Saturday, March 19, 2022

Top 3 Best Skis Ever*

By Eino Holm, with contributions from Amy Post

I finally redrilled the one-eight-six Monster for the third time, and for whatever reason, let's say that at 40 I'm better at the skeenings than I was at 28, or whatever, or maybe the handful of gray hairs give me strength, I don't care, the spark is back.  That ski, even in what I thought was too long a, um, length, just skis like a ski should.  Reminds me of an FIS GS board, except that when there's snow to push, it's still comfortable.  Herewith, what I thought of on Chair 3 while looking down at them beauties.


17.  Igneous Mid-fat Fall Line.  Somewhere around the turn of this century, some drunks in a shed somewhere near J-Hole made some skis.  They didn't have metal, so far as I know.  They did have maple, and muchly so.  That's almost as good.  Mid-fat was not the truth.  Skinny was the truth, but it didn't really matter.  If you know, you probly knew then.  If you don't, you probly don't care, didn't care and won't care.  I teled this ski in a 196/197 combo with slightly different core construction foot to foot (see above comment about boozahol) and then put some purple magenta aubergine S914s on there.  I was never as good as this ski needed me to be, but I and that ski made some sweeeeeet turns when I could handle it.  Also, too, as well, a giant head print in the rained-on cream under Chair 5. - EWH

16.  '01 Völkl P40.  Step up to the plate.  This one is a four seamer, about 97, 98 mph.  Probly a little high, definitely inside, but so inviting you can't help but swing.  If you're out in front, you don't even have to try.  Just inside the foul pole in left, upper deck, a beauty.  If you're a little behind, you may even foul it off your face.  It'll bite ya.  But if you get it right...  I'm pretty sure the colour mattered with this one.  Neither my red version, nor my white, blue, and red version skied as well as the orange I borrowed from that one guy in the Baker Demo Joint, which blew my shoes off.  Also, the white one didn't handle well after I ripped a third of the base off on a sneaky shark fin rock on skiers' right of Green Valley the Bad Winter of '04-'05.  Not sure why.  Also, the lady at the old Sturtevant's in South Hill told me they weren't repairable, but Kenny Tataku told me later that he wished he'd been there cos he figure he coulda.  I still haven't forgiven her.

15.  '00-'01 Salomon Supermountain.  Soft, flexible, forgiving, and if you pointed it and didn't care, dense enough to hang.  Slarve that right footer over the knuckle at the top of Gabl's and then send it.  It shared a few things with many good skis over the years: it had yellow (though not in the most copious quantity), it was ugly, it surprised people while flying under the radar as a second-tier model, and made friends with unlikely company.  According to at least 2 Baker Lokes from back then, it teled like a Tua and actually got imported to the states, which Tua did for a while and then did not forever.  Which was sad, cos I wanted them Tuas like some people want cheese or a Lamborghini. 

14.  '99 Salomon X-Scream Series.  Fast, tons of metal, funk, yellow, weirdness, random things stuck on the topsheet, everything.  Also '99.  That was a good year.  Did I say yellow?  That was a theme then, the Turn Of The CENTURYYYYYY.  Salomon was tryna polish its image, or change it, or refine, or, heck, I don't know.  They green-lit (green-lighted?) some pretty wacky idears, like a ski that would go forward AND backward.  Or the two sets of parallel bars glued to the topsheet.  ProLink arms, they called 'em.  Not sure what they did, but they caught yer attention.  Funny thing is, Rossi and Atomic have stuff like that on their race rigs right now.  (And no, that twin-tip Olin Mark IV from '74 totally didn't pre-date the TenEighty by a quarter century years.  Not at all.)  Anyway, a part of the mystique of the Scream Series was just how damn fast it felt if you screwed up.  People still had bumper stickers with goofy slogans like "SHORT SKIS SUCK, BRATI!!"  You had to rock a 195 instead of a more rational 177.  And if you tried to slide around that one Abies lasiocarpa atoll skiers' left of Hamburger, and, well, didn't really actually slide the tails cos you were 19 and not that good a skier, and you got shot out into the chunder at Mach 2.37, the ski kinda giggled and said "I'm good at this! What else ya got?!"  I drilled a few of 'em when I was workin for Brad, and if I remember correctly, they had two plates of metal, but not a metal topsheet.  A base sheet and a mid-core sheet, with two cores and a cap.  So, like, a macaron with a thick schmear of cream cheese frosting and some sprinkles.  Except these macarons ate alligator teeth for brefixt and pooped out gold bullion.

13.  '03 Rossi XXX.  Don't try to tele it in a 195.  Not that you would.  I did, some days well, others pretty poorly.  I also splatted on my face on Highway 542 while skating to work cos, well, sometimes highways aren't covered in snow. Even with some S914s and my Salomon Axe 9 boot with ProLink Spine--through-line is what I think the kids are calling it--it was a handful, but holy crap, was that a smooth ride.  It's top 3 ever in the smoothness department, astride the same line as the Legend and the Stormrider.  It had something called "freeride V.A.S." which was "visco-elastic" (I should start a marketing firm so I could also get paid to make $#!@ up) and a tapered metal topsheet and like, velvet stringers.  It was also very powerful, and looked pretty ridiculous cool in the gondy at Whistler next to Dan Treadway and those over-the-head Oakleys.  I just wish I had the stones to remount mine that are still in the sauna in Enumclaw.  I think I even have an 900S that would go right in those old S914 holes.  Hmm...

Uff da.

12.  The old Nordica Enforcer from whenever that was, I don't know.  The last two years have been the longest decade.  Anyway, the one with the ugly wizard topsheet.  (Or was that that one "big mountain twin" Vōlkl from like '03?)  Anyway, ugly.  Still, it was metal, had no rocker, had a nice round tip like so many good skis around '09 or '010 or '011, and was 100ish mm of awesome like the Mantra to be noted later.  Climbs like a gelada baboon and descends like a snake in a waterslide with rockets on its tail.  Oh wait, that's bikes.  O Great Nordica in the Sky, why did you not just bring that one back exactly the same except with a different but still weird and ugly topsheet graphic?  Why?  The current "Enforcer" is not the original.  It is a pretender to the throne, like Peter the Meh, after Peter the Great and before Catherine the Great.  (Why were so many folks we refer to as "Great" basically just murderous villains?)

Uncle Vlad may be just as crazy and as murderous and evil, but his sartorial flair leaves something to be desired.

11.  Vølkl Mantra, Mark II, somewhere like '09.  A customer brought a brand new pair in to the shop.  I don't know if I or LB drilled it.  Duder came back like thirteen seconds later, fairly nonplussed.  He said it skied like hot garbage mixed with a wolverine.  We drilled it down to needing some detuning.  I did some, to no avail.  LB did some more, much aggressive, to no avail.  I asked duder what his boot sole was, and coincidentally, it was the same as mine.  We headed out, me on his new set, him on his old set.  Midway down Iceberg Gulch, I was in love with the ski.  We traded at the bottom of Rex, and skied the same run.  I almost skied off into oblivion.  Turns out his old Tyrolia FreeFlex 14s had developed some Tyrolia Twist, and made an otherwise real-dern-quick-for-almost-100mm ski into a wet hen.  The mark II Mantra was one of a handful of skis in that 95-100 range that just get it.

10.  '011 Nordica Fire Arrow.  Amy says a lot of women's skis are wet seagull dirt.  I believe her, cos, a, and most importantly, she knows her $#!@, and b, also most importantly, she skis real dern well and knows lots about skiing and turns and the four fundamentals and, like, flex patterns and stuff, and if she says there've been pretty much 3 or 4 good women's skis ever, then there've been pretty much 3 or 4 good women's skis ever.  This was not a women's ski.  Amy skied it with one of her Level-3-aspiring friends the winter before the spring we moved to Ashland, and she and Laura both said it was giggles.  Like a good long-slalom ski, reboundy, damp, reboundy, turny, stable, held the edge longer than Jimi's guitar cable, and like, many more things.  Also, the topsheet was ugly, there was all sorta tech, it was pressed in Mittersill, which is like Valhalla except for skis, may have even had a not-Marker system binding (system bindings are always a knock, but if they ain't Marker, they are 75% less of a knock) by Vist, which is like saying you have an EXT shock on your otherwise very Trek-ish downcountry sled.  Those who know will nod knowingly and those who don't will try to pretend that they don't. . .um. . .don't. - EWH/AEP

09.  Rossignol 9S 10.2 RC.  I think.  Sometime around '001.  It's damp, boingy, manageable, turny, and, most importantly, it gots that 90s slalom gate deflector tip.  With the race plate, it was a powerplant ski for a college gate basher, without, it's a ski to get back into the swing of things after a minor knee surgery you made into a major turning point in your mind.  Amy skied it with the plate, both bashing gates in college and progressing up the PSIA ladder.  I skied it without the plate, but with that one Salomon riser that had a stiffener thingie that really totally kinda did something, I think.  Poweraxe, if I ain't mistooken.  Anyway, that ski was worth chasing after.  Real live.  Yeah, yeah, putting race skis on here is a little weird, who cares.  It was a good ski, and both Amy and I dug it for different reasons, and both as designed and as not designed.  That speaks well.  Also, it were yellow, and yellow skis from the turn of the century were tops.  See the X-Scream Series, the inaugural AK Rocket, and the ever mooned-over Ten-Eighty. - EWH/AEP

Gimmicky bat-wing tips

08.  '010 Vølkl Kendo/Kenja.  Kendo/Kenja the First.  Much metal, much 88 mm.  Too lively to float in more than about 6 or 7, but then, who cares.  That's what ski swaps and demo sales are for.  Where it fell slightly for us is it is not as damp as the Monster or the MX88, but for anyone who wants more snap and pop, that is probly a good thing.  And I can still steal some Instabro's line below the Olympic Start Shack in the sun at 7 or 8 new while he's yelling that he's filming and have way more fun the he ever would cos he thinks you hafta film your line for it to matter and I don't. - EWH/AEP

07.  '08 Vòlkl Katana.  I met one of my best friends while skiing this thing.  "Well, Mister Confident.  Where are you gonna ski?"  Holy Jerbus Toads, it was good.  Tibial-plateau-deep out in O Meadows, chalk in Sasquatch, groomers even.  All the ski mediums all lamented the breakable and maybe a little ill-conceived translucent UHMW (or whatever) plastic swallow-tail giblet, but I think it just added funk to an otherwise workaday sorta ski.  Oh, no rocker, so there's that.  111 mms of givin' 'er.  Much metal.  Named after a sword.

06a. Head Joy line.  Turns out I don't need as burly a ski as I thought.  I actually kinda like having light ski.  Makes hauling children around the mountain easier.  Like any ski that isn't all the metal, it doesn't hold an edge as well as it could on an ice rink.  But damn, they struck a vein with graphene, so much so that they put it in a lot of variations on the theme, including the men's frontside skis.  Ted sold me my first pair.  He handed them to me and said, "Do you want to ski 'em?"  So I did, and when I got back to the lodge, he said, "Do you want to buy 'em?" and the only possible response was yes.  They railed--I couldn't overpower them--and busted through crud, despite being 70-somethin underfoot.  Ted gave me a good price, and it was a few years later before I realized they were the intermediate ski.  Honestly, I couldn't even tell.  I bought the Total Joy a few years ago.  It's the only new ski I've ever bought for myself, which is why it made this list.  It can't do everything, but it does just about everything else. - AEP

06.  '012 Kästle MX88.  Some jackass at Unofficial said it was the ski for rippin' Grandmas.  He's right, cos a rippin lady in her 50s or 60s would definitely ski the shit outa this thing, but he's also wrong, and that's one hell of a backhanded compliment.  Condescension and ascension all at once.  Swipe that away, and yes, a rippin' Grandma could have a riot of a good time on it, and so can anyone with some technique and a little strength.  Two (2!) plates of metal, a nice, dense wood core, some sorta special JuJu we're not allowed to understand, an ugly topsheet and that weird cutout in the tip that used to be orange but isn't anymore; this is the slightly more accessible version of the Monster.  It was even built in Vorarlberg.  (Or somebody stole Head's serial number stamp.)  If you think it was only for discerning women in their late 50s, you are doing a disservice to the ski and to the women in their late 50s who unquestionably ski better than you, Barclay, and with more strength, and for longer.  This is a Good Ski, full stop, and those women to whom you condescend are Good Skiers, full stop.  Not "for a Grandma".  Good Skiers, full stop.  The knock on this ski is it isn't as quick to or as confident on the edges as I'd like.  At 88mm, I'd hope for a bit (tiny bit) more firepower.  So, no top 5. - EWH

05.  '011 Blizzard Bodacious.  (And Bonafide, but, I don't know, you knew that.)  That ski was huge.  At 117, it cannot be top 5, because it just won't be versatile enough, but that's okay.  It's top 5.  This is The Horse for The Course.  Unless you're his sister, Ingrid, or Betsy, his Ma, Arne Backstrom skied with better technique than you and waaaaay more harder than you, and he designed it, including the then-new construction.   He left us far too early.  I never met him, but his father gave me the unmatchable and unmatched honour of mounting the bindings on the first board out of Mittersill in Arne's memory.  I still cry when I tell the story.  I cried when I drilled those beautiful skis, grateful for Brad putting the binding bench in the corner, facing the wall, with the Done Rack between me and the customers.  I'm crying right now.  That ski lived up to the hype.  Even all the hipness surrounding it couldn't thin its legend.  The only thing that could was the bean counters and marketing hacks who asked for, as always, a more friendly ski to sell to a broader audience.  I do not agree with that.  At all.  That first ski did not back down, and did not let you down.  Only you could let you down, and you probably did.  I just wish the fairly strong Brahma skied as well, cos 88 mm is the best mm.

04. '021 Stôcklį Stormrider 95, the recent one before the now one.  A bootfitter I know here in town who works at a ski shop, let's call it Grünewald's cos I don't know if I'm allowed to divulge trade info, says they sold all sorta Stóckli this year.  I asked about who bought 'em and he said "Let's just say they've read about 'em and had the money." He was circumspect and did not disparage, and I respect his tact.  I do not have as much of my own tact when not on the clock, so I will say that there are a decent amount of folks on these skis that really don't know what they have, and don't care, much like most of the folks who demoed my MX88 before I saved them from the trash compacter.  This ski, as I was reminded this morning while skiing and avoiding work, is about as versatile as it gets.  Better on hardpack than skis 15mm narrower, easier to manœuver auf der Wald than skis with less firepower and more slarvy profiles, and so far no speed limit.  Also, much metal, as always.  

03.  '014 Võlkl Kiku.  Floats, turns, slarves, carves, even.  Rocker, yes, but like, the whole thingie, so it doesn't ski confused or anything.  Elongated Low Profile, I think die Deutschen called it.  All the things but none of the bad things except coulda had a little metal cos every good ski deserves metal cos metal makes #1.  Not metal is #5.  Also, made in Straubing, which is nice, so #3. - EWH/AEP

02.  '06-'08 Head Monster 88.  It went by slightly different names over the years, and before this iteration was kinda techy and had a funky cap instead of a sandwich, but this was and still is the real damn deal.  Race sandwich, metal (LIQUIDMETAL sung in the voice of Bruce Dickinson) topsheet, funky-shaped tip, full-length edge contact, a speed limit I have never found despite trying with two lengths and four skis with 6 different binding setups, and some real confidence in dang near anything.  Even teleing in 6 inches of day old consolidated Copper Mountain cream.  Yeah, yeah, LB broke a core just loading the ski on Cattle Crossing, but that's LB for you. - EWH


001.  Blizzard Firebird HRC.  Current, in case you think we're just crotchety jerks.  If you can't ski it, I suggest you seek out a lesson or two cos we all can benefit from another person's input; this thing is what a ski should be, so you should want to ski it, like yesterday.  (Except for how spendy it is.  That's a little annoying.)  Fast, slow, steering, laying railroad tracks like you were Enore tryna impress Mimi in the winter of '09-'010 [Ed: he did], if you have the power and the edge pressure regulation and the rotary and the cuff pressure and the tactical smarts and the technique (wow, I sound arrogant) and the 130 flex boot (or more) and a willingness to ignore the fact that certain people in certain circles will think you're preening for a very specific audience, this is the best that has ever been.  Except in dreams.  And if you complain that it doesn't float, well, maybe you don't get it.  Whatever "it" is.  Blizzard has names I don't care about for their technology and whatnot, but it has a full metal base sheet and a metal binding sheet, so that's two boxes ticked.  The original Bodacious had that plus a full metal topsheet for a total of three sheets under foot, and the fact that this ski doesn't have as much metal keeps the HRC from being better than number one.

post script:  There's a special place in my heart (and quiver) for true race skis, but they are not really all that accessible to the skiers who ski less than many days a week or who did not bang gates in college or chase the thirteenth level of PSIA mastery.  It doesn't matter that most aging bums will claim they skied everything on race-stock GS and Super G boards back in '88, race skis just require technique and attention that isn't easy to come by or maintain.  If I jump on the FIS-compliant slalom or GS skis, it takes me a run or two to catch up.  I absolutely love how they ski, but I gotta be on my game, smashing that cuff.  Not everyone wants or can handle that, nor is there any requirement of such; the ski is then less universal.

Alright.  Time to go ski.

 *According to me and Amy who knows lots.  You're welcome.