Powder Skis 2003: Go Fat! - Ski Mag

Powder Skis 2003: Go Fat!

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Remember the "Husky Boy" section in the clothing department your mom took you to for back-to-school shopping? Too many chips and sodas over the summer, and you were doomed to the aisles where the waistlines ran a little larger and your fellow shoppers a little plumper.

Now the Husky section is back, and it's in your local ski shop, where you'll find powder planks that look like water skis left over from the summer clearance sale. These babies aren't just husky. They're not "big-boned" or "full-figured." They're just plain fat.

Width has obvious benefits in powder: Surface area translates to flotation. A skier can virtually skim over the surface, going where there's less snow, maintaining speed on pitches that aren't as steep and generally expending less energy. But there's more to designing a good powder ski than breaking out the monster mold. Powder is an entirely different medium than hard-pack.

In retrospect, it's surprising that ski manufacturers only began making powder-specific skis a decade or so ago, given that skiing freshies is the ultimate experience in the minds of most experts. Of course, a foot of dry fluff is fun to ski no matter what you're wearing, but since designers began putting their minds to it, they've found new ways of dealing with this three-dimensional medium that have made it even more fun.

"It's a different pleasure, a different sensation in powder," says Salomon's Francois Blanc. Blanc spends plenty of time testing and re-testing in the backyard Alps of Salomon's headquarters near Chamonix. France. But interestingly, he still makes a point of coming to the United States to ski with and seek the input of Salomon athletes: Chris Davenport, Dean Cummings, Kina Pickett and others. Reason: Freeskiing, though catching on among European youth, is largely an American invention. Most Euros still stick to the piste, odd as that seems. "The U.S. is where the phenomenon began," says Blanc. "So it's important to us to have the opinion of the U.S. riders."

As far as what makes a good powder ski, Blanc says it's important to recognize that powder is a different medium, surprisingly similar to water. "Powder skiing is like surfing in a way. You want to feel the powder, and you want to feel all the sidecut, which is why, when we designed the Pocket Rocket, we made it quite soft. If a ski is too stiff, you won't have the sensation of the powder; you won't have good response. If you take too stiff a ski in powder, you won't have the feedback from the snow.

"The guys who work on this kind of ski for us at Salomon in France are all into surfing and windsurfing and other water sports. It's different from racing. They take ideas from surfing or windsurfing and incorporate them into skiing."

Here's a look at what manufacturers are offering for the 2002-03 season. Note: To get into this club, a ski has to be truly husky. We set the cutoff at 80 mm or better at the waist.[250AD LEFT]

And now, surf's up. Enjoy.

ATOMIC:

Big Daddy
$875
Dimensions: 133-107-127
Sidecut radius: 34 meters
Length available: 193 cm only
Not only is the new Big Daddy the widest of the skis reviewed here (2 mm broader than the comparably corpulent Fischer Big Stix), it features what is by far the longest sidecut radius. The thinking: On big-mountain steeps, skidding is a good thing (for speed control) and you don't want a ski that hooks up into a turn too readily. At 34 meters, the Big Daddy's sidecut resembles that of conventional GS skis around the dawn of the super-sidecut era. It also harkens back to the old days in terms of length: 193 is your only choice, so you'd better be prepared to handle a lot of ski in every way. There's another catch. If you were hoping to recycle your 5-year-old Tyrolia bindings, you're out of luck. The Big Daddy accepts Atomic bindings only. (It's what cranky retailers call a "hostage situation.") They're good bindings, to be sure, but some will rue having to forkver the extra $300 for a pair of R:614s. On other hand, since the ski was designed and tested using that binding, it stands to reason that it will perform as intended if you use it, too.

Sugar Daddy
$795
Dimensions: 126-99-116 at 183*
Sidecut radius: 29 at 183
Lengths available: 163, 173, 183
As a Sugar Daddy should be, this one is far more forgiving than its sterner stablemate, the Big Daddy, though the two are similarly constructed. For one thing, it's a little narrower and has deeper sidecut, so it turns more easily and at somewhat slower speeds. For another, you can find it in a length that isn't actually longer than you are; and heaven knows we've all by now grown accustomed to the enhanced quickness of shorter lengths. The new Sugar is still a lot of ski, though. Its 99-mm waist is among the fattest here, and a sidecut radius of 29 meters (at 183 cm) doesn't exactly make it a "breakthrough-to-carving" tool. Your Sugar Daddy may be sweet, but he still assumes you know how to turn a ski.

R:Ex
$725
Dimensions: 116-84-108 at 184*
Sidecut radius: 23 meters
Lengths available: 168, 177 184 191 198
First of all, anyone planning to ski an R:Ex in a 198 ought to have his ganglia examined. Do yourself a favor, and steer toward something that doesn't tower over you in the ski shop. Even big guys will find the 184 plenty stable. The R:Ex takes the place of the retired 10.Ex, with the same 84 mm waist and little more tip and tail. The result is a versatile ride that floats in soft snow but also lays down a credible carve on all but the bluest ice. Carbon-reinforced wood core, tons of edge grip: It's what you'd expect from Atomic.

*Atomic adjusts sidecut dimensions from length to length to keep radii approximately constant.

BLIZZARD:

Titan 8.2 Big Mountain
$700Dimensions: 120-82-103
Sidecut radius: 22 meters at 185
Lengths available: 163, 173, 185, 191
Not surprisingly, Blizzard brings an Austrian approach to big-mountain powder skiing. The Titan, one of the least expensive skis in the category, benefits from Blizzards distinguished racing heritage. Two sheets Titanal and a traditional laminate construction are used to give it tons of edge grip and an unflappable calm at high speeds.

DYNASTAR:

Inspired by J. Nobis
$775
Dimensions: 117-89-110
Lengths available:158, 168 178, 188
Sidecut radius: 27 m at 178
It's hardly surprising that Dynastar would attempt to trade on the name of its most marketable freeride team member. As much as anyone, Jeremy Nobis, the former US Ski Team ace, redefined big-mountain skiing, with his Super G arcs down monstrous Alaskan faces. And it's not surprising that Nobis would want a tool like this for the job: wide, but still responsive; damp and stable as only a metal-laminate ski can be; and not overly aggressive in the sidecut department, which is a good thing at 60 mph. In other words, a race ski for powder.

Intuitiv Big
$750
Dimensions: 117-89-110
Sidecut radius: 27 at 178
Lengths available:158, 168 , 178, 188
The original "Rhino Chaser" remains in the lineup, though it's essentially the same ski as the Nobis. (So why not save the extra $25 and get the cooler graphics of the Big?) The V-profile prow, like the hull of a speedboat, is designed to part the waters, as it were. The Big lives up to its name, without being overly burly. A nice fit for "touch" skiers.

Little Big Fat
$650
Dimensions: 116-88-103
Sidecut radius: 24 at 168
Lengths available: 158, 168, 178
A little less tail (compared to the Nobis) makes the Little Big Fat a lot more forgiving. It's aimed at the youth market (in case you couldn't tell from the flame-breathing graphics). So a turned up tail makes it suitable for pipe and park use. Metal laminates and a wood core give it plenty of power and reasonable edge-grip on hardpack. But with an 88 waist, it comes into its own in powder.

ELAN:

Mantis 777
$695
Dimensions: 117-87-107
Sidecut radius: 24 at 184
Lengths available: 176, 184, 192
Just when Elan, originator of super-sidecuts, seemed to have lost its way, it sprang back to life last year with an entirely credible collection, one that only gets better this year. Newest in that vein is the Mantis series and its flagship 777. As its name suggests, it's big and burly, but also pleasantly supple. Vertical sidewalls and a titanium-reinforced wood core give it power. It's damp, but not overly so, and while it's not a twin-tip, the tail is lifted, for maneuverability in tight spots.

FISCHER

Big Stix 106
$775
Dimensions: 135-106-123
Sidecut radius: 25 at 180
Lengths available: 170, 180, 190
"Big" isn't the word: With its 106 waist, "monstrous" is more appropriate. Fischer has also enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years, and the Big Stix series is emblematic of that trend-a solid performer that's in tune with market trends. It gets Fischer's beefiest wood-core construction, which is ingeniously lightened by using a layer of corrugated wood, which is carbon reinforced.

Big Stix 84
$725
Dimensions: 116-84-103
Sidecut radius: 26 at 180
Lengths available: 175, 180, 185, 190
If it's going to be another year at least before you launch your own heliskiing operation, the 84 might be the more appropriate Big Stix for you. Its waist is much more manageable on hardpack, and though it is metal-free (like the 106), it's made by Fischer, so you won't be surprised that it can hold an edge at speed. The 84 has a pleasantly cushy, velvety feel; an ultrasmooth ride in powder or crud.

HEAD

Monster i.M 85
$750
Dimensions: 122-85-110
Sidecut radius: 21.7 at 186
Lengths available: 179, 186, 193
Here's a monster that speaks German. The i.M 85 is a classic Austrian creation: unflappable, gluey-damp, rugged and ready to go very fast. Not surprising: It's X-Frame top-sheet shape keeps the tip and tail in the snow, and metal reinforcement gives it additional calm and poise. The little "i" stands for Intellifibers: Laid at 45 degree angles across the core, they turn mechanical energy (vibrations) in to electrical energy, which is in turn used to contract the fibers as necessary to control torsional rigidity. In other words, the ski "senses" its surroundings, and adjusts. An ingenious concept.

K2

AK Enemy
$750
Dimensions: 118-90-108
Sidecut radius: 30 at 188
Lengths available: 188
With K2, you know what you're going to get: a vertically laminated fir-spruce core, torsion-box construction, no metal. Result: A nimble, light and lively ride. It's not an ice ski, but thanks to K2's proprietary triaxial braiding (which allows fine-tuning of a ski's torsional properties by laying fibers across the core in three different directions) it'll have surprising edge-grip for an "all-glass" ski. The twin-tip Enemy is all about soft snow in the backcountry (kind of like K2 itself: The Xplorer was one of the earliest/best of the super-sidecut midfats). And its fairly long sidecut radius makes it a trusty companion for ripping big-mountain steeps at speed.

AK Launcher
$675
Dimensions: 119-88-105
Sidecut radius: 25 at 181,
Lengths available: 167 174 181 188
The now-legendary AK Launcher lives up to its name as a big-mountain powder ski. But compared to the Enemy, it might be a more appropriate choice for someone who's likely to spend more time at Vail, Colo., than, say, La Grave, France. A little more sidecut makes it easier-turning, for one thing, and you can get it in shorter, quicker lengths. Meanwhile, K2's Mod dampening system-an elastomer module that rides atop the core-quiets vibrations to give it stability and calmness at higher speeds on rougher snow.

NORDICA:

Beast 92 TT Gel Driver
$875
Dimensions: in powder.

ELAN:

Mantis 777
$695
Dimensions: 117-87-107
Sidecut radius: 24 at 184
Lengths available: 176, 184, 192
Just when Elan, originator of super-sidecuts, seemed to have lost its way, it sprang back to life last year with an entirely credible collection, one that only gets better this year. Newest in that vein is the Mantis series and its flagship 777. As its name suggests, it's big and burly, but also pleasantly supple. Vertical sidewalls and a titanium-reinforced wood core give it power. It's damp, but not overly so, and while it's not a twin-tip, the tail is lifted, for maneuverability in tight spots.

FISCHER

Big Stix 106
$775
Dimensions: 135-106-123
Sidecut radius: 25 at 180
Lengths available: 170, 180, 190
"Big" isn't the word: With its 106 waist, "monstrous" is more appropriate. Fischer has also enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years, and the Big Stix series is emblematic of that trend-a solid performer that's in tune with market trends. It gets Fischer's beefiest wood-core construction, which is ingeniously lightened by using a layer of corrugated wood, which is carbon reinforced.

Big Stix 84
$725
Dimensions: 116-84-103
Sidecut radius: 26 at 180
Lengths available: 175, 180, 185, 190
If it's going to be another year at least before you launch your own heliskiing operation, the 84 might be the more appropriate Big Stix for you. Its waist is much more manageable on hardpack, and though it is metal-free (like the 106), it's made by Fischer, so you won't be surprised that it can hold an edge at speed. The 84 has a pleasantly cushy, velvety feel; an ultrasmooth ride in powder or crud.

HEAD

Monster i.M 85
$750
Dimensions: 122-85-110
Sidecut radius: 21.7 at 186
Lengths available: 179, 186, 193
Here's a monster that speaks German. The i.M 85 is a classic Austrian creation: unflappable, gluey-damp, rugged and ready to go very fast. Not surprising: It's X-Frame top-sheet shape keeps the tip and tail in the snow, and metal reinforcement gives it additional calm and poise. The little "i" stands for Intellifibers: Laid at 45 degree angles across the core, they turn mechanical energy (vibrations) in to electrical energy, which is in turn used to contract the fibers as necessary to control torsional rigidity. In other words, the ski "senses" its surroundings, and adjusts. An ingenious concept.

K2

AK Enemy
$750
Dimensions: 118-90-108
Sidecut radius: 30 at 188
Lengths available: 188
With K2, you know what you're going to get: a vertically laminated fir-spruce core, torsion-box construction, no metal. Result: A nimble, light and lively ride. It's not an ice ski, but thanks to K2's proprietary triaxial braiding (which allows fine-tuning of a ski's torsional properties by laying fibers across the core in three different directions) it'll have surprising edge-grip for an "all-glass" ski. The twin-tip Enemy is all about soft snow in the backcountry (kind of like K2 itself: The Xplorer was one of the earliest/best of the super-sidecut midfats). And its fairly long sidecut radius makes it a trusty companion for ripping big-mountain steeps at speed.

AK Launcher
$675
Dimensions: 119-88-105
Sidecut radius: 25 at 181,
Lengths available: 167 174 181 188
The now-legendary AK Launcher lives up to its name as a big-mountain powder ski. But compared to the Enemy, it might be a more appropriate choice for someone who's likely to spend more time at Vail, Colo., than, say, La Grave, France. A little more sidecut makes it easier-turning, for one thing, and you can get it in shorter, quicker lengths. Meanwhile, K2's Mod dampening system-an elastomer module that rides atop the core-quiets vibrations to give it stability and calmness at higher speeds on rougher snow.

NORDICA:

Beast 92 TT Gel Driver
$875
Dimensions: 124-96-116
Sidecut radius: 25 at 177
Lengths available: 166, 177 ,188
Though boot-maker Nordica has only been putting its logo on skis for a couple of years, it has quickly made great strides. The Italian manufacturer's products so far have skied well-more like German/Austrian skis than French skis. That's not surprising, given that Nordica picked off Gerhard Hammerle, a designer responsible for much of Atomic's recent success. The Gel Driver dampener in the tip gives the wood-core Beast a quiet, stable, substantial feel, great for difficult conditions. At $875, it's one of the most expensive skis in this category. But for another $175, Nordica will throw in one of its new bindings, the beefy Syn-X TT 0614.

ROSSIGNOL

Bandit XXX
$739
Dimensions: 123-90-110
Sidecut radius: 25.3 at 185
Lengths available: 168, 178, 185, 195,
It isn't often that the people in charge of marketing skis allow a model to survive for half a decade. But perhaps that's an indication of the kind of success Rossi has enjoyed with the XXX, one of the original extra-wides. That's not to say the XXX hasn't changed. In its initial incarnations, it was 85 in the waist; now it has extra width-about a half-centimeter tip to tail. Just as importantly, the metal laminate, which (in addition with the VAS vibration dampeners) gives it that distinctive Rossi ultradampness, has been tapered at the tail, to make the ski little less precise torsionally and a little more forgiving coming out of the turn. But it hasn't changed that much: The XXX is still unflappable in the junkiest of snow, and a joy to ski in powder.

Scratch BC
$679
Dimensions: 122-90-115
Sidecut radius: 21.3 at 182
Lengths available: 176, 182, 188
Once again, youth is served. Freeski champ Brant Moles may have put the XXX on the map, but there's a new breed on the block-Rossi athletes such as Tanner Hall, Evan Raps and Boyd Easley. For them, the Scratch, a fatty designed to their specs (right down to the risqué graphics, one presumes). It's intended to be as comfortable in the halfpipe as it is in the back bowls. It gets twin tips and angled sidewalls for forgiving performance and ease in air. There's also a narrower version with an 80 mm waist, called the Scratch FS.

SALOMON

Pocket Rocket
$775
Dimensions: 122-90-115
Sidecut radii: 15, 18, 21 meters
Lengths available: 165, 175, 185
The Pocket Rocket, one of SKI Magazine's picks for Gear of the Year in 2001-02, is one of the original big-mountain super-fat twin-tips. Remember the fantastic SuperMountain? The Rocket is its heir. But with sidecuts ranging from 21 down to 15 meters, it's easily the shapeliest of the super-fats. And who says deep-sidecut skis won't skid in powder? The soft and supple Rocket does. (It's disconcerting, but wonderful, to be able to throw them sideways in powder and not pay a price.) It's lightweight, nimble, and noticeably soft, the better to enjoy the sensation of powder surfing. And with twin tips, it's ready to go huge off backcountry kickers.

VOLKL

Vertigo G4
$735
Dimensions: 118-83-106
Sidecut radius: 27 meters at 188
Lengths available: 178, 188, 198
The G4 incorporates Volkl's Powerframe construction. That's a blend of cap and sidewall design that yields the suppleness of the cap (for easy turn initiation) with the edge-bite of a vertical sidewall (for hold on ice and hard snow). As you'd expect from a German manufacturer, the wood-core, metal-reinforced G4 features almost race-like hold on hardpack, along with muscular stability in difficult windpack or at speed.

V-Explosive
$695
Dimensions: 120-95-112
Sidecut radius: 32 meters at 180
Lengths available: 170, 180, 190
The graphics alone are something of a departure for Volkl: The wild-wizard design of European freerider Jamie Strachan gives the Explosive a youthful feel, though this ski, at least in namee, has been around since the very beginning of fat skis. Like the G4, it's basically Volkl's race-ski construction on growth hormones. The result is beefiness and stability in powder and difficult big-mountain conditions.

V-Pro
$645
Dimensions: 113-85-105
Sidecut radius: 24.2 meters at 180
Lengths available: 170, 180, 190
Remove the metal of the Explosive, narrow it a touch, and the result is a more versatile product that not only floats in pow, but it also ready to go big in the terrain park. The Pro shares the youthful design of the Explosive (another Strachan creation) as well as the twin-tip design. But the all-glass construction gives it a livelier feel, with minimal tradeoffs in edge-grip and dampness.

Joe Cutts is a senior editor for SKI Magazine.4-96-116
Sidecut radius: 25 at 177
Lengths available: 166, 177 ,188
Though boot-maker Nordica has only been putting its logo on skis for a couple of years, it has quickly made great strides. The Italian manufacturer's products so far have skied well-more like German/Austrian skis than French skis. That's not surprising, given that Nordica picked off Gerhard Hammerle, a designer responsible for much of Atomic's recent success. The Gel Driver dampener in the tip gives the wood-core Beast a quiet, stable, substantial feel, great for difficult conditions. At $875, it's one of the most expensive skis in this category. But for another $175, Nordica will throw in one of its new bindings, the beefy Syn-X TT 0614.

ROSSIGNOL

Bandit XXX
$739
Dimensions: 123-90-110
Sidecut radius: 25.3 at 185
Lengths available: 168, 178, 185, 195,
It isn't often that the people in charge of marketing skis allow a model to survive for half a decade. But perhaps that's an indication of the kind of success Rossi has enjoyed with the XXX, one of the original extra-wides. That's not to say the XXX hasn't changed. In its initial incarnations, it was 85 in the waist; now it has extra width-about a half-centimeter tip to tail. Just as importantly, the metal laminate, which (in addition with the VAS vibration dampeners) gives it that distinctive Rossi ultradampness, has been tapered at the tail, to make the ski little less precise torsionally and a little more forgiving coming out of the turn. But it hasn't changed that much: The XXX is still unflappable in the junkiest of snow, and a joy to ski in powder.

Scratch BC
$679
Dimensions: 122-90-115
Sidecut radius: 21.3 at 182
Lengths available: 176, 182, 188
Once again, youth is served. Freeski champ Brant Moles may have put the XXX on the map, but there's a new breed on the block-Rossi athletes such as Tanner Hall, Evan Raps and Boyd Easley. For them, the Scratch, a fatty designed to their specs (right down to the risqué graphics, one presumes). It's intended to be as comfortable in the halfpipe as it is in the back bowls. It gets twin tips and angled sidewalls for forgiving performance and ease in air. There's also a narrower version with an 80 mm waist, called the Scratch FS.

SALOMON

Pocket Rocket
$775
Dimensions: 122-90-115
Sidecut radii: 15, 18, 21 meters
Lengths available: 165, 175, 185
The Pocket Rocket, one of SKI Magazine's picks for Gear of the Year in 2001-02, is one of the original big-mountain super-fat twin-tips. Remember the fantastic SuperMountain? The Rocket is its heir. But with sidecuts ranging from 21 down to 15 meters, it's easily the shapeliest of the super-fats. And who says deep-sidecut skis won't skid in powder? The soft and supple Rocket does. (It's disconcerting, but wonderful, to be able to throw them sideways in powder and not pay a price.) It's lightweight, nimble, and noticeably soft, the better to enjoy the sensation of powder surfing. And with twin tips, it's ready to go huge off backcountry kickers.

VOLKL

Vertigo G4
$735
Dimensions: 118-83-106
Sidecut radius: 27 meters at 188
Lengths available: 178, 188, 198
The G4 incorporates Volkl's Powerframe construction. That's a blend of cap and sidewall design that yields the suppleness of the cap (for easy turn initiation) with the edge-bite of a vertical sidewall (for hold on ice and hard snow). As you'd expect from a German manufacturer, the wood-core, metal-reinforced G4 features almost race-like hold on hardpack, along with muscular stability in difficult windpack or at speed.

V-Explosive
$695
Dimensions: 120-95-112
Sidecut radius: 32 meters at 180
Lengths available: 170, 180, 190
The graphics alone are something of a departure for Volkl: The wild-wizard design of European freerider Jamie Strachan gives the Explosive a youthful feel, though this ski, at least in name, has been around since the very beginning of fat skis. Like the G4, it's basically Volkl's race-ski construction on growth hormones. The result is beefiness and stability in powder and difficult big-mountain conditions.

V-Pro
$645
Dimensions: 113-85-105
Sidecut radius: 24.2 meters at 180
Lengths available: 170, 180, 190
Remove the metal of the Explosive, narrow it a touch, and the result is a more versatile product that not only floats in pow, but it also ready to go big in the terrain park. The Pro shares the youthful design of the Explosive (another Strachan creation) as well as the twin-tip design. But the all-glass construction gives it a livelier feel, with minimal tradeoffs in edge-grip and dampness.

Joe Cutts is a senior editor for SKI Magazine. in name, has been around since the very beginning of fat skis. Like the G4, it's basically Volkl's race-ski construction on growth hormones. The result is beefiness and stability in powder and difficult big-mountain conditions.

V-Pro
$645
Dimensions: 113-85-105
Sidecut radius: 24.2 meters at 180
Lengths available: 170, 180, 190
Remove the metal of the Explosive, narrow it a touch, and the result is a more versatile product that not only floats in pow, but it also ready to go big in the terrain park. The Pro shares the youthful design of the Explosive (another Strachan creation) as well as the twin-tip design. But the all-glass construction gives it a livelier feel, with minimal tradeoffs in edge-grip and dampness.

Joe Cutts is a senior editor for SKI Magazine.

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