ATOMIC BetaRide 10.20 (107-68-97)
"Lively" and "rigid" seldom describe the same ski, but Atomic—ski supplier to Austria's hard-charging Hermann Maier—blends both qualities into the BetaRide 10.20 ($830) through an innovative core construction. Instead of using one flat sheet of wood, Atomic runs two wooden barrels down the length of the ski. A cross section of the BetaRide 10.20 would look like a B on its back, putting the meat of the ski where you need it: the edges. A plastic block under the binding absorbs shock, evenly distributes pressure from your boots, and lifts you another 17 millimeters above the snow in case you lean into corners like the Hermanator and need the leverage. The 10.20 is a lot of ski—too much to consider lugging into the backcountry, but ideal for whipping turns in just about any lift-served condition.
DYNASTAR 4x4 Powertrac (107-70-92)
Dynastar was one of the first companies to figure out that shaped skis could excel in conditions other than hardpack, and the 4x4 Powertrac ($695) is the refined result—it begs to carve big arcs on any type of snow. A wide tip promises float in the fluff, yet the narrow tail allows for better glide and more maneuverability in bumps and uncombed nastiness. The Powertrac doesn't turn as automatically as shaped skis with more symmetrical curves, but if you're willing to put a little more effort into driving this ski, you'll be rewarded with a veritable all-mountain pass, complete with access to forest crud and alpine windslab. When you're venturing under that boundary rope, though, just remember that the 4x4 is made in Chamonix, a place where the attitude toward lost skiers can best be summed up by the phrase c'est la vie.
K2 X-15 (106-70-94)
K2 understands that "all-mountain" can mean both out-of-bounds powder in the Tetons and corduroy boulevards at Devil's Head, Wisconsin, with its vertical drop of 500 feet. Thus the X-15 ($685), an ideal all-mountain mid-fat for aggressive skiers. It boasts a figure that can surf the deep stuff, and on hard snow it holds a nice edge because of a gizmo called Smart Structure, which is molded into the ski just in front of your binding. It's essentially a circuit board that converts unwanted vibrations—chatter—into electrical energy and releases it through heat and light. A flashing red LED means it's working. However fast you drive this ski, it stays glued to the snow. Unless, of course, you want to launch it off of something, in which case the X-15 will land with forgiveness and chauffeur you to your next point of departure.
NORDICA GS World Cup (97-63-85)
Since when does Nordica make skis? What's with the old-school GS name? And is it me or does the GS World Cup ($999) look a little skinny? The answers: The same company (Benetton) owns both Kastle skis and Nordica boots and has renamed the former after the better-known brand; the skis are indeed new; and yes, they're made for rocketing down firm slopes, whether in a true giant slalom or a fierce last-one-down-buys-the-beer challenge. Even with its relatively svelte tip, the GS has a turn-friendly sidecut. Its titanium-reinforced core and surface-mounted steel lever damp vibrations—crucial, considering how fast these skis fly. Pre-season quadriceps training is strongly advised.
OLIN Selkirk (108-75-98)
The Selkirk ($630) raised the bleached and pierced eyebrows of freeskiers last spring with winning performances in two extreme skiing competitions. One of those contests was at Whistler, where a single descent can link raw powder at the summit, carvable hardpack in the middle, and mushy maritime snow near the base. The Selkirk handles such diversity with aplomb thanks to a fir and spruce core that's soft enough to wiggle through bumps and stiff enough to carve fast icy faces. Most significantly, the Selkirk steers from a relatively plump 75-millimeter waist, which delivers reassuring float and stability. Of all the skis on these pages, the Selkirk has the sweet spot that's easiest to find. It'll be the board of choice for anyone with a ski pass this season.
ROSSIGNOL Mtn Viper X 10.2 (102-64-93)
Perhaps the concept of the "quiver"—a separate ski for every condition—strikes you as the sort of marketing flimflam that only Telluride's famous Trustafarians can afford to buy into. Perhaps you want a ski that you can mount up, use every day, and not worry about. If so, check out the Mtn Viper X 10.2 ($739). Right off the lift you'll feel comfortable stepping on the gas. It lays down long, cruising parabolas and rides smooth in most any in-bounds terrain, thanks to the shock-absorbing elastomer mounted directly above the sidewalls, which nullifies pernicious bumps at their origin. It may not encourage the lightning-quick hops that you see on the pro mogul tour, but it's responsive and predictable enough to take the panic out of short-turn situations, whether they're crusty bumps or Appalachian glades.
SALOMON Superaxe Series 2V (103-62-93)
Take the Superaxe Series 2V ($715) to a wide-open bowl and it behaves like a good Border collie: eager to run yet obedient to its master's commands. The 2V owes its responsiveness to its Prolink Twin dampers, metal arms attached to the topskin fore and aft of the binding that work like horizontal pistons to suppress the free expression of bumps and jolts. Further evidence of the 2V's commitment to linking smooth turns is the tight radius of the waist-to-tail sidecut, which helps pop you into your next turn. Consequently, you shouldn't size a 2V the traditional way—i.e., according to your height, weight, and ability. Instead, think what size turns you want to link: Try the 192-centimeter model if you rip big ones or the 176-centimeter if you navigate pinched woods.
VOLANT PowerKarve (106-74-97)
A cult favorite in places like Wyoming's Jackson Hole Resort, where the ski area doubles as access to great off-piste routes, the PowerKarve ($629) busts through untamed snow with the single-mindedness of an Arctic icebreaker. For the year 2000, Volant slightly stiffened the tip and tail to reduce flutter when you're back on hardpack, but the guy on the chairlift won't care about that. He'll ask about the gleaming stainless steel cap. Tell him that Volant patented the use of stainless steel because its density makes it ride smoothly and its isotropy (uniform behavior in all directions) ensures that it holds an edge. And because of steel's unquestioned durability, the ski won't fatigue after repeated top-to-bottoms. On the PowerKarve, neither will you, thanks to its luxuriously wide profile. Note: Skiers under 150 pounds may prefer the titanium version, the Ti Power ($749), which is lighter and quicker.
VÖLKL Vertigo G30 (105-69-92)
In much the same way that a Porsche 911 is overbuilt for dirt roads, the German-made Vertigo G30 ($695) brings a racing heritage to the crunchy pursuit of freeskiing. But if you can get past the ham-fisted graphics, you'll ride a responsive, precise set of boards that yearn to flick turns in skinny couloirs and double-fall-line bumps. This ski behaves better than many planks because of a sidecut meticulously engineered to keep the entire edge in contact with the snow when the ski is flexed. Indeed, the Vertigo G30 produces such a trustworthy ride that Tomba-weights who once used 208-centimeter skis will find themselves plenty amped up piloting a pair of 188s. Just don't let the exhilaration serve as an excuse to act like the Italian champ.
WHERE TO FIND IT
Atomic, 800-258-5020; Dynastar, 800-992-3962; K2, 800-426-1617; Nordica, 800-892-2668; Olin, 800-522-7547; Rossignol, 802-863-2511; Salomon, 800-225-6850; Volant, 303-456-7800; Völkl, 800-264-4579
Rob Story lives and skis in Telluride, Colorado. He is not a Trustafarian.
The downside to shaped skis? Finding the right length is more complicated than making sure they're taller than you. That's not to say it's rocket science. First, check the length of your old boards and subtract 10 to 15 centimeters. Second, ask someone at your local shop which length is recommended for a skier of your weight, style, and ability—Salomon and Rossignol both have helpful sizing charts. If the two numbers are within five centimeters, you're on the right track, but if there's a discrepancy of more than that, start asking questions. Maybe your old boards were too long or too short. Or maybe—and pardon us for saying so—you're overestimating your ability just a touch. When in doubt, buy the shorter ski: You'll never notice if it's five centimeters too short, but if it's five centimeters too long, you'll regret it.