Editor’s note: Still one of the best overview ski tests out there, with permission from Alpin Magazine we attempt translation and online presentation. (See German version here.) Thanks David Gerrard for the translation work. It’s interesting to see that while Alpin has three general verbal ratings for skis (Satisfactory, Good, Very Good) very few of the skis in the this wider category were rated less than Good. Note that some companies choose not to provide Alpin with test skis–as always a scold from WildSnow for those companies not stepping up. Also, Alpin does review narrower skis. After all, this is European! We’ll cover the skinny planks briefly at the bottom of this post, and in another blog post. Nearly all these skis are available at retail; we provide shopping links where we can. We’re noticing excellent prices on many of these skis — might be a good time to pick up another arrow for your quiver. Please know the shopping links are added by us here at WildSnow The Backcountry Skiing Blog and were not part of the original printed review.
Alpin Review follows, translated from German:
This year (2013) everything wider than 95mm underfoot has been classed as a “Free-Touring Ski.” Up to now we have used the classifications of the manufacturer, but strict categories are now ever more blurred, so we’ve updated our usual method of classification. We’ve also adapted our terminology with the times: no longer are these skis the “touring suitable Freeride skis,” but “Free-touring” skis.” At last we’ve got the ski we’ve been waiting years for” was often the reaction this season. Not that skis used to be poor, but for our target group: skiers and ski-tourers who not only take the lift, but also ascend under their own steam; the modern, wide skis are a blessing.
There are more skis on offer, the skis are more varied and there’s a greater choice. There’s also a new trend in rocker-technology, itself now well established in powder-ski design, the inverted waist. Here the widest part of the ski is set noticeably further back from the tip to where the ski makes first real contact with the surface of the snow. With a rockered ski, this contact point is far further back than usual. Of course not every ski needs this type of design and there are good skis with other geometries, but it’s an evolution in ski-design which is likely to stay with us for some time.
Amongst the Free-Tourers the Dynastar High Mountain Cham 97 has the same construction as its smaller brother: the Cham 87, which took the title in the category ”Touring-Skis (narrower boards)” against some stiff competition. That a design can perform superbly at a certain width, but doesn’t translate to wider skis was demonstrated several times in this test. It’s true for the Cham 97, which scores well but not as good as its narrower counterpart and it’s also true for the Kaestle models TX97 and TX107. Here too, the smallest sibling, the TX87, performed brilliantly (last year it was the Test Winner!), creating a lot of expectation for the fatter models, which unfortunately wasn’t realized.
Wide skis can become quickly unstable and nervous if they don’t reach a critical minimum weight. A similar fate as the Kaestle-models befell a few other “lightweight” competitors: the Ski-Logik Yeti and Trab Volare are wide and light, and struggle in any other conditions than pure powder. The Voelkl Nanuq is perhaps not a super-lightweight ski anymore, but has superb performance for its weight (2995g / 170cm). For this it was given our “Lightweight-Tip” award.
So, just how light can a Free-Tourer ski be? Naturally the sky’s the limit: it all depends upon the skier’s individual requirements and preferences. Similarly the Voelkl Nunataq (3565g / 178cm) offers spectacular fun at a fully acceptable weight, far below four kilos. It’s not just a ski for off-piste, as you can quite happily spend half a day on the piste as long as the conditions are not too hard or icy. Off the piste the Nunataq will take anything you throw at it: fast or slow, tracked or fresh, short swings or long, open turns. With a perfectly acceptable weight, its superb performance earned the ski the title of Test Winner.
In certain situations the Diplomat from Mountain Wave proved somewhat stronger than the Nunataq: the ski isn’t as skittish as some of its narrower brothers, but nicely responsive. Its strength was clearly tracked snow, but it was fun to ski in nearly all snow conditions, which is why it was the favorite ski for many testers. Diplomat was just too heavy to take the main prize, as it easily exceeded the four kilo limit, but still earned our Tip for Downhill Performance. The Carbon Megawatt from Black Diamond brought a broad smile to all our testers’ faces, at least as long as the terrain was open and snow and visibility were good. Good visibility is a prerequisite for this ski, as you’re inclined to find yourself traveling at surprising speed.
The Free-Touring skis have become wider and lighter, which is a tricky compromise, as it can quickly result in a ski which is only really any good in powder. The Voelkl Nanuq is a relatively light ski in our group, which still delivers a lot of fun. The heaviest ski in the test, the Mountain Wave Diplomat, is a terrific ski and is fun to ski even when snow conditions are far from optimal, but our Test Winner, the Voelkl Nunataq, was gifted with a superb compromise between downhill performance and acceptable weight: fat, but not too heavy, a ski with which you can still clock up 1000m of ascent in a day.
Editor’s note: Capsule reviews follow, translated from the image above. The double numbers after the name are the Alpin weight index. The larger the number, the heavier the ski per unit surface area, or something like that anyway.
(-) Poor grip on ice
With 105mm under the binding and a weight of only 3170g (183cm) the Yeti is light. Good when you want to ascend 2000m in top conditions. Otherwise the Yeti is rather unstable.
138 – 105 – 124
Shop for Skilogic skis.
Black Diamond Drift
(+) Very good in powder
(-) Unstable on the piste
The Drift is very good in powder, no wonder with those dimensions, but even the Drift shows weaknesses on hard or deep chopped-up snow. Off-piste the Drift is easy to control.
136 – 100 – 122
Shop for Black Diamond Drift
Ski Trab Volare
(+) top finish
(-) poor grip
A ski from Trab with almost 100mm under the binding – not bad! Ski Trab is more a specialist for light racing or touring skis. The Volare is good in powder, but shows weaknesses on hard snow. Very good finish!
129 – 99 – 116
Shop for Trab Volare
ALPIN Weight Tip!
(+) Stable at speed
(+) Relatively light
The Nanuq is an old friend – which doesn’t make it any poorer. With not even 3kg at 170cm the ski is light, but still convinces with good, well-balanced skiing-characteristics.
131 – 96 – 114
It’s pretty funny seeing Backcountry.com call this a “telemark ski.” Whatever the case, here is the link.
(-) somewhat unstable or nervous
We’ve never tested a ski with such a soft tip. It’s strengths are seen in powder, in other snow types the ski proves to be well balanced and responsive.
125 – 96 – 98
Head over to the Elan Website, where Plake will give you his sales pitch.
La Sportiva Lo 5
The Lo 5 from La Sportiva is a ski with character. For a Free-Tourer the ski is still relatively light, but still manages to be stable. The ski is easy to maneuver, especially in powder or flat terrain.
125 – 95 – 115
The TX97 from Kästle is an identical construction to the TX87, only 10mm wider. The TX97 doesn’t convince to the same degree that one would expect from the TX87. Has no particular weaknesses, or strengths.
128 – 97 – 117
Shop for it.
Dynastar High Mountain Cham 97
The Cham High Mountain 97 is the big brother of the Cham High Mountain 87, which was top in the Tour-Ski test for narrower skis. On piste the ski is agile, but becomes quickly unstable at higher speeds.
133 – 97 – 113
If you insist, it’s available at Backcountry.com.
The Drifter certainly doesn’t honour its name, as one doesn’t have to drift the ski at all. This rather stable ski takes its turns (if you want to make them) cleanly on its edges. In powder this rockered ski is convincing.
132 – 95 – 121
We’re not sure where to get this online, check here.
(+) good in powder
(-) weakness on the piste
The TX107 also has its construction based on the TX87: but it shows that although one ski in the range comes out top, it doesn’t have to hold true for the other models. Because of its width the TX107 is especially convincing in powder.
135 – 107 – 127
Take a look.
Völkl Nunataq — TEST WINNER!!
(+) top skiing characteristics
(+) still light
The Nunataq from Völkl shows no weaknesses, neither in its statistics (weight, dimensions etc) or its inner qualities. Whether flat or steep, powder or tracked: nothing worries the Nunataq. —
139 – 107 – 123
Shop for Volkl Nunataq
(+) good in difficult conditions
(-) somewhat unbalanced
The Kabookie from Blizzard shows definite strengths: it is especially strong in tracked snow. On the other hand, it’s not particularly light. For this weight it could have shown more stability on the piste.
131 – 98 – 116
Check out Blizzard Kabookie
(+) in powder well balanced
(-) unstable for the weight
The Powd’Air is an old acquaintance, it’s already been tested a couple of times. A couple of years ago it was unique, now less so. This year the Scott proves to be be good and well balanced.
134 – 100 – 123
Find a Scott dealer.
(+) well balanced
The Odysee from Kessler is an exotic addition to the selection. The exclusiveness is reflected in the price (MSRP $1,799). Its characteristics make the ski fun, but it doesn’t bowl you over. Well balanced, with no particular strengths or weaknesses.
132 – 98 – 122
If you have this kind of money for an average ski, we’re sure you can find a shopping source.
(+) Very stable
(+) Good in tracked snow
(-) Somewhat sluggish
The K2 Backdrop at 118mm is pretty wide. Considering this it proved to have good grip and stable at speed. Whoever’s looking for a really wide Free-Tourer – here it is!
142 – 112 – 131 (note, these are the K2 published dimensisons, number in graphic above appears to be a typo)
Shop for K2 Backdrop
Black Diamond Carbon Megawatt
(+) invincible in powder
(+) relatively stable
(-) average edge grip
The widest ski in the test was the Carbon Megawatt. Whenever we left the piste a smile appeared on the face of the tester. That the smile disappeared when conditions became firmer is also clear.
153 – 125 – 131
Shop for Megawatt
Mountain Wave Diplomat
ALPIN Downhill Tip!
(+) relatively stable
(+) very well balanced
(-) relatively heavy
The Diplomat from Mountain Wave convinced both the male and the female testers. It’s well-balanced, makes controlled turns, even in tracked snow and is also good on the piste.
140 – 104 – 128
Not sure where to shop for this, suggestions welcome.
Editor’s note: As promised, what skis won Alpin’s extensive touring ski review (planks at 93 mm or less at the waist)?
Overall sub-93 winners go to K2 Backup (124/82/105) for their narrower class, and Dynastar Cham (127/87/103) for their wider/narrow touring class. Honrable mention for the do-everything ski again goes to K2 for the venerable Wayback, a ski with lots of fans around WildSnow HQ. For a wider do-it-all, Kastle 87 got the honors. Black Diamond gets kudos for their women’s specific Crescent model. If you’re looking for new skis, you can not go wrong with any of these if they fit your needs in terms of gender, weight and dimensions. We’re working on presenting the review of the narrower skis. More planks, so somewhat more involved.
In terms of shopping, the K2 Backup will not be part of the K2 lineup in 2014 and it’s on some deep discounts. For example, check out this K2 Backup deal at GearX.