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Gear

2016 Top Ski Gear Trends

Walkable boot soles for alpiners. More customizable shells than ever. And what’s up with shrinking ski widths? Find out here.


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On the following pages, it’s easy enough to spot which skis earned the highest scores
in our test (Nordica Enforcer for men, Völkl Kenja for women). But which brands were best overall? Congratulations to Blizzard, whose skis had the highest average ranking (5.1) across all categories (shown: the Brahma, Blizzard’s top scorer). Next came Rossignol (5.7), then Völkl (5.8). And again this year, we were looking for good deals. You’ll see value scores for every Gold Medal ski (its test score divided by MSRP), and we again set a price limit and challenged brands to submit skis for our Value category. Full results of the Value test will appear in the in the November issue, but the winners (shown) are Rossignol’s Temptation 80 (women’s) and Atomic’s Vantage 95C (men’s).

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Warmth, comfort, and easy walkability are all fine and good, but is anyone doing anything
to enhance boot performance these days? A few companies have already answered the call with a batch of narrow, stiff, no-nonsense fixed-cuff boots. Examples: Tecnica’s Mach1 130 LV, Rossignol’s Allspeed Elite 130, and Nordica’s GPX 130, all of which reset the snug-meter and stiffness gauge for true 98-mm lasts and zero-BS 130 flexes. No, they don’t have hike modes or Easy-Bake Oven customization capabilities, but they ski as well as or better than any boots ever made. They’re boots. And we’re glad they’re back. Shown: Nordica GPX 130.

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There’s mounting evidence that superfat powder pigs have had their day, and that slimmer widths are what’s really selling. According to industry figures, last year’s sales of skis wider
than 110 mm remained well below their 2011–12 high. “There are still a lot of fat skis sitting on retailers’ walls from two and three years ago,” says Fischer’s Matt Berkowitz. Skis with 80- to 90-mm waists remain the hottest sellers, and the fastest-growing segment is 101 to 110 mm. Eastern skiers appear to be warming to 80-plus waists, while Western skiers gravitate to 100-plus waists for everyday use. Brands are beefing up on narrow offerings. Examples: Rossi’s redesigned Pursuit series (71 to 74 mm), Head’s all-new Instincts (74 to 82), Fischer’s Progressor series (73 to 75), and Blizzard’s new G-Power (a value-priced citizen racer, $799 with binding). Salomon adds a 75 and two 80s to its X-Drive series, and Nordica adds two new models (80Ti and 76Ca) to its carvy Fire Arrow line. Shown: Rossi Pursuit 800, Head Power Instinct Ti Pro.

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Longtime turn earners have freaked over
the recent “mainstreaming” of backcountry skiing. They can relax. The big brands say
it’s still a very minor part of the sales picture. But they admit it’s an influential segment, and no one wants to be left out of the cool-by-association game. Salomon is the most avid mainstream embracer of backcountry. In its 2016 catalog, AT gear—like the MTN Explore 95 ski and MTN Lab boot (shown)—dominates the front pages. And the pricing is aggressive. (Traditional AT brands will have to hustle.) Sister brand Atomic is proud of its new Backland boot (960 grams!). Marker’s got a new tech binding, the King Pin. Etc., etc. Whether the mainstream skier is ready to get all sweaty remains to be seen.

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It’s too soon to tell if it’s a game changer, but Salomon’s WTR (Walk to Ride) boot-sole initiative might be gaining momentum. The upshot: Someday we might all be strolling around in ski boots with comfortably rockered soles. That’s nothing new for the alpine touring crowd of course. But WTR boots are built for alpiners, with rigid, non-rubbery boot/binding interfaces for crisp on-snow performance. Rossignol has joined in, first with WTR-compatible boots and now with its own Dual binding system, which accommodates regular or WTR soles. Shown: Rossi FKS Dual WTR 140. Those two brands represent a lot of market share, which might just give this WTR thing legs.

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Customization remains the hot trend and has transformed the boot test. This year we had six separate brand-specific customization stations, plus a setup of the usual toys for traditional shell and liner modification. Atomic Memory Fit, DaleBoot shells and liners, Fischer’s Vacuum, Head’s new Form Fit, Salomon Custom Shell 360,
and Rossignol’s new custom liner—all were put to the test. We conducted stock, off-the-rack tests as always, but we also evaluated boots that had been through the custom processes. In every case, the customer wins. Customized models all showed an improvement in fit and stance, which added up to enhanced skiability. With the right technician running the show, all of the available custom technologies worked. We were also reminded by a quick stretch on a Tecnica CAS shell that a traditional punch or grind still gets the job done too. Regardless of the method, custom works. Shown: new widebody Atomic Magna 130 with Memory Fit.

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Making skis lighter seems to be an industry-wide obsession, but there’s greater agreement this year that it’s a trend that can be taken too far. “Light skis can be nervous, chattery wrecks,” says Chris McKearin of Salomon, which is expanding its backcountry offerings with weight-saving Spaceframe constructions. “We don’t aspire to be the lightest, because downhill performance is the ultimate goal.” K2’s new iKonic line uses lightweight material down the center of the ski with more stable materials around the perimeter. Völkl adapts V-Werks technology in its new midfats, which are thick down the middle so they can be thinner toward the edges. Meanwhile, carbon fiber and lightweight woods like paulownia continue to get a workout. Shown: K2 iKonic 85 Ti, Völkl 100Eight W.

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This year you’ll notice that we don’t just review the best boots on the market; we show you their test scores—something we’ve done with skis for some time. Scoring boots is inherently difficult, given the importance of fit. But testers do their best to objectively evaluate each boot with a number grade for each of five criteria: anatomic fit; dynamic balance; edge power and support; agility and feel; convenience and features. We also evaluate the effectiveness of customization systems and take note of which boots testers admired regardless of score. The boots that scored highest overall served the greatest number of testers. It’s useful data to inform your buy. Use it as a starting point, but the real test will be how a boot fits and flexes in the shop. Shown: Head Raptor 140 RS (top scoring men’s boot), Salomon X Max 110 W (top women’s).