1. ELAN FUSION BINDING SYSTEM
When Slovenian engineers told us last summer that all other systems amounted to "on-tegration," while only their Elan Fusion system-available on four 2003-04 models ($750-$950)-could claim true "integration," we chuckled. And then we got on them. By building the ski around an internal, train track-like binding rail, Elan engineers have connected the skier, the binding and the ski below the ski's surface, right at its heart. The Fusion system lets its Marker binding glide freely as the ski flexes and delivers skier input immediately to the edge. The result: smooth turn transitions, exceptional power and accuracy-and a revolution in carved turns.
2. ATOMIC GS:11
Take two titanium lobes for power and edge-grip, add a dimpled topskin (inspired by golf-ball technology) to reduce drag, stir in an overall World Cup title, and you get the GS:11 ($895), a race-stock ski available to any ambitious mortal. Testers were unanimous in naming the fluid GS:11 the best ski in the GS Race category. Why? It offers huge rewards for fast,hard-charging, hip-in aggressiveness, espcially on the racecourse, but won't punish small mistakes, which makes it remarkably fun for high-speed all-mountain cruising. Set it up correctly, and it sends you exactly where you want to go. But hold on tight: It's decidedly a ride worthy of the World Cup.
3. K2 AXIS XP
It's a noble concept: Make a Freerider ski that plows through Sierra crud, dances in Beaver Creek powder and dices Stowe corduroy-all with equal ease and enthusiasm. But it's been virtually impossible to execute. Until now. The XP ($795) not only manages the feat, it thrives where most skis are relegated to one-trick-pony status. A 78-mm waist gives it flotation in powder, while a metal-laminate construction and elastomer-filled dampening module yield tenacious edge-hold on the hard-pack. The XP is indeed master of all terrains: powerful enough for big bowls, agile enough for trees and glades. It's quite possibly the best-balanced Freerider ski in the world.
4. Và–LKL SUPERSPORT 6 STAR PISTON MOTION
When a single ski sends both a 225-pound Olympic downhiller and a 160-pound contributing editor into the same bewildered state of high-octane happiness, it's clearly onto something. Völkl's 6 Star ($899-$949, depending on binding) hasaluminum rails, which not only allow the included Marker bindings to glide in a way that won't impede flex, they give the ski a springboard-like boost out of each turn and a death-grip hold on hard snow. But it's the nature of that power that thrilled most of our testers. Thanks to Marker's ingenious Piston binding, the 6 Star's boost is attended by absolute calm at the top of the turn. No jitters. No nerves. Just a smooth surge-and a broad grin.