GearSnow Sports

The Best Skis of 2019

(Photo: Charles Dustin Sammann)
buyer's guide

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

buyer's guide
(Photo: 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
(Photo: 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
(Photo: 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
(Photo: 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
(Photo: 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
(Photo: 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
(Photo: 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
(Photo: 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
(Photo: 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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From Winter 2019 Buyer's Guide
Filed To: SkisSkiingGear of the YearWinter Buyer's Guide
Lead Photo: Charles Dustin Sammann
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