In the last few years, skis in the 110 to 120 mm underfoot category have gone from powder-specialty quiver skis to something more versatile – skis that don’t make you go running to your car for another pair when the soft stuff gets tracked out after lunch.
One of our favorites in this increasingly versatile big mountain ski category is the Salomon Rocker2 115. Salomon expanded the Rocker2 out to a wide range of skis this year, but we think the 115 hits the sweet spot.
As some folks may recall, I was on board with the Rossi S7 pretty early. I got a sample pair in the spring before the ski was in general release and then kept it in my quiver for the next two seasons. Initially, I was stunned by the quickness and maneuverability and I found it to be stupid easy to ski in trees and tight spots. Eventually, I skied it a bit more in wider, more open areas and in heavier snow and started to discover a few limitations. The S7 tends to get knocked around a bit in rough conditions and the narrow tail can tend to “wheelie” out from under the skier in a sharp downhill to flat transition. At first, I attributed those issues to the soft tip and tail and the rather abrupt rocker profile. The S7 also skis very short and I suspected that I was slightly undergunned on the 188. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the tapered tip and tail profile also played a part. For all that, the S7 was and is a remarkable tool in untracked snow and in tight areas. As a benefit, the shape and stiff center allows the ski (at least the center potion of it) to rail fairly well on moderately firm packed conditions. During this time period, I also had a conventional cambered Huge Trouble and later the minimally rockered version of the Huge. On many powder days, I found myself starting the day on the S7 but eventually, going back to the car for the less nimble, but more stable Dynastars.
All along, I wanted to combine the attributes of the two skis but never really found the exact answer I was looking for. When the Rossignol Super 7 came out, I tried that and it was a little more stable but really wasn’t the whole answer. I liked all these skis a lot and had a great time on them but was always wondering about tip deflection in crud and that “wheelie” thing. I have heard others complain about tip flappage at higher speeds on packed conditions and it’s true enough that these various S7 models can give you a fair bit of that. Honestly, that never bothered me a whole lot as I don’t care a ton about that within the context of what these skis are really for.
Eventually, I decided to replace the S7 but this is a ski category that I personally don’t use all that often and hence, I don’t replace them at the drop of the hat. As time went on, I tested a lot of other 110+ skis, had a great time on most of them and never felt deprived when I went out on a deep snow day. Nevertheless, I really never found one that I wanted to buy for myself until the latter part of the spring 2011 testing season. That was when I first tested the Nordica Patron and Unleashed Hell.
The 2011-12 Nordicas:
For the 2011-12 season, Nordica introduced these two powder skis that were made with the same dimensions but different constructions and graphics. The Patron is the flagship for the freeride market and is built with a conventional wood core and “scary Gaucho” graphics. The Unleashed is billed as a sidecountry /alpine model and has a light isocore stringer down the center of the core and a more adult oriented graphic. Both skis share the same shape and rocker profile which is a conventional low cambered center section with moderate tip and tail rocker sections and a moderate amount of rise at both extremities. The flex is very similar between the two versions and is relatively soft in the tip and tail with a firmer center section. The flex seems somewhat firmer in the 193 length vs. the 185.
When I first got on the Patron it was at Mammoth last year the conditions were not ideal for powder ski testing. There was a little wind blown new snow that had filled in over an older base that created pockets of soft snow between 8-12” interspersed with areas of wind packed powder and the older, rough base. Some of the groomers had good firm winter conditions. I skied a lot of new models of bigger skis that day and the S7 was still as good as any although there were some that minimized the tip deflection issue to an extent. Unfortunately some of those had no cambered section at all and that just doesn’t fit my preferences. The first of the Nordicas that took out was the Patron in 193 and as I made a long high speed traverse to get to my first off trail pass I noticed that it didn’t have the “greasy” feel underfoot of the non cambered skis. When I cut into the moderately steep face under chair 1 the tip of the Patron felt more solid than expected given the softish flex. Rolling into the first set of short to medium turns in the heavily mixed snow, the tip felt engaged and positive and the ski was very nimble for a 193. Near the bottom of the first pitch, I cut hard left into a long traverse that gave me some more vert as the hill fell away to the left. The second pass on this face was made in longer faster turns and the area was a little more scratchy in between the pockets of soft. The Patron again felt very stable and comfortable but was playful enough for me to bank it off of a sidehill at speed and back into the choppy stuff. When the terrain spit me back out onto the groomers I stopped for a moment to reflect. On this sidehill of rough snow mixed with soft pockets, the Patron had felt more seamless than the skis with abrupt rocker profiles and more solid underfoot than the skis with no camber. I was very danged impressed. On the run back to the bottom of chair 1 and then back across the area to the bottom of chair 2, I was able to test the Patron’s manners on the groomers. In all kinds of turn shapes, the Patron felt “longer” than the S7 and I attribute this to the wider tip and tail profiles. On a tip shape like the Patron, you can get enough engagement to quiet the ski down and minimize the flappage and that’s just not something you generally get with a ski that carries a lot of reverse taper at the extremeties.
There weren’t a lot of these skis available for long term testing last year and the few times that I had one at hand, the conditions weren’t right. I finally had a ski on hand at the right time for some deep snow late in the Epic 2011 season. This time around, I happened to have a 185 Unleashed at hand on a snowy day in March with 18” down overnight at Alpine Meadows. My typical test route at Alpine is to ride the Summit chair and hit the various shots off of peril ridge then traverse into the lower half of Sympathy face, followed by a long traverse out to Gunner’s knob near the bottom. This path usually gives me a variety of pitches and exposures and usually holds good snow a bit longer than the more popular routes off the top. The Unleashed in 185 was really nimble and light feeling and felt just as floaty in the deeper snow and just as quick in tight spots as my 188 S7’s had. The difference was that the Unleashed felt more solid in the tip in the choppy spots and in abrupt transitions, the “wheelie” tendency was gone. This day sort of coalesced my supposition that the radically tapered tail of the Rossi was one of the bigger factors in the wheelie issue. The Unleashed/Patron don’t have that taper and while they really aren’t any stiffer, the tail is more stable. This day was the deciding factor that caused me to go for an Unleashed for the 2012 season as I had finally found a ski that was as much fun as the S7 but was more versatile on soft groomers and less prone to the tip deflection and wheelie issues. Since the Unleashed and Patron had felt nearly identical, I chose the Unleashed due to the more sedate Graphics.
Enter the 2012 season……………and no snow.
So along comes late November and the 2012 ski season. The gear corner in my place has a fresh pair of Bonafides, a Hell and Back and my new Unleashed Hell in 185. And there they stayed. There was so little snow that the 98-113mm skis were just not getting any use at all and the Unleashed wasn’t even mounted. Then came Christmas and then New Years……and my own skis sat. Off I went to SIA at the end of January and I was testing 2013’s……and my skis were sitting gathering dust. I’d gotten the chance to see the 2013 Nordica collection in early fall and among other things, they were showing another new powder ski. This new model was to be called the Helldorado and it took the Enforcer build (wood/metal) and put it in the Patron/Unleashed mold. When we got to SIA, we got to get the whole story and see finished skis. The first thing I noticed was that the Helldorado was not as stiff nor as heavy as I thought it would be. The final graphic which is a semi matte black with sublimated tone on tone was very cool and pretty bad-azz looking. During our meetings in Denver Willy, Booker, (les grandes Fromagge at Nordica) arranged to send us a couple of pairs of Helldorados for a long term test as soon as possible.
The Helldorado shows it’s stuff:
Welllllllso…………….we got back from SIA and immediately jumped into ski testing mode. Given the conditions, we were sorta distracted by the new FA 84 EDT and skis of that ilk and we forgot about the Helldo for a while. When they showed up, we immediately mounted up the 185 and 193 and got them prepped so that we could get them out as soon as conditions permitted. And then finally it snowed, and snowed, and then snowed some more. All through this miracle March and into early April, I’ve been able to back to back with the Nordica Helldorado and the Unleashed in 185 as well as some other skis in this range. I still liked the Unleashed better than I had my S7’s but I found that in some cases, I liked the Helldo even better. The differences are subtle but the Helldorado is simply more damp and stable than the Patron/Unleashed without sacrificing much in the maneuverability capability. In really tight spots, the Unleashed is quicker and more nimble especially at slower speeds. On the other hand, once the snow gets heavied out, the Helldo plows through the crud and feels more stable in rough stuff like slide debris. The Unleashed/Patron are more in the realm of “powder” skis while the Helldorado edges into the “Big Mountain” category. This distinction bears on the stability factor and the ability of the Helldorado to hammer rough conditions that would bounce lesser skis around.
Nordica does a remarkable job with this wood metal layup in skis like the Enforcer and this new Helldorado. While many metal bearing skis are really too stiff to be truly versatile in mixed snow, the Nordicas tend to hit that balance that I always talk about. Both the Helldo and our long favored Enforcer have the benefits of dampening and stability without being so planky that they just don’t flex in deep snow. They also seem to have hit a great mix of rocker and cambered sections giving the skier a solid feel underfoot along with the ease that you’d hope for. One other factor that seems to bear on the stability of the Helldorado is the rocker profile in the tip. The rise on the rockered section is subtley lower than on the Patron/Unleashed which in turn are both lower than the S7 (see the pic above). I think this allows the Nordicas to stay engaged better and hence have more stability while not giving up much of that ultra-short feel that some other skis exhibit. For the tight tree slicer and dicer, or the skier looking for a medium speed powder ski, I’d still pick the Patron/Unleashed. For the skier that wanted that light feel but a higher stability factor, I’d suggest those two in the 193 length. For the higher powered skier, and/or heavier snow in the west, the Helldorado gets the nod.
Several years ago, a couple reps, company execs, and sponsored skiers were sitting around a dinner table celebrating the success of a new prototype that would revolutionize the way they made skis. The idea was born out of a frustration with rocker technology, which makes skis playful, but also instable and nervous. Ever the tinkering skier, Arne Backstrom proposed a solution that was simple, yet so profound, it should be written down in the ski book of Zen: Build the ski upside down.
Blizzard-Tecnica unveiled their upcoming 2012/2013 lineup for the first time in California and Nevada before an audience of Tahoe skiers and ski industry leaders at a launch party in Squaw Valley. Like last year’s line of Blizzard skis, next year’s models all embrace Flip Core technology, which was inspired by Backstrom and flips the ski’s wood core upside down so it naturally takes on a rocker shape. Incorporated in the Cochise to the Bodacious to an entire new line of woman’s big mountain skis and beyond — thirteen models in total for 2013 — the genius of Backstrom’s idea is that it can be applied to an entire line of skis, not just one pair. And on Tuesday night, there were many converts in the crowd who now believe in Flip Core.
“If I’m going to sell a product to a friend, I have to believe in it,” said Robb Gaffney, who first skied the Cochise prototype three years ago at Kirkwood, and now skis them nearly every time he goes out. “The first run, I believed it. The second run, I believed it more … He [Backstrom] knew what he was talking about.”
Ski writer Jackson Hogen noted that Blizzard isn’t just on the map, it’s leading the charge with its new technology. “They made it [Blizzard] the most important brand in skiing now, because it’s the reference brand,” Hogan said. “It’s all deserved because it’s product … These things aren’t pixie dust. There’s math involved.” Not just math, there was a curious person who was in tune with his equipment.
“A lot of it came down to this drive to understand how things worked,” said Ralph Backstrom, Arne’s younger brother.
Arne Backstrom was at the top of his skiing career when this idea came forward. And at that dinner table on that fortuitous night, the Blizzard-Tecnica crew was not only celebrating the success of the prototype, but also Backstrom’s skiing career. He had just won the first McConkey Cup and was filming with Matchstick and Warren Miller. It was that night that Stefano Mantegazza, Blizzard-Tecnica product director, proposed that the Bodacious become Backstrom’s signature pro model ski.
“It’s not a tribute,” said Clem Smith, sales rep for Blizzard-Tecnica, about the Bodacious. “This was always his deal. It wasn’t an afterthought.”
Backstrom passed away just as the first line of Flip Core skis went into production. Right before he left for Peru to ski the Cordillera Blanca, Backstrom signed his name five times — a true perfectionist — on a piece of paper that he left with Smith. That signature is now on every pair of Bodacious skis.
“Arne was a man of few words,” Smith said. “But when he spoke, everyone listened.”
New this year from Blizzard is a women’s big mountain line of Flip Core skis, including the aggressive Blizzard Dakota ski, which is the female version of the Cochise. Tecnica is also coming forward with another line of boots inspired by Backstrom’s infamous Frankenboot. The 2012/13 free mountain boots feature interchangeable soles, a walk mode, and can be skied aggressively in bounds or in the backcountry.
“It’s rare to see an athlete have this much inspiration in a global brand,” said Dana Greenwood, sales rep for Blizzard-Tecnica. “It’s got Squaw DNA … [Backstrom] knew it was a good idea, but he never would believe the impact worldwide that he would have.”
Nothing is better than waking up and seeing 2 feet of fresh at lake level or the valley floor; especially this season! We’re all pretty comfortable with the light and fluffy stuff but sometimes when the “Pineapple Express” hits, the fresh snow can be dense and heavy. How do you approach these types of conditions? Here are three tips to help make your day more enjoyable if its not as light as you hoped:
1. Allow your skis to plane out of the snow, you may need to aim straight down the hill or at a diagonal to get some speed built up. It will help keep your skis on the surface.
2. Steer your feet and legs progressively, spend just a little more time in the fall line than what your instinct directs you to do. Big, aggressive twisting moves will bog you down and throw you off balance.
3. Shrink your turns to go slower and stretch out your turns to go faster, read the terrain and scope out your line, so you know where you will need to make adjustments to maintain fluidity and control.
And don’t forget to check out our selection of powder skis, all designed to make powder skiing easier and more fun with wide widths, rockered shapes and easier flex patterns: Shop Powder Skis
The Influence 115 for 2012 is a modified version of last year’s Prophet 115. The new version comes with a slightly softer flex and a bit more pronounced rise in the tip rocker section. These are important changes as the Prophet was a little too stiff to really shine in light, deep snow and it was a little too wide for the preferences of many big mountain skiers for a daily driver ski. The changes have clearly benefitted the new Influence 115 and made it a much better powder than it was last year.
I tested an Influence 115 on two different occasions during March of 2011 when Tahoe was getting heavily pounded by big storms. Both times I noted that the 115 floated well and turned readily enough when in the deeper snow but it just wasn’t as nimble or maneuverable as softer double rise skis. On the other hand, when I skied out of the deep stuff and into shallower crud or back onto the groomers, the Influence was one of the most solid feeling skis in this width category. The Influence 115 illustrates the conundrum that ski makers have to face when building skis in this width range. The question is whether to build a little stiffer ski with less rocker so it excels in crud and heavy snow, or do they add more rocker and taper and make it softer and more nimble in the deep stuff. Of course the consumer expects both things but that isn’t reality. Everything is a compromise the Influence 115 is a blend of powder float and big mountain stability. If a skier wanted a ski inb this width range for everyday use, the Influence 115 is one of the best choices.
The influence 105 is a new model for Line this year and this ski fills a position in the lineup that Line did not really have in the past. The “big mountain” ski as we define it is basically a large economy size all mountain ski. By that, we mean a ski that has a mix of all mountain ski characteristics but in a width (approx 102-108mm) that is close to powder ski territory. The Line Influence 105 fits right into that mold. The 105 is of course, 105mm wide at the waist and uses Lines Metal Matrix topsheet. This gives the ski a medium-firm flex that helps it to power crud and grip well on the groomers. The Influence 105 has a fairly low rise to its rockered tip so that it lifts a little better in softer snow without detracting much from the feel on harder snow.
I got the chance to test the Influence 105 at Sugar Bowl on a Wednesday in March 2011 at the Sugar Bowl ski resort. It had snowed Monday night and part of Tuesday but then had cleared up and the powder was pretty well skied out. It was very cold Tuesday night and the wind blew so the snow had blown around and filled in, but had also compacted some. By Wednesday, the conditions were vastly different on different aspects of the resort. This is the type of day when you sorta want your powder skis for the deep spots and you sorta want your all mountain skis for the crud, wind pack and groomers. That is the catalog description for the “big mountain” ski as it is the blend of both those two categories. There are a few truly great skis in this category and the Influence 105 is one of the best. Skiing into the main area from a fringe parking lot, you have a couple of lift rides and some groomers to deal with and the Influence 105 feels solid, stable and relatively grippy in GS turns. When I got to the top of the Disney lift I cut right through the trees to get to the east face bowl where the wind had filled in yesterdays tracks. The snow was about mid calf and had some substance to it because of the wind compaction. The Influence 105 sliced this stuff with ease and the early rise kept the tip from hooking when I hit a patch that was little heavier than the surrounding snow. Down lower, I dropped into a gully where the snow had collected but was not compacted much. This was pretty deep stuff and the influence skied through it with ease but certainly not with the float that you’d get if you had on a wider and softer ski. Later in the day on the Lincoln lift, I got into a steep pitch that was heavily skied out. Here, the 105 made short radius turns quickly enough but the nimble feel of some narrower all mountain skis was lacking. This test day really explains the category of “big mountain” skis very well. While it lacks the flotation of the pure powder ski, and the nimbleness of the all mountain ski, the Influence 105 blends those two characteristics very well. It is certainly no accident that many big mountain competitors choose skis in this range as their competition ski and also as their daily driver.
Check out the Line Influence product pages and order on our website:
It is safe to say that the Rossignol S7 has taken the world of powder skis by storm over the last two years. This is the model that has been the highest in demand and shortest in supply during that time. It is also safe to say that the S7 started out in the market a little slowly. There was not much marketing behind the S7 at first, Rossi didn’t have a real high “cool factor” at the time, and it also looked very different than most of the other powder skis available at the time. The current huge demand for the S7 came about slowly at first and it was mostly word of mouth. Later, the S7 received a #1 ranking in a magazine review. After that, it was the ski that everyone wanted but after early December (or so) nobody could get. So, One might wonder……what is all that about?
At the time the S7 came out, there were not very many innovative designs available in the world of powder skis. For sure, there were a few groundbreaking designs already on the mainstream market and some interesting stuff in the independent ski world but there were not all that many readily available choices. When Rossi quietly introduced the S7, it was a nearly unique blend of powder technologies at least from the major suppliers. The S7 took rocker and reverse sidecut (the major components of powder ski design) and carefully blended them without taking any of those technologies to the extreme. The S7 starts with a section in the middle of the ski comprising roughly 50% of the skis length that has conventional sidecut and camber. Moving fore and aft from that starting point, the tip and tail are substantially rockered and the tip and tail are also tapered. This may or may not have been the very first iteration of this combo but it was certainly the first from a major supplier.
I got my first pair of S7s in the early winter of ’09 before it had really caught on. I honestly bought it so that I could put some extended time on it to figure out if this was a good direction in ski design for my personal use. I had previously owned a K2 Pontoon and while it was magical in deep snow it was really not my cuppa anywhere else. At the time that I got the S7, my powder ski Du Jour was a 115mm twin tip ski with low, conventional camber. For the early part of that season, I had gotten got out on the S7 maybe 5-6 times and found that I really liked the blend of characteristics. When the snow was not very deep, the longer conventional section of the S7 felt grippier and more stable than my Pontoons had. Another bonus was that the tip was nowhere near as big and bulky and so the S7 felt more nimble than either the old Pontoon or my current conventional powder skis. I also noticed that in consolidated and or chopped up snow, the tips of the S7 deflected less than the Pontoon did. I didn’t hit a major dump early on and so, while I really liked the S7 better than the Pontoon, I didn’t find it dramatically better than the conventional powder ski I had.
Then came “Big Wednesday”……………………….
On a cold, windy day in February, I hit the day the S7 was made for. It had snowed pretty continuously since late Monday and by Wednesday there was over 3 feet of accumulation, not much skier traffic and some closed roads to boot. I drove up to Sugar Bowl from Truckee that morning figuring there would be less traffic than going to Squaw or Alpine. Sure enough, the factors contributed to deep snow and not many skiers. Skiing into the main area I noticed that Mt. Lincoln was not yet open so I bypassed it and headed for Disney. Disney had been skied a bit but there was no problem finding untracked lines and that is where I discovered what the S7 was made for. The S7 floated the deep snow with a fairly even fore-aft bias and the low resistance from the tapered tip and tail made the ski feel more nimble and turny than anything I had ever been on. The S7 skis very short and for most average sized men the 188 is the minimum length to really consider. Skiing down the nose of Disney, I dropped into a shallow gully where the snow was chest deep and the next four or five turns were nearly blind as the snow billowed past my head. I skied up out of that gully thinking to myself……….SOLD!! The rest of the day was spent exploring all over the area as additional terrain became available and in the tighter spots like in the trees etc. the nimbleness of the S7 really shows up. This type of design allows the skier to slide the skis practically sideways while submerged in the snow. This maneuver can be adopted as a general technique if you choose to or saved as an emergency avoidance or “whoa down” maneuver. Either way, the S7 can be skied in a conventional “powder carve” technique or in this newer “slarve” technique very well. The S7 has decisively proven that a properly designed powder ski does not need to be enormously wide in order to be effective.
The payoff of the balanced design and nimbleness of the S7 is that these factors make it one of the most versatile of the powder specialty skis. Literally anyone from a solid intermediate skier and up can take advantage of the S7. For all its popularity and versatility though, the S7 is not without its weaknesses. The nimble feel of the high tip rise and its taper can cause the S7 to get knocked around a fair bit when the snow gets heavy or heavily tracked out. The soft narrow tail can cause the ski to wheelie out from under the skier if he gets tossed into the back seat a little due to the terrain or conditions. Finally, while the underfoot section of the S7 grips well on firmer snow, the tip and tail can display some significant flappage on firm or rough snow. While these paybacks are valid enough questions for some skiers, the fact remains that most all powder specialty skis display the same things to one level or another and the S7 minimizes these perceived weaknesses better than most other similar skis.
The Blizzard Bonafide comes in at 98mm at the waist and features the “Flipcore” construction of the Freemountain line. The Bonafide has conventional camber in the center section of the ski with modest tip and tail rise and 2 ½ sheets of metal. This construction with layered metal laminates allows Blizzard to build a ski with a thin profile. This thin profile along with a lightweight center stringer in the core allows the Bonafide to be much lighter than expected for a ski with this much metal.
My first experience on the Bonafide was at Squaw Valley in early January on very hard snow. The layered metal gave the Bonafide near ice-pick grip in the conventional cambered section and the ski was remarkably damp on the near bulletproof conditions. Rolling in and out of varied turn shapes, it was easy to see that that the Bonafide changed turn shapes easily and would finish turns smoothly regardless of the radius. The even flex blends the rockered sections into the overall construction so well that even on the hardest snow conditions, the tip feels connected and the tail felt grippy and basically conventional.
I was so impressed by the Bonafide that I ordered a pair in 180cm for the rest of the season and spent much of the remainder of this heavy snow year on it. The Bonafide handles soft crud or heavy crud remarkably well and deep powder exceptionally well for a 98mm ski. In one instance at Mammoth, I got the Bonafide into some chalky refrozen crud that had a little skiff of chalky windblown snow over the top of it. The Bonafide initiated easily in this very rough snow and released without getting hung up on the coral heads. I even tried the 187 length in those conditions and found that it felt very nimble and maneuverable considering the length. The Bonafide grips as well in the cambered section as any conventionally cambered ski in this width range and yet rolls in and out of crud, junk and powder with the ease that you’d expect from a ski with tip and tail rocker. The fact that the Blizzard Bonafide does all these somewhat contradictory things so well is a tribute to the effectiveness of the “Flipcore”design. This truly remarkable blend of characteristics makes the Bonafide one of the most versatile skis that I have ever skied on and makes it a huge winner in the very competitive 98mm width range.
This 2011 season turned into one of the most powder filled seasons in the history of skiing. The “Season of Powder” continued long into June, with local skiers still getting face-shots on the 6th of June. Needless to say, the Volkl Shiro was the perfect tool to for those insanely deep days we had Squaw and across the country this year.
My first day on the Shiro was in February during one of the biggest storms of the season. To put this into perspective I’m 6’5” and the snow was above my chest. Although the Shiro is not the widest powder ski on the market it provided an unrecognizable amount of float. The tips of these skis are nearly impossible to burry! This ultimately is due to the tech that Volkl has associated with the Shiro. Volkl has brought together the best tech within powder skis to build the Shiro. So let’s brake this down the Shiro has fully rockered construction, giving you maximum float without feeling “planky”. From there Volkl knows that taper in a ski like this is key. The taper of the Shiro is what allows it to provide more float than almost any other ski within the category. This allows the skis to feel extremely “surfy” in even the deepest of snow. Top it off with some additional carbon fiber and a sensor wood core and you have one of the raddest powder skis……ever. However most importantly I left Squaw Valley that day with a smirk on my face that lasted for days to come.
Later in the season I had the opportunity to go cat skiing with the local Volkl crew and the Pacific Crest Cats. That day led to the coining of the term “Shiro’ing” (the distinct act of shredding powder on the Volkl Shiro), a name that is very well deserved. I cannot imagine a better ski to take on a trip like this; we had tight trees, wide open faces, steep spines and endless amounts of fresh powder. The performance of the Shiro was phenomenal. It smears a turn when you tell it to, it has the performance to rip big turns on open faces and the ability to stomp any cliff you may drop. This ski has the potential of becoming one of the most sought after powder skis within the industry. The Shiro makes skiing powder effortless. Whether you are looking for your first ski to venture into the deep stuff with or you are ripping spines in Alaska, the Shiro should be part of your quiver.
Every few years, something comes along in ski design that captures the imagination of the skiing public so completely, that it revolutionizes the market. This doesn’t happen very often but when it has happened in the past, the concept has often been the brainchild of Salomon’s Bernard Bertrand. Bernard who is often known as Beber is not just a ski engineer or a marketing guy. Rather he is an imaginative designer with roots that deeply embedded in both surfing and skiing. Beber has always strived for ways to make skiing easier and more accessible to the market and some famous designs of his include Salomon’s X-Scream and Pocket Rocket. Both of which dramatically altered the landscape of ski design.
Beber’s newest creation is the new Salomon BBR model for 2012. This ski model looks so radically different from other ski designs that it warrants double takes in the lift line. The most noticeable difference in the BBR is that the tip is amazingly wide and is shaped like a surfboard while the rest of the ski tapers dramatically to a very narrow tail. The effect of a large amount of taper has been known for years but the BBR takes it to an unheard of level. The BBR comes in two versions with roughly similar capabilities and so, I am reviewing both together. The 8.9 is wider and stiffer, comes in longer lengths, and is generally suited for men or very strong women. The BBR 7.9 is softer, a little narrower And comes in shorter sizes. Some of our women testers skied both versions and which one they preferred was relative to their level of aggressiveness.
The BBR looks so different from other ski designs that when a skier first sees it, the question is invariably the same……“what does it do?” The answer to that is…….. “everything” I found that the major effect of the huge tip is that the BBR engages at the tip with the barest thought of an ankle roll. The huge taper angle allows the tail to skid easily at the finish of the turn. This gives the skier the ability to either tighten up the turn radius or open up the turn radius just by ankle movements. While this can be done on other skis too, it is dramatically easier and more effective on the BBR.
The extremely wide tip and narrow tail gives much more flotation in powder than the waist width would otherwise suggest and the tip stays up without having to sit back on the tails of the skis. The narrow tail can skid or slide around in the powder and this combination makes the BBR the best powder ski in its width class. The BBR can also make varying turn shapes with ease on groomed snow or in shallower mixed soft snow conditions. Even the skier that likes to lay the ski way up on edge for big GS type carves will find that the BBR can even do that reasonably well.
The BBR is not the ski for the gnar eater or the cliff jumper. Rather, it is a ski that can make new terrain available to mid to high level skiers that have maybe been stuck in a groomer rut. This skier may want to sample some off trail conditions and maybe ski a little powder but he does not want to give up a comfortable feel on groomers. The BBR is way more comfortable on typical everyday terrain than the uber-wide rockered powder skis. Some skiers are a little over analytical about ski characteristics and how it relates to performance. The BBR is best appreciated by skiers that are not so analytical but rather are just motivated by the experience. One of our women testers is the epitome of this kind of skier. She joked about her testing analysis by saying….. “All you’re gonna get from me is a smiley face or a frowny face on my test card. I probably won’t know why I’m scoring the ski the way I do, all I care about is whether it is fun or not and the BBR got the biggest smiley of the day”
The Pon2oon is the second generation of the venerable Pontoon model; the brain child of the late Shane McConkey. This is the first major redesign of the ski that arguably popularized the trend toward big, rockered skis for powder. While there is no doubt that the Pontoon set the trend, the original design has become a bit dated. Newer designs have brought some serious competition to the genre and the new Pon2oon addresses the market very well. The Pon2oon has a much longer conventional section in the center of the ski along with lower rocker at both tip and tail. The result is a ski that retains most of the near magical powder performance of the original, but with dramatically improved stability when the snow is not waist deep.
I first skied the original Pontoon some years back on a day when it had rained over an 18” storm, not your ideal powder day. The Pontoon handled the thick heavy snow with ease and it really showed me what the concept was all about. In the years since then, the Pontoon was right at the top of the heap of powder specialty skis but getting to and from the powder or skiing in just a few inches of snow was not a great experience for my tastes. This year with the new upgrade I was eager to test the new design but it took much of the year for me to hit the right day when I had deep snow and a new Pon2oon available all at the same time. Finally it happened and it was worth the wait.
The capabilities of this new ski in deep snow are not dramatically different than the old version, but its non-powder characteristics are remarkably better. The new Pon2oon is notably more stable and predictable in shallow snow, crud and is even reasonable on hard packed snow. This can be directly correlated with the fact that K2 has stiffened the Pon2oon throughout the entire ski. Previously the Pontoon was a relatively soft ski, and although that made for a superior powder tool it made for a difficult ride on hard pack or broken snow. The new Pon2oon is a great upgrade. This upgrade has not only increased hard snow performance, but also deep snow performance. The ability to stick landings and let the ski run out at higher speeds has dramatically increased. The effortless floatation that the Pon2oon provides is as good as it gets, no questions asked. For the tastes of most, this will remain to be a powder specialty ski, but for the majority this will be far more versatile than the original Pontoon. The Pon2oon does not ski as short as the old one, but the 189 is still the best size for average to heavy male skiers.