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Gear Guide 2018: Women’s Groomed/Hard Snow Skis

A quiver ski for slaying the groomed and hardpack or a reality check on the firm conditions that many skiers face most days on the slopes, these narrow-waisted beauties will let you get a grip, tip and rip.

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Who: G-force junkies bent on breaking the sound barrier.

What: Edgy, wasp-waisted corduroy crushers.

Where: Groomers, hardpack, bulletproof ice.

Looking for a breakdown on how each of these skis performed in various conditions? Look no further than this scoresheet for everything you want to know.

Völkl Flair 81 E (BEST IN CATEGORY)


Though the Flair 81 was new (and a medal-winner) last season, Völkl’s German engineers don’t turn off their laptops that easily. This season, they took the already light and strong construction and decided to integrate 3-D Glass, which wraps torsionally rigid and lightweight fiberglass over the sidewall underfoot where you pressure the ski. The result is even better edge grip—and a category-topping overall score. Testers were impressed that a ski without metal could be so damp and smooth—noting it flowed downhill like a river. “Combines the feeling of silkiness and suction,” Barnes said. “Instills confidence at speed.” More info about the Völkl Flair 81 E here.

Strengths: Balance of Skills/Versatility, Overall Impression. Average Score: 3.99

$1,065 with binding

Dimensions: 128-81-109, Radius: 14.7m (163), Lengths: 149, 156, 163, 170

Atomic Cloud 12


Bells and whistles? Hell yeah. Atomic’s all-new top-of-the-line carver incorporates Servotech, a carbon rod in the forebody that acts as a dampening agent, reducing vibration and therefore increasing edge-grip. It’s high-tech race stuff from a brand with deep podium heritage, and damn, does it work. This ski is stiff, eye-wateringly fast, and leaves deep trenches in its wake—best for the expert set. (Forgiveness? Not so much.) With a lightweight wood core, metal stabilizer, and full sidewalls, it initiates instantly and doesn’t let you out of the turn until it’s good and done. “Ninja warrior in a black backless ball gown,” Lovell said. More info about the Atomic Cloud 12 here.

Strengths: Stability at Speed, Hard-Snow Integrity. Average Score: 3.88

$950 with binding

D: 112-70-97, R: 15.3m (161), Lengths: 147, 154, 161, 168

Kästle LX 85


There’s just a certain refined yet burly feel to a Kästle—similar to flooring a Jaguar up a twisting mountain pass (or so we imagine). Despite Kästle’s claim that it’s more on the “comfort” side of the spectrum, testers didn’t describe this ski as easygoing or accommodating, so be prepared to ski it hard and fast. Its smooth, damp power and incredible snow contact can be too much for lesser experts, but testers noted the shorter length was much more maneuverable and lively. Built with a wood core, two sheets of metal, and stiffening fiberglass, it should come with a warning label about how deep it trenches. “Smooth and supple,” said Gleason. More info about the Kästle LX 85 here.

Strengths: Stability at Speed, Balance of Skills. Average Score: 3.84

$999 flat

D: 126-85-109, R: 14.5m (160), Lengths: 144, 152, 160, 168, 176

Head Total Joy


The Total Joy achieves an impressive strength-to-weight ratio—we women know what that’s all about—with Graphene, a material so thin (like, one atom thin) that its inventors won the Nobel Prize for creating the stuff. It carves cleanly but has a ferocious all-mountain appetite, and consequently is one of the more versatile offerings in the Groomed category. Because it’s solid and stable—never twitchy like some of the other knives in this drawer—the Total Joy is also the easiest to lay over, a great confidence-builder for lesser experts. “Super light underfoot, but it does not ski that way,” Humes said. More info about the Head Total Joy here.

Strengths: Flotation, Forgiveness. Average Score: 3.79

$925 with binding

D: 133-85-113, R: 13.6m (163), Lengths: 148, 153, 158, 163, 168

Nordica Sentra SL7 Ti EVO


The Sentra SL7 was the category’s quickest, most playful, and least suited for off-piste exploration; it just wants to carve. Nordica positions it as an “all-mountain performance” ski, but it felt to us like a mellowed-out slalom ski. (And we mean that in a good way.) We’re not sure how many women want to buy a ski like this—ex-racer rippers who don’t want to heft a World Cup ski—but we know from our tester roster there are at least 10 who will wait in line for it. Its classic construction has a lightweight balsa wood core sandwiched by two sheets of metal, with full camber for improved grip. “It’s pert and lively but not bouncy,” Brent said. “I love it.” More info about the Nordica Sentra SL7 Ti EVO here.

Strengths: Quickness/Maneuverability, Playfulness. Average Score: 3.77

$999 with binding

D: 121-70-106, R: 12.5m (165), Lengths: 156, 160, 165, 170