WHEN IT COMES TO the serious business of sliding downhill, the French don't trouble themselves with petty categories; to them, all alpine snow sports are summed up in the word glisse. North Americans are, of course, slightly quicker to diversifyand spoiled as we are with so much varied vertical, why shouldn't we be? From the powder dream of Alaska to the scratchy violence of a New England boardercross course, our hills drive innovation in winter equipment for the entire planet.
This season's offerings are no exception. Skis continue to grow wider for better flotation beyond the groomers, and the sidecutsthe stick's hourglass shape designed to help you turnnow reflect the needs of terrain skiers instead of wonkish ski instructors. Even bindings have been rejiggered: Forget the drill and screwdriver; the latest fittings snap or slide into place, extending ski life and improving energy transfer.
Snowboards, meanwhile, continue their ascent up the learning curve, crafted now from laminated wood cores reinforced with layers of carbon fiber. Gone, tooor going, anywayare step-in bindings. A new generation of lighter and stronger strap bindings have quickly cut to the front.
The pros, of course, have expensive quivers of terrain-specific rides, but you need not follow their lead. One pair or board will probably be fine for your favorite mountain. If the mood strikes, though, you can build up your own impressive roof-rack arsenal. We've held our grueling auditions and paired up the perfect boards and skis with the best terrain you'll find on this side of the pond. Vive la glisse diversité!
Harvest the waist-deep powder of Alaska's Chugach or British Columbia's Lizard Range with smooth-flexing boards. Here, an even flex, wide platform, and deep sidecut will allow you to more efficiently match your turns to the terrain. And this gear isn't just for the subarctic; bust out these big guns anywhere there's more than six inches of cold smoke. THE SKI: Dynastar Inspired by Jeremy Nobis ($775). There are fatter Alaska-style skis than the new Inspired, which offers a relatively modest 89-millimeter waist. But as Nobis (best known for star turns in Teton Gravity Research ski-porn) knows, you don't need anything wider unless the powder turns to white mud. The Inspired's aggressive sidecutthe tip is 117 millimetersand even flex let you porpoise through the snowpack, while exaggerated prow-shaped tips keep the noses from diving.
THE BINDING: Look Pivot 18 ($365). On big, ungroomed slopes, you want the close-to-the-deck feel of the P18, a traditional two-piece binding. THE BOARD: Burton Republik ($500). Smack some crusty avalanche debris while going 30 on a soft board and your ride will quiver so violently you'll soon be cartwheeling into a crevasse. Boards built for powder and steepslike the Republik, designed by Burton backcountry master Johan Olofssongain high-speed stability with stiffness. High in the nose for enhanced point-and-shoot tracking, the board's pronounced sidecut keeps it fast edge-to-edge. And hikers, take note: A Superfly II wood core saves precious ounces. THE BINDING: Burton C14 ($300). Packed with Burton trademarks like the "Gas Pedal"an adjustable ramp beneath the toes for added toe-side pressure during turnsand quick-tensioning Slap buckles, the C14 is crafted from carbon fiber and anodized aluminum, then outfitted with Milano-leather straps for a precise fit.
Where to Find It: Dynastar/Look, 800-992-3962, www.dynastar.com; Burton, 800-881-3138, www.burton.com;
At ski areas like Colorado's Arapahoe Basin and Smugglers' Notch in Vermont, first tracks disappear after two runs. Here you're angling for last tracksthe scraps of powder left in the trees and on the edges of heavily trafficked runs. Accordingly, a ride that blends dexterity and pow flotation is the prize. THE SKI: Völkl Supersport T50 5 Star Piston Motion ($1,125, including binding). Until the 5 Star came along this season, most all-mountain skiers had to decide between narrow-waisted carving skis that sank in deep snow and chubby mid-fat boards that worked great in mush but couldn't hold turns in bumps and trees. With a 68-millimeter waist, the 5 Star is a mere chopstick shy of official mid-fat status, but a wide tip and tail give it a dramatic sidecut for quick carves. Plenty plump for boot-deep powder, this Völkl's race-worthy construction also holds steady on hard snow. THE BINDING: Marker Piston Control Motion. One of the new so-called system bindings that attach to skis with pins and rails instead of glorified wood screws, the Völkl-specific Marker features an oil-damped shock absorber underfoot to quiet the vibrations that can make a skiand, by extension, youfeel nervous. THE BOARD: Arbor S-Series ($479). Like every Arbor board, the S-Series is a work of art. That nice wood grain on the top sheet isn't a faux overlay; it's structural. Beneath the sheen, carbon-fiber torsion rods transform the full-length wood core into a springboard that loads up and shoots you into your next turn. For a powder board, it's an incredibly dynamic ride. THE BINDING: Bent Metal BMX ($185). The BMX, from Seattle's Mervin Manufacturing, sports a full carbon-fiber high-back that adjusts into six positions, mated to a seamless aluminum chassis with cold-forged hardware. This is a lightweight combowith a freeride flex.
Where to Find It: Völkl Sport America, 800-264-4579, www.volkl.com; Arbor, 310-656-3268, www.arborsports.com; Mervin Manufacturing Inc. (for BMX), 206-270-9792, www.mervin.com;
When you dream of never-ending vertical, think Silverton Mountain, Jackson Hole, and that Pangaea of chair-assisted ripping, Whistler/Blackcomball 5,280 vertical feet of it. To persevere on skis here you need the quad-saving width of Alaskan guns with the precise edge-hold of East Coast carvers. Snowboards already offer ample girth, but with trees to avoid, big-mountain boards need to be light and snappy on the side-to-side. THE SKI: Atomic Sugar Daddy ($795). Until last season, when Atomic assembled its own freeride team, the Austrian ski maker was pigeonholed as a racing company. No more. The team's first freeride progeny, the Sugar Daddy, is built around the same Beta 4 construction used in Atomic's race skis (essentially two bisected tubes running tip to tail that add torsional rigidity and save weight). And it's wide enougha generous 126 millimeters at the tipto float on knee-deep wind pack, but stiff enough torsionally to let you stick to an icy chute like pigeon poop on hot paint. THE BINDING: Atomic R:6.14 Wide Ride ($340). Traditional bindings mounted directly to the top sheet create dead spots on the ski. The R:6.14's FullFlex system allows the heel piece to move freely on a track, resulting in fewer tip burials in powder and a more natural arc in high-speed turns.
THE BOARD: Option Vinson ($499). With Whistler/Blackcomb in their backyard, it's no wonder that Vancouver-based Option is the shaper of choice among BC riders. The Vinson stands out with a directional sidecut (as opposed to the symmetrical sidecuts of freestyle boards) that Option shapes into a hand-finished wood core before sandwiching it between layers of carbon and aramid fibers. Punchy enough edge-to-edge for fall-line turns between steep rocks, this board also offers ample rebound for dips into the halfpipe. Plus, hollow channels in the core help keep the board light when you're muscling through the timber. THE BINDING: Option Concept ($219). Break a strap in a cliff area and it's a Life Flight ride to town. Mindful of this reality, Option's Concept bindings are built for durability with fine Italian leather straps and aluminum, not plastic, buckles.
Where to Find It: Atomic Ski, 800-258-5020, www.atomicski.com; Option NFA Inc., 800-671-7669, www.optionsnowboards.com;
Skiercross and boardercross competitions may be manic spectacles, but take note of this no-hype hardware: These quick and edgy boards and skis also handle speed, making them the perfect sticks for fast days at Killington orwhen the snow sets upBig Bear. THE SKI: Salomon Crossmax 10 Pilot ($1,195, including binding). To make it as stable as an old-school GS race ski, but ten times as nimble, Salomon strategically tuned the Pilot's performance by adding and removing materials throughout, then used inverted leaf springs on the top sheet to absorb vibration and hold the ski to the snow. THE BINDING: Pilot S912ti. Another next-generation system binding, the S912ti runs two titanium axles across the ski under the toe and heel to serve as points of attachment. For you this means enhanced energy transfer; elastomer dampers keep the ride quiet.
THE BOARD: Völkl Cross ($550). Boards built to lay trenches in frozen corduroy need to be stiff or they'll chatter out of control. With its full-length wood core, the Cross soaks up vibrations and explodes out of turns, and it won't buck too hard when the snow softens in the afternoona problem endemic to superstiff alpine racing boards. THE BINDING: V-Flex Plate ($125) and Conquer Force binding ($200). With the V-Flex Plate, you benefit from the damping effects of rubber and the increased leverage of a lifter. Compatible with straps (like Völkl's Conquer Force, shown here) and step-in bindings, this lift's a must-have on bony hills.
Where to Find It: Salomon, 877-272-5666, www.salomonski.com; Völkl Sport America, 800-264-4579, www.volkl.com;
So you overslept: The powder's been pummeled and the bumps are hard and shiny. Sounds like a perfect day for the terrain park and halfpipenow that they've gone equal opportunity, with skiers on forgiving twin tips launching gap jumps and executing rail slides alongside boarders. THE SKI: Head Mad_Trix System ($950, including binding). Though famous for his mogul runs, these days Jonny Moseley spends more time in the park or the backcountry than on a bumps course. Head's Mad_Trix System lets him do both on one pair of skis. The twin-tips and 75-millimeter waist reflect a fairly standard design, but there the convention ends: Adjustable bindings make them the first skis you can run in two directions. THE BINDING: Tyrolia System. This system's genius can be found in the reversible mounting plate. Flip a lever and you can rotate the unit 180 degrees, switching between two settings: Big Mountain, with more tip than tail for flotation in powder, and Big Airdead center for 720s. THE BOARD: Palmer Snowboards Honeypro ($550). Shaun Palmer dominated just about every extreme sport he felt like toying with, but not the halfpipe. Here's payback. In the Honeypro, Palmer's company cranks out a Kevlar-woven honeycomb core in the tip and tail sections to keep the swing weight incredibly low for spin moves, and carbon-fiber runners in the tail to give it exceptional rebound off lips. THE BINDING: Salomon SPX Carbon ($330). These primo bindings use a fishbone strap padded in Salomon's Autofit foam for superior fit and a performance-enhancing carbon high-back for faster heel-side response. Simply put, they excel everywhere.
Where to Find It: Head, 800-874-3235, www.head.com; Palmer Snowboards, 763-561-5221, www.palmerusa.com; Salomon, 877-272-5666, www.salomonski.com;
Note to plankers: this stuff looks better covered in powder.
Oakley poly-filled insulated Puffy pants ($135); Convert Airscraper gloves ($68); Burton Ronin Katana jacket with Gore-Tex air insulation ($550); Columbia fleece-lined Kazoo hat ($25); ion boots ($280) by Burton.
Where to Find It: Oakley, 800-336-3994, www.oakley.com; Burton, 800-881-3138, www.burton.com; Columbia/Convert, 800-622-6953, www.columbia.com;
Clothes that'll make 'em see red. with envy.
Columbia waterproof Snowpark pant ($130); Völkl Supersport T50 5 Star Motion skis and bindings ($1,000); Smith Fuse Regulator goggles ($65); Salomon AS-224 gloves ($100) and three-ply waterproof/breathable Desktop jacket ($450); AFT freeride boots ($725) by Atomic.
Where to Find It: Columbia/Convert, 800-622-6953, www.columbia.com; Völkl Sport America, 800-264-4579, www.volkl.com; Salomon, 877-272-5666, www.salomonski.com;