The 19 Best Alpine Skis of 2012

Rossignol Super 7 Skis

In more than a decade of reviewing skis, we’ve never had such an overwhelming favorite as the new Super 7, which we tested in its 188-centimeter length. But what makes the Super 7 stand apart can’t be found in the data. In soft snow, you simply ski with less effort—and a big powder-eating grin on your face. The Super 7 achieves liftoff with a spoon-shaped shovel (reverse-sidecut and rockered), a similarly rockered pintail, and traditional camber and sidecut under the bindings. None of these design features is new—they were all part of last year’s S7—but Rossi has refined ideas that were largely experimental in the past. It also added a layer of metal to reinforce the wood-laminate construction and improved the fore-aft balance so the skis don’t wash out or hinge. “You can butter everything if you want to. But it makes nice turns on hardpack,” wrote one 170-pound tester. “Anyone from a struggling intermediate to a hard-charging expert will love this ski,” wrote another. 146/115/123

Overall: 5
Stability: 4.5
Float: 4.5

Nordica Radict

Nordica Radict
Nordica Radict Skis (Courtesy of Nordica)

THE SELL: Nordica’s entry into the variable-sidecut, rockered-tip-and-tail market. THE TEST Nowadays, skis this fat typically feature tapered—reverse sidecut—tips and tails, but Nordica went with a more traditional silhouette on the Radict. That translates to more rockered surface area, which makes for a very floaty ski. The Radict earned its high placement in our rankings because testers who were more than six feet and 180 pounds raved about it. But while the Clydesdales found it maneuverable, surfy, and playful, small and medium-size testers found it stiff and tough to pivot. Too bad it comes in only one size, 185 centimeters. THE VERDICT: A hard-charging powder hog for the big boys. 157/127/146

Overall: 4
Stability: 4
Float: 4.5 

Salomon Rocker 2 Skis

Salomon Rocker 2
Salomon Rocker 2 (Courtesy of Salomon)

THE SELL: A heavy-duty western powder ski with a short turning radius. THE TEST: Most of the reverse camber is up front—where the float happens—but the tail isn’t totally banana-shaped, so you can drive it all the way through turns without popping wheelies. Extra-wide edges add years of durability, and a honeycomb layup in the tip and tail keep the swing weight low enough to coax some backcountry riders into mounting the Rocker 2 with AT bindings. You can rail turns on soft-packed groomers or charge down open faces. Our only complaint: the elastomer layer above the edges seems to steal a little edging power on hard snow. THE VERDICT: All-mountain versatility in a monster pair of boards. 142/122/132

THE SELL: A heavy-duty western powder ski with a short turning radius. THE TEST: Most of the reverse camber is up front—where the float happens—but the tail isn’t totally banana-shaped, so you can drive it all the way through turns without popping wheelies. Extra-wide edges add years of durability, and a honeycomb layup in the tip and tail keep the swing weight low enough to coax some backcountry riders into mounting the Rocker 2 with AT bindings. You can rail turns on soft-packed groomers or charge down open faces. Our only complaint: the ela-stomer layer above the edges seems to steal a little edging power on hard snow. THE VERDICT: All-mountain versatility in a monster pair of boards. 142/122/132
Overall: 4Stability: 4Float: 4.5 
Overall: 4
Stability: 4
Float: 4.5THE SELL: A heavy-duty western powder ski with a short turning radius. THE TEST: Most of the reverse camber is up front—where the float happens—but the tail isn’t totally banana-shaped, so you can drive it all the way through turns without popping wheelies. Extra-wide edges add years of durability, and a honeycomb layup in the tip and tail keep the swing weight low enough to coax some backcountry riders into mounting the Rocker 2 with AT bindings. You can rail turns on soft-packed groomers or charge down open faces. Our only complaint: the elastomer layer above the edges seems to steal a little edging power on hard snow. THE VERDICT: All-mountain versatility in a monster pair of boards. 142/122/1
Overall: 4
Stability: 4
Float: 4.5 

 

 

 

Völkl Shiro

Völkl Shiro
Völkl Shiro (Courtesy of Völkl)

THE SELL: A more playful resort version of the popular pure-powder specialist, the Kuro. THE TEST: Völkl is legendary for its race-quality skis, but a fun powder ski was missing from its lineup. After putting the Shiro through its paces on a powder day that saw everything from untracked blower to lumpy crud, testers reported that it fills the gap nicely, with just the right amount of rocker (tip and tail) for all the in-bounds flotation you’ll ever need. The 119-millimeter waist, paired with -easy-turning rocker, lends itself to resort versa-tility. Don’t be surprised to see the Shiro employed as an everyday ski by better skiers in snowy places like Jay Peak, Vermont, and Squaw Valley, California. THE VERDICT: The loosest-turning Völkl we’ve seen. 151/119/135  

Overall: 4
Stability: 4
Float: 4 

Black Diamond Gigawatt Skis

Black Diamond Gigawatt
Black Diamond Gigawatt Skis (Courtesy of Black Diamond)

THE SELL: The fattest skis in your quiver. THE TEST: We saw three feet of snowfall during our Snowbird, Utah, test, but our skiers were still frightened by the girth of this new issue from Black Diamond. At 163 millimeters in the shovel, it’s monstrous, but its pintail and heft also make it a substantial ski in crud. In the deep stuff, the Giga simply refuses to sink. It immediately pops to the surface and stays there, and, incredibly, you can pivot at will. “It’s unbelievably maneuverable in the trees,” wrote one 160-pound tester. THE VERDICT: Effortless slough turns, but don’t even think about face shots. These suckers stay on top. 163/135/141

Overall: 4.5
Stability: 4
Float: 5 

Armada JJ Skis

Armada JJ
Armada JJ Skis (Courtesy of Armada)

THE SELL: Like the Gear of the Year–winning Super 7, a high-concept powder ski (crazy blend of rocker, camber, and varied sidecut) that isn’t skittish on firm snow. THE TEST: See that long, tapered tip and slight pintail? Those aren’t just for looks. In soft and deep snow, the profile cuts and tracks straight ahead. The effect is a buttery, surfy ride that inspires confidence. In soft snow, you never feel like you’ll submerge. Despite the weird silhouette, there’s enough traditional camber and sidecut to boost edge grip and arc clean turns. “On the JJs you’ll find big, fast lines, even when it doesn’t look like there are any,” wrote a tester. THE VERDICT: Big fun in powder and trees. 126/136/115/133/123

Overall: 4.5
Sloughability: 5
Hard-Snow Pleasure: 4

K2 Sidestash

K2 Sidestash
K2 Sidestash Skis (Courtesy of K2)

THE SELL: An updated in-bounds-to-out-of-bounds classic. THE TEST: Intermediate skiers will find the Side-stash forgiving, while experts will find it predictable. Either way it’s an easy ski to pilot. The tip floats better than on prior models, and the flat tail makes sense for traditional skiers or anyone considering throwing climbing skins on and heading out for a tour. “A perennial favorite,” wrote one tester. “Kills it on the soft groomed, floats in the pow.” But you’ll need a more substantial ski if you plan on ripping GS turns down open faces. THE VERDICT: Ideal for a 30-minute hike to a powder field. 139/108/127

Overall: 4 
Sloughability: 4
Hard-Snow Pleasure: 4 

Nordica Unleashed Hell Skis

Nordica Unleashed Hell
Nordica Unleashed Hell Skis (Courtesy of Nordica)

THE SELL: Underfoot camber and tip-and-tail rocker make the Unleashed Hell powerful yet responsive. THE TEST: Skis with big rocker are fun in pure powder conditions, but you still need edge contact if you plan to turn on any other surface. The Unleashed Hell features just enough rocker to float in powder and release-pivot out of a turn—but can still produce that happy carving sensation. This from the second-fattest big-mountain ski we tested. We also couldn’t find a speed limit; you really can unleash it. THE VERDICT: It was our favorite ski in the category, but note that it’s not called Unleashed Puppies and Bunnies; if you’re a timid skier, look elsewhere. 143/113/132

Overall: 4.5
Sloughability: 4.5
Hard-Snow Pleasure: 4

Blizzard Cochise

Blizzard Cochise
Blizzard Cochise Skis (Courtesy of Blizzard)

THE SELL: A new tip-rocker molding process produces less chatter, longer life, and a livelier ride. THE TEST: Floppy tips and tails are pretty annoying. The Cochise, though, does not waver. It’s well built and will likely survive many seasons. On the snow it’s damp and silky, and because the rockered tip carries some bashing power, it never feels like it’s going to fold when you drive it through soft bumps. But it’s no clunky battering ram: “Surprisingly nimble for such a damp ski,” wrote our token midwestern expat. Ski it easy and it follows the terrain. Drive it hard and it returns serious energy. THE VERDICT: The best-made ski in our test. 135/108/123

Overall: 4
Sloughability: 5
Hard-Snow Pleasure: 4

Salomon Sentinel Skis

Salomon Sentinel
Salomon Sentinel Skis (Courtesy of Salomon)

THE SELL: A forgiving all-mountain ride with race-ski performance and a traditional feel. THE TEST: More evidence of the new status quo—without rocker this ski would be too fat for average riders to bend into a turn. Now you just tip it and rip it. A solid wood core and a squared-off tail make it worthy of arced turns on hardpack. “It makes you feel like a hero,” said a six-foot, 180-pound tester with a racing and freeskiing pedigree. More than anything, though, we were impressed with the lack of a learning curve on the Sentinel. You don’t have to adapt your style to the ski. THE VERDICT: As adept at swooping GS turns as it is floating through resort powder. 129/95/121

Overall: 4.5
Carving: 4 
Float: 4.5

Völkl Mantra

Völkl Mantra
Völkl Mantra Skis (Courtesy of Völkl)

THE SELL: A damp, powerful ski that can handle both ice and powder. THE TEST: The Mantra has been a perennial tester favorite because of its extreme versatility. This year’s model won’t disappoint. The 98-millimeter waist is fat enough for all but the deepest storm days, and the metal-laminate race construction lays deep grooves in hardpack. Our testers also praised the Mantra for its ability to make multiple turn shapes. “Superior edge hold, fantastic GS turns on- or off-piste—a true crud champion,” wrote one 180-pound tester. THE VERDICT: If you get 25 days in at Stowe and a week in Telluride each season, the Mantra is all you need. 132/98/118

Overall: 4
Carving: 4
Float: 4

Fischer Watea 94 Skis

Fischer Watea 94
Fischer Watea 94 Skis (Courtesy of Fischer)

THE SELL: A unique hull-shaped tip provides maximum buoyancy while a flat footprint from the shovel back keeps the ski powerful on hardpack. THE TEST: Fischer is best known for its racing skis, but the Watea was one of the loosest we tested. Not that you can’t hit the gas and lean on ’em: a full wood core, carbon stringers, and a sturdy tail provide great stability. Surprisingly, given the company’s expertise, our testers preferred it as a soft-snow ski. But if you keep the tune fresh, it makes a fine high-speed cruiser, too. “I never felt afraid,” wrote one tester. The Watea has bashing power in leftover snow. THE VERDICT: A damp and silky option for opening it up in the back bowls or back east. 130/94/118

Overall: 4
Carving: 4
Float: 4.5 

Atomic Theory Skis

Atomic Theory
Atomic Theory Skis (Courtesy of Atomic)

THE SELL: A true twin tip that adapts to the terrain, making it an ideal 50 percent groomer, 50 percent soft-snow ski. THE TEST: We were lucky enough to score nearly perfect all-mountain testing conditions—soft corduroy, chalky glades, a little bit of leftover pow, and even some firm snow on the Snowbird racecourse. It’s telling that the Theory won the all--mountain category, because at a beefy 95 millimeters underfoot, it represents the new normal for do-it-all skis. Subtle rocker is also the new norm—just enough to stave off tip dive while keeping the ski loose. THE VERDICT: Enough versatility, quickness, and edge hold to ski the entire mountain. 132/95/121

Overall: 4.5
Carving: 4
Float: 4

Black Diamond Verdict Skis

Black Diamond Verdict
Black Diamond Verdict Skis (Single Use)

THE SELL: Light enough for hiking and touring but crosses over for soft snow in the resort. THE TEST: The newly rockered Verdict held up in pure powder, chopped snow, leftover crud, and all things ungroomed. Testers also praised its responsiveness and ability to pivot in unconsolidated snow. The downside? It cries uncle on firm groomers. But that’s only a problem if you spend a lot of time carving. This year’s vertical sidewalls add edge hold, while a layer of damping metal in the new sandwich layup contributes to ride quality. THE VERDICT: Mounted with a Marker Duke touring binding, it’s the perfect sidecountry setup. 134/102/121

Overall: 4
Carving: 3
Float: 5

Nordica Hell and Back Skis

Nordica Hell and Back
Nordica Hell and Back Skis (Courtesy of Nordica)

THE SELL: Built for those who hike for turns, explore sidecountry, and ski all-out on-trail. THE TEST: “Wow,” wrote one of our bigger skiers. “Soft-flexing, but in a good way. Really fun on groomers.” Built with an ultralight but stiff wood (see right) that cuts the ski’s weight by 20 percent, the Hell and Back is lighter than it appears, and thanks to an early-rise tip it’s just loose enough to pivot and slough around. Some of our smaller testers found it tough to handle when they got lazy, but the big guys really took to it. “It’s a crud destroyer,” wrote one. THE VERDICT: Buy it if you’re big and powerful or just like to get after it with seasoned race skills. 135/98/125

Overall: 4
 Carving: 4
Float: 4

 

 

Blizzard M-Power FS IQ

Blizzard M-Power FS IQ
Blizzard M-Power FS IQ (Courtesy of Blizzard)

THE SELL: Fore and aft carbon-fiber rods connect to an oil-damped piston underfoot for a vibration-free ride. THE TEST: The M-Power FS IQ is in Blizzard’s all-mountain line, but we found it quick enough for our frontside category. It’s also the most stable ski we tested and allows for multiple turn shapes. We found ourselves arcing wide turns and maybe going a little fast for comfort. The edge penetration was unmatched—most testers left trenches behind them—and the damp ride quality boosts confidence. THE VERDICT: Strong skiers who favor speed, look here first. Perfect for Sun Valley, Idaho, or Sunday River, Maine. 128/87/113

Overall: 4.5
Stability: 5
Edge Hold: 5 

Völkl RTM 84

Völkl RTM 84
Völkl RTM 84 Skis (Courtesy of Völkl)

THE SELL: A relatively fat tip with just a hint of rocker eases turn initiation and offers a touch of soft-snow float. THE TEST: “If you get in the backseat, the RTM will unfriend you,” wrote one 180-pound tester. Fair enough. Despite the subtle tip rocker, the freaky-fast and stable RTM 84 was the most aggressive frontside ski we tested. While we found it too powerful for off-trail forays, it was more forgiving than a race ski: if you stay centered, you can throw it sideways and scrub speed at will. An intermediate could survive the RTM 84, but it takes an alert and adroit expert to reap the true rewards of this much power. THE VERDICT: It’s a stallion, but can you ride it? 129/84/111

Overall: 4.5
Stability: 4.5
Edge hold: 5 

Head iPeak 84 Pro Skis

Head iPeak
Head iPeak Skis (Courtesy of Head)

THE SELL: A versatile all-mountain and frontside ski from the company that equips Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn. THE TEST: In Europe, the iPeak 84 would be considered a powder ski. This side of the pond, it’s a high-quality frontside ski with the versatility to enjoy boot-deep snow. Our testers loved it for its big sweet spot—you don’t have to be in the zone at all times—and its ability to mix up the turn shape from a nimble 15-meter radius to wider arcs. “The flex is big, easy, and velvety,” wrote one tester, “but you can push it as hard as you like.” THE VERDICT: A good choice if you spend 80 percent of your time ripping around on groomers but don’t want to swap skis when a storm rolls through. 128/84/112

Overall: 4
Stability: 4.5
Edge Hold: 4.5 

Rossignol Avenger 82 Ti

Rossignol Avenger 82 Ti
Rossignol Avenger 82 Ti Skis (Courtesy of Rossignol)

THE SELL: A powerful traditional-camber ski for those who spend most of their time on groomers. THE TEST: You don’t see many groomer shots on magazine covers anymore, but whipping linked turns on corduroy is still damn fun. With an 18-meter turning radius, the 82 Ti has enough sidecut to crank short swing turns down the fall line, but because the tail isn’t completely oversize, you can seamlessly transition to sweeping GS arcs, too. “Dynamic and fully energized but not squirrelly or twitchy,” wrote one 155-pound tester. “You can mix up the turn shape at will.” THE VERDICT: For beer-league racing or gentle turns with the kids, this is one of the most versatile frontside skis we’ve ever tested. 126/82/112

Overall: 4.5
Stability: 5
Edge hold: 5

 

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