Just wrapping up the second day of SIA's on-snow demo at Winter Park Resort, and thought I'd give a few quick hits on the skis I tried. Some or all of these will blossom into full reviews, complete with my witty and occasionally risque first-impressions video clips, but for now, this will have to do. Let me say again that it is indeed a great time to be a skier. Technology advances in really the past year or so have completely changed the market. Here's what struck me as notable:
The unexpected Best of Show might have to be Blizzard's Cochise, which is billed as an All-Mountain ski, and which might actually deliver on that promise. Fully rockered, the Cochise's size and geometry look very similar to powder specialist the Salomon Czar, but put the Cochise on hardpack (and believe me, it was hard today), and you'll enjoy an outrageously solid ride. I wish you could see the turns I was carving on these skis: mach speed GS arcs with complete confidence. I liked the Cochise so much I'm going to have to ride it some more...especially in powder.
With its Pursuit line, Rossignol seems to have perfected the next-generation Front-side carver category. Think of these not so much as race stock relatives, but rather as pedal-to-the-metal crowd pleasers. The Pursuit HP has an 81mm waist, and a very slightly rockered tip (call it early-rise). Turn initiation is effortless, feel is both lively and solid, and the ski has no problems with speed. Will amped-up ex-racers find it savage enough? Probably not. But everyone else in the advanced to expert carving category is going to instantly find themselves making sweeter turns on it.
Speaking of race stock, ex-racers may find Head's offerings interesting. The i.Speed and i.Supershape skis, part of Head's racing/supershape line, are clearly made for you. If you like your tails race-room stiff, the i.Speed won't disappoint. My tilt would be that the line could use a bigger dose of fun, which I guess means I've gone soft after all...
That said, I still love Dynastar's Speed Course Ti, which returns unchanged for the 2012-2013 season. For elite-level carving, I say there's no better choice today. One step behind but full of kick itself (especially coming out of the turn) is the new Nordica FireArrow 80 Pro. If you ask me, a little professionalism was much needed in the original FireArrow. Done.
How about the new Mantra? Well, really it's the 2012 Mantra, returning with updated graphics but otherwise unchanged for the '13 season. The question that comes to my mind is why is the Mantra so much better than anything else in its class? Let's call the Mantra an All Mountain ski tilted toward hard snow carving. A touch of tip rocker makes the Mantra even better than the original; somehow the ski feels as lively as a slalom board. I suspect the Mantra would be much outclassed by the Cochise in powder, but everywhere else...more testing may be required...
Okay, I know what you're thinking: didn't I ski any backcountry planks? Only one, Volkl's Nunataq, which, I must say, is exactly the ski it's supposed to be. Said to be the touring version of the Gotama (itself nicely updated), the Nunataq offers a wonderfully balanced and neutral ride that never lost its cool on the hardpack. This is a big ski, 107mm underfoot, but reasonable at 8lbs per pair, and (based on the few powder stashes I found) a wonderful choice for powder chasers.