2 Years on the Rossignol S7:
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.