A complete revamp of a classic leads the cream of the crop from our test in Snowbird, Utah

buyer's guide
(Courtesy Völkl)

Völkl M5 Mantra ($825)

How do you freshen up a ski you’ve been making for 12 years and already redesigned four times? You blow it up entirely. That’s what Völkl’s German engineers did with the brand-new M5. Their goal: keep one of the most versatile all-mountain skis in history relevant. Not only did they succeed, but they created the best ski of the year. How? By bringing back underfoot camber for better glide and rebound, decreasing the width (from 100 to 96 millimeters at the waist) for easier edging, and deepening the sidecut for a more dynamic ride on hard snow. But what sets the M5 Mantra apart is its groundbreaking construction. Völkl’s skis are justifiably famous for their sturdy wood cores sandwiched between two sheets of titanium alloy, but they tend to be on the heavy side. To maintain ride quality while stripping away grams, Völkl reinforced the perimeter of the ski with Titanal, a NASA-grade aluminum alloy, shedding weight from the center. On the hill at Snowbird, the M5 Mantra was the most versatile ski in our test—stable but lively, floating in resort powder, carving like a frontside ski, and seamlessly transitioning from groomers to bowls. “It’s lightweight and precise at the same time,” said one tester. “I expected it to carve well, but I was surprised by how well it performed off-trail. Skilled skiers will excel on it. The sweet spot is huge.” 134/96/117

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skis
(Courtesy Blizzard)

Blizzard Black Pearl 88 ($720)

Best for Women: All Mountain Frontside

Blizzard’s Black Pearl is the top-selling ski in the country for good reason: it flat-out rips. The ski, designed by and for women, comes in three widths (for different snowpacks) and has all the performance Austrian engineering can muster. The sidecut is pushed forward, so riders can better weight the belly of the turn. And internally, the Black Pearl is loaded with carbon fiber to cut weight and boost energy return. Other than the edges and a small plate to hold the binding screws, the Pearl is devoid of heavy metal. “Perfection in a ski,” said one tester. “You just roll them on edge and pretty much forget about it. Off-trail they’re predictable and easy to slough around in bumps and trees. On-trail they go from easy carving to fierce shredding.” 126/88/110

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skis
(Courtesy Rossignol)

Rossignol Experience 88 Ti ($750)

Best for Men: All Mountain Frontside

The recently departed Experience 88 was a perennial top scorer, but the design was dated. The sidecut extended all the way to the tip of the ski, which made for fun carving on groomed snow but hooky skiing off-trail. The fix: taking a cue from its 7 Series powder skis, Rossignol built the new Experience 88 Ti with subtle tapering instead of flaring. The result is much nimbler—you can butter the ski to dump speed. It’s even better on groomers, too, thanks to a rail embedded in the center of the plank that reduces counterflexing, smoothing out the ride and boosting edge grip. “It absolutely rails turns,” said a tester, “but you can slough the tips and tails around if you need to bail out.” It’s a one-ski quiver for the biggest chunk of the market. 127/88/117

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skis
(Courtesy Blizzard)

Blizzard Bonafide ($840)

Best for Men: All Mountain

The Bonafide is no lightweight noodle: it’s built for fast, aggressive skiers who gravitate toward unflappable stability. The fine print says double Ti, for two sheets of Titanal. “If you’re a chunk of unruly snow, the Bonafide is a cruel steamroller,” said one tester. This version has a bit more sidecut than last year’s, making it a capable all-mountain ski, but it still rips off-trail. Buyer beware: you need to be big, fast, or both to get the Bonafide to behave. Beyond the stability, we found class-leading edge penetration and enough float for all but the deepest in-bounds days. It’s a daily driver out West. “Both stout as hell and an easy round-turn carver,” said a tester. “You can go full tilt off-trail or on.” 135/98/119

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skis
(Courtesy Völkl)

Völkl Secret ($825)

Best for Women: All Mountain

Most brands slap flowers on a unisex design and call it a women’s ski. Völkl built the Secret from the ground up. First, there’s the silhouette: whereas the Gear of the Year–winning M5 Mantra is 96 millimeters at the waist, the Secret (the Mantra’s sister ski) is 92. That’s because women, generally speaking, are lighter than men, so they don’t need as much width to float in powder. The ski also features Völkl’s new Titanal edge construction, which strips weight without sacrificing stability. Testers raved about the performance. “It’s powerful enough to bite into the hardest snow, but you can back off the gas and ski it easy, too,” said one, a former instructor. The 16-meter turning ­radius in the 163 is about as versatile as it gets. “Zesty from the word go,” said another tester. “Skied with energy in all terrain.” 130/92/113

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skis
(Courtesy Elan)

Elan Ripstick 102 W ($800)

Best for Women: All Mountain Powder

The Ripstick 102 W is so loaded with technology that it’s hard to call out any one feature. We’ll start with the wood core, which is inlaid with pencil-thin cylinders of carbon fiber to add stability and rebound. Next up is a lightweight insert that dampens vibration while reducing swing weight. Finally, there’s the multidimensional shaping of the ski: the inside edge has more camber and the outside edge more rocker. That all adds up to a ski that’s effortless to pivot, smear, and butter around at low speeds, but holds as well as a far beefier ski when hauling. “It’s damp but not dead,” said a tester. “The flex is startlingly smooth.” Western all-mountain skiers who love powder, start your search here. 136/102/115

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skis
(Courtesy Kästle)

Kästle BMX105 ($999)

Best for Men: All Mountain Powder

The BMX105 runs $100 more than other all-mountain powder skis, but then Kästle is known for its premium builds, and the price reflects upgraded materials. With the BMX105, that means lively silver fir and beech instead of cheaper woods. The bases, sidewalls, and edge material are sourced from higher-grade stock as well. That gives the ski greater durability, but that wouldn’t matter if the BMX105 didn’t perform well. As the top-ranked plank in its category, it definitely does. “Ripped everywhere and was super forgiving even while it displayed no speed limits,” said one tester. “You could ski it in a big-mountain competition or just cruise.” Who’s it ideal for? Skiers with deep pockets who mostly ride big western resorts that receive ample snowfall, like Jackson, Fernie, Squaw, and the gems of Little Cottonwood. 134/105/123

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skis
(Courtesy K2)

K2 Talkback 96 ($850)

Best for Women: Backcountry

How did K2 make the Talkback 96 ­stable enough for in-bounds hike-to skiing but feathery enough for long tours? The tempered application of carbon fiber—in this case, stringers that run along the length of the paulownia-maple core. That carbon adds power and pop, but then K2 incorporated a Titanal spine in the belly, where it can best serve the gods of edge hold and vibration dampening. So the Talkback is strong and light, but it’s also built for women skiing off-trail or off the grid. The turning radius is a generous 18 meters in the 163, so the ski won’t hook in crust. The topsheet is made with a proprietary compound that reduces clumping while you climb. On the hill the Talkback 96 is predictable, and we mean that as a compliment. “You don’t have to muscle it into turns or figure out how to ski it,” said one tester. 128/96/115

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skis
(Courtesy Black Diamond)

Black Diamond Boundary Pro 107 ($749)

Best for Men: Backcountry

When BD shifted its production from China to Austria (using the same factory where Blizzard makes its skis), the finished product improved fivefold. With the new Boundary Pro 107, that means there’s top-shelf goodness inside. Our testers found a comfortable sweet spot—it’s easy to hit the center of the flex—coupled with a damp but lively ride and solid edge hold. Like most modern skis, the Boundary Pro is plenty lightweight for touring, but we included it here because of its off-trail shape. In the 184-centimeter length, the turning radius is a stretched-out 20 meters. But don’t take that to mean this ski is hard to maneuver. Ample rocker and taper mean that you can pivot and smear at will. “One of the year’s best off-trail skis,” said a tester. “Loose and slinky in tight places, easy to steer in wide-open spots.” 138/107/123

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Après

The Best Alpine Ski Boots of 2019

Comfort and performance in a lightweight package   (Courtesy Nordica) Nordica Promachine 130 ($849) Best for All-Mountain Racing The Promachine’s anatomically shaped liner and shell, which seamlessly blends plastics of varying thickness, improve feel without compromising capability. This helps translate the subtlest movements from your feet to the ski, making it our favorite for tight trees. Buy Now (Courtesy K2) K2 Recon 120 ($650) Best for Gram Counters Just 3.6 pounds but hardly wimpy, the Recon is one of the lightest inbounds boots on the market. It drops weight by thinning the shell where strength isn’t crucial, like the sides and toe, but still

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The Best Snowboards of 2019

Five decks that bring surf style to the slopes (Courtesy Weston) Weston Japow ($599) It’s no secret that snowboarders take inspiration from surfers. In everything from carving technique and aerial style to lingo and board shape, we’re closely aligned with our salty cousins. At Outside’s annual snowboard test at ­Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado, more than 30 riders put 86 decks to the test in variable spring conditions, and the consensus was that, now more than ever, designers are encouraging a surfy approach to snowboarding. Case in point: the surf-inspired Weston Japow was our top-rated board this year,

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Après

The Best Alpine Touring Bindings of 2019

You’re only as good (and as safe) as your connection to your skis   (Courtesy Dynafit) Dynafit ST Rotation 10 ($600) Several years ago, the brand that launched the tech revolution in the eighties introduced a turntable heel to prevent pre-release. The new Rotation improves upon that model, with a centering function at the toe that makes lining up the back of your boot with the heelpiece more precise. 2.2 lbs Buy Now (Courtesy Salomon) Salomon Shift MNC ($650) The Shift, developed in collaboration with Atomic, is like no other binding ever made. It has an alpine-inspired step-in heel and

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Après

The Best Alpine Touring Ski Boots of 2019

The season’s backcountry boots demand to be pushed to the limit (Courtesy Scott) Scott Celeste III ($750) The latest edition of the women’s Celeste is roomier in the lower portion of the shell and in the cuff, making it a tester favorite. Scott kept the smooth forward flex from its previous design, so the Celeste performs more like a ski-mountaineering boot than a four-buckle powerhouse. With 60 degrees of motion, it climbed just as well. 2.7 lbs Buy Now (Courtesy Salomon) Salomon S/Lab MTN ($975) Updated with Salomon’s Custom Shell HD technology, the new S/Lab MTN is heat moldable,

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Après

The Best Nordic Skiing Gear of 2019

Hammer like the gods in this cross-country kit   (Courtesy Craft) Craft PrimaLoft Stow Light Jacket ($160) With 60-gram synthetic fill, this lightweight puffy is loose and breathable enough to keep you warm without overheating. Stuff it into its pocket when the mercury rises. Men's Women's (Courtesy Fischer) Fischer Twin Skin X-Lite EF Skis ($349) If kick waxing gets you down, invest in these skis with wee climbing skins in the bases. The X-Lite EFs aren’t as fast or light as race sticks, but they’re great for a mellow tour. Buy Now (Courtesy Start) Start Ultra Gel Wax ($28) Unlike typical

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Après

The Best Ski Poles of 2019

Six pairs of sticks that can keep up (Courtesy Salomon) Salomon MTN Carbon S3 ($150) Salomon’s ingenious wrist-release system—a hard tug pulls the strap free from the grip—means no worrying that your poles will turn into shoulder-separating leashes in the trees. Tough foam extends six inches below the grip for extra purchase when choking up, and the lower portion of the carbon shaft is reinforced with Kevlar for durability. Buy Now (Courtesy Grass Sticks) Grass Sticks Original Custom ($89) After burning through aluminum poles season after season, we invested in a pair of Grass Sticks. And we’ve used them

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Après

The Best Splitboarding Gear of 2019

Because boot-packing takes too long (Courtesy G3) G3 Alpinist Plus Glide Skins ($184) G3 tweaked the mohair-to-nylon ratio in its Alpinist skins to suit a variety of conditions and terrain. Our favorite: the 70 percent mohair, 30 percent nylon Glide. It’s downright zippy on low-angle tours. Buy Now (Courtesy Arc'teryx) Arc’teryx Beta SL Jacket ($299) A quality shell is a must on any backcountry mission, even if it mostly lives in your pack. Arc’teryx’s Beta SL tips the scales at less than 11 ounces. And with its cinchable hood, slim fit, and two-layer Gore-Tex, we were more than happy

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Après

The Best Ski Helmets of 2019

Preferably one with gobs of comfort and safety features (Courtesy Sweet Protection) Sweet Protection Switcher MIPS ($249) After more than a dozen testers placed the Switcher on their noggins, all agreed that it was the most comfortable helmet they’d worn. It accommodated a wide range of head sizes (pressure points were nonexistent) and handled temperature swings with aplomb. We’re talking 50-­degree corn-harvesting days at Snowbird and ten-degree bone chillers with 60-mile-per-hour winds on the summit of Oregon’s Mount McLoughlin. Credit the abundance of vents—18 on top and two at the front—all of which can be micro-adjusted using a single

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Après

The Best Goggles of 2019

New lens designs are improving the view even on low-contrast days (Courtesy Atomic) Atomic Count 360° HD ($200) Dual-lens goggles have been the standard in winter sports since the 1960s. Just like with thermal windows, the air between the first and second lens has an insulating effect, reducing fog. But flaws inherent in that construction (refraction, image mirroring) have dogged designers. Despite advances, the view through a single lens is just better. Atomic solves this conundrum with the revolutionary Count 360° HD, which features two lenses fused together. Double-thick plastic compensates for the loss of that thermal air layer,

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