Best Skis of 2014: New Skis & Winter Gear Demo At Alpine MeadowsFebruary 21st, 2013 By Adam
This post was a group effort from three hard-chargin’ TMS employees: Dave, the owner, F.O.H. sales rep Ryan, and Adam, a punk snowboarder. Collectively, we spent two consecutive days at Alpine Meadows ripping around on new skis, boots, bindings and a splitboard that are set to release next winter. A few products were reviewed by more than one tester and not all reviews are fully positive, but we thought you should hear each valid perspective so we included everything below in raw, uncut form. Here’s what we thought of the new winter ski equipment you can expect to see soon from your favorite brands.
K2 Pinnacle 130 (Dave)
I started the day with the K2 Pinnacle 130 boots on my feet and a pair of K2 Annex 108s in the 174 length attached to those. I was excited to try K2’s new boots as there has been a lot of press around them lately and K2 themselves are very excited to have a full boot and ski line for the first time in a long time. First things first, from appearances, you can tell K2 has really polished the look on these boots and unlike some other lines, they match up nicely with their skis. Not that cosmetics matter that much to me, but it is unbelievable to see some companies match up new boots with their new skis and have them just be the ugliest of colors that go together. Okay, back to the important things: a translucent bottom shell allow you to see right through to your Intuition liners on the inside and the size and shape of the buckles makes them very easy to manage. I particularly like the K2 Powerbuckle, which is the top “power strap/buckle combination”. It was designed to offer a larger range of motion than you get with most buckles. This makes touring more efficient yet still offers the power and stability you need to ride hard and fast with confidence. Unlike most other “sidecountry”-marketed boots these days, K2 has integrated the Dynafit toe tech fittings into their boots and therefore there is no need for two types of soles. Swapping soles is no longer an issue, simply because you don’t have to do it. I like this a lot because it will help bring the price down as you don’t need multiple soles, and it will be easier to go from a backcountry Dynafit setup to a resort-oriented alpine setup. All in all, I think K2 has a winner here and you will for sure see these on our shelves for the 2013-2014 season.
K2 Annex 108 (Dave)
After many years, K2 has decided to redesign their “sidecountry” line and has done away with the perennial favorite, the Sidestash, and replaced it with the Annex 108. There is also an Annex 98 (formerly the Hardside) and an Annex 118 (formerly the Sideseth). I was a big fan of the Sidestash so I decided to give the Annex a try. I was not disappointed. The Annex 108 skied just like the I remember the Sidestash skiing, but it has a little more rocker in the tip and more of a kick-tail for maneuverability in the rear. Skiing mostly on groomed runs, this ski held an edge great and did not waffle or bounce at high speeds. All in all, a great ski that will definitely be part of our selection next year.
Salomon Q105 (Dave)
Salomon has also updated their wildly popular and best-selling Rocker line, plus split it up a bit. Next year, expect to see
the Q-series of skis billed more as Salomon’s backcountry setup with the Rocker2 staying in the line as the frontcountry setup. The Rocker2 108 was one of our most popular skis this year, so I decided to ski the Q105, which is mimicked after the Rocker 108m but with less rocker, especially in the tail. I think this is going to be an excellent soft snow ski, as it did chatter quite a bit on the hard pack and groomed surfaces I was trying it on. While the Rocker2 really does excel in a wider variety of conditions, the lighter weight of the Q105 skis will make it a contender in the backcountry market.
Technica Cochise Pro Light 130 (Dave)
This will be one of the newest boot additions to our wall for the 13-14 season. I didn’t know much about this boot before trying it out, but was pleasantly surprised. The stiffness in ski-mode is great and really drives the ski amazingly. You are locked forward and there is very little play. The switch to walk-mode takes place with the pull of a small strap attached to a metal hook mechanism. This switch allows the shell to open up and provide a huge range of motion for walk-mode. My foot was very comfortable out of the box in this boot, but the liner is a bit thin and while this saves a lot of weight, you’re not going to pack it out much or gain extra warmth over time. I have a fairly wide foot and enjoyed the wider last of this boot, as my foot slipped in and did not feel crushed or in pain at any point. Out of the box with tech toe fittings and in compatible soles, this boot is a winner for sure.
Blizzard Scout and Kabookie (Dave)
I paired both of these skis up with the Technica Cochise Pro Light boots and wow, what a dream setup. The Scout held a fantastic edge on the groomers, carved like a champ and you can feel that it will be an awesome pow ski too. If I had to pick a one ski quiver for next season, this ski would likely be my pick. Blizzard is taking their uber popular Cochise and Bonafide alpine skis and turning them into the Scout and Kabookie for more dedicated backcountry use. Construction remains the same but some metal comes out so they’re lighter and more nimble, but wow, they still skied just like their alpine brethren. Stay on the lookout for these Blizzard skis as you will likely be pleased with what you find.
Black Diamond Verdict with the Factor MX Boot (Dave)
Black Diamond comes back to ’13-14 with an entirely redesigned ski and boot line. Starting with boots, they take their freeride options and condense them down to one men’s and one women’s style. The Men’s is the Factor MX and this boot comes in at an attractive price point (under $700) complete with both Din and Tech soles – just that right there is a great value. I have to be honest in that I hoped BD had solved some of their past boot issues, and they did in some instances yet not in others. On the plus side, the price, weight and flex are all solid and would make a good choice for anybody wanting one boot to do it all. On the downside, the pressure on the arch and forefoot remained (at least for my feet) and after a couple runs, I was in pain. Granted, these weren’t molded to me or anything, but I was hoping for less pain after a few runs.
On the ski side, the Verdict ski got a great makeover and I was psyched at how well it skied. It has been lightened up a bit, but has gone to sandwich construction and still has some metal down the middle. It performed great in almost all conditions and would be an excellent choice as a one quiver ski. We will be stocking this next year so stay tuned and come demo a pair when they come in.
K2 Annex 98 (Ryan)
The K2 98 is a traditional ski with a square tail and rocker in the tip. With a waist of 98 cm, this ski performed well on a variety of terrain. The tips are super floppy and deflected in the cut up mank, but would be awesome in soft snow. The ski has enough width and the tip has plenty of rocker to float well in powder. The turning radius is pretty tight and made all but super-sharp turns. Thankfully they performed well when making jump turns on steep, bumpy terrain. It’s not the lightest ski, but it is light enough. This would make for a great one-ski quiver.
K2 Pinnacle (Ryan)
These 3-buckle K2 boots with a flex of 110 were good in walk-mode, since they only have three buckles, but still felt pretty darn stiff. The walk-mode’s increased range of motion was much appreciated during boot packs, and so was the 3-buckle system that also provided a bit more flex while. They skied well, but they aren’t very lightweight. Unfortunately these boots didn’t fit my foot right straight out of the box, so I only took a couple laps in them, but they would be fine after a good heat-molding session.
Blizzard Scout (Ryan)
From today’s skis, I liked the Blizzard Scout skis the best. They’re a non-metal 108 waist ski, and had a different rocker profile in the tips. They had a more gradual rocker than the K2 98, and there was also a bit of rocker in the tails. The Blizzard skis were much stiffer and more stable at high speeds. They made great medium-to-large-radius turns and wicked jump turns. The Blizzard Scouts were mounted with Marker Tour bindings and made for a rather lightweight setup that were less hooky in the mank than the K2 Annex.
Marker Tour Binding (Ryan)
The Marker Tour bindings are pretty darn light for a non-tech binding. Energy transfers well from one edge to another and the lightweight construction is great for jump turns in steep bumps and crud.
K2 Ultra Split 161, Stark Boot, Kwicker Bindings (Adam)
This splitboard out-performed my expectations when it came to power transfer and edge hold on steep and crusty terrain. I can only imagine how much fun it would be in powder. It surfed really well in the few (and far between) soft pockets I found, and held a strong edge as soon as I returned to crust/chunk. The board, boots and bindings together make for an incredibly light setup. That’s what K2 was going for, as previous click-in setups were heavy and boots weren’t always comfortable. K2 also had a great idea adding vertical slots under-foot so you have a lot more flexibility in your stance width than you find with traditional, pre-drilled mounts. The Stark Boot was stiff, as it should be to make up for lacking highbacks and the lock-down you feel with binding straps, but after a few laps and some boot-packing up high they got a lot more comfortable. The soft interior lining was a nice bonus and the BOA lacing did a phenomenal job pulling my heel back and locking it into place.
It was really, really easy to get in and out of the Kwicker Bindings. Combined with the Stark Boot, I was surprised at how responsive the board was and how sharp I could turn. I’m used to more flex in my boots, so I wore the Starks a bit loose. They still did one helluva job relaying demands from my legs to the board. The Ultra Split turned on a dime and had more torsional flex that I had predicted. It’s ridiculously light, so although it didn’t have a lot of pop it required little effort to get off the ground. For splitboarders who like their boards light, stiff, responsive and dependable, the Ultra Split could be the solution they’ve been dreaming of.
Here’s a quick demo from Outdoor Retailer ’13, displaying the easy switch from tour-mode to ride-mode and back:
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