La Sportiva Vapor Nano Ski – The Review

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One of many test days on the Vapor Nano, this time on frozen and semi-frozen corn, Independence Pass Colorado.

One of many test days on the Vapor Nano, this time on frozen and semi-frozen corn, Independence Pass Colorado. Click images to enlarge.

If you human power your skiing, the bias is there. Hand us glycogen craving maniacs a pair of skis that hardly register on the scale; we want to like them. A lot. You have been warned.

Consider La Sportiva Vapor Nano. Presently these planks rate as our NUMBER ONE lightest ski for running surface vs. weight, and 3rd lightest on our ski weights vs length. Those weights are amazing on paper — and in real life on your feet or backpack you notice a very real difference in comfort and efficiency.

I’ve used the Nano for quite a few days now — the feeling they give going uphill is nothing less than endorphin inducing. Sometimes I just laugh at the audacity of it all. I mean, how light in weight is this stuff going to become?

Consider Moore’s Law, the simplistic algorithm of tech stating that computer processor power will double every two years. Moore’s law has held true for decades and is resulting in a bounty of cyber induced wealth we’ve only begun to experience. Is there a Moore’s Law of ski weight?

My favorite touring ski in 1987 was the Dynastar Yeti, a classic European style mountaineering plank that incorporated Dynastar’s race technology. They were super edgy on steep hard snow, something I needed at the time as I was in the middle of skiing all the Colorado 14,000 foot peaks and had to use a plank that would get me safely down some icy stuff I’d normally not bother with. You’ll laugh at this unless you’re a skimo racer: dimensions of the Yeti in my collection is 88/70/79. That was considered somewhat wide at the time, with alpine ski waists hovering in the mid to upper 60 millimeter range. Now, all skis from that era appear ridiculously skinny.

Out with the old, in with the new. Yeti from 1980s with La Sportiva Nano. Skinny Yeti weights 1472 grams per ski; much wider Vapor Nano comes in at still significantly less weight of 1,188 grams per ski. Factoring in the widths, that's a full halving of ski weight over the last 25 years or so.

Out with the old, in with the new. Yeti from 1980s with La Sportiva Nano 2014.

In any case, I entered the Yetis into our ski weights comparo chart. They score at a kludgy 108 for surface/weight, while Nano scores 60. To be generous, let’s say that’s 26 years to drop from score 108 to 60, or a very rough halving rate of a quarter century. That’s not exactly the scorching pace of Moore’s Law, but still, we are now cruising around with planks that in the sense of surface area and subsequent performance are about 50% lighter than what we used in the 1980s. For the future, that means that perhaps skis will become about 2% lighter per year (in fits and starts, depending on innovation). I’m not sure I got this napkin math done right, but you get the point. Every few years, the latest touring skis will be noticeably lighter than older models: bounty that keeps on giving.

Circling back to my point of “how light will they become?,” clearly we are not near the end. New materials and designs are on the horizon. Examples: graphene carbon is so strong as to be nearly miraculous (with interesting electrical properties, skis as batteries?), and since the steel edges in a low mass ski are now a big percentage of total weight, design engineering could perhaps come up with new ways to include edges that still worked but saved significant mass.

Trimming length is an easy way to save weight as well. A disappointing consequence of rocker geometry is that skis got longer, but perhaps engineering will result in a reversal of that trend, and those of us who stepped up to 180s or 190s can eventually drop back down five or ten centimeters.

Back to the La Sportiva Vapor Nano. Here we have a ski that incorporates a great deal of carbon, along with modern width and rocker. So how do they ski downhill?

First, it’s important to realize this is a TOURING ski. It is not in my view intended to be a “quiver of one” for those seeking a plank that’ll pound bumps at the resort one day, then slink through backcountry powder the next. Second, we don’t want this to be the most durable ski in the universe. We want it to be light. I truly doubt the Nano is as strong as some of the heavier touring and alpine skis out there. So, a simple take: If you want beef, get beefy skis. If you want to enjoy lightweight touring, rock something like Vapor Nano. Accept they’re perhaps on the less durable side of the equation, and act accordingly.

In terms of skiing down, my observations:

Powder: Plenty fun, a bit less snap than I expected from a carbon ski. I felt the bindings could have possibly been mounted a centimeter back or so from recommended neutral position (more on that below). You can feel the pronounced tail rocker and big tip giving you lots of options in exactly what type of turn you choose to execute.

Hard snow: I tested on frozen corn, always a good way to truly evaluate what a ski does on the hardpan. This is not a hardpack ski. Unless I was in the sweet spot and below a speed limit, I’d get some chattering and that general feeling of ski that isn’t really designed for the situation. I’m not sure how much of that has to do with geometry as opposed to construction. But with 33 cm of tip sticking out there in front, and 27 cm of tail rocker, unless you’ve got the Nano adequately tilted you’re looking at a lot of material floating in space off the snow, vibrating or whatever.

For me this is a non-issue in a ski touring situation as I don’t make a habit of skiing ice, and some detuning of the tail edges did help. If I’m on hardpack, I just ski the plank in a way that works. Usually, that simply means obeying a speed limit. So what if I get to the bar or car 20 seconds later than I would on a different ski? Point here, this is not a hardpack ski — if you need to prove your manhood you might want something more designed for straight lining.

'The big tip DADDY'

‘The big tip DADDY’, lots of ski floating out there in the ozone, helps in soft snow but does nothing for you on hardpack except vibrate. (That’s a Montana brand climbing skin anchor attached to the tip, in case you’re wondering. I’ve been testing those, they’re working nicely.)

It seems weird for my next point to be part of a review, but more things than weight are changing in the ski world. On hardpack Vapor Nano is NOISY! If you had a long descent of hard snow, it’s not far fetched to recommend ear plugs to prevent hearing damage. Seriously, I’m thinking of bringing a DB meter next time I go out. Sherlock Holmes note: The noise does sound almost exactly like a Goode brand ski, leading one to wonder, are they made in the same factory?

Crud and mank: This is the one area where actual physical weight of the ski can make a difference (as opposed to damping characteristics and such that we sometimes mistakenly attribute simply to the ski being heavier.) So what can I say? In the mank they feel like a lightweight ski. Stay on top of them and keep turning, you’ll do fine. Pick up speed and straightline, not so powerful.

Due to the amount of tail rocker combined with tail protector, you may have up to 3 cm more ski behind your boot than with other models of skis.

Due to the amount of tail rocker combined with tail protector, you may have up to 3 cm more ski behind your boot than with other models of skis. I cut off as much of the tail protector as possible, resulting in a tail bobbing of about 1 cm, which combined with a remount back 1 cm yields a more conventional boot position. As this ski is unusually light and also has an unusual mount, I’d emphasize a demo day before purchase.

Breakable crust: The big tip and tail rocker help, but the amount of ski behind your foot is fully 3 centimeters or more than what you’ll usually have with other skis. This is probably due to the tail geometry; lots of rocker and taper means more tail behind the optimal boot location. In breakable crust, all that tail makes it hard to cheat and swivel around and it feels kind of odd during jump turns as well. I think I can get used to it, but it’s definitely different.

On the Nano.

Floating on the Nano.

Uphill take (with a bit of down thrown in)
Position of foot on ski appears to meld well with the sidecut, and as noted above I found the Nano skied fine (with reservations) at neutral boot position as indicated by factory ski markings. Yet due to the shape and rocker of the tail, once you mount your bindings you’ll have 3 or centimeters or more of extra tail than a similar length ski in most other brands. Perhaps I’m too sensitive, but with my 178 cm testers the added 3 centimeters confused my kick turns. On the down, in manky conditions where the tail fully engaged I felt too far forward on the ski. Again, on both soft and hard snow that was in good condition the mount position felt fine, so this brings up an interesting dilemma. Do you mount in optimal position for the down, or tweak things for the up? Your call, but it’s a question that Nano might bring up for you, as opposed to other choices in skis with more conventional geometry.

Nano tail rocker is about 27 cm for our 180cm testers.

Nano tail rocker is about 27 cm for our 180cm testers. While not a ‘full rocker’ up to the boot area, that’s a significant tail rocker profile and results in the running surface and sidecut engaging in different ways depending on snow type and ski style.

Conclusion: La Sportiva Vapor Nano is a joy for ski touring: incredibly light, still with adequate width for just about any snow conditions. Extra tail behind boot position takes some getting used to, but is there for a reason. White color scheme is ideal to prevent icing and subsequent weight increase. Standard “K2″ style tip and tail holes are mandatory — we appreciate not having to drill them ourselves. Recommended as a touring ski (not a quiver of one for resort/sidecountry/backcountry), with emphasis on soft snow but they’ll get you down the hardpack. Our hope is this type of specialized ski continues to be available and not compromised by the needs of the freeride community, who have other choices for planks aligned more closely with their needs.

My testers scale at 1,188 grams per ski, catalog dimensions 180 x 130/103/120.

In terms of shopping, you might be able to find a pair of the early release that came out this winter, but consider waiting until autumn and getting next season’s version of the Nano. It’ll probably have a more durable finish and perhaps be slightly stronger (though we suspect a few grams heavier).

If you do want to shop, Cripple Creek Backcountry might have some for sale.


27 Responses to “La Sportiva Vapor Nano Ski – The Review”

  1. Charlie Hagedorn May 30th, 2014 9:44 am

    Great review!

    Thoughts on lifetime? Is this a ski that will last 100 days? 300?

    Is this a ski that will survive a little billygoating?

    How much weight do you think you could have in a pack, with tip and tail on logs/streambanks before you’d become concerned about durability?


  2. Jim Milstein May 30th, 2014 9:55 am

    Your napkin math looks pretty good, Lou. My calculator math gives a little under 2.3% per year decline to go from a score of 108 to 60 in 26 years.

  3. Mike Montmorency May 30th, 2014 10:50 am

    The noise issue is interesting and is not only a problem with the super light weight carbon skis. I skied Rossignol Soul 7′s last weekend on some refrozen hard pack and was amazed at how loud they were, I was wishing I had ear plugs on. Lou, do you have any ideas on exactly what component or combination of components is making some of these skis so loud?


  4. Andy May 30th, 2014 11:43 am

    It’s interesting that we keep hearing about La Sportiva’s binding placement. I know there were concerns about the GTR mount recommendation.

  5. Eric May 30th, 2014 11:46 am

    As an engineer in the microprocessor industry, I feel the need to clarify. Moore’s law actually predicts that the number of transistors in a given area double each year. In the past that meant using the extra transistors to roughly double the speed of a single processor core (hence the misconception), but that doesn’t usually hold these days.

  6. Lou Dawson May 30th, 2014 12:12 pm

    Thanks Eric, feel the need, scratch the itch, help out with clarification!

    Whatever the case, my point is that the average weight of skis has gone down for years, and has some sort of average “halving” time. Just as with Moore’s Law, the question is, when will it stop? Ever?


  7. Lou Dawson May 30th, 2014 12:17 pm

    Andy, the binding location is caused by the amount of tail rocker going past normal sidecut termination, so it basically makes for extra ski behind the foot. It looks a bit weird but in most situations seems to not be an issue. Where it bothered me the most was when kick turning or carrying skis on pack. By cutting a centimeter off the tails and mounting binding a centimeter back, the effect is pretty much eliminated. With my smaller boot size, going a centimeter back puts the actual heel of my foot about the same place I’d be with larger boots on the standard mount. I need to ski more with the new boot position, but I’m thinking it’s no big deal. Lou

  8. Lou Dawson May 30th, 2014 12:28 pm

    Charlie, I don’t think the ski is particularly fragile, I didn’t mean to give that impression. But with my ear to the ground I’ve heard of some breakage that was caused by perhaps pushing the ski to do a bit too much — so I wanted to make the point in support of La Sportiva that this is perhaps not the most durable ski out there — it’s instead adequately durable and the LIGHTEST.

    In terms of bridge strength I wouldn’t worry about it. Mine have two sets of holes already, and I’ve been using them for bridging rocks and doing stream crossings, no problem.

    What’s difficult about the whole durability question is that just because a beam weighs 1,188 grams instead of 1,500, who’s to say it makes any big compromise in durability? For example, without worrying about flex, I’m sure engineers could make a 10 cm x 180 cm composite beam that could suspend hundreds of pounds without any fear of breaking. So the trick here is how well did they work ski performance into the mix, and was there much compromise of durability?

    Ultimately, consumer testing will tell the tale.

  9. purplesage May 30th, 2014 1:05 pm

    Lou, can you talk a little bit about mounting bindings on these skis?

  10. Lou Dawson May 30th, 2014 1:11 pm

    Hi Purple, sure, the screws felt just as solid as most other skis, I used epoxy as always, noticed some core material adhered to the screws when I took them out, which happens with foam cores and leaves a larger hollow, which I usually fill with epoxy during a remount. Let me know if there is anything else you need to know, happy to oblige. Lou

  11. AndyC May 30th, 2014 2:09 pm

    Nice review, Lou. I bought Cho Oyus w Speed Radicals as an aid to helping the recovery of my hip & knee. I liked them so much I sold my 7 summits and my Manaslus. I’ve got a few days now on them in various kinds of spring snow. Then I got a little windfall of cash, always nice. And I debated about buying the La Sportiva Nanos. I have been using my Stokes as my crud ski this spring. I decided I wasn’t all that jazzed by th 106 waist, especially for firm snow sidehilling and, like your reviewer, thought it could use a heavier boot than the TLT5/6 Mountain–altho it skis very well with the TLT6 with the TLT5 tongue and an aftermarket Booster Strap–to get the most out of it. I decided to get a little smaller waist and chose the Volkl Nanuq because I really liked the Volkl Mantra on which it is based; I realized it would not be the beast the Mantra is. Anyway, I have skied the Nanuq and it was satisfactory, but I need some deep snow/crud time on it. The Nanuq is light (not ultralight like the Cho or Nano) and I hope I don’t regret not getting a little heavier ski. After skiing the Nanuq in refrozen ski, snowshoe, boot tracks, and rain runnels, I sure didn’t want a lighter ski :-)

  12. Charlie May 30th, 2014 2:17 pm

    Totally agreed that durability is a hard problem, and that it’s very hard to test. Load testing to failure (stating both the breaking force required and the total energy stored in the ski when it breaks) would be a reasonable proxy, but will never tell the whole story.

    I love using light skis for the longest, farthest, and hardest tours, but if they break, delaminate, or pull out, they’re far worse than a ski that weighs 1-200 g more….

    Agreed that user-testing is the best test!

  13. Lou Dawson May 30th, 2014 2:26 pm

    Charlie, yeah, like I’ve said a million times, weight is not a direct indicator of strength. Plenty of heavier skis have had durability problems over the years. On the other hand, I’d agree that when a ski breaks the mold in terms of weight, one should at least consider durability issues. Lou

  14. Phil May 30th, 2014 5:18 pm

    Do the Nano’s have a full metal edge?
    Or is it partial like the new BD carbon models (I believe the edge ends a few inches before the tip and tail on the BD models?).

  15. Lou Dawson May 30th, 2014 5:41 pm

    Hi Phil, the nano tail edge goes to the tail protector, the tip does stop a few centimeters before the end of the ski, and thus does not wrap around the tip. In my opinion, the tail edges need to go to the end, but the tip does not. If I have a chance, I’ll include a photo of the tip, should have done that, thanks for reminding. Lou

  16. See May 30th, 2014 10:25 pm

    I’m guessing switch from wood to lower density cores is as significant as glass to carbon in terms of weight reduction. And I’m not sure I understand what the benefit of forward mount is if not skiing backwards.

  17. Lou Dawson May 31st, 2014 5:14 am

    See, I’d agree. It seems that weight reduction in skis is taking several forms. Mainly, less material due to the use of stronger materials, but also lighter core as well as what type and length of steel edges.

    In terms of the “forward mount” I tried to say in my review that it just “looks” forward, due to extra tail rocker/length. The boot is actually in pretty much the normal spot when placed related to the ski sidecut.

    With a nod to different mounting positions, the Nano does have a series of marks on the topskin for optional mount positions.

    Mount position is something easy to obsess on, in many cases it’s not a big issue, but with the boot this far forward it’s definitely something to consider. Kick turns do feel a little strange when the tip rises up and the tail of the ski is back there in the way… Having the tip rise up so easily isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t like having that extra tail in the way on a 180 cm ski.


  18. sedgesprite May 31st, 2014 8:32 am

    How did the Nano fare in icy sidehill climbing?

  19. Lou Dawson May 31st, 2014 8:00 pm

    Sedge, no problem, but I’m using good quality skins that are cut close to the edges. Rocker can indeed influence how skins hold, but I didn’t notice much of an effect. Lou

  20. Daniel June 1st, 2014 5:56 am

    sounds all like too much of a compromise to me…
    I am on 1500gr skis with TLT speeds at the Moment, which is the “light” of a few ears ago and plenty light for 34yr old guy and climbs up to 7500′ vert.
    Lou, is the Nano indeed a notch or two flimsier on the down than say Cho Oyu or Denali? Or am I wrong here?

  21. Silas Wild June 1st, 2014 6:16 pm

    Hey Daniel, I tested both the 176cm Denali and 180cm Nano at Copper Mountain, CO in early February, boot top powder, and packed powder groomed slopes. For me (age 65, speed limit 35mph,) the Denali had better edge hold. It has less rocker and is a “beefy” 90 grams per ski “heavier.” I would not call the Nano flimsy tho.

  22. Mark Worley June 2nd, 2014 10:26 pm

    More carbon does equal louder, specifically on hardpack. Glad you could review this ski and pick out some of the details that some of us, such as myself, sometimes simply don’t observe as critically as needed, i.e. kick turns with longer tail.

  23. Lou Dawson June 3rd, 2014 5:30 am

    Mark, you’re probably just better at kick turns then I am (grin).

  24. Lou Dawson June 3rd, 2014 5:33 am

    Silas, I’d agree on your take. And yes, Nano is not “flimsy,” it’s just not a hardpack carver as much as some other skis, I’d call it more specialized to the soft side of the equation, and thus the perfect ski for harvesting human powered pow. Lou

  25. Blake June 3rd, 2014 1:00 pm

    Good to see your review Lou.

    I got out on these skis for a 5-10 days this spring thanks to Cripple Creek Backcountry. I’ll offer a short review of my brief impression. Had they come in before the Power of Four, I would’ve raced on them! They are lighter than the old Snowwolfs I use from time to time.

    I was amazed at how light they were. The ski felt non-existent when paired my orange Maestrale boots on the up. I felt the weight of the boot with every step more than anything. I was worried that the more days I got in on them, the harder it would be to enjoy touring on anything heavier.

    On the down, it was a nice relief to have a boot that overpowered the ski. I have been skiing the 105 waisted La Sportiva Hi5 and I feel like that is the upper range for the orange Maestrale.

    The skis are super fun. Despite being a similar shape to the Hi5, they ski completely different. I keep thinking it felt like a track shoe or basketball shoe underneath because they are so light they are super responsive. The ski is a bit thinner than the Hi5s and so I felt a little closer contact to the snow. It reminded me of the MGB I drove in high school – you get a bigger thrill with smaller turns at lower speeds.

    I did feel the need to be more aware of the ski and was less comfortable straight lining or blowing through crud than on the Hi5s. I was mounted at +1 so that probably affected the stability that I felt. The ski is so light though, that if it grabbed in some crud or crust then it was easy to just pop out of it and set a new track.

    I did seem notice that it wouldn’t bite as hard making a perpendicular (to the slope) speed check or stop. I didn’t get it on any icy couloirs but it wouldn’t be my first choice for those conditions. I’m guessing that because of the lighter weight, it just doesn’t bite as hard into real firm ice/snow.

    I did get a resort day in on them and they handled pretty well there. I do have some concern about pushing it hard through a nasty spring slog with dry patches, rocks, debris fields, and log and creek crossings. I’m 185lb without a pack/gear. They are a pretty stiff ski (with all the carbon), but I’m more interested in a classic ski touring shape for the spring that is designed for demanding ski mountaineering.

    Overall, I’d use this ski to compliment a larger powder/resort oriented ski and a classic spring ski. I think it skis great for most spring outings and is a blast in winter powder. I’m not too concerned about having the lightest setup out there, but the weight savings with this ski is substantial. I could definitely see less fatigue with more outings. It’s a super fun ski and I think would work great with some of the lighter boots out there.

  26. Erik Erikson June 3rd, 2014 10:25 pm

    First: I really think its a good thing that skis are getting lighter and lighter each year. But nevertheless everyone should think about if he or she really always needs the lightest set up out there (and spending lots more money on it and maybe buying less durability).
    Me for example: If I had the time do as much touring as I want to I´d for sure always use a very light rig, just to save energy. But having a quite regular job, during the week I can only do one or two short tours. On this occasions I love to take my coombacks, skinning up quite unhurridly and seeing the additional weight maybe as a little extra training for longer tours, knowing I have lots of time for recovery anyway.
    Even on many longer weekend-tours the heavier weight is ok. Of course there are really long days with many vertical meters especially in the spring time, were I´d go as light as possible. But as I said: Probably I am fitter on this occasions due to having used a heavier ski on many shorter tours before, where the additional weight really dont hurt.

  27. Jason Gregg June 12th, 2014 6:07 pm

    I went for these Lou. I would have loved something like a 184 length choice but didn’t think the 180′s would offer enough float, so ended up with the 188′s. My production 1st year Manaslu’s are finally retired as my daily drivers. I won’t be able to find out until next winter but it’s going to be interesting to see if I can control these with my TLT5P shoes, I know that they weren’t quite enough boot for me with the Hi5′s in that length, so keeping the fingers crossed.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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