Maybe it’s because the Tahoe resorts were recently so choked with snow it was a battle royal just to open a single lift, but my thoughts have been preoccupied with Powder skis, those monsters of the deep that measure more than 113mm underfoot.
Once skis get this wide, how they behave is largely dictated by shape and baseline, otherwise described as how the ski meets the snow. Everything else about the design is still important, such as weight, degree of camber, damping, tail configuration and materials, but if you know a Powder ski’s silhouette and rocker profile you can already predict important aspects of its behavior.
This is most evident in pristine, uncut, lighter-than-eider-down powder. Surface area, sidecut and resistance to swiveling contribute considerably to how the skier uses the tool to descend virgin lines.
Crud – all conditions after first tracks until every trace of powder is trammeled – is different. Instead of parting calm waters, your skis have to batter their way through rough harbor chop with sufficient savoir-faire to inspire their pilot to keep running before the wind.
A Powder ski will inevitably be asked to ski more than pure pow. In order to manhandle crud, a ski must be more than just a shape. It’s helpful to have some inherent stability in order for a super-wide ski to track calmly across groomers. Finding the balance between surf-ability and tracking accuracy is the Grail of the Powder ski purveyor.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate the diversity of the Powder ski pantheon is to quickly sketch portraits of some of the principal players. Here’s a sampling of a few top models that illustrate some of the many ways the current market goes about building the perfect Powder board.
Back in the mid-90’s, when fat skis were transitioning from a curiosity to a category, Völkl’s Snow Ranger set the performance standard. The good old days are back, as the Confession uses a wood and metal construction to subjugate the stiffest wind-hammered crud. In the Golden Age of Lighter is Better, the Confession still uses a dose of Titanal to tame the wildest terrain. The Confession is the only Volkl over 100mm at the waist with a cambered baseline, conferring on the Confession both poppy life and implacable power.
Perhaps no other major brand has done more to simplify off-trail skiing than K2, a reputation the brand burnishes with the Pinnacle 118. Its tapered, amply rockered extremities slip smoothly through rubble while a sliver of metal over the edges keeps the ski calm even on hardpack. A core composed mostly of Nanolite composite conjures images of getting kicked around in the crud, but au contraire, it’s the Pinnacle 118 that delivers the ass-kicking in off-piste conditions.
If a Powder ski can said to have a single purpose, it’s reducing effort and its evil twin, fatigue. A featherweight compared to the Pinnacle or Confession, the QST 118 uses a trimmed-down wood core and Koroyd at tip and tail to dramatically reduce swingweight. It even has a Titanal platform underfoot, but the dominant impression isn’t of heft but of float and drift, or what one generally expects a Powder ski to be all about. The QST 118’s twin-rockered baseline loves to smear and a matrix of carbon and flax fibers provides the intestinal fortitude to handle the thumping a ski must endure when tearing through crud.
Overshadowed by the runaway success of its little brother, the Soul 7 HD, Rossi’s Super 7 HD received the same significant upgrade in 2017: a Carbon Alloy Matrix that raises the performance ante from every angle. Already a great Powder ski, the Super 7 HD is more torsionally rigid, more accurate on edge and even livelier than its predecessor. One of the charms of this ski is its propensity to porpoise through powder, responding to pressure with a lilting unweighting that aids rhythm and balance.
Atomic’s Backland Bent Chetler is a bundle of surprises. Like most Powder skis it appears massive, with enough surface area to have its own zip code, but once in motion it’s remarkably agile. The forebody is rockered both longitudinally and laterally so it acts like the prow of a ship, plying its way through the deepest snow with ease. The cambered section underfoot imparts energy off the bottom of the turn in any snow condition and an extra dose of stability on groomage. The Bent Chetler is a prime example of the creative designs that can emerge from the close collaboration of an exceptional athlete and an elite factory.
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