With fresh snow falling all week long over the 4,200 acres of intricate, steep terrain at Red Mountain, British Columbia, 30 ski companies gathered to showcase their top skis for 2019 before the 33 skiers who make up the Powder Union. With zero influence from attending brands, the Union spent a collective 1,500 hours determining the best all mountain skis of the year, with less than 100mm underfoot, found in the 2019 Buyer's Guide.
(Click on ski to skip down to review):
ATOMIC Vantage 97 Ti
BLIZZARD Rustler 9
HEAD Kore 99
KASTLE MX 99
NORDICA Enforcer 100
NORDICA Santa Ana 100
SALOMON QST 99
STOCKLI Stormrider 99
ELAN Ripstick Black Edition
D: 131.5-97-120.5 (@180cm)
L: 172, 180, 188cm
R: 19.1 m (@180cm)
Whether it's early morn- ing corduroy, steep chalk, Wednesday night beer league races, or avoiding tourists on holiday, the new Vantage 97 Ti has you covered.
A slim chassis pairs with a wood core and a perfo- rated layer of titanium (called 'tank mesh') to deliver a highly agile ski with substantial power.
There's not enough rocker for powder, and look elsewhere if you prefer the slarve, but for speed and precision on firm snow, the new Vantage just might punch your ticket.
L: 164, 172, 180, 188cm
R: 17 m (@180cm)
The Rustler 9, a new addition to Blizzard's lineup, has an amazing combination of the plowability of a stiffer wider ski combined with a lighter feel and swing weight provide one of the more balanced skis in that range. I'm happy to say that what the 11 brought to the table has translated well down to the 9. It felt super familiar to have that same plowability while getting a more responsive feel out of a shorter waisted ski.
The turn shape is very nimble and short to moderate and the lesser weight is still evident to where it doesn't feel like you are killing yourself to stay in the fall line. This feeling comes from the Carbon Flipcore technology where there is a unidirectional carbon frame in the tip and tail to reduce swing and pivot weight. It also incorporates a specifically shaped Titanal layer that runs the length of the ski and is widest at the waist while narrower at the tip and tail which allows for a more flexible feel in the entry and exit of the turn while still having a strong underfoot feel.
I also found that the work came more at the end of the turn as it felt too plowy at certain times when the ski didn't have much pop at the end of the turn and you would have to create your own energy. Finally, it isn't the most fun-having ski as trying to get bouncy with the Rustler 9 made it more difficult to hold the line at higher speeds.
Blizzard's Rustler 9 felt familiar compared to the rest of the Rustler line and that speaks a lot as most brands are looking to have that familiarity along the same product line. So if you are a dedicated Blizzard skier or just want a good soft snow daily driver to spell out the big mountain powder performance of the 11 then the Rustler 9 is right up your alley.
L: 162, 171, 180, 189cm
R: 17 m (@180cm)
The Head Kore 93 and 105 are two of my favorite skis. I was really excited about the release of the 99.
The Kore 99 shares many of the qualities of the award-winning Kore skis. It transforms you into an all mountain racer. The ski has the carvability of a race ski and can still hold its own on variable conditions found on the mountain. The Graphene-Koroyd-Carbon sandwich cap construction works well to dampen the ski, while the karuba lightweight wood core keeps the weight of the ski to a minimum.
This ski excels on a mountain where you are just ripping around on wind buff at top speeds. While skiing through tight trees and variable snow conditions at Red Mountain, this ski became more work. While it initiated turns like a dream, getting the tails to release and quickly dump speed became a real job.
This ski is for a more traditional skier that likes laying arcs above tree line or sticks to the open trails.
I also feel this ski is kind of an average middle ski. The 105 rips and the 93 rips. Those are the widths for which these skis were designed. The 99 feels like the company was getting requests for a 100 underfoot does everything ski, so they just blended the two profiles. Something was lost in this process and it became just a "blah.” It doesn't do anything over the top awesome it just does everything OK.
There were other skiers on the Union who gave it high marks as an all-mountain ski. “This ski rocks,” said Wally Phillips. “I cannot believe how efficient the turn shape and confident/damp yet light weight feels. Using 60 percent energy to get 100 percent from this ski.”
And Maggie Kaiserman, a photographer based in Bellingham, Washington, noted, “Great ski for anyone who wants full control on the groomers but still playful enough to easily maneuver through bumps.”
L: 160, 168, 176, 184cm
R: 20.5 m (@176cm)
Kastle is a ski company that knows who they are and doesn't apologize. Their top sheets haven't changed in years, and don't expect them to. The names are super euro--MX meaning MountainCross! And BMX meaning BigMountainCross! They make stiff, fast, quality skis, and there's something to be said about that.
I knew I'd get a ski to stand confidently on when I took the MX 99 out of the tent at Powder Week. Under the hood, this ski boasts a sheet of carbon, a sheet of Titanal, and a sheet of fiberglass, pressed together with sandwich sidewall construction. Which is to say, this is a ski for the piste. But, with a beech and silver fir wood core--the same woods used in the freeride friendly BMX 105 HP--the MX 99 dabbles in the soft stuff and the trees.
Normally, I wouldn't ski the MX 99 down pillow lines. That's not what it was designed to do. But this was Powder Week, and we just can't help ourselves. Even though the 99-millimeters underfoot felt too narrow for the terrain and conditions, and even though it took conscious effort to muscle the carbon/titanium/fiberglass in technical terrain, I thought the MX 99 handled well. Red Mountain probably wasn't the place to make this kind of ski shine, but oh, what it would do on a morning in Colorado, or a wintery New England day.
D: 133-100-121mm (Enforcer 100)
D: 131-100-119mm (Santa Ana 100)
L: 169, 177, 185, 193cm (Enforcer 100)
L: 153, 161, 169, 177cm (Santa Ana 100)
R: 18.5m (Enforcer 100)
R: 13.5m (Santa Ana 100
For 2019, Nordica trimmed the fat on two of their most popular models to bring skiers the slimmer Enforcer 100 and the women's specific Santa Ana 100, the difference being their core profiles. While the Enforcer has an Energy 2 Titanium layup, the Santa Ana has a lighter and more forgiving core with balsa wood.
The Enforcer 100 is a hearty and stable ski that requires effort to ignite but is fast, responsive, and easy to maneuver in bumps and narrow glades thanks to a longer effective edge than the 110 which made it ideal for the unique terrain at Red Mountain.
A full wood core sandwiched between two sheets of metal keep the Enforcer 100 from flopping in chunder and won't buck you off when you pick up speed-which is easy to do. Just make sure your legs are feeling fresh; the Enforcer takes muscle to stay on top of.
"The Enforcer 100 is a hard-charging ski built for strong skiers that that aren’t necessarily playful, but like to ride fast and ski the fall line," says Powder Union veteran Abigail Barronian.
Early rise tip and tail rocker with traditional camber underfoot help this narrower waist ski stay on top of powder, but the Union preferred this ski for railing turns on groomers and charging through hard pack.
Clare Menzel says she thoroughly enjoyed this ski on firmer conditions and called it a good all-around ski for her mountain of Whitefish especially in variable conditions or for transitioning in and out of powder stashes.
L: 167, 174, 181, 188cm
The QST 99's on-slope personality reveals power, stability, and speed, allowing you to send it across every condition. The secret is in Salomon's new construction of carbon, flax and basalt over a poplar core, a unique combo that allows you to load the ski and snap out of turns.
Relatively lightweight at 1765 grams per ski, the 99 keeps you on your game all day long, blurring the lines between big mountain, powder, and all-mountain as well as any other ride.
L: 157, 166, 175, 184cm
R: 17.2 m (@175cm)
The Stockli Stormrider 95s are built for the groomers of Sun Valley or the wide open back bowls of Vail. They're bored until you get them up to 40 mph. Which makes sense for a ski with Titanal technology and a light wood core. It also makes sense that while the ski thrived during Powder Week's past at Big Sky, where the terrain is wide open, they had mixed reviews from the Union at Red, where big turning radii don't match well with the tight lanes and poppers through big evergreens.
Red isn't exactly known for its groomers, which is just fine with us, but they were the only place I felt somewhat comfortable on this beefeater. Otherwise, I was in the backseat and unable to finish my turns. They don't want to get in the air and they don't want to take it easy on you. Veteran Union member Sam Cox had a similar experience.
"This ski is a missile," said Sam Cox. "There's literally no top end on it. If you’re not skiing on point, though, it will toss you into the backseat and it’s lights out. Super high quality and attention to detail. They look for the bottom in soft snow though, which isn’t ideal."
Still, these skis will work for the skier that likes to punish themselves. I'm thinking vert chasers and East Coast ice chargers. If you keep the Stockli Stormrider 95 on the type of wide-open terrain that the extremely precise, well-built machines were built for, they'll thrive. Just be ready to go really, really fast.
--John Clary Davies
The following all mountain ski is among the 13 Best Skis of the Year. These skis received the highest marks across the board from skiers with a host of different backgrounds. See the complete list here.
L: 167, 174, 181, 188cm
I was bopping along on the Ripstick 106s, Elan's trademark that has been one of our Skis of the Year the last two years, when all of sudden, Team Elan threw a curve ball at me--the Ripstick Black Edition. I clicked into the sleek, black ski and got a look that said, you're in for a surprise. We tapped poles and pushed off.
One turn on the Black, and I knew I was on a totally different, new and improved ski. A few more turns and I shifted into sixth gear and took off.
The Black Edition is a feistier version of the Ripstick 96. It has the same Amphibio technology, with a sidecut specific to your left and right foot, a technology that, in theory, makes it easier to turn. But it's built with carbon instead of fiberglass, which means it is Stiff A.F. and fast. This baby doesn't like quick turns.
It packs a ton of power and wants to fly down mountains and make huge arcs. It's a ski to fulfill all of your ski racing fantasies. As Red local and Powder Union Skier Jeremy Harvey says, it's full send or nothing. "Sexy!" he said. "Strong and stiff for groomers. It plowed through the crud and held shape."
Truth be told, on my normal days of bopping around the mountain in search of powder stashes, I'd probably opt for something more versatile, like the regular old Ripstick 106. But on those days when the corduroy is fresh, or the wind buff smooth, and you want to go as fast as humanly possible, go Black.