For the last four years, my go-to backcountry-powder-hunting weapon of choice has been a pair of 2013 4FRNT Hojis. This year, I decided to get with the times and hocked my old Hojis so I could snag myself the lighter, more technologically advanced, and slightly narrower 4FRNT Raven.
My first impression was that these new shred sticks, with a stated weight of 1600 grams per ski, were far lighter than the 2000+ gram Hojis, and noticeably stiffer. At 5’10” and roughly 150 lbs, I opted for the 177, hoping to make these an all-around backcountry powder–to–spring–couloir quiver of one; and I felt that shaving off 100 grams per ski was more important than the extra seven centimeters of fun (more on that later).
I mounted the Ravens with G3 Ion LTs and took them for a spin on the resort, testing both the uphill and the downhill. While putting on skins, I admired the low rocker and plastic block on the tails. These allow the skis to be easily stuck in the snow, unlike their twin-tip counterparts, and eases the attachment of tail clips while holding them securely in place. I started up the hill and was grinning from ear to ear, receiving waves of pleasure with each breezy stride. Most skis that feature 104 underfoot easily push 2000 grams per ski, the Raven’s 400+ gram reduction is easily felt. Even so, these planks still have noticeable weight, but the word on the street is they rip the downhill. If I found that to be true, then they are a welterweight fighting for a heavyweight title.
I ripped skins at the top, and prepared myself to be escorted into that blissful state of being that only a well machined tool of snow slaying can take you. As I picked up speed and leaned into my first turns, the Ravens began to chatter uncontrollably and felt squirrelly. I quickly realized that these were not my go-to ski for spring conditions. Unlike the Raven’s, the arc of the Hoji sidecut mirrors the reverse camber, dubbed Reflecttech by 4FRNT, which creates much more edge to snow contact than is expected in a reverse camber ski; this pays off on the hardpack and carves surprisingly well. Remembering how well my old Hojis carved, I leaned left, my skis went straight, I caught myself and forgave the Ravens, while hoping we would communicate better in the future.
Several days later, snow fell. Happily, I drove far from the resort to backcountry access in the west Elk mountains. My first turns in fresh snow swept away any regrets from the first test. The Ravens topped out the fun-scale in powder. The reverse camber allows the skis to be driven from under the boot instead of from tip pressure as with traditionally cambered skis. This allows for long buttery sideways surfing turns — technically speaking. I’m not much of a synchronized hip swivel skier and love making fast long surfy turns, and these skis did not disappoint. I did find myself wishing I would have sacrificed those hundred grams for the seven extra centimeters of the 184. The reverse camber of the 177 makes the effective edge much shorter than a traditionally cambered ski. I suggest sizing up to anyone interested in a reverse camber ski.
The stiffness that I initially felt dissipated in the softer snow, likely due to the aspen core reinforced by carbon stringers on the tips and tails, while the underfoot construction includes maple stringers for binding retention. The maple makes the ski stiffer in the middle. Aspen is a much softer wood, introducing more flex in the tip and tail which adds up to a responsive ski that you can rip through tight trees just as well as big open bowls.
The word “HOJI” is stamped in big block letters on the left ski. These four letters are becoming a brand in the ski-industry, with Dynafit’s new Hoji boots, 4FRNT’s Hoji skis, and Matchstick Productions’ Hoji movie, starring none other than, you guessed it, Hoji, AKA Eric Hjorleifson. Eric is possibly the best big-mountain skier in the world. On top of this, he is a bit of an engineering genius who works hand-in-hand with brands such as Dynafit and 4FRNT to design gear that he uses in the field. The Ravens are one of three skis in the Hoji line engineered with the help of Hjorleifson.
Anyone who has seen Hoji rip pillow lines and spines and deep backcountry pow might wonder why I even bothered trying these for anything but hunting freshies. My response: why did 4FRNT see the need to make a slightly lighter, slightly narrower ski that doesn’t float quite as well as the other skis in the Hoji line, and doesn’t charge quite as well, but then isn’t light enough or stable enough on difficult conditions to be a solid spring ski? In the end, these are lightweight powder skis. I don’t want them for big demanding lines, and I don’t want them for spring couloirs, but I’ll ski hippie pow with them until the end of my days.
2018/2019 4FRNT Raven specs
(Jamie Caudill is a climbing guide, ski instructor, and photographer based in Carbondale, Colorado. To see more adventures on snow and stone, check out his instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jam.caudill)