Ski Canada Test 2018 – Freeride
Freeride skis are inspired by deep snow, high speeds and big airs. These are the sticks the crazy guys and girls ski on in the movies. But that doesn’t mean you have to have their skill to handle them. Sure, some are dialed for negotiated Alaskan faces, but others are just as happy carving on soft, western groomers and smearing turns in tight chutes. Many are predictable and forgiving bases for advancing into more challenging terrain.
What they all share is width. Lots of it. These skis begin at about 102mm in the waist for women and 105 for men. Abundant tip and tail rocker—and in some cases full reverse camber—help them plane in deep snow and turn quicker than their pudgy size would suggest. Many have stiffeners built into the tip and tail to reduce flapping at higher speeds. And they do like to go fast.
But what’s really shocking about these skis is their hard-snow performance. It may take a bit of energy to get them on edge, but once there they’ll hold it all the way around.
So, yes, the Freeride category is all about soft-snow performance, but they remain versatile sticks. They happily go from GS turns in alpine wind slab, to snapping turns in the trees, to hauling butt on the groomer back to the lift. If powder is your passion, Freeride skis are where to begin, but know that they don’t stop when the powder is all tracked up.
BY RYAN STUART, TECHNICAL EDITOR in Fall 2017 issue
Adding a deep-day board to your quiver
LENGTHS: 173, 181, 189 * RADIUS: 22@181 * SIDECUT: 141-108-124 * $799
“With the 100Eight’s width and full rocker, one would expect great deep-snow performance—and this ski delivers. What is surprising is its energy, snap and edge hold on groomed terrain. This ski can carve a beautiful turn. A 108mm underfoot, yet nimble? Yes!” Ian March’s assessment pretty much summed up the reaction of testers to this lightweight freeride ski. While some lighter and more finesse-type testers found the combination of carbon stringers with wood core more than they could handle in their usual size, those with the power or weight to bend it were enamoured from the first turn. “Big ski but agile,” said Erin Keam. “Surfy, but still holds an edge.” How could a ski this big ski so small? A fully rockered profile and a low swing-
weight made it easy to turn. And a construction technique that focuses the bulk to the centre of the ski didn’t hurt. Extra bends of fibreglass around the sidewalls also added power to the edges and liveliness to the ski. It was stable and predictable at speed, and could rip short turns, carve and float. A rare bird. If you try the 100Eight and find it too much of a handful, consider sizing down—it worked for a few testers.
ROSSIGNOL SOUL 7
BEST FOR: Cruising around in soft snow
LENGTHS: 156, 164, 172, 180, 188 * RADIUS: 18@180 * SIDECUT: 136-106-126 * $799
Rossignol set out to stiffen up the freeride-focused Soul 7 (first introduced in the fall of 2013) and Super 7—both favourites with those who prefer softer more playful-feeling skis—without losing any of the fun. Testers were mixed on the result, some saying they ski just like they always have, while others noticed more performance from the changes. After adding a carbon-alloy matrix last year (as an alternative to Titanal it absorbs shock and improves power transmission), this year Rossi worked on the tip and tail. It cut weight by increasing the honeycomb cutouts and rounding off the edges of the tip, and reinforced the area to reduce tip flap at higher speeds. With lots of rocker at both ends, it wasn’t enough for some testers, who found the tip and tail too soft for hard conditions and the tip still tended to flap when they picked up the pace. But Tyler Blamey was won over by the improvements: “I’ve never really been a huge fan of the 7 series skis, due to the softer flex and overly easygoing nature, but these proved to be a surprise. On-piste, these were super-easy to bend around into any turn shape, and gave back good energy without requiring huge input. Off-piste they definitely prefer to work with the terrain, rather than plow through it, however in deep, soft chop they held their own. I found myself skiing with way more energy and technique than I normally would through the trees, really carving and finishing my turns.” Generally, testers felt the skis would be best for skiers who like to cruise versus drive their skis through every turn.
BEST FOR: Deep-snow surfing
LENGTHS: 177, 184, 191 * RADIUS: 21@184 * SIDECUT: 136-120-131 * $799
The idea of making a dedicated left and right ski has been around longer than the “shaped ski” revolution. Mostly these skis were designed to provide better carving performance, but the variable sidecut and edge length is increasingly popular in deep-snow situations, which is where the Catamaran comes out to play. At 120mm underfoot, it’s a bigger version of last season’s Marksman. Designed with input from big-mountain pros Sean Pettit and Pep Fujas, the longer inside edge increases stability and flotation in deep snow, while the shorter outside edge makes the ski easier to control and turn, attributes tester Ian March noticed: “Really fun in fresh snow with a responsive, surfy feel, and ultra-manoeuvrable for such a wide ski.” Even on groomed runs he found he could tip it over and carve with a little effort. For Paul Cunnius, it was the ski’s construction—a fir and aspen core with a carbon-fibre overlay—that caught his attention: “The ski has a nice pop to it. This is very handy for starting turns in tight and steep situations, and when you’d like some air with little effort. It’s big and fun!” For a more traditional ski feel, check out the popular Pinnacle 105; the largest from K2’s all-mountain Pinnacle family could have just as easily been reviewed in the Freeride category.
HEAD KORE 117
BEST FOR: Alaska dreamers
LENGTHS: 180, 189 * RADIUS: 24.6@189 * SIDECUT: 145-117-129 * $880
Big-mountain ripper is the only way to describe this surprising ski. It moves like the biggest and burliest of boards, but weighs about the same as a ski 20mm thinner. The biggest and most freeride-oriented of the three models in the Kore family (see All-Mountain ski reviews in last issue’s Buyer’s Guide 2018 for the other two), the 117 had testers excited. “Nothing got in the way of this beast,” said Sean Kerrigan. “It charged down everything.” It’s the kind of ski, they said, that crushed through powder-covered bumps and came out the other side going even faster. Plenty of rocker allowed it to float quickly, even in crusty situations, and the ski felt far more nimble than its obese size would suggest. But it’s the Kore 117’s light weight that stood out. That’s all about materials. Head started with a karuba wood core, a poppy but light centre, and then added Koroyd, a light and elastic honeycomb structure that’s good at absorbing vibration and smoothing out the ride. Finally, the tip and tail are graphene, one of the strongest carbon materials available, cutting more weight and keeping the profile low. The ski takes a fairly skilled driver, think advanced level and up, but will give a skier the confidence to push harder and faster than he or she would normally. This is a good option for mounting a touring binding on and using it as a powder and slackcountry set-up.
FISCHER RANGER 115
BEST FOR: Feeling like a pro
LENGTHS: 178, 188, 196 * RADIUS: 20@188 * SIDECUT: 144-115-134 * $900
Pro skier and Whistler local K.C. Deane deftly aired his way down the Blackcomb Super Pipe, bombed groomers at super-G speed, twisted through tight trees and straightlined a big-mountain line. Pros can often get away with things that mere mortals cannot—such as using a big-mountain sword like an all-mountain scalpel—but in this case, he wasn’t the only one finding the Ranger 115 more versatile than it looked. “Super-fun charger. Wicked off-piste, and more responsive than expected for a ski this size on the groomers,” said Whitewater’s Danny Foster. “This would be my pick of the weekend. Definitely a ski for advanced/expert riders, though.” At Lake Louise, Paul Cunnius was equally impressed: “This ski lets you charge the loose snow and crud, giving you confidence. Racers, ex-racers and all experts will appreciate this ski.” The secret to the versatility and power is in a complex construction. Using construction techniques it learned on its nordic side, Fischer milled out a wood core and then did the same to a sheet of Titanal underfoot. Both cut weight while maintaining the flex and stability of the ski. Then a carbon tip was added to reduce swingweight and chatter, and increase float. Add a little rocker and it’s a ski capable of flying down any run at any mountain. The Ranger is also available in a narrower 108 model with a similar construction.
FACTION PRIME 3.0
BEST FOR: Splurging for performance
LENGTHS: 170, 177, 182, 189 * RADIUS: 23@182 * SIDECUT: 133-108-123 * $1,249
TeXtreme carbon composite, BComp hybrid cores, multi-dimensional sidecut, generous rocker… Don’t worry about keeping up with what it all means. Just know that this is a high-tech pair of boards. Designed as a dream project by Switzerland-based Faction, it’s meant to land where touring and big-mountain skiing intersect: light enough to carry up a couloir and burly enough to handle Alaskan faces. It was tested at Faction’s home resort of Verbier in a mixed bag of spring conditions. On firm early-morning groomers it held an edge with no worries, despite its 108mm waist. That’s likely because of a combination of the balsa and flax core and a proprietary carbon-fibre layer that keeps the ski torsionally stiff and powerful. Five different sidecut radii along the edge length match the skis flex pattern to keep the arc round. On a steep couloir the early-rise tip and tail and overall light weight made the ski feel shorter and nimbler than expected. Skinning up a glacier, it felt no heavier than a dedicated backcountry set-up, and then slayed the boot-top and the tight trees that followed. Finally, the run back to town in ankle-deep slush may have been the most fun—despite its light weight it crushed through the heavy snow and deep ruts like a tank. “I was really surprised,” said Sean Kerrigan testing the same ski. “For such a big looking ski, it’s incredibly versatile and skis so smoothly.”
ELAN RIPSTICK 106
BEST FOR: All-mountain skiing at deep-snow resorts
LENGTHS: 167, 174, 181, 188 * RADIUS: 18.1@181 * SIDECUT: 140-106-122 * $699
The Ripstick 106 really showed what it’s made of while trying to keep up with a couple of pro skiers on the slopes of Blackcomb. This ski felt strong and stable at speed. The wood core with twin carbon stringers running along the edges kept the ski planted and torsionally stiff, ideal for holding hard in icy patches and popping into the next turn with control when a quick adjustment was needed. Elan dropped composite sheets into the milled-out sections at the tip and tail to cut swingweight and add vibration dampening. The latter was noted while flying down an empty run at super-G speeds with almost no tip chatter and a bomber feel on the feet. The swingweight came in handy in tight trees, where the 106mm waist felt more like 96 as the ski whipped from turn-to-turn. Like all Ripstick models, the 106 is asymmetrically shaped: the inside and outside edge of each ski have different camber and rocker profiles. Extra-early rise on the outside edge eased turn initiation and helped the tips lift when dropping into a powdery face. The extra camber on the inside edge helped with grip and carve on firmer snow. Overall, Ryan Stuart found this ski to be more all-mountain than freeride: “I never felt over-gunned, even in moguls, tight trees or as I decompressed and took a mellow cruiser after ditching the pros. But I also never felt like I wanted more ski. At one point we dropped into a steep chute of untracked snow with a mandatory air and straight line. The ski felt poised and powerful. I nailed the line and the landing, the Ripstick slicing up the shin-deep like it was dust on a groomer.” Off-piste in the Alps, Iain MacMillan liked it for its “playfulness” and “light and easy feel, even for a lightweight…lots of stability and it doesn’t feel 106 underfoot.” If the other skis on this page seem too big for your purposes, but you’re still looking for a ski that can charge the whole mountain, you may find your partner in crime with the Ripstick 106.
DPS ALCHEMIST WAILER 106
BEST FOR: Slackcountry
LENGTHS: 168, 178, 185, 189 * RADIUS: 18@185 * SIDECUT: 133-106-122 * $1,400
An alchemist is defined as a person who transforms or creates something through a seemingly magical process. With that in mind, DPS’s new Alchemist ski construction is perfectly named. Unique among skimakers, DPS has a range of ski shapes available in three possible constructions, including Alchemist. All are focused on carbon fibre, which is good at stiffening a ski with minimal weight but tends to be a rough ride with lots of vibration. With Alchemist, DPS added a proprietary and secret dampening agent to absorb the bumps. According to testers, it’s like magic. “On-piste it held a mean edge, with huge energy from turn-to-turn,” reported Tyler Blamey, testing the Wailer 106 model at Whitewater. “One of the quickest skis of this size I’ve ever been on.” It’s also easier to ski than most DPS skis, with a smoother flex pattern that’s a little less stiff underfoot but more supportive at the tip and tail. “DPS used to be for top-end skiers only,” said Dave Degelman, manager of Ski West in Calgary. “Alchemist is more forgiving for more average skiers.” These skis float in soft snow, don’t flap at high speed and are lightweight. Maybe a little too light, said Blamey. “Lack of weight does come at a compromise when conditions are less than ideal,” he found. “They really didn’t like chunder or variable snow.” Jenna Burge was more stoked: “Light, durable and yet so smooth, reactive and playful.” Everyone who tested them agreed the Wailers in Alchemist construction would make an ideal set-up for those who spend a lot of time touring, but still want something that will hold its own for resort riding. Alchemist construction is available in freeride models like the Wailer 106 and 112, and big-boy Lotus 124 Spoon, a deep-snow skiing machine.
BLIZZARD RUSTLER 11
BEST FOR: New-school skiing
LENGTHS: 164, 172, 180, 188, 192 * RADIUS: 19@180 * SIDECUT: 142-114-132 * $849
There are so many ingredients in the Rustler it’s hard to know what’s doing what. But like a complicated recipe, it’s all about how the parts come together. If a playful freeride ski is what you’re craving, the Rustler is going to tempt your tummy. It’s a mix of soft-snow fun with enough hard snow and high-speed performance to keep just about anyone happy. To achieve this delicate and conflicting balance, Blizzard designers developed Carbon Flipcore DRT, the complicated recipe mentioned earlier. It mixes about six layers, including a Titanal topsheet and two carbon-fibreglass sheets, in a multiple wood core. Lots of rocker in the tip and tail and camber underfoot add to its progressive performance. “Great ski for playing around in the chop, but still a good time on the groomers,” said Whitewater’s Danny Foster, who preferred the 102mm-waisted Rustler 10. Big boy Paul Cunnius found the 114mm-waisted Rustler 11 a high-performance tank: “Strength and stability let you charge the steepest, deepest and most challenging snow conditions. Variable conditions are no problem.” He noticed easy and quick initiation made the first half of the turn snappy, while a softer tail allowed for smearing, sluffing and more creativity. “It feels narrower than it is,” said Peter Dorey of Olympia Cycle and Ski in Vernon. “It feels like a full rocker ski. You start steering and it does the rest for you.”
BLACK CROWS ATRIS
BEST FOR: The 15-cm club
LENGTHS: 178, 184, 189 * RADIUS: 20@184 * SIDECUT: 139-108-126 * $923
Normally a ski’s high-speed handling is inversely proportional to its agility. Typically you have to stiffen it up and make it feel longer for it to ride smoother, but both go against the idea of a quick-turning, playful feel. To do the seemingly impossible with one of its most popular skis, Black Crows tweaked three aspects of last year’s Atris: turn radius, flex and tail rise. By extending the radius to 20m, the ski is more stable in bigger arcs and thus at higher speeds. The radius and 108mm waist width remains consistent across all three lengths by playing with tip and tail. Black Crows softened the flex a little and then added more tail rocker to maintain the same easy-turning playfulness. The poplar and fibreglass construction remains the same, as does the directional nature of the ski: the tip is wider and much more rockered than the tail. “The Atris has a stiff underfoot but a really playful tip and tail,” said Matt Monod, ski buyer at Banff’s Monod Sports. “This ski has freeride width but all-mountain performance. It’s easier to ski than it looks.” Monod Sports is part of a growing list of Western shops carrying this brand out of Chamonix, France. And this, noted Matt, is the best ski of the line. He said strong intermediates to experts will find this ski a versatile beast. A good choice for a snow snob’s one-ski quiver or a deeper-day addition to expand your quiver.
Tags: BLACK CROWS ATRIS, BLIZZARD RUSTLER 11, DPS ALCHEMIST WAILER 106, ELAN RIPSTICK 106, FACTION PRIME 3.0, FISCHER RANGER 115, freeride, HEAD KORE 117, K2 Catamaran, rocker, Rossignol Soul 7, ski test, ski test 2018, Volkl 100Eight