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Marquee Photo: The new Rustler 11 is right at home on aggressive steep lines, such as the Little Chute off of Mount Baldy, at Alta, Utah. PHOTO: Matt Hansen

Over the past few years at Powder Week, our annual ski test-slash-party-slash-oh-my-god-I-can't-feel-my-face celebration, the Blizzard Gunsmoke always emerged as one of the most popular skis. That was unsurprising when it first came out in 2012-13: 114mm underfoot, twin tip, lightweight wood core with metal just below the binding, slight camber and generous rocker in the tip and tail. The ski fit the bill as a surfy and playful powder ski with generous pop. One only had to ski around with Pat Sewell and Chris Tatsuno to agree that, damn, that ski looked like fun.

Check out POWDER’s “Skis of the Year” from the 2017 Buyer’s Guide.

I wanted to love it, and I tried. Alas, I thought the Gunsmoke was little too schmeery for my taste. It was fun to throw them sideways and it was excellent in soft snow, but I had a hard time driving the ski in less than stellar conditions, like there wasn't enough oomph fore and aft of the binding, even in a 186cm length. (Side note: Pat and Tats happen to be really really good skiers. So there’s that.)

But the Gunsmoke—as well as the Peacemaker—is no more, as Blizzard has removed it to focus on a new series of skis called the Rustler. Though the two lines would seem to be close siblings, Blizzard is quick to note that the Rustler is distinctly different from its predecessors.

A few quick specs: The Rustler 10 is available in waist widths of 102mm (at 180cm length) and 104mm (at 188cm), while the Rustler 11 comes in at 112mm (in a 180cm), 114mm (at 188cm), and 116mm (at 192cm).

Marcus Caston does not know how to ski easy. Here he is going 100mph on High Rustler, at Alta, Utah. PHOTO: Matt Hansen

The skis were on hand at Alta, Utah, last week during a testing event with Blizzard. The hill was a bit, ahem, 'skied out' after the previous storm, which made for great testing conditions. That is to say: firm snow, rutted-out high-speed traverses, and steep, chalky north-facing chutes. At one point, I asked Jed Duke, Blizzard's director of product marketing, about the biggest difference between the old Gunsmoke and the new Rustler, and he replied simply, "Everything."

Whereas the Gunsmoke had no metal (aside from directly underfoot for binding retention), the Rustler has a layer of titanium alloy (known as titanal) for increased stiffness, power and edge-hold while keeping swing weight down in the tip and tail. The Rustler also lacks the fully turned-up tail. It's not a completely flat tail, but you can still firmly plant the ski in the snow at the top of a bootpack.

My first run (on perfect corduroy when the outside temperature read 2 degrees) was on the 188cm/114mm Rustler 11, which I considered to be the last ski I'd want in those conditions. But it railed. It's still probably too big for my preference as a daily driver, but big skiers who can drive a ski will likely gravitate to this big new board.

Next, I jumped down to the Rustler 10s, which I found to be maneuverable and poppy (hopping from one transition to another over random-ass bumps turned into a fun game of whack-a-mole on the High T). Yet over time the skis revealed themselves to be a little deflective in the chop. According to Duke, Blizzard plans to increase the Rustler 10's strength by 15-20 percent by the time they hit retail floors next fall.

Eventually, I came around to the smaller Rustler 11 (180cm/112mm). Turns out I saved the best for last. It maintains the playful, powderful characteristics of the Gunsmoke, but drives and maneuvers better through less than ideal snow. It holds an edge on steep, firm lines, and I had no trouble navigating tight tree chutes and bumps. It even held up on balls-out groomers late in the day.

Another significant change of note is that the Bodacious, Blizzard's big mountain board, returns to its original form. Developed and inspired by the late Arne Backstrom, the Bodacious is a big ski for the most aggressive skiers on the mountain. After Blizzard lightened up the ski a few years ago to accommodate more consumers, they decided to bring the original back, with a full wood core and two sheets of titanal. Even better, a percentage of proceeds will be donated to the Arne Backstrom Memorial Fund.

The other new addition is an all-new Spur, an enormous powder ski with a unique shape, 144-124-133mm sidecut, and available only in a 192cm length. Designers were inspired by surfboard shapes, and to mimic the way surfboards ‘edge’ into a wave, they gave the Spur a thicker and longer inside edge to further enhance railing over soft snow.

On the women’s side, the Sheeva returns but with the new upgrades consistent with the Rustler, with similar dimensions, including a 102mm and 112mm waist. The women's skis also have extra carbon, for better rebound plus the same glass/carbon layer as the Rustler. Another big difference is lighter materials in the wood core. The Samba gets dropped from the line and picked up by an expanded group of the Black Pearl, which, according to Duke, is the best selling ski—men’s or women’s—in the entire U.S. This ski is available in waist widths of 78mm, 88mm, and 98mm.

Between snacks of pocket bacon on the chairlift, I asked Sierra Davis, POWDER’s associate editor, to chime in on the women’s skis:

"Often I shy away from women's skis because of my size; I'm six feet tall. I need some real ski underfoot to support that, but that doesn't mean I want to miss out on features of women's skis that are designed for my body type and center of gravity. The Sheeva 10, is a solid option. It's light and nimble, and carves like a dream, but not at all a sissy ski. My problem was the length—it maxes out at 172cm, so it wasn't quite enough ski for me in steep, variable terrain. For comparison, I jumped on the Rustler 11 and I loved it. It was steady on fast groomers, cut the crud in the bumps, and allowed me to check my speed without too much chatter. The Sheeva 11, on the other hand, comes in the ideal 180cm and is constructed with more carbon, so it's lighter with more rebound, and is built with a similar wood core to the Bramha (a combo of paulownia, balsa, poplar, and beech), so it's incredibly strong.”

It’s a lot of work and huge investment for any company to redesign an entire line of skis. On first impression, Blizzard seems to have succeeded in building a new line of freeride skis to meet the strict demands of committed skiers.

Testing skis is hard. Better fuel up with some pocket bacon. PHOTO: Matt Hansen