Mar 11 2014

2015 Fat ski demo at Sugar Bowl


Winter is thin in 2014, but conditions are still worth the hike.

Spring conditions are still worth the hike.

The weird winter we’re having in Tahoe this season forced the typical alpine demo day at Alpine Meadows to be canceled. Thankfully it was rescheduled for Sugar Bowl last Wednesday, March 5th. Unlike the last two years, this demo day featured soft snow conditions. No, it wasn’t light and fluffy powder, but for evaluating how much mettle a ski has it’s hard to beat the multipurpose functionality of mush. It’s not exciting or photogenic but if a ski can ski mush its powder performance is a given. Likewise, if it can plow through mush it can hold it’s own in crud. All that’s left to determine is whether a ski can merely hold an edge on firm snow, or actually carve a turn.

Blizzard Brahma

Too narrow for the conditions of the day, and I was still adjusting to skiing with training heels so my run on this ski was pathetic owing mostly to my rusty alpine skiing skills. These wore in, but fat skis definitely helped.

Blizzard Cochise

To behold the Cochise is to question what makes a ski work. With a slight but full rocker there is no camber in this ski. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the energy of a wood core to rebound you into the next turn. All you need do is tip it on edge, bend ze knees and you vill be pleased. The lack of camber means you need not rebound in deep snow to switch edges, a feature that came in less handy on the crud du jour, but made transitions noticeably easier. It’s also a meaty ski, so heavy snow simply parted as the Cochise plowed through with the agility of a Porsche. Big, yet nimble. Perfect plank for a Beast and one that I’d be eager to ride in light fluff. The term dreamy comes to mind.

Dynastar HM Cham 107 and 97

Back in black. Dynastar revises the Cham series to be all High Mountain - sans metal top sheet.

Back in black. Dynastar revises the Cham series to be all High Mountain – sans metal top sheet.

Dynastar toned down the height of the rise at the front of this ski for next season, and turned the topsheet black. Bad call for the backcountry since dark colors absorb energy from the sun so snow will bond to the top and pile high for extra training weight while skinning. However, in the sloppy wet spring conditions I rode these in, both the 97 and 107 floated beautifully in the mank and spanked back at the ruts trying to knock me off balance. It was easy to appreciate a ski in those conditions that doesn’t overturn, just holds the line you drive it down. I didn’t ski this year’s Cham HM 107, so I can’t compare, but next season’s 107 had the least edge hold on firm snow of any ski tested on this day, a dominant mix of similarly wide planks. My fears that this was a change in the construction of the Cham series was allayed when I took the 97s out for a run and their performance equaled my memory of what they are capable of, leading me to conclude that perhaps the HM construction without a metal top sheet isn’t substantial enough for skis wider than 100mm. On the other hand, friends who have them love their all round performance, even on the dominantly thin and firm conditions of the Wimpter of 2014.

K2 Coomback

Coomback continues to deliver excellent versatility.

Coomback continues to deliver excellent versatility.

Other skis may exceed the Coombacks performance on firm snow, or even heavy crud, but the cost is always more weight. For its size, the Coomback is surprisingly light. At 102mm underfoot, it isn’t a featherweight, but it is quite acceptable as a go to backcountry ski that has enough width for great flotation in any soft snow condition, and enough muscle to hold an edge on firm snow. As with many light weight skis it can’t hold a carve at high speed, but for where it is likely to be used, it carves decently for lower speeds which is more than most skis in this weight range can say.

In the mank, and by experienced extension, champagne powder, the early rise tip helps the Coomback practically levitate to lift you out of one and into the next turn instinctively, requiring very little driver input. It has a huge sweet spot, so it works well with a variety of skier styles, from locked to free heel. There are few conditions in the backcountry this ski can’t help you tame. In bounds its most limiting factor is stability at speed on icy snow. You should know enough to chose a different weapon for those conditions, or head for the hills where the wild snow is more forgiving.

Line Supernatural

Line's Supernatural - son of the Prophet with sidewalls and a lower tail.

Line’s Supernatural – son of the Prophet with sidewalls and a lower tail.

After starting out too small for the conditions at hand my response was to immediately jump up a size, but since I loath obese planks, even when conditions are ripe for them, I decided to go for a relative of Karhu’s Jak, the updated Line Prophet, revised and renamed the Supernatural. At 100mm underfoot I knew flotation would no longer be much of an issue. On a run over to Sugar Bowl’s new Crow’s Nest chair we cruised the firmest stuff available that more resembled aldante corn than scratchy patches between the bumps. They rebounded beautifully in bumps and on the cruisers it was easy to vary the turn radius from snappy slalom turns to full throttle GS carves. Then we headed over to the east face of Disney and opted for untracked mush with moguls and soft ruts beneath the smooth, wet surface. A wider version might have been better, but the Supernatural had no problem making light work of heavy snow and it held the fall line without the slightest threat of washing out. Undoubtedly a wider version would have handled the mush even better, but I wasn’t complaining one iota.


Rossi Soul 7

Rossi hits a home run with the Soul 7.

Rossi hits a home run with the Soul 7.

Stunningly this ski lived up to its hype. The consistency of reviews from major publishing houses smelled like marketing spin but I knew there was some validity to the claims having skied it last season in very firm conditions, with a few patches of ice for a true test of edge hold. They held, and far better than one might imagine a powder ski could do. Then at the end of that run, I found “the carve” and was stunned. Indeed, there was some backbone to this cambered, medium flex ski. All that remained to do was test the soft snow manueverability. The sort of cruddy, cut up mush that reigned at this year’s demo day was the perfect test of that. Thick goo that likes to hook an edge on the outside edge and flip you over was everywhere off the groomed. Plus patches of untracked cream cheese. It handled all with aplomb, holding fast to the fall line without getting kicked around. Try as I might I couldn’t find a flaw.

Okay, maybe one. That turned up tail might make stuffing your tails on a kick turn a bit more difficult, but it seems gradual enough that it might still work. If not, consider it a small price to pay for such versatility when dropping the fall line.

Volkl V-Werks Katana

This is another phat ski whose dimensions simply defy the ability to hold an edge, let alone carve on hard snow. Add to that the fact that this is a fully, though like the Cochise, only slightly cambered ski and the formula sounds decidedly lackluster for edge hold. You would be wrong. I was. To be sure it takes a bit of mass to make a ski this wide carve, and I lack it, but do confirm it holds an edge better than any ski I’ve ever ridden wider than 110mm. As soon as the snow softens just a smidge, like, say, aldante corn, it rebounds and carves like a slalom ski. This is even more surprising considering the dominance of carbon in the construction of this ski. Usually this creates a brittle feel that can hold an edge, but carves seem to elude carbon skis. In this case, not true. That’s what separates the V-Werks Katana – it can carve.

Again, as with most skis this wide, soft snow performance is as you would expect, superb. The dimensions and smooth flex are the dominant characteristics delivering such a fun ride. But that carving capability adds a sweetness to the rebound in soft snow that makes this ski absolutely delightful.

It looks like it’s going to be a short spring touring season. Get out and get your game on before it’s too late.

© 2014

  • http://ern.reeders.net.au/blog/ Ern Reeders

    What do you mean by ‘stuffing your tails’ on a kick turn?

  • Dostie

    When doing an uphill kick-turn, rather than just swinging your uphill ski around 160 degrees, which requires you to adopt a wide, open stance – try jamming the tail of that ski under your downhill ski so your stance isn’t quite so wide. Makes swinging the other ski around much easier, but you can only do it when the snow is soft.

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