I was fortunate to be able to demo some of the top all mountain skis for 2014 from Christy Sports while skiing at Snowbird Ski Resort last week. The conditions were very good as they had just received in the neighborhood of a foot of snow just prior to my arrival. During my stay, there were refills served the day immediately after the large portion of the front had passed through. Then on day three the wind had picked up and the temperature reached a high of only 21 degrees, so this combination kept the slopes with some much better than expected snow conditions. The windbuff kept reloading the mountain with some fine chalky fluff that certainly enhanced the stoke factor, as many times there is a let down after the fresh powder is gone.
First up was the 98mm underfoot Blizzard Bonafide, which have won many awards the past few years. I had skied its bigger brother last season, the 108mm underfoot Blizzard Cochise, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of how the Bonafide’s would perform. I took the tram up and skied the Cirque traverse (which is a minefield of washboard, bumps, stumps and smattering of rocks poking through the snow surface) over to the Wilbere Chutes to see how the Bonafide’s would perform in some day old powder mixed in with some snow showers during the night.
With its upturned flipcore 133mm tips, the skis effortlessly floated me through the soft snow. As I had hoped, the Bonafide’s were a slimmer and quicker turning version of the Cochise’s. So for the first run down a mostly steep and fairly narrow entry and followed by a black diamond glade, these boards were great. Turning was silky smooth and almost effortless as the tips sliced above the snow surface.
I like to make turns and I like to ski the trees and bumps, where the skis quickness for me is mandatory. So off I went to the trees off of the Gad 2 lift to hit the forest and get some visual contrast as the snow began to fall. Once again, these Blizzard’s were able to handle anything I tried. Quick turns, long runouts and over any bumps, the Bonafide’s were up to the task. Where they shined was their ability to both float and make quick turns regardless of the snow conditions, whether it be untracked powder, crud or even on the groomed. Even though they have a layer of metal, they weren’t stiff and have an even flex. I actually prefer the Bonafide’s to the wider underfoot Blizzard Cochises as I only weigh 165lbs and so the Bonafide’s float me just fine through the fluff, plus, they are quicker.
After a few more outstanding runs on the Blizzards it was time to give the Rossignol Experience 98’s a go and see how there compared to the performance that the Bonafide’s threw down. After clipping into the bindings at the top of Gad 2 and getting up to speed, I noticed that they tracked a little better across the fall-line on the piste. The Blizzard’s have a little more upturned rise on the tips and the Experiences nose had a little bit more on snow tip contact to help initiate the turn. So even though both the Rossignol’s and the Blizzard’s were both 180cm, the Rossi’s skied a few centimeters longer while on piste. Skiing through the powder, crud and anything else, there did not seem to be any differences in perceived length.
The next question that would be answered shortly is how they would perform off-piste and in the trees. It didn’t take long for me to get used to the subtle differences as the Experience 98’s were every bit up to the standards of the Blizzard’s. I knew that this was going to be a fun comparison at this point regardless of how the yet to be skied Nordica Hell & Back’s skied. Every run I took on the Bonafide’s, I followed with the Rossi’s. These two skis are definitely evenly matched, although they do have slightly different personalities.
I was anxious to see how both of these pairs of skis performed as they both have metal, and usually I only prefer metal in my music and not in my all mountain boards. Fear not, as neither of these skis had too snappy of a tail nor wanted to bounce me offline when I got a little off balance. The Blizzard’s did have a little more of an ability to slarve if you enjoy that feel, whereas, the Rossi’s were more of a traditional ski and wanted to carve.
Off-piste and in search of fresh tracks, the Rossi’s more that held their own. They proved exceptional at skiing through day old chunked up pow and also cruising through sought after freshies. Although not as much early rise as the Blizzard’s, the Rossi tips never dove and always had an ability to turn with ease no matter the conditions of the snow.
The next day, it was time for me to take out the 185cm Nordica Hell & Back’s. Could these skis actually be better than either the Bonafide’s or the Experience 98? The conditions the day after skiing the previous models were not quite the same. Even though the temperatures throughout the day were about the same as the day before, the snow set up a little different on the same mountain faces. I found this out rather quickly as I skied off of the Little Cloud lift and skiers left of the main groomer and onto the wide open off-piste. I expected similar snow as the day before, but was surprised at the much firmer conditions. This made for a bumpy first run for which I had to slow down and reset.
So the first run, with the unexpected conditions and being on a new set of skis, I was a little off. On the second run, since the on-piste had a freshly groomed layer of corduroy, I decided to test the skis edging ability. Wow! These Hell & Backs, once on edge just railed it! However beware, as some serious energy is stored in the tails of the these Nordica’s. After I got up to speed and coming out of one of my turns, I had wound up more energy than I expected and the tails snapped me into the next turn. I learned quickly that I couldn’t allow Â these skis to run on me and let them know I was the one controlling them.
After a few runs, I had figured out the Hell & Back’s personality and was able to manage their power more effectively and to my advantage. If you stay on top of the Nordica’s, they will reward you. If you let them manage the descent, then be prepared to hang on. Since I did not get to ski the Hell & Back’s in powder or fluffy crud, I cannot give an opinion on this unfortunately. However, they certainly kept pace with the Bonafide’s and the Experience 98’s on similar terrain and snow conditions.
I’ve never before participated in a ski test that was so close for three skis and I could not go wrong on any of these. So all in all these are very similar skis that performed excellent. I would be happy to ski on anyone of them given the chance as the differences were subtle and there were no dealbreakers in their personalities. If I had to make a decision on which one to buy here would be my considerations.
Most early rise of the 3 skis tested
Floated the easiest
Excellent all mountain ski
Shine when skied off piste
Rossignol Experience 98
Slight rockered tip
Tracks well on piste
Easy to ski
Nordica Hell & Back
Stiffest of the 3 skis
Railed the groomers
Excellent through firm crud
Tail can unleash some serious energy
For the Type A skier
Like to be skied hard
*Didn’t get to ski the Nordica’s in the soft powder
by Lane Lawrence
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