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  • Photo: Inga Hendrickson

    Best Big Mountain Skis

    To stand out in today's alpine ski market requires ingenuity. Only a few years ago, rocker—upward bend at the tip and tail—was exclusively a powder-ski attribute. Now, because it makes turn initiation easier, it's in every ski we tested. Same thing with the tapering of the tip and tail. Often referred to as a pin shape, it was originally devised to help fat skis track easier, but it's just as adept at getting a frontside ski to release from a turn. This year, designers are starting to shape the tips and tails of fatter skis into hull-like spoons for a still looser and more surfy feel. And new materials such as graphene and basalt, which cut weight while boosting the ski's ability to absorb chatter, are starting to crop up. That's the wonky view from 12,000 feet. All you really need to know is that the best new boards truly do make skiing easier and more fun.

    What follows is a list of our favorite big mountain boards for when the going gets steep and deep. Watch how we tested for this year’s winners.

    Marc Peruzzi

  • Photo: Courtesy of Atomic

    Atomic Vantage Ritual

    Gear of the Year

    Despite being introduced last winter, the Ritual ($800) crushed the other big-mountain skis at this year's test. Even though it's the skinniest ski in the category, it outperformed all comers in powder, crud, and trees. That waist width means you can carve it all day on corduroy without contorting your hips like a yogi. A full 65 percent of the ski is cambered, beginning just fore and aft of the binding for a dynamic feel and better glide. The rest of the ski features moderate rocker for that surfy performance in new snow. "Does everything well," said one tester. "Stiff enough to bomb but light and nimble enough when you need to pivot into a chute." 137.5/103/123.5.

    OVERALL: 5

  • Photo: Courtesy of Volkl

    Völkl V-Werks Katana

    BEST FOR: Precise, directional skiing for big-mountain technicians.

    THE TEST: The carbon-fiber-wrapped Katana ($1,275) is disconcertingly thin, 15 percent lighter than the standard non-carbon version, and plenty costly—but it full-on rips. On hard snow, the edge penetration was the best in the class. But it also knifes through crud, and there's enough torsional flex and rocker to butter it in unconsolidated snow. Far more damp than you would think a ski this light could be.

    THE VERDICT: Best carbon-fiber alpine ski we've ever tested. 143/112/132.

    OVERALL: 4.5

  • Photo: Courtesy of Blizzard

    Blizzard Cochise

    BEST FOR: Your one-ski quiver at Jackson, Snowbird, or Whistler.

    THE TEST: This year's Cochise ($900) is far livelier, more forgiving, and easier to swivel and smear than past iterations. That's a much needed adjustment, as the previous Cochise was sluggish when moving slow and too demanding for many. Like the Nordica Helldorado, it has no speed limit, but the ski is no longer a liability in tight spaces.

    THE VERDICT: Nearly as much fun railing turns on hardpack as hunting down pow. 134/108/122.

    OVERALL: 4.5

  • Photo: Courtesy of Nordica

    Nordica Helldorado

    BEST FOR: Keeping the throttle mashed.

    THE TEST: If the Rossi Soul 7 is fun and inviting, the aptly named Helldorado ($899) is dark and exclusive. That said, once you bring it up to speed, it's as effortless to smear around the mountain as warm honey on hot toast. When you do, you'll notice how effortlessly it floats and pivots through the trees—and that all your friends are off the back.

    THE VERDICT: Not for the dainty of frame or heart. 143/113/132.

    OVERALL: 5

  • Photo: Courtesy of Fischer

    Fischer Ranger 106 TI

    BEST FOR: In-bounds hike-to terrain.

    THE TEST: The retooled 106 TI ($850) gets everything right. A bit of rocker and a reshaped shovel make it silkier when navigating weird ungroomed snow, while the flat tail lets you finish turns strongly. It's also 25 percent lighter. Add it all up and you've got a ski that won't weigh you down on boot-packs but is as stable and energetic as any in this category on the way back down.

    THE VERDICT: "If you try 'em, you'll buy 'em," said one tester. 138/106/124.

    OVERALL: 4.5

  • Photo: Courtesy of K2

    K2 Shreditor 112

    BEST FOR: Surfing and slarving off-trail.

    THE TEST: Three testers said the Shreditor 112 ($780) is the ski they'd want to run all day long. That speaks to how well balanced it is. There's probably no ski we'd rather be on in the magical pillow-drop glades of our dreams—you can throw them sideways when you need to, and there's more than enough float for the real world. Much of that nimble performance is due to the moderate amount of rocker and tip and tail taper, which allow you to steer into and smear out of even the mankiest crud with just a hint of pressure.

    THE VERDICT: They let you adapt to everything—turn shape, speed, powder, groomers, crud. 135/112/130.

    OVERALL: 4.5

  • Photo: Courtesy of Rossignol

    Rossignol Soul 7

    BEST FOR: Anyone who skis soft snow.

    THE TEST: On the hill, the Soul 7 ($800) is forgiving and easy to steer at low (even ski-cop low) speeds. But when you commit to gravity it gets burly and dependable. That's a testament to great construction—specifically the lightweight tip mated to a traditional wood core—but also to a perfect balance of rocker and camber. Whether you're on a groomer or in a powder field, as you increase speed you increase your edging angles. But you can also stand up and pivot away from trouble, too.

    THE VERDICT: "So versatile," said one tester. "Best of the best for all abilities." 136/106/126.

    OVERALL: 5

  • Photo: Courtesy of Salomon

    Next Up:The Best All Mountain Skis of 2015

    Salomon Q-Lab

    BEST FOR: Carrying speed through the back bowls. Avoiding groomers.

    THE TEST: One of the first skis created in Salomon's pro-skier "laboratory," the Q-Lab ($850) is outfitted with two sheets of titanium, a full sandwich construction complete with vertical sidewalls, and a vertical laminate wood core. All that race-room material and design gives you enhanced edge penetration and stability when you break the sound barrier. It's also less likely to fold in chopped crud. That said, the Q-Lab still prefers unconsolidated snow to groomers—it's 
not a big carving ski. We'd run it off-trail 
90 percent of the time.

    THE VERDICT: A Salomon with some guts. "I felt like Superman," said one tester. 138/104/127.

    OVERALL: 4.5

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