The 19 Best Alpine Skis of 2013
Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Dynastar Cham 97 Skis
GEAR OF THE YEAR: Rocker (an upward bend of the ski) and taper (a narrowing at the tip, tail, or both) are arguably the biggest innovations since metal edges. Getting the right balance is the tough part. Not so with Dynastar’s Cham 97, named for the French company’s hometown of Chamonix. The Cham 97 is one of the most versatile all-mountain skis we’ve ever tested. The tips float you in everything short of waist-deep glop, while the camber underfoot and flat tails let you power through turns in classic hard-charging Dynastar style. Our only gripe is that the wide, rockered tip flutters a bit on hardpack. But that’s a small price to pay for a true one-ski quiver. 118/133/97/113/94
Resort Float: 4.8
Blizzard Bonafide Skis
BEST FOR: A balance of float and power.
THE TEST: We ran the Bonafide over bumps, across glades, and through leftover powder, finishing each run with big and short turns on frozen groomers. In each instance it wowed testers. “So damping, so powerful, but so responsive,” raved one heavier skier. You would think a ski this powerful and absorbent on packed snow would be unwieldy off-trail. You’d be wrong.
THE VERDICT: For any skier north of 160 pounds who likes stability at speed and steady tracking through leftover, variable snow, the Bonafide is the genuine article. 133/98/118
Resort Float: 4
ROCKER AND YOUR BOOTS: That upward bend in the shovel of the ski means you don’t have to drive your weight (and power) through the front to bend it into a turn. (It’s pre-bent.) Do your boots jibe with this new reality? Ask your boot fitter about the forward lean of your boots. If it’s in excess of 18 degrees, you’ll be tiring your legs out for no reason. Fourteen to 16 degrees or less of forward lean means you can stand up and ski more laterally, saving power. The best part? A boot fitter might be able to simply adjust the angle of the boots you already have.
Armada TST Skis
BEST FOR: Thrashing powder.
THE TEST: Flotacious and surfy, the TST felt like a downsized powder ski. It’s effortless to squirrel around in the woods, and as Armada claims, the TST’s flat tail (there’s no camber back there) makes for a nice platform on firmer snow. The ski carves a surprisingly adequate survival turn, but it doesn’t quite lay trenches.
THE VERDICT: It’s an all-mountain ski only if you’re spending 80 percent of your time hunting soft snow and the other 20 percent jibbing around with your pals. 119/132/102/123
Resort Float: 4.8
Black Diamond Equipment Verdict Skis
BEST FOR: Off-trail crud busting and powerful turns on groomers.
THE TEST: At under 10 pounds, the Verdict is lightweight enough to tour all day in the backcountry, and it’s stable, predictable, and floaty enough to rise above weird snow anywhere. Would it be our everyday groomer ski? No. But for the in-bounds-to-out-of-bounds user, it’s got the right balance of weight and edge hold. “Solid turning everywhere,” said one tester. “Good in the tight spots and stable on-piste.”
THE VERDICT: Shoulder them for that boot-pack up the ridge knowing you’ll descend with confidence. 134/102/121
Resort Float: 4
Atomic Theory Skis
BEST FOR: All-mountain skiers who take an occasional lap through the park.
THE TEST: When you fully weight the Theory, the tip and tail bend up, floating you in soft snow and making it easier to pivot. Tip this true twin tip into a carve, however, and they reach outward at the apex of the turn, extending the running length and boosting edge hold and stability.
THE VERDICT: Atomic calls it All-Mountain rocker—and it works. “Grips and rips,” said one tester. “Easy to slink through tight trees, but this squirrel has nuts.” 132/95/121
Resort Float: 4
Rossignol Experience Skis
BEST FOR: Skiing 40 percent off trail and 60 percent on trail.
THE TEST: The Experience 98 was the top carver in the category—chiefly because the ski’s proprietary Auto Turn rocker lived up to its name. Putting this 98-millimeter-waisted ski on edge is effortless. Off trail, though, the ski isn’t as loose as others. We loved it in new snow on top of a firm groomer, but it’s a bit too grippy if you live for bumps and tight trees.
THE VERDICT: Perfect in Colorado (where storms drop eight to 10 inches onto buffed corduroy) as a mid-fat ski or back east as a fat ski. 139/98/128
Resort Float: 3.2
Nordica Hell and Back Skis
BEST FOR: Shouldering on long hikes and riding hard on the descents.
THE TEST: The Hell and Back was damping and lively, with a comfortable turn shape. Lighter testers thought it favored hard snow more than soft, but everyone found it light enough to pivot in tight spots.
THE VERDICT: Probably the best boards in the category for skiers with strong technical skills who spend time carving GS turns on groomers. It’s not as playful and floaty as the Armada, but it’s easily the most versatile ski in its class. 135/98/125
Resort Float: 3.8
Atomic Crimson Ti Skis
BEST FOR: Keeping it pegged all day on groomers.
THE TEST: Because the Crimson Ti has a bit of tip rocker, you don’t have to actively bend the front of the ski into turns, which means you can stand more upright and concentrate on feathering the edges. A damping wood core reinforced with two titanium layers and vertical sidewalls underfoot (the rest is a hybrid cap-sidewall construction) dish up excellent edge penetration. “Strong edging underfoot,” said one tester. “Aggressive energy return when you release the turn.”
THE VERDICT: If you like sweeping turns at high speeds on hard snow but don’t want to swap out skis when conditions soften, your chariot awaits. 131.5/88/117
Edge Hold: 4.8
K2 Aftershock Skis
BEST FOR: Intermediate-to-advanced skiers looking for predictable, do-it-all sticks.
THE TEST: The Aftershock’s not your dad’s frontside ski; it’s 86 millimeters underfoot and features K2’s subtle All-Terrain rocker—just enough to ease turn initiation and loosen up the ski in soft corn snow or first-buckle-deep powder. It’s incredibly damping and predictable, but the harder you ski it, the more life it delivers. “You can make any type of turn shape and mix up the terrain at will,” said one tester.
THE VERDICT: Rip early-morning buffed corduroy runs, poke around in the trees for untracked lines, relax and ski easy with the kids—the Aftershock’s an all-mountain frontside ski. 130/86/114
Edge Hold: 3.9
Head Rev 85 Pro Skis
BEST FOR: Experts who explore the whole mountain but always end up back on the groomers.
THE TEST: “This is the one!” wrote an especially enthusiastic tester on his test card. “Quite possibly the best medium-radius frontside ski ever!” So what gives? The hint of rocker allows the Rev 85 to dive effortlessly into turns, where it hooks up relentlessly, but that same rocker means you can maneuver them in uneven terrain and tricky snow, too.
THE VERDICT: You can ski the Rev hard or easy all over the dang hill. Ideal for skiers who spend 70 percent of their time ripping GS turns on groomers but don’t want a rigid race ski.
Edge Hold: 4.6
Armada JJ Skis
BEST FOR: Blower powder.
THE TEST: These loose and playful, rockered and tapered fatties deliver the fun. They scrub speed with a quick ankle flick and float high on stupid-deep powder days. And they even busted crud without complaint. Just don’t expect to carve up the groomers. You can eke out a turn on the belly of the ski, but it doesn’t hold a carve as well as other skis in this category.
THE VERDICT: The JJ is a powder ski you can ride every day … as long as you’re always looking for powder. 126/136/115/133/121
Hard-Snow Pleasure: 3.8
Typically, a ski has three listed dimensions: the tip and tail (its two widest points) and the centers (its narrowest). But some manufacturers assign five to their skis, like the Armadas here and the Gear of the Year-winning Dynastars. All the additional numbers signify is that the ski has a tapered tip and tail.
Völkl Gotama Skis
BEST FOR: Carving through any kind of snow.
THE TEST: Anybody can make a powder ski float. It’s when our testers transitioned from powder
to groomers that they discovered whether a big-mountain ski could handle the whole hill. The best-selling Gotama, with its low-profile rocker, can. The more you tip it over into a turn, the more effective edge length you gain. The reason it’s so popular is pretty simple, actually: you can still pivot it when you’re upright in powder, but in dynamic carving situations it feels like a traditional ski.
THE VERDICT: Predictable, versatile, and Völkl quality. A one-ski quiver for powder fiends. 139/107/123
Hard-Snow Pleasure: 4.2
ROCKER AND SKI WAXING: Camber was invented to enhance gliding by distributing your weight. Rocker (even just tip and tail rocker) distributes less of your weight and effectively shortens the running surface of the ski. The result is that you get more drag with today’s fatter, rockered skis, meaning it’s more vital than ever to keep your boards waxed and buffed.
Blizzard Cochise Skis
BEST FOR: Pounding, chatter free, on the back side.
THE TEST: By flipping the core of the ski in the mold, Blizzard fixed one of the downsides of rocker—that fluttering you get on hardpack. Our testers gushed about how buttery and powerful the Cochise’s handling was on crud and dense snow. But they also raved about how easily it manhandled soft snow.
THE VERDICT: “Perfect big-mountain ski,” said one tester. “Takes anything in its path.” At only 108 millimeters underfoot, though, the Cochise won’t be spraying water-ski turns. 135/108/123
Hard-Snow Pleasure: 4.8
Salomon Rocker 2 Skis
BEST FOR: Big-mountain powder days.
THE TEST: The new Rocker 2 is at its best when it’s sniffing out hidden powder stashes—these are nimble, quick, loose soft-snow skis. The buttery Rocker 2 lacks high-speed stability and edging power, but you won’t think about that when you’re throwing them into powder piles in the forest or detonating fluff bumps beneath the chair.
THE VERDICT: Perfect for soft glades, meadows, and mellow bowls. “Bouncy, smear-turning, drift-busting, good-time skis,” said one tester. 139/115/131
Hard-Snow Pleasure: 3.8
Rossignol Squad 7 Skis
BEST FOR: Filming your first Teton Gravity Research segment.
THE TEST: This is one burly, hard-charging ski—built for the pros and suited to attacking wide-open, ungroomed spaces. To power the Squad, you need to be skiing aggressively. Six of the nine testers who ran it said it excelled when they stayed forward in an athletic stance but got away from them when they eased off the gas. The Squad is no groomer ski, but you could ride that rigid tail right out of trouble in Alaska.
THE VERDICT: If your idea of a powder day is ripping down faces in Squaw or Silverton, the Squad is your ticket. 145/120/126
Hard-Snow Pleasure: 3.7
Nordica Helldorado Skis
BEST FOR: Flying fast under the radar.
THE TEST: We were expecting a burly plank for eye-watering super-G turns. And the Helldorado does excel at speed, thanks in part to the low, broad tip, which maximizes contact and drastically reduces tip vibration. But a moderate amount of rocker also means you can pivot and squirt this versatile ski at will. “Stiff, burly, powerful, and fun?” mused one tester.
THE VERDICT: Our test skiers have a range of riding styles, but the one thing they share is the need for speed. If you like to ski fast, this is your everyday western ski.
Hard-Snow Pleasure: 4.8
Black Diamond Equipment Megawatt Skis
BEST FOR: Making effortless powder turns and avoiding groomers.
THE TEST: Our testers bobbed happily above the snow like corks in a cruise-ship hot tub. Credit goes to the 125-millimeter waist and lightweight, backcountry-friendly BD construction. The turning radius isn’t tight by a long shot—a trait you’ll love if you ski breakable crust. “Love the big radius, which seems to be lacking in a lot of powder skis these days,” said one tester.
THE VERDICT: In a word, unsinkable. In sidecountry or during a big powder day on the hill, you don’t think about carving much. Look here if you want to supersize your backcountry setup or you’re in the market for a ski than can handle even the most treacherous sunbaked snow. 151/125/131
Völkl Shiro Skis
BEST FOR: Floating high and still carving a bit, too.
THE TEST: The Shiro is nearly as surfy as the Rossi Super 7 and nearly as buoyant as the BD Megawatt, but once you get the hang of it—tip it on edge, don’t try and drive it—you can actually have a fine time arcing turns when the snow gets tracked out. The key is in the rocker: there’s enough to pop you to the surface, but you still get full contact during a carve.
THE VERDICT: It’s a powder ski, but if you ride in deep regions (hello, Utah), you’ll be reaching for it a lot. “Solid underfoot and lots of energy,” said one tester. 151/119/135
Rossignol Super 7 Skis
BEST FOR: Powder and then some.
THE TEST: Last year this ski dominated the powder category. We found it every bit as nimble as the regular S7—which lacks the Super 7’s Titanal reinforcement plates—but with no speed limit. That’s still the case. We’d call it a dedicated powder ski, but it’s so much fun to ski all over the mountain that many western locals are using it as their everyday driver.
THE VERDICT: Intermediates and pros alike love the Super 7 for its surfy feel and predictability on hardpack—though it isn’t a blast on firm snow. “Just point and shoot,” said one tester. “Makes you want to push it.” 146/117/127