Piste Performance

Love to crank? Are you into big edge angles and high speeds on the piste. The ski test crew take all their race experience and put it to the test with this years batch of piste performance skis.

This is the arena where all the big manufacturers are throwing their technical know how and fire power into the ring, many of the technical highlights of these skis are derived from top end race construction. Essentially many of them will ski like a de-tuned race ski, in that there are really high levels of grip, great stability at speed and the ability to smooth out vibrations on hard snow. However, they are not constricted by rules on sidecut (such rules apply in racing), so the shapes, profiles and flex patterns allow them to be easier to use, with a reactive turn shape that can be enjoyed at slower speeds.

This year new construction methods and materials are allowing the continued march towards lighter weight, while retaining really strong performance. It’s really noticeable how easy these skis are to use, and even an intermediate skier can take comfort in the fact that they are not going to bite back, and actually can make a massive difference in the quest to improve technique and learn the joys of high speed carving. But be in no doubt, when speeds ramp up these skis can deliver incredibly high levels of performance and be a total blast on the piste.

All-Mountain

For most skiers, this is the go to category for those seeking for one ski that will do it all. A ski that can tear up the piste, but then can quickly switch into floating effortlessly through the powder. That’s a very tall order for a ski to deliver and the reality on snow is that there often has to be a compromise. Generally the skis in this test that were very strong on the piste, struggled to be playful in the deep stuff, while the fun, floating deep snow skis, tended to lack the levels of grip required for a hard charging run on the groomers. However there are a few exceptions out there which seem to have an amazing breadth of ability. Out of all the tests we run, this is the one where there clear differences between the skis, and you need to be sure what type of turns and what sort of terrain is your preference before making a choice.

There’s been a general consolidation in performance for this year’s crop of skis we tested. New materials in the construction mean that for some models weight has been reduced whilst performance has been tweaked up. Some of the piste performance these skis can deliver now is astonishing and to match that up to ease of use in powder is an amazing achievement.

Freeride

The battle to lose weight is still raging for freeride skis. In years past, a loss of weight would entail the use of a less effective, cheaper material and the understanding that high-end performance would drop.

This is simply no longer the case as new technology has enabled most manufacturers to deliver what seems like the conjuring act of reducing weight while increasing performance.

It has been a case of evolution rather than revolution in men’s freeride skis, with some models lighter this season than they were last year, while others have seen tweaks to their construction to deliver a more rounded performance.

These are predominately wide skis, all matched to some sort of rocker profile, which is a great combination for powder. However many give a surprisingly powerful performance on groomed runs. If you are torn between buying an all-mountain ski and a freeride ski that’s fat enough for deep powder days, this could be the right category for you.

Free-Tour

We purposely have not got awards for skis in this category this year, but have rather focused on the text in the test so you can select skis based on matching your requirements.

Switching into Touring gear has been a complete game changer for many skiers. The freedom it gives is incredible, and can completely transform a ski area you thought you knew well, into a whole new playground…

There is no greater example of this than in the UK itself, from the Scottish highlands down through our much varied landscape, ski tourers are starting to see the light, and if there’s enough snow can have an epic backcountry adventure close to their doorstep! Back out in the Alps, trying to grab some fresh tracks near the lifts is starting to become more in demand than ever before, so having the ability to beat the crowds and get some pow is a major advantage.

Because of the demand, the choice of touring kit available now can be completely bewildering; all of the big manufacturers have come on board and directed their resources into claiming a big part of this market. More than ever, you need to have a good understanding of what you are getting into, before making a decision.

It’s essential before making a choice to reflect on the type of ski touring you are looking to do; Are you on for putting some long sessions in and potentially plenty of hut to hut tours? Or are you content to limit it to a morning session, maybe skinning no more than one to two hours to get into a back bowl. Finally, you might be more of a big game poacher, looking to get a distinct advantage over the crowds by making a quick skin, but are still committed to bigger turns and higher speeds in deep powder.

Once you have made a decision on the type of skier you are, you can then start thinking about packaging it up and putting a touring rig together that will suit your needs. More than any other category, you need to think about the boot, binding and ski all working together as one unit. This means that if you are going for a lightweight, narrower ski, that might suit multi hut tours, it needs to be matched up to a light, pin type binding and a boot that is light and agile. Conversely, a wider, more performance orientated ski needs to go with a strong binding and a boot which has the lateral stiffness to take on the extra load. If any of these three components are mismatched, the whole thing falls apart and simply will not work as intended.

Light needs to go with light, while heavy needs to go with heavy.

We have tested a selection of skis that are some of the main players in the touring scene for this winter. The type of binding and boot that you use does make a significant difference to how the ski behaves so we have held back on giving a definitive result, but the overall feel of the ski does come through. This year sees more high tech materials, lighter weights, yet performance levels have stepped up.