Can't decide which ski to buy? Then don't. No single ski can excel at every application. The way we see it, good things come in threes.
Who Hard-Snow Hardcore
Typical season 40 days on hard snow, 10 days on soft snow
Sure, you'd rather be ripping Snowbird every weekend, but fate, family and career have other plans for you, and you've settled down east of the Mississippi. Most of the time, you're carving up the 800 vertical at your home hill—without complaints. Two or three times a year, you head north for long weekends in the mountains, where you're likely to enjoy better conditions and longer runs. But the highlight of the season is the annual trip out West—an inviolable tradition.
Head i.Supershape, 120-65-105, $900 (flat, Tyrolia binding required)
Nothing makes your little home hill ski big like a new-school slalom sidecut, and the Supershape lives up to its name. You'll get your money's worth in turns—and a great workout—on its arc-happy design. And if you keep it tuned, its race-ready construction gives you the confidence to dice the hardest of ice.
Völkl Allstar Motion iPT Racing, 116-70-101, $1,200 (w/binding)The bliss of powder may be the ultimate, but in its absence, the thrill of speed is a worthy surrogate. The Allstar lives for long, fast arcs on firm early-morning corduroy, but has enough waist-width to be fun in crud or sloppy spring conditions. And, like the Supershape, it doubles as a credible night-league race ski.
Rossignol Bandit B3, 120-83-110, $849 (flat)
Break it out for powder days and treeskiing, but don't be surprised if you also find yourself using this smooth, grippy fat ski for everyday applications, even in the East. The B3's natural habitat, though, is the soft snow and big mountains of the West, where its flotation and silky stability conquer deep powder and steep terrain—and where you'll see plenty other B3s on the feet of locals.
Who fair-weather ripper
Typical season 25 days on hard snow; 25 days on soft snow
Living in the East—or Midwest—you grudg-ingly spend your share of time on hard snow—mostly to ski yourself into shape for powder days and as many trips out West as you can manage. When the six-inch rule is in effect, you're in line before the chair opens. Otherwise, you're more selective about ski days. For you, one token hard-snow ski and a couple of wider rides should cover the bases.
Fischer RX8, 115-66-98, $1,050 (w/binding)
Is it possible to enjoy icy conditions? On a ski like this, absolutely. The RX8's combination of slalomy quickness and unfailing edge-grip makes you look like a hero while others are trying merely to survive. (We won't tell them it's the ski.) And just for fun, take the race-bred RX8 for a spin through the NASTAR gates. You'll have only one complaint: that they didn't inject the hill last night.
K2 Apache Recon, 119-78-105, $800 (flat)
With so many great mid-fats to choose from, it's hard to go wrong, but there's something extra-right about the Recon. You'll love the way it hammers through crud with the perfect combination of easygoing agility and confidence-inspiring stability—character traits seldom present in the same ski. The Recon's a great everyday partner for medium to soft conditions and powder.
Salomon Teneighty Gun, 122-90-115 at 175 cm, $795 (flat)
In our experience, it takes a French ski maker to appreciate the meaning of "playful." That makes the lightweight, maneuverable Teneighty Gun the perfect companion on deep-powder days. It doesn't try to bull its way down the mountain. Rather, it surfs, floats and smears with an eager glee that matches your own in the deepest of fluff. Esprit, indeed.
Who big-mountain powder snob
Typical season 35 days of decadent untracked; 15 days of crud
Less than a foot today? That's what snooze buttons are for. You've heard rumors that people back East ski in the rain, and that they use metal files to sharpen the edges of their skis. To which you respond, "What are edges?" For you, a threesome off portly planks fits the bill: a mid-fat that thinks it's a GS race ski, plus two intriguing shades of powder ski.
Nordica Hot Rod Nitrous, 123-78-108, $975 (w/binding)
Consider this your "race ski." Nordica built it like one, and it's fair to say that in the soft snow of Western town-league racecourses, it'll behave like one. The Nitrous has just enough waist width to keep it from trenching too deeply on softpack, but not so much that it ever lacks quickness in tight trees and even bumps. Bust it out between storms (if your out-of-town guests insist on skiing).
Völkl Karma, 119-87-111, $695 (flat)
Windpack? Suncrust? Wet snow? Not all powder is created equal, but neither are powder skis. The undemanding and versatile Karma is fun in any condition, but it's especially adept at taming difficult snow, thanks to its reassuring stability. A wood core and sandwich construction give it plenty of integrity, but never so much that you're not sure who's in charge.
Atomic Sugar Daddy, 126-99-117 at 183 cm, $799 (flat)
Even in the deepest snow and on the biggest mountains, the Sugar Daddy crushes everything in its path. Wider and stouter than your Karma, it's built to thrive in a deep-backcountry setting, with a bombproof metal-reinforced construction that makes it uncommonly powerful among fat skis. Super G arcs in Jackson Hole's Hobacks? Who's your Daddy?