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 13 best Skis of the Year found in the 2019 Buyer's Guide.
(Click on ski to skip down to review):
ATOMIC Bent Chetler 120
BLIZZARD Rustler 11
DYNASTAR Proto Factory
ELAN Ripstick Black Edition
FISCHER Ranger 102 FR
HEAD Kore 117
KASTLE BMX 105 HP
K2 Pinnacle 105 TI
J SKIS The Friend
LA SPORTIVA Vapor Float
SALOMON QST 118
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: 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.
L: 170, 177, 184cm
R: 18m (@177cm)
When I picked up the Fischer Ranger 102 FR, the first thing I noticed was how light and stiff they felt, especially in the tails. Normally, I'm a bit wary of light skis with stiff tails. They tend to go a little haywire in the chop and buck me in the bumps.
But the Ranger 102 skied much stronger than its weight would suggest. Immediately, they felt intuitive and effortless.
The Ranger 102 is made with a playful rocker and traditional camber underfoot, making for energetic turns. The almost weightless carbon tips and slightly tapered tails made turning seemed easy in almost all conditions, save for the exceptionally tight trees and deep moguls.
I traditionally favor a softer, more buttery ski for the Interior B.C. snowpack, where I live, so keep in mind that the Ranger 102 doesn’t let you get lazy. They require energy to flex, but give them a little bit and they give it back ten-fold.
Made with Fischer's signature Air Tec Ti and sandwich sidewall construction, the 102 is a new addition to the Ranger lineup. It's a middle-of-the-line ski that could accommodate most any skier in any condition. The Powder Union found it to be stable and maneuverable, though on the softer end of the spectrum for a do-it-all ski with similar specs.
I ripped on groomers in the Ranger 102s and they handled smooth terrain with a reasonable amount of chop beautifully. They're an aggressive ski built for a skier who charges, carves big sweeping turns, wants stability in fast run-outs, and also likes to get playful.
The graphics were a bit boring for me, but that's got nothing to do with the ski's performance. Bottom line: I thoroughly enjoyed the Ranger 102s. They are a great, agile resort ski that will have you covered in most conditions.
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: 165, 173, 181, 189cm
R: 21m (@181cm)
I didn't expect to be surprised by the Kastle BMX 105 HP. As a ski of the year last season--one preferred by ex-racers and others who thrive on two sheets of Titanal, flat tails, and subtle elliptical radius--I knew that it ripped. I did not think the BMX would be an effective ski at Red Mountain, a gladed playground.
I was wrong. They were incredibly smooth, predictable, precise, and energetic. I thought they were one of the best skis I've ever been on. Though stiff and strong, too, they didn't require Lindsey Vonn thighs to get them around bumps and trees. I wasn't the only one who felt that way.
"It handled so well in powder, but when we popped out to open big terrain, I could arc huge turns and go super fast," said Julie Brown. "I was intimidated by Kastle--I like to go fast, but I want a ski that can catch air, too, and also won’t kill my knees. This ski was surprisingly my favorite of the week."
Added Dane Weister: "I don’t like skis with metal as I feel they lose a sense of liveliness, but these are so playful and smooth turning. Two sheets of metal give you the right amount of stability in turns and landings."
Behind that metal is a silver fir/beech wood core. The skis have a low camber profile, hook free tips and tails, and the premium quality skiers have come to expect (and pay for) from Kastle. Everyone on the Union who skied them gave the skis a 9 or a 10, including Sam Cox, one of the biggest, strongest skiers of the group.
"Stable, powerful, damp, precise, I would suggest this ski to anybody who’s asking," he said. "For my style of skiing, it has no negative features."
--John Clary Davies
L: 170, 177, 184, 191cm
R: 19m (@184cm)
Sometimes you jump on a ski and everything falls into place on the first run. This was my experience with the K2 Pinnacle 105 Ti.
I hadn't synced up with K2 in a long time. Their rocker profiles, turn shapes, and flex hasn't resonated with me in a while, but the new Pinnacle is an entirely different animal. It instills confidence, literally at every turn. To sum it up quickly, this ski is full of snap, stability, positive energy, and rebound.
In order to realize the full potential of this ski, you need to get over the shovel and load it up. It is a traditional laminate construction, containing fir, Nano Konic, braided glass and metal under the hood.
The pintail shape and gradual rocker allow it to pivot easily and break out of the natural radius depending upon the terrain in front of you. Size range for skis can often be an issue, because chargers come in all shapes, sizes and genders.
The 105 should fit the bill for almost anyone on the market, because it's offered in a complete range from 170 to 191 centimeters in 7-centimeter increments.
Run after run I attempted to find a fault in the design, dimension and construction of this ski but ultimately was unable to. This is a perfect platform for anything from smooth chalk to overhead blower.
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: 174, 181cm
The Line Sakana was a personal project for Eric Pollard, several years in the making. It draws it's DNA from the Pescado, which is intended as a directional, powder specific ski. At 105-millimeters underfoot, the Sakana is aimed at being more versatile in variable conditions.
Immediately you notice the swallowtail or as Line calls it, a "Tail Knockout" and the low profile tips. The only offering in the tent was a 181-centimeter, but the mount point has been significantly shifted back, allowing the ski to have a substantial amount of effective edge to engage.
My experience on the ski was the ample camber provided suspension and pop, while the flex and radius were extremely complimentary and allowed you to actually carve the ski in different turn shapes instead of simply scrubbing or pivoting to adjust your turn size.
Initially, I was skeptical because of the aesthetics of the swallow tail and its penchant for being a gimmick. However, after several hours of skiing the trees at Red Mountain, I became a firm believer in the concept.
Fair warning, even though I loved it, this ski may not initially appeal to a segment of traditional-minded skiers. Given some exposure though, I think everyone can appreciate its attributes.
The Sakana is a laminate ski with a carbon/flax weave and a Partly Cloudy core (a lightweight blend of Paulownia and Maple). Bottom line, I'd love to have a pair of these skis in heavy rotation for soft conditions.
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.