Some testers felt this ski was supremely effortless for all abilities, while others advised wearing "big-girl pants" when skiing it. They're both right: This ski is both easy and strong, a rare combo. Rossi's lightweight honeycombed Air Tip gives it incredible pivotability, but a beefy cap-sandwich con- struction (the same as the unisex Super 7's) and strong tail get after big lines. "Point it down the fall line and it magically does the work for you," said McElroy.
After three years on the podium, the Experience 88 finally ascends to the top step. Rossi's recent resurgence owes a lot to the Experience line of frontside generalists, and the 88 has always been the testers' favorite. With its huge tip and deep shape it's a can't-miss carver with enough width and tip rocker for soft-snow fun too. It's metal- free but still awes testers with its speed-loving dampness (Air Tip concentrates mass underfoot; damper-than-fiberglass basalt fibers further quiet the ride). Added stiffness this year gives it more oomph. Beekman: "Balanced flex tip to tail. Feels agile and damp at the same time."
How fitting that a ski testers described as "perfect for the masses" should sell in massive quantities. This returning category crusher has perhaps the broadest ability envelope of any ski in the test. Ex- perts use its rockered, tip-tapered smearability to go crazy fast in terra incognita, knowing they can shut it down fast in "oh, $!*#!" moments. Inter- mediates can use that float and easy pivotability to finally master powder skiing. And sure, it's mostly a powder ski-but one that arcs readily enough on groomers to qualify for daily-driver status in soft- snow locales. Withey: "As versatile as any in this class. Could put anyone on this ski."
Gold Medal Gear
TIP/TAIL/WAIST123-78-109 (159, 167
LENGTHS157, 167, 175, 183
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At that price, the Laser AX had better be good. It is. Compare and contrast with Volkl's RTM, with which it ties for the top spot in the rankings: Where the Volkl aims for a measure of all-conditions, all-terrain versatility, the Laser, true to its name, focuses on hard-snow precision. It's a veritable GS race ski. Testers were awed by its "epoxied to the snow" edge grip and its pure greed for speed. Go find the hardest snow you can, then dice it with confidence-provided, as testers warned, you have the strength and ability to manage this ski. Luby: "What an exhilarating ride. Great suspension and dampness. Lives up to its price tag."
For all the recent buzz about the sexy, slashy benefits of tapered tips, the Shiro's scores prove that testers still have a soft spot for strong, lively, directional performance. Sure, Volkl's trademark full-length rocker gives it loose pivotability in deep snow and crud. But put it on edge and rest assured it's going to bend deeply into carve-ready arcs-and then release with thrilling, best-in- category, way-across-the-fall-line rebound. It's not a difficult ski, but testers agreed that its qualities are best appreciated by aggressive skiers. Moffatt: "Surfy and stable in deep and still very manage- able in crud. Surprisingly nimble. Super versatile."
If you like to squeeze a buck as much as you like to stand on a cleanly arcing edge, check out the NRGy 90. It'll sell for about $600 in most shops, but there's nothing cheap about the way it skis. Its quickness and hard-snow skills belie its ample width; its just-right rebound is man- ageable yet thrilling; and with a modest, GS-y, down-the-hill kind of sidecut, it loves to
go fast in long arcs. Withey: "Rewards you at speed, yet still light and quick."
The universally admired Annex 118 felt like a "new kind of K2" to testers, damper than K2s past, trading some traditional liveliness for speed-loving stability that rippers will adore. It's the model of choice of K2 athlete Seth Morrison and, as one tester noted, especially well suited to the daring speeds and big-mountain lines he favors. And yet it still ranks No. 1 for Forgiveness, with a rocker and tip-taper shape that lends confidence in tight spaces and rebound energy that enhances that quickness. Elling: "So versatile. A hard-charging chameleon that can cruise quietly or bring on the horror as needed. Great new ski for K2."
Wow. After tepid results in recent years, Head instantly regained tester devotion with its strong, stable new fleet of Joy skis. The flagship Big Joy is a no-nonsense bomber that does it all. It's the Holy Grail of light and strong-a lightweight wood core is reinforced with graphene, a sheet of carbon one atom thick that earned its developers the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics. A rockered tip floats in the deep, and low-profile camber in the rest carves on groomed. It's more directional than smeary, and it craves speed-so only experts need apply. "Chicks who rip, rejoice. This is the real-deal powder ski for us," said Barnes.
The all-new 810 is the ultimate hardpack slayer. It's fully cambered underfoot for a vicious edge bite. (Blizzard had experimented with Flip Core- an upside-down core with natural rocker-in this racy niche, but this year it's getting back to busi- ness with full camber.) Yet it's slightly rockered at tip and tail to engage and release without a fight. A shortened tip aims to reduce vibration. A lightweight wood core is reinforced with metal to dampen and stiffen for even the most aggressive skiers. The brand also brings back its IQ binding interface, which transfers power so instantly, "it's like an extension of my body," Brown Lovell said.