The clouds rolled in, the snow came down in waves, and visibility all but vanished. With fresh snow falling all week long at Red Mountain, British Columbia, the skiing in any direction was as good as you could ask for. But while deciding our options atop Grey Mountain--one of three forested peaks that make up the 4,200 acres of intricate, steep terrain at Red--we lucked out with local beta.
Kate Verhagen, a 29-year-old local in her first time testing skis at Powder Week, said, "Hey, follow me," and promptly took off. As best we could, we chased her through the storm, following her blond hair over the whoopties and around a cliff band before arriving at the edge of a quiet bowl protected from the wind.
Verhagen, who works as an exploration geologist in the badlands of nowhere Canada, smiled at us, asked us not to tell anyone else, and dropped in. All we could see in her wake was a burst of swirling snow as if she had whipped up her own tornado before she threaded the needle through the cliffy trees at the bottom. We caught up to her on the runout back to the lift, in disbelief at how good it was. Deciding what to do next was easy. We skied that same line on the same run over and over and over, delighting in free refills each time as the storm raged on.
Back at the demo tent at the base of Red--where 30 ski companies had gathered to showcase their top skis for 2019 before the 33 testers who make up the Powder Union--every skier gushed with similar experiences. The dynamic terrain, accommodating locals, and snowfall amounted to superb conditions for finding the best skis of the year.
The Powder Union--consisting of 20 men and 13 women--skied bell to bell for four days. They plundered powder in tight trees and chutes, toured out of bounds, and used proper avalanche protocol to descend consequential lines. They crushed bumps in gullies and bombed hot laps on the oldest race hill in Western Canada.
Testers took notes on every ski they brought out on the hill--eventually delivering nearly 450 individual reviews. All told, the Union spent a collective 1,500 hours testing and discussing skis, a figure that doesn't include the untold hours that go into producing this guide and our more expansive version online. The Buyer's Guide on Powder.com includes extended reviews, videos, and interviews with Union members honestly discussing their favorite skis, with zero influence from attending brands.
The standout skis presented in the Buyer's Guide are separated into four categories: Powder; All Mountain Over 100mm; All Mountain Under 100mm, and Touring. Women's specific skis, which are often built to be lighter and may come in shorter lengths, are found in their category of use. Where you see two ski names above a single review, this refers to the unisex and women's models identical in construction, yet available in different top sheets and in different lengths. We’ve also grouped them for you here.
From those categories, we also identified the 13 Skis of the Year--products that received the highest marks across the board from skiers with a host of different backgrounds. These skis were ideal for the steep, forested terrain at Red: They pivoted easily when needed, straightlined through the crux, held tight on the groomers, and kept us charging till the bitter end. Essentially, what you will find in the 2019 Buyer's Guide are the skis that help make this sport so fun and addictive.
What you won't find, sorry, are directions to Verhagen's secret stash, just the skis we used to get there.