 women

ROSSIGNOL S3

.. men $675 sidecut: 128 98 118 radius: 23@186
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 159,168,178 †,186
BEST IN: INITIATION, AGILITY
Rossignol has been at the forefront of building excellent big-mountain skis for as long as Big Mountain has been a category. With some of the most talented skiers in the world as test pilots, Rossignol has never shied away from pushing the limits in terms of design and geometry. The S3 is a versatile ski that will let its operator carve hard when the situation arises, or butter if that’s what it takes to get the job done. The trick is in the Amptek camber profile, which means the ski has a mild rocker in the tip and tail for flotation, with conventional camber underfoot for carving. Josh Foster said, “Pipe and park, backside and frontside—it might even cook you dinner. This is a ski for all occasions.” This ski had some of the highest consensus among the test team—it was a crowd-pleaser.

average score: 7.8

ROSSIGNOL S90W

.. women $549 sidecut: 122 92 115 radius: 20@170
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 140,150,160,170 †
BEST IN: INITIATION, AGILITY
At ski tests there are always differences in opinion between testers, but every once in a while a ski comes along that everyone agrees on. That was the case with the S90W. A read through of the comment cards was like a love-in from the ’60s. Our testers were full of praise for the versatility, agility and playfulness of this smile-maker. It has a 92-mm waist, so powder was no problem, but where this ski excelled was in its ability to go seamlessly from one condition to another. Here’s a bit of love from Julie Markussen: “This is a user-friendly ski. It’s light and easy to turn and carve, but is still a thrilling big-mountain ski.” And from Melanie Kamphuis: “The ski was a blast on and off-piste. It carved through crud and bumps. When I got back on the groomers, it acted like a race ski.”

average score: 7.5

SALOMON SENTINEL

$849 sidecut: 129 95 121 radius: 21@184
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 170,177,184 †,191
BEST IN: LONG RADIUS, STABILITY
Salomon has done a great job of refocusing its ski line to the all-mountain, freestyle/freeski demographic. As an industry leader in twintip technology—remember the 1080?—Salomon has continued to build on that foundation and progress that technology into the big-mountain arena. The Sentinel, like others in the category, features a slight rocker in the tip and tail, as well as conventional camber underfoot. It was a favourite with the speed demons in the group, with many testers commenting on how solid and stable this ski felt at speed. Mike Manara is a big fan: “Thisall-mountain ripper has the heart of a GS race ski. It absolutely rips in big turns. Power skiers will love the progressive stiffness at the end of the turn. It’s easy to initiate in all turn shapes, with great edge grip and stability.”

average score: 7.4

SALOMON GEISHA

$849 sidecut: 128 99 118 radius: 23 @173
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 153,164,173 †
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP
The Geisha has a waist more like a sumo wrestler; it’s designed to give you all the float you’ll need for even the deepest days. However, this is no one-trick pony – the Geisha is truly an all-mountain mistress. The ski features a slight tip and tail rocker, a semi-twintip design and great core materials. With a layer of bamboo for strength and a basalt layer for dampening, Salomon has done all the hard work, now the rest is up to you. This ski carves like a samurai sword, is tough like a ninja and, all clichés aside, will have you feeling like the mountain is your own bullet train line. Kathy Broderick said, “It’s nice and stable, quick and versatile. I loved it when I put the pedal down. This is an honest and trustworthy ski.”

average score: 7.4

VOLKL GOTAMA

$850 sidecut: 137 106 122 radius: 26 @178
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 170,178,186 †,194
BEST IN: LONG RADIUS, EDGE GRIP, STABILITY
Volkl has a solid reputation for consistently producing high-performance, well- built skis. With more than 85 years of experience, it certainly has the know-how to get it right. The Gotama has a generous 106 mm of ski underfoot, enough to rip up even the deepest days. What makes this ski such a well-rounded performer is the Extended Low Profile, or ELP, rocker design. The profile features a smooth gradual bend toward the tip and tail for optimum float and maximum edge contact. Josh Foster commented that this ski has “a race-ski feel in a big-mountain shape. It’s a no-limits hard charger.” Mark Stein called it “an all-mountain attack machine.” The Gotama is best suited to heavier, aggressive skiers.

average score: 7.6

VOLKL KIKU

$850 sidecut: 137 106 122 radius: 23.6@170
LENGTHS AVAILABLE: 154,162,170 †,178
BEST IN: EDGE GRIP, STABILITY, LONG RADIUS
The Kiku is Volkl’s first rockered ski for women, and judging by our tester’s comments, it works. This ski has Volkl’s ELP, or elongated low profile technology, which means that the rocker is less extreme and the ski won’t sacrifice great edge contact and grip on the groomed. It’s constructed with a multi-layer wood core for strength and, keeping in mind its target audience, that means it’s soft enough for most women to bend and carve it. Gillian Browning was impressed, to say the least: “Do I really have to give this ski back? It’s truly BMW comfortable, feels safe and has a smooth ride at all speeds with great steering. A great ski overall.” Here’s Lauralee Bowie’s take: “It’s so stable, with a huge sweet spot that’s larger than life. Open ’em up and enjoy the ride.”

average score: 8.0

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