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 to 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 powder skis of the year, found in the 2019 Buyer's Guide.
(Click on ski to skip down to review):
4FRNT Hoji W
BLACK CROWS Nocta
ELAN Ripstick 116
FISCHER Ranger 115 FR
K2 Pinnacle 118
KASTLE BMX 115
LIB TECH UFO 115
RMU YLE Pro 118
ATOMIC Bent Chetler 120
BLIZZARD Rustler 11
DYNASTAR Proto Factory
HEAD Kore 117
J SKIS The Friend
LA SPORTIVA Vapor Float
SALOMON QST 118
L: 179, 187, 195cm
The skiing community has been blessed to have Eric “Hoji” Hjorleifson, a constant tinkerer who never tires of pushing skiing further than ever before. To do this, he needed a ski that coincided with his mission. The Hoji, a lighter, do-it-all weapon of choice, stays true to its creator's mission.
I found what could be the easiest and most predictable pivot point to turn initiation I've ever experienced. Stay centered on the ski and it almost symbiotically initiates the turn as soon as the thought crosses your mind.
The ski profile is also versatile enough to dominate, but realize that the lesser weight of this ski does have a slight limit to it. Although the dampness-to-weight ratio is appreciated, it fought me when I tried to carve it like a race ski. But that's not what you are using this ski for 90 percent of the time.
All these aspects combine for a wonderful blend of a ski that rewards you for pushing it in the right way. This couldn't be more evident when keeping up with Hoji the skier as we found pow stashes within the tight trees of Red Mountain Resort's “The Chute Show” off of Grey Mountain.
The final point is how versatile this ski is categorically. The ski industry is honing itself toward combining the best aspects of resort and backcountry skiing to create one setup to do both admirably. The Hoji comes closest to that blend for me with the bindings that we see out now with the Salomon Shift or the Marker Kingpin.
Slap one of those on the Hoji, find an AT boot that's stiff enough to push, and you have a setup with almost zero limitations of where you can take it.
L: 177.6, 185.5, 190.6cm
I typically don't care for fully rockered skis, as they often require me to adjust my skiing style to a more backseat position. The Black Crows Nocta, however, is an exception. This reverse-cambered ski allowed me to remain relatively forward in my stance and stay balanced.
Coming in at 122 millimeters underfoot, the Nocta is made for floating off drops and crushing powder. The mellow sidecut gives the Nocta a turn radius of 26 meters to help you stay stable when moving fast.
Despite being a wide ski, the full rocker helps the Nocta transition easily from edge to edge in soft snow, and keeps it from being too much ski when the snow starts to get a bit choppy and bumpy.
In an effort to keep this big, wood core ski from feeling like two anchors attached to your feet, Black Crows incorporates a mix of paulownia and poplar to keep the Nocta relatively light while maintaining a moderately stiff flex pattern.
For comparison purposes, the weight of both the Nocta (at 185.5 centimeters) and the Atris (at 184.2 centimeters) is 4000 grams, even though the Nocta is 1.4 centimeters wider than the Atris. The Nocta is able to shed some of its overall weight through the use of a semi-capped construction with ABS wrapped around the ski for added durability.
The motto on the sidewall of the Nocta is: "I take you both home." You can interpret that in whatever way you want, but you're definitely gonna want to take a pair home once you get on them. I would not want to ski them on a daily basis, which is probably understandable based on sheer waist-width, but the Nocta is a solid ski for quiver building.
L: 185, 193cm
This is a big mountain, deep powder, light-as-a-feather slayer. What separates this ride from the rest of the pack I demoed comes down to a few concepts. One, and I believe the most distinct segments of the ski is its stiff tail and how it delivers you down the mountain.
I found the preferred mounting point to be fairly setback, so perhaps there is no alternative to a firm tail, but also no better option, as I could always rely on the end of the Ripstick to catch me.
As for performance during a turn, the strength of the tail provided exceptional power to rocket myself out of any deep carves, and I could really gain some momentum to roll over into the next.
Another attribute I found to accompany the exiting power of the ski, was the inside camber edge providing me the most grippy contact performance while still delivering the needed rocker on the opposing edge to prevent nose dives and tomahawks in the deep powder. It was a unique feature that gave me traction in any condition and created a much smoother transition between turns.
I would almost say the anti-symmetrical opposing edges is a handicap that allowed myself to charge harder knowing there was the extra inside grip. Hands down a benefit to help the progression of any skier.
The only negative, I thought, was a slightly too soft nose. It was fat enough, though, to float its way by, but it still felt sluggish and generally flexed a little too much.
This radical ride didn’t feel super long, which surprised me with how much ski was ahead of my toes. Joined with a decent turn radius, the Ripstick maneuvered through Red Mountain's infinite trees with ease.
Despite knowing that you're not driving a boat, I would still recommend for the use of more open lines than tight trees due to when you have her pointed down, she does want to charge fast.
Elan caught me by surprise on this one and despite the nose acting a bit soft, this ski is basically golden. A truly righteous ride!
Fischer is a family owned Austrian company that traces its roots to 1924. While they do press skis for other companies, they certainly save their best for their in-house products. The Ranger 115 FR borders on perfection in my book. A milled beech/poplar core is reinforced with Titanal and features ABS sidewalls in their Aeroshape.
This translates into a ski that's thin on the edges and increases in thickness at the center. Swing weight is reduced, edge hold and feel is increased, and the ski has a balanced and nimble character. The carbon tip also provides an extremely precise and responsive point to initiate turns and feel micro changes in snow texture so that you can adapt how much pressure you have over the shovel.
I started my day burning hot laps on a groomer that was manicured and just the perfect pitch to carry speed in an arc. I was blown away by how much traction a ski of this width could have.
After a few laps we transitioned to some steep trees with four inches of untracked snow, and not surprisingly, the Ranger really shined in these conditions. They were more lively than many skis of a similar waist width and seemed to almost turn based on intuition.
Lap after lap, they brought a smile to my face.
L: 177, 184, 191cm
Stiff, fast, fun; the three words I would use to describe the Pinnacle 118 from K2. The ideal candidate for the Pinnacle 118 is someone who likes skiing big lines and hangin' onto their butt straightlining through the mogul field at the bottom. Sound like you, Johnny Hotdog?
One aspect of the Pinnacle 118 that I really like is the absence of metal, which has a tendency to leave a big ski like this feeling a little clunky and dead. To keep the ski stiff, the core contains a combination of fir and aspen Konic.
Fir is traditionally a stiff and damp wood that gives skis stability and aspen is a lighter weight wood to prevent skis from being too heavy. The "Konic" portion of the Pinnacle 118's construction is K2's method of distributing more material weight over the edges to give the ski more power and stability.
It seems to work because this ski stays quiet through the bumps and pushes through the snow with ease. They also feature carbon-braided stringers throughout the core for some added pop.
Despite being a fairly powerful ski, the Pinnacle 118 is easy to turn and get up on edge. The tapered tip and tail allow you to smoothly transition in and out of turns in whatever snow conditions you find yourself in.
Furthermore, the 118 has sidewall construction underfoot for stability while the tip and tail feature a capped construction to lower the ski's swing weight, making it easier to turn.
Overall, the Pinnacle 118 nails the big mountain/powder category. If you like a big, directional ski with no metal, check these out and I'm sure you'll be satisfied.
L: 177, 185, 193cm
The Kastle BMX series skis are badass skis and the HP 115 is at the top of the line. Made with a layer of fiberglass, a beech and silver fir wood core, and semi-cap construction, it is a big, stiff ski. And yet, it doesn't have any metal.
"This ski is perfect for wide open terrain and hauling ass," says Dane Weister. "Very awkward in the trees or bumps."
Michelle Rudell, a ripper who skis Whitewater, liked the BMX 115 but said it wouldn't be her pick for an everyday Kootenay tree-hopper. And that's just fine. Because this ski was made for the high alpine and plowing through the deep—really, really fast.
I thought it wasn't quite as nimble as others in its class, but I could still navigate tight trees quite well and charge open spaces. Once on the groomers, there was nothing holding me back from blowing past the rest of the crew and being the first one back at the chair.
L: 175, 185cm
Surfy and floaty, the Lib Tech UFO 115 is your classic freeride ski to get creative in the soft stuff. At 115-millimeters underfoot with a low-profile camber and elliptical rocker in the tip and tail, they float on pow and charge through crud. Lib Tech's signature Magne-Traction gives the edges extra grip so it can hold on to a turn. In year's past, some felt the Magne-Traction made the ski too hooky, so this year, Lib Tech made it more subtle.
The UFO 115s are made with a basalt wood core and Lib Tech's Eco Light B45 construction, which adds a layer of fiberglass for reinforcement. Sintered sidewalls and base mean that they are fast and durable. They are a medium-flex wide and twin-tip ski perfect for the advanced-expert freeride skier who wants to do it all.
Meant to be mounted progressively (I found the sweet spot at minus 2 millimeters from the true center), they have a low swing weight and are amazingly responsive with the smallest of movements.
I thought they provided stable edge-hold on groomers and the hard pack. Add a 19-meter turn radius and the skis have a playful feel for easy butters and quick turn response. I found them to be super poppy off jumps and jibs and very easy to maneuver through tight trees and steep lines, they are the opposite of a dead and heavy ski.
I can't stress this enough: They are the best in powder. It feels like you are riding surfboards!
Lib Tech skis have a characteristic and unique feel; I strongly suggest giving them a shot if you've never been on a pair. There are many skis that I have enjoyed riding over the years but none that I felt so strongly was exactly the type of ski I'm looking for from the moment I started going downhill. (Disclaimer: I never got the chance to ski them in the park, so I can't speak for their performance in that environment.)
Admittedly, I'm not a fan of pro models, so I expected the RMU YLE Pro 118, built for Wiley Miller, to be an excessive amount of ski for me. While there's no getting around this model being a big-mountain powder ski for BC or Alaska, I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had on it while having my mind blown at Red Mountain.
It certainly needs a confident skier, yet it is maneuverable, manageable, and skied smaller than it's 118mm waist width. The YLE Pro stoked my ego as I carved turns through Red's deep pockets, thinking 'Hell, yeah. I, too, can ski like Wiley. Take me to the pillow lines!'
Nelson, BC, local Sam Woodward described the YLE Pro 118 as damp, playful and springy—his favorite ski of the week. "I was skiing in deep, steep trees and this was ski was very playful and strong," he said. "When I opened it up in the chop, it was solid."
Made with a poplar wood core and a CNC'ed beech mounting plate, the burly YLE Pro plows through everything rough and stays steady at high speeds. The large shovel helps this boat of a ski float to the surface, though skiers noticed serious tip flap in firmer conditions.
While the Powder Union agreed they wouldn't reach for this ski on an average day, it shines on deep days.
The following powder skis were 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: 176, 184, 192
I don't need to spend time waxing poetic how influential Chris Benchetler is and what his pro model has done for powder skiing or Atomic skis in general. With every hand drag or lazed out 3, he defines what big mountain mini golfing is and displays Atomic's effort to establish itself as a freeride brand, next to their roots in ski racing.
What I did need to do was try his pro model ski. Two runs on the 184-centimeter Bent Chetler 120s and I did not want to give them back. I plowed my way through steep pow bumps under the Motherlode Chair at Red Mountain Resort and heard all the YEWS from my compatriots riding the lift above.
Everything about the Bent Chetler 120s just worked. The fat girth and 40 percent of rocker obviously says "great in powder," but the capper is the HRZN Tech, which adds more surface area to increase float while lessening tip deflection at no added swing weight. Imagine a boat hull gliding through waves; this rocker profile does that for snow.
The combination made me feel super confident in deeper and chopped up snow. I could press the charge button and fly through any soft snow conditions.
With a ski this wide, the fun usually stops here. Not for the Bent Chetler 120. I was blown away at the soft groomer and pow bump performance as the full 90 degree ABS sidewall with the carbon backbone kept the ride agile enough for quick hitters but when you wanted to lay in the turn deep it did that too.
That being said, do not expect it to run too well on straight ice. It required a patient and confident pilot to maneuver in firm conditions. Speaking of, I would do your squats off-season to unlock the full potential of the Bent Chetler 120. The way it likes to charge, skinny legs may be a bit overpowered.
L: 164, 172, 180, 188, 192cm
The Rustler 11 repeats as one of the best skis of the year because of a truly remarkable combination: It's a big ski that stands up to the most aggressive skiing you can muster, but it won't destroy you for being lazy or less than super-human.
As such, it garners affection from many different kinds of skiers, though most agree that it belongs out West where there is room to roam.
A multi-wood core of paulownia, balsa, poplar, and beech sits between two layers of carbon and fiberglass, topped by a sheet of Titanal strategically shaped to offer stiffness underfoot while keeping the tip and tail relatively forgiving.
It's somewhat sluggish in trees, but out in the open it simply crushes.
L: 156, 164, 172cm
Making its third consecutive appearance, the Blizzard Sheeva lineup has become a bonafide regular in our annual Buyer's Guide. For a number of women on the Powder Union, the Sheeva 10 was their top ski of the week.
A sturdy sandwich construction of paulownia, balsa, poplar, and beech make up the wood core of the Sheeva 10, a ski the Powder Union found it to be approachable and versatile—not to be confused with a beginner ski (though it does top out in a 172 length).
"For someone who wants to feel totally comfortable, the Blizzard Sheeva 10 is a great option," says Abigail Barronian, who's spread her past three winters through upstate New York, the PNW, and New Mexico's high alpine desert. "It’s a ski that can keep up with a hard-charging woman."
A Uni-Directional carbon layer integrated into the Sheeva 10 provides added stability on a rigid ski that is considerably light at 1620g (at 164 cm).
The torsional flex combined with an aggressive 16m-turn radius at 172 cm makes the Sheeva 10 maneuverable through the shoots, spines, tight trees and cliffs at Red Mountain.
"The Sheeva 10 is solid in everything," says Red Mountain local Christie Cunneyworth. "It charges, turns easily, and has amazing edge to edge response."
Rocker in the tip and tail help the ski float through the deep, even at 102mm underfoot, and the camber provides a solid platform underfoot when snow conditions are sparse.
As more ski companies scale down their offerings in order to meet mass-market appeal, it's refreshing to find a ski that's an unapologetic bruiser.
That would be the PROTO Factory, which rates as a 10 on the big mountain powder scale, and a zero on just about anything else.
The sandwich construction of paulownia and fiberglass provides a robust stiffness, while a five-point sidecut combined with rocker in the tip and tail arc through soft snow and offer superb float.
Make no mistake: There will be no wiggles on this missile and no dainty little tree stashes. Find the biggest face you can, crank up the Sabbath, and point 'em straight down. Only available in a 189cm.
L: 180, 189cm
I had a small internal debate rolling into the tent that final morning of testing at Powder Week. Would I grab Head's Kore 117 or the Kore 105? Who was I kidding? The resort said eight inches of snow fell overnight, and it was, without a doubt, deeper in many pockets. The Kore 117 it was.
This was the best day of the trip and the best ski of the week for me. We lapped the slow fixed-grip Motherlode Chair, skiing top to bottom until our legs couldn't hold us up, and then lapped some more until we feared missing lunch altogether.
The Kore 117 obviously offers tons of float but what really stood out when I initially grabbed the ski off the rack was how light it was in my hand. Despite the weight (or lack thereof) swinging the tips and tails together on the chair, there was no audible hollow sounding ping one might anticipate from similar lightweight skis. Rather a solid clank of a stout and damp ski.
Head fuses Graphene—an incredibly strong, light material—to the tip and tail of the ski. Graphene is the secret ingredient that makes it so responsive and stiff for its weight. A super light and almost elastic honeycomb membrane called Koroyd is added to the middle of the ski. Rounding the construction off, Head uses Karuba wood to make a ski that punches well above its weight class.
Hitting bumps and crossing tracks, the skis felt solid and never to the point where I would out ski them. The rockered, tapered tip offered the surfy feel I appreciate when I'm coming in hot to tight trees or a blind rollover and need to shut down speed.
Camber underfoot through the tail never felt like it would give out on me, but it also did not punish me after five days straight of charging bell to bell. I felt I could ease up and still be in control if needed.
Basically, in a world where compromises are made to improve a ski's stability, floatation, or weight, the Head Kore 117 excels above the rest in all three.
L: 177, 183, 189cm
R: 18.5 m (@183cm)
Redesigned for 2019, The Friend is J Skis widest ski made even wider to better plow through variable snow. A stable, all-condition ski for its home on the East Coast and beyond—but especially desirable any day where snowflakes are whiting out the sun.
At 117mm underfoot the Powder Union's reigning ASSFART King says The Friend is an excellent ski for charging big mountain lines with minimal turns thanks to gradual rocker.
"The Friend has amazing floatation and is very maneuverable for such a big ski," says Sara Verbeek a snow removal specialist from Revelstoke. "This is a playful, soulful ski."
The ski's ability to stay stable at high speed comes from the skis maple wood core reinforced with carbon stringers.
Red Mountain local Sam Woodward says, "The Friend was made to be a playful, big-mountain ski and delivers. It's good at speed and yet you can smear it around like a playful ski thanks to the gradual rocker."
His countryman Sam Woodward says he never had to worry about the nose-diving and was confident landing. The consistent complaint? At 2,280 grams, or about five pounds, the Powder Union found The Friend to be on the heavy side—especially for a ski without metal.
L: 166, 178, 189cm
A pair of La Sportiva's Vapor Float skis weighs less than a single brick. Any faraway objectives you've been dreaming of? With this ski, a massive trip will feel that much more within reach. Bottom line: "The Vapor Float could be one of the best powder touring skis to date," says Wally Phillips.
La Sportiva wanted to create the toughest, lightest ski they could. They achieve this in the USA-made Vapor Float, with a redesigned carbon Nano Tube overlay pattern in the laminate layers, a Carbon Torsion Box construction, and Kevlar Weave Composite core.
As one Union member noted, this construction doesn't produce the hollow "ping" quality he's noticed in other full-carbon skis. But all you need to know is that this carbon setup increases the skis' resistance to twisting without making compromises on the weight.
Even so, this is not a frontside ski. It probably isn't ideal for someone who complements out-of-bounds runs with a few chairlift laps, either. And you might wish for a burlier ski when you encounter variable backcountry conditions like an avy slide filled with refrozen debris, or wind buff on an exposed summit.
But in powder—whoo boy, this ski is effortless. With dual rocker and a 117-millimeter waist, expect a responsive yet floaty ride. It's right on the money for those sweet, sweet bottomless backcountry turns. Not to mention, you'll be thankful for the energy you saved on the approach. "Ideal for surfing the untouched powder you just spent all day skinning toward," says Powder Union skier John Davies.
I skied these one afternoon at Powder Week. Soon enough, the sun was low and, based on the time, we knew beers were already flowing down at Rafters Pub. But we'd found a playful, rolling, low-angle zone that was barely a ten-minute skin from the resort boundary. It was deep.
Another run? Yes. When another lap is on the table, and you have La Sportiva's Vapor Float beneath you, the answer is always yes.
L: 171, 178, 185, 192cm
To say this ski rips would be an understatement. After making two turns I knew the Salomon QST 118 was going to be awesome.
With a waist width of 118-millimeters and a turning radius of 26 meters (at 185 centimeters), the QST 118 allows you to hold a solid edge on those big, arcing turns on the groomer and wide open pow fields, while the rocker profile in the tip and tail allows the ski to be snappy in tighter trees, bumps, and rocks.
To add to the overall playfulness of the ski, the QST 118 has more tail rocker than the smaller waist-width QST models. Not only does this add more of a surfy feel to the ski's turns, but it helps prevent you from getting bogged down in powder.
In terms of core construction, the QST 118 incorporates poplar throughout the length of the ski using a 3D inverted wood core, which is the same as the previous two years' models. A new addition is Salomon's patented C/FX3, a blend of carbon and flax fibers. The combination of carbon and flax allows the ski to be both stiff and damp without any unnecessary weight.
The C/FX3 also helps with the overall strength and durability of the ski by providing a sturdy support system for the poplar core. Compared to the original model, the addition of this C/FX3 has allowed the ski to have a bit more pop.
I would absolutely recommend the QST 118 to any freeride skier who likes to ski on a wider ski on a daily/semi-regular basis, or someone looking for a sturdy but playful powder ski. Paired with the new Shift binding, the QST 118 is the perfect resort and sidecountry setup. Hands down my favorite ski of Powder Week.