Tag Archives: 2014 ski review

2014 Nordica Vagabond Review

Looking to next year’s skis, we’re seeing a lot of growth in the 100-110 waisted all mountain ski category. One of the shop favorites so far is the Nordica Vagabond, a 107 mm underfoot ski that got Jim and Phil re-thinking ski widths for next year.

Editor’s Note: The Nordica Vagabond Blem is now only $299! Click Here.


Over the last few years, skis around 98 mm underfoot have been our favorite “quiver of one” skis for Tahoe and other western ski areas where you might split your time between groomers and off-piste.

Philpug getting after it on the Nordica Vagabond

Skis over 100 mm had been more powder or big mountain biased, like the perennial favorite, the Volkl Gotama or the excellent Blizzard Cochise.

But the Nordica Vagabond is a solid daily driver ski contender for western skiers, thanks to its surprising on-piste performance that doesn’t give anything up in the powder or crud.

With no metal and an I-Core stringer to reduce weight, this ski definitely registers on the light and lively side of the scale vs. heavy and damp powerful skis out there, but it’s no wimp. One of our testers, normally leery of skis with no metal, said the Vagabond had surprising pop out of each turn, saying “for a metal-less ski, it has a surprisingly confident ride.”

Railing big GS style turns on firm snow, the large cambered section hooked up and dug trenches surprisingly well for a ski this wide. An on-paper 25 meter turning radius would suggest it wouldn’t do so well with quick turns, but here’s where light and lively come back in to play, along with the tip rocker and a slight rise and taper in the tail. Quick to initiate into a turn and quick to release out – it did well with just about anything at the WWSRA demo day at Alpine Meadows on Firm Snow.

In a foot-plus of fresh powder, one tester spent the day at Sugar Bowl seeking out untracked stashes and bashing through crud back to the lift, even doing a little out-of-bounds hiking with the Nordica Vagabond. The tip rocker kept the ski planing so well the tester didn’t miss fatter powder skis, and the relatively straight sidecut didn’t feel hooky in chopped up snow. Overall the ski seemed to attain the difficult-to-find balance between stability and fun.

Overall, our testers were amazed at both how versatile and how nimble the Nordica Vagabond is. It successfully walks the fine line between stiffness, width, weight and shape that makes it a great choice for skiers who like the feel of a wider ski off-piste but don’t want to give up much on firm snow groomer days.

It’s also a strong contender for a backcountry ski, thanks to those characteristics – through on some Dynafits and go deep into the mountains, or throw on some Marker Dukes/Barons/Tours and ski it in-bounds and out.

Nordica Vagabond Stats:
Dimensions: 137-107-125
Turning Radius: 25 M

More info:
Here’s a discussion on the Vagabond over at EpicSki: http://www.epicski.com/t/119311/review-2014-nordica-vagabond

Blizzard Bonafide Review: An All Mountain Ski Gold Standard

Here in Tahoe, the Start Haus tends to recommend 98 mm underfoot skis as the best all-around all-mountain skis for local conditions.


There are a lot of good skis in this category, but the one that both Sierra Jim and Phil Pug have held as the gold standard in the category recently has been the versatile Blizzard Bonafide.

It’s won numerous magazine awards, sold out last year before January at the Start Haus, and this year, Blizzard is sold out nation-wide, so once they’re gone, they’re gone. We’ve got them in stock, but they’re going fast. Click here.

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Nordica Vagabond Review – (Video) Now $299!

The Nordica Vagabond is a new ski for the 2013-14 season and is one of many new skis from several makers in the 105-108mm width range.


The Vagabond shares the construction that has become the standard classic from Nordica on such highly successful skis as the Steadfast and Hell and Back. This is a wood/glass/carbon layup ski with a lightweight composite stringer down the center of the core to reduce weight.

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Salomon Quest 98 Ski Review

When We first got on the Salomon Quest 98, we couldn’t believe Salomon was selling it for $200 less than comparable skis. That sounds like a line, but it’s true.

Now it’s not going to be all things to all people, but if you’re looking for a light, lively all mountain ski that’s easy to drive and lots of fun, this ski is certainly worth a close look.


If you’re looking for a hard-charging, straight-lining burly metal ski, look elsewhere. You can see how the Salomon stack sup against other skis in the category in our all mountain ski comparison here.

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Powder Ski Comparisson – Sierra Jim

Testing powder skis for our 2014 buy was challenging in several respects. First, it’s best to test them in powder with some depth to it, and last year, we didn’t have many opportunities.

The second challenge was that the market is changing and consumer preferences are ahead of the manufacturers in what they seem to be looking for. These days, the skier is saying they want a powder ski but they are starting to ask about non-powder performance more than they have in the past.


The result is that the skier is likely to be looking for a somewhat narrower ski than in the past and sales of skis over 120mm in waist width have slowed dramatically in the last year.  In fact, the more popular powder skis currently seem to be in the 112-118mm range, and many of the skis in this width range have toned down the amounts of rocker and taper from what they might have had in the past.

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Start Haus Backcountry Ski Comparison

As the Start Haus delves more deeply into the backcountry, we’ve taken a different tact when it comes to skis – instead of jumping on the latest and greatest ultralight, rando-racing inspired sticks – we’ve picked backcountry skis that actually ski as well as alpine skis.

That means skis from manufacturers with real experience in ski design – Armada, Atomic, Blizzard, Dynastar, K2, Line, Nordica, Rossignol, Salomon and Volkl – who have shaved weight from alpine skis to give you something that will make the down worth the up.


The truth is, the line between alpine and backcountry skis continues to blur, and just about any ski mounted with a Dynafit binding is going to be light enough, depending on your end goal. But the following skis stand out as great backcountry tools that don’t skimp on the fun factor on the way down, each one making for a great in-bounds ski as well.

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Wide All Mountain Ski Comparison: 100-110 mm – Sierra Jim

See the 2015 Wide All Mountain Ski Comparison Here

For some years, there was a pretty significant trend among good skiers, especially in the west, to experiment with wider and wider skis as everyday choices.

As these skis proliferated and rocker started sprouting up on almost everything, this became more and more common, generated more and more hype, and the ski manufacturers poured out dozens of models every year.

Pretty soon, we were seeing folks out on the hill with 110-120mm wide skis on days when it hadn’t snowed in a week or more. Often, these skis would have pretty significant rocker and you could hear the tips flapping around from a hundred yards away.

Everyone seemed happy at first, and all was smiles and giggles but eventually, the trend started to reverse itself. Some of these skiers were (and still are) happy with “powder” skis for everyday use, but a pretty fair number came back to the store to buy an 88-98mm ski to go along with the big ones.

It didn’t take long for the market trend to slowly start to reverse and the ski manufacturers started knocking down the amounts of rocker and they put the brakes on introductions of new skis beyond the 118mm (or so) range.

Meanwhile, the sales of the 95-98mm skis had taken off, and the Volkl Mantra became the best selling ski in the US market a few years ago. There was soon plenty of competition as a number of really successful skis in that width range hit the market, and sure enough, sales shot up.

The folks that had a powder ski and a 95-98mm ski were pretty well set and as long as they were OK with multiple skis, it was all good. However, there were skiers that were just tired altogether of the really wide stuff, and others that only wanted one ski, but wanted a little more soft snow bias than what most of the 98s offered.


The ski makers have pounced on this trend and are now introducing a lot of new “all mountain” skis in the 103-108mm range, also called big mountain skis, or freeride skis. Many of these skis are highly useful for the skier who prioritizes soft conditions but still has to deal with packed snow from time to time. Most of these models have some rocker but usually not a lot of it.

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All Mountain Ski Review: 95-98mm – Sierra Jim

See the 2015 All Mountain Ski Comparison Here

Our most popular category at the Start Haus is all mountain skis around 98mm under foot, a generalist, daily driver or quiver of one for many western skiers.

There is a trend these days to say that the plus or minus 98mm skis are the perfect ski width for everyone in the west – and that is simply not the case.

There are plenty of skiers out west that are well served by frontside skis, and a lot more (maybe even most) that are best suited by the roughly 88mm skis in our skinny all mountain ski review.

Naturally a quiver of skis is the best of all, and more is always better. But, for the skier with one ski, roughly a 50/50 priority towards packed vs. soft snow usage, and the capabilities to ski that terrain, yes, the 98mm all mountain skis skis may be the one.


As always, this category is loaded with talent and also with differences. Those differences can range from relatively dramatic to very subtle – and generally not about the width. The 3mm width difference from the narrowest to the widest of the skis we’ll review here are not a deciding factor when picking between them.

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Skinny All Mountain Ski Review: 82 to 90 mm – Sierra Jim

The 2015 version of this comparison is here: 2015 Narrow All Mountain Skis

When we move up in width from the frontside carver ski collection, our next category is this one that ranges from roughly 82-90mm.

Some skis in this category have a distinct bias toward hardpack and could possibly be considered as wider frontside skis. Most however, trade off a little of the hard snow capability in favor of increased versatility when softer snow and off trail usage is considered.


Some of the models in this group can work pretty well in up to say a foot of snow, and many of them are quite good in bumps. Most of these models still have fairly minimal rocker and will in general, are at least somewhat softer in flex (especially in torsion) than the frontside specialists.

This is a very popular category with a lot of variation in characteristics. Some models in this category have metal in their layups while many others don’t. Some skis in this group will use binding plates and some are sold flat.

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2014 Frontside Carver Ski Comparison – Sierra Jim

See the 2015 Review Here!

As a western (Tahoe) based ski shop, we at the Start Haus have a lot of demand for wider soft snow biased skis, and for sure, we carry a wide array and sell a lot of them.

However, even on a “normal” year in this snow-rich area, there are periods when it doesn’t snow for a week or more. Last year, it basically didn’t snow any appreciable amount after the first of January.


For periods like this, it pays to have a good hard snow ski. Even in that mythical “normal” year, most Tahoe skiers will find that if they have this type of ski, they’ll ski it quite a bit. Some years, like last year for example, they’ll ski it much of the time. This category of ski is also a very popular choice for ski instructors and other well-schooled skiers in the East, Midwest or the West, who understand what edge angles and pressure are all about.

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