Gear

Gear Guide 2018: Men's Indie Skis

Innovation, guts, and “cool factor” are what indie brands are all about. These skis also happen to perform at the top of their class.

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What makes an independent ski, independent? Well, these brands are small, mobile, and unrestrained, meaning you may just find something out of the ordinary. We tested skis for three days on the legendary steeps of Colorado’s Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Conditions ranged from boot-deep powder to overripe corn—and everything in between.

DPS Wailer A112 (BEST IN TEST)

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The Wailer 112 was already a great ski, but with the new Alchemist construction, DPS sets another bar for excellence. Despite its size, shape, and floppy-looking tip, the 112 slays the entire mountain, in any and all conditions. Scores were high across the board, from Flotation and Playfulness to Crud and even Carving Stability. Testers called them “incredibly adaptable,” “damp, but snappy,” and “surprisingly forgiving.” One said “Pow, crud, GS turns, trees, bumps—the 112 crushes everything with ease.” Read more about the DPS Wailer A112 here.

MSRP: $1,299

Dimensions: 141/112/128; Lengths (cm): 168, 178, 184, 189; Radius: 18m (184).

Icelantic Nomad 105 (BEST IN TEST)

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With burly poplar wood construction, versatile dimensions, a dialed rocker profile, and cool graphics, the Nomad 105 wowed testers with solid performance all over the hill. “A working-man’s ski,” said one. “Not fancy, but carves, schmears, and just feels great.” Scores were high in all conditions, and only dipped slightly in forgiveness. “You gotta drive ‘em, but you get back more than you put in.” On top of all this, they’re a good value. More info about the Icelantic Nomad 105 here.

MSRP: $699

D: 140/105/130; L: 161, 171, 181, 191; R: 19m (181).

J Skis The Friend (BEST IN TEST)

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Jason Levinthal, the founder of Line skis, started J Skis three years go to sell small-batch, high quality skis direct to consumer. The Friend is aptly named—Playfulness, Versatility, and Balance received high marks, and testers called this attractive fatty “super forgiving, but powerful,” and “predictable, with good energy.” Carbon stringers and a maple core provide the guts to “slay powder, but also carve up the front side.” Put simply: “A powder ski that does it all.” More info about J Skis The Friend here.

MSRP: $749

D: 136/115/125; L: 173, 180, 186; R: 19.5m (180).

4FRNT MSP (BEST VALUE)

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With a bit of tip rocker, camber underfoot, and a traditional feeling tail, the reintroduced MSP is kind of a throwback—in a good way. Scores trailed off at high speeds and in the longest turns, but soared in versatility, dampness, and stability. “Plows crud and is predictable in variable conditions,” one tester said. “Provides a ton of confidence, but isn’t the most playful.” Another added “Could charge into anything and feel solid.” Read more about the 4FRNT MSP here.

MSRP: $624

D: 134/99/122; L: 181, 187; R: 18m (181).

4FRNT Col

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A big ski with an even bigger sweet spot—that’s the Col. With a playful amount of tip and tail rocker, camber underfoot, and ABS sidewalls containing a poplar core, testers found it “extremely versatile,” “responsive, but forgiving,” and “pure pleasure.” Scores were highest in soft snow and in moderate turn shapes, and dropped on hardpack and in crust, but overall one tester said it “gave me a perma-grin,” while another said: “It made me feel like a hero.” More info about the 4FRNT Col here.

MSRP: $674

D: 131/114/126; L: 181, 188; R: 26m (188).

Black Crows Corvus

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Chamonix-based Black Crows is making moves here in North America thanks to skis like the Corvus, a powerful, all-mountain charger built for steeps. Testers called it a “workhorse,” “very versatile,” and “great in powder and crud.” Scores were highest off piste, where the Corvus “blasted through anything,” and lowest on hardpack, where the tip rocker profile made turn initiation a challenge at times. Overall? “Predictable yet fun—best for advanced skiers that seek soft snow and steeps.” Read more about the Black Crows Corvus here.

MSRP: $749

D: 139/109/122; L: 175, 183, 193; R: 21m (183).

DPS Cassiar A95

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Redesigned using the new Alchemist carbon layup, the new and much-improved Cassiar 95 is a ripping choice for groomer skiers or anyone who likes to go FAST. With minimal rocker and carving sidecut, scores spiked for Hard Snow and at High Speed, but Crud Performance and Quickness also scored well, making it a versatile choice. Testers said this: “No speed limit, tons of stability,” “carbon has come a long way—way damp and fun,” and “an incredible Eastern ski.” More info about the DPS Cassiar A95 here.

MSRP: $1,299

D: 129/95/116; L: 168, 178, 185; R: 18m (185).

Faction Prime 3.0

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For aggressive skiers, the 3.0 provides power and stability in spades. With more rocker in the tail than the tip and camber underfoot, it was easy to scrub speed and release turns, but a smaller tester said, “they got twitchy at speed and had a fickle sweet spot.” Full sidewalls and Titanal reinforcement adds to the burliness, which one tester said, “requires an attentive driver.” Another tester, however, called them “light and forgiving enough to be fun as you charge anything.” Read more about the Faction Prime 3.0 here.

MSRP: $1,289

D: 133/108/123; L: 170, 177, 182, 189; R: 23m (182).

J Skis The Masterblaster

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The Masterblaster’s Northeast roots (J Skis are made in Burlington, Vermont) were a boon on firm early morning groomers, where one tester said they “skied hard and provided plenty of ‘snap’ turn to turn.” Scores were high on hardpack and in all turn shapes, falling off in Soft Snow performance and Versatility, but testers loved the “huge sweet spot,” and agreed they’d be “an excellent everyday ski for the East or firm snow.” More info about the J Skis The Masterblaster here.

MSRP: $666

D: 125/96/114; L: 168, 175, 181, 187; R: 17m (181).

Lib Tech Wreckcreate 100

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For any day, any conditions, the Wreckreate 100 delivers. Great dimensions and a mild rocker treatment mean the 100 can handle moderate powder, but the real story is Lib Tech’s patented wavy edges, called Magne-Traction. “LOVE it—holds on ice without being grabby in crud,” said one tester. “Lay it over, it has bite like no other,” said another. Adjectives used to describe the Wreckreate included “lively,” “nimble,” and “stable.” “Go out and get creative,” spouted one tester. “They’re SO fun.” More on the Lib Tech Wreckcreate 100 here.

MSRP: $700

D: 137/100/123; L: 158, 168, 178, 188; R: 18m (178).

Liberty Origin 96

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Testers had plenty of positive comments about the carbon-enhanced, bamboo-cored Origin 96, but this ski rewarded aggressive drivers most: “The harder you push the better, but requires some effort in short radius turns,” said one tester. Another called the rocker profile “spot on,” with enough tip rise to float, but enough camber to rip firm snow. “The ample early rise in the tip engaged and disengaged at will.” The only criticisms? “Not the most playful, or dampest ski.” Read more about the Liberty Origin 96 here.

MSRP: $725

D: 130/96/118; L: 171, 176, 182, 187; R: 19m (182).

Liberty Origin 106

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Several testers called Origin 106 a “great quiver of one for Western skiers.” With versatile all-mountain dimensions, a solid rocker profile, carbon stringers, and ABS sidewalls, the 106 is, “really balanced and fun, with enough chops to push into the unknown,” according to one of our CB locals. It required more effort to edge than the Origin 96, but “always had plenty of power in reserve.” Nevertheless, it demanded driver input: “More of a charger than a playful, nimble ski.” More info about the Liberty Origin 106 here.

MSRP: $775

D: 138/106/128; L: 171, 176, 182, 187; R: 20m (182).

ON3P Wrenegade 98

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Rebellious songbirds notwithstanding, the Wrenegade 98 from Oregon-based ON3P proved itself a worthy daily driver. “Great intermediate, all-around ski,” said one tester. “Playful, but very forgiving at moderate speeds,” added another. Burly UHMW sidewalls and a bamboo core mean the 98 can take a beating, but with its highest scores in Playfulness and Maneuverability it was happiest slashing and slarving, rather than charging hard. “A little sluggish on hardpack, but very responsive in bumps and powder,” a Montana tester concluded. More about the ON3P Wrenegade 98 here.

MSRP: $729

D: 128/98/118; L: 174, 179, 184, 189; R: 23.4m (179).

Romp 115 Onward

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The 115 is plenty girthy and excelled in powder—duh. But testers were enamored by its performance in soft crud and on groomers. “Carves super hard for its size, feels solid at speed,” one tester explained. “Very nimble and easy to throw around,” said another. Scores dipped on very hard snow and in tight turns, but overall supported one tester’s assertion that the 115 “could be a legitimate daily driver.” Also available in carbon, and with custom tuning options. More about the Romp 115 Onward here.

MSRP: $750 ($1,050 custom)

D: 148/115/142; L: 164,172.180,185,190; R: 17m (180).

Renoun Z-90

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Renoun is a new company based in Vermont, that uses a patented polymer core additive to make skis that become damper the faster you go. Crazy, right? The Z-90 is an East Coast shredder that testers found “forgiving and versatile,” “extraordinarily damp,” and “way too fun to G-out on groomers.” Nimbleness and Predictability scores were only exceeded by Hard Snow and High-Speed Performance. “The skis let me focus on terrain, rather than technique,” one tester said. Read more about the Renoun Z-90 here.

MSRP: $1,195

D: 136/90/124; L: 157, 165, 174, 180; R: 16m (180).