Among all the gold medal-winners, there are always a few products that testers and editors most admire. Here are the best of the tests-four stars that shine brighter than the rest-and they just might make you a better skier.
1 NORDICA Dobermann Pro 130, $835
Nordica, one of skiing's most illustrious brands, lost its way during its years under the Benetton group, but the current owners are back on track, valuing product excellence over bizarre marketing. The Dobermann Pro 130 was one of the overall favorites in this year's boot test. It melds the best performance of the original Dobermann race boot with a flex, fit and finish more appropriate for hard-charging experts. We worried it'd be a poor copy of the original, similar in name only. But for all its comfort, this Dobermann still has teeth.
2 Head S 10 FCS, $625
Imagine a boot shell that can be made snugger or roomier by replacing sections of plastic inside. Head has. It's called the S-Frame Chassis-a removable stirrup that cradles the key areas of the foot. Wide-footed skiers can snap in the roomy M-103 chassis; narrow-footed skiers will prefer the N-100, which takes up more volume. Either can be trimmed or shaped to fine-tune fit, and there's a women-specific version of the N-100. And like all Head S series boots (RS 100, RS 80, S 12, S 10 and S 8), it's designed to be easily adjustable.
3 Fischer RX 9 Railflex2, $1,030 (includes binding)
Fischer's RX 8 was a near miss for Gear of the Year in 2003. Its new stablemate, the RX 9, simply cannot be ignored. In recent years, Fischer has stayed true to its racing heritage without forcing overly demanding skis on the public. The RX series takes cues from racing, and the 9 has more of a GS sidecut than the slalom-oriented 8, but either can be enjoyed all day by any fun-loving expert. The RX 9, one of the top scorers in the ski test, has much of the extraordinary edge-grip and stability of a race ski, but doesn't have to hit 40 mph to perform properly.
4 K2 T:Nine One Luv, $875 (includes binding)
As K2 sees it, skis built for women should be designed by women. SKI's female testers agree. The T:Nine series-named for thelegislation that empowered women's collegiate athletics-was developed with copious input from female skiers, which may explain why it dominated every category in our women's test this year. The easy, snappy One Luv was a particular standout. With its manageable 68-mm waist and forgiving metal-free design, this versatile ski might just be a girl's best friend.