The Best Women's All-Mountain Skis of 2017
The question stands: What is the best women's all-mountain ski? The best for a single quiver? The best for the entire mountain? We compiled 11 of the most popular all-mountain planks for women and subjected them to tough scrutiny. La Nińa dumped on the Sierra, leaving a foundation for great skiing all over the range and feet of fresh powder. We skied groomed runs, tracked-out crud, bullet-proof hardpack, spring snow, airy powder, and everything in between. We would have given each ski an award, but this isn't grade school, and someone needed to be the winner. Read on to see the skis who came out on top.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Women's All-Mountain Skis
The Volkl Aura is the most versatile, high-performance ski in our review, earning it this award three years running. It is extremely stable at speed and full rocker makes it fun in powder and bumps. It's damp and eats chop for breakfast, while feeling like a race car at speed. It performs surprisingly well on piste, despite needing to be driven more than the models that won carving points. It holds an edge extremely well and has edge-to-edge quickness despite its rocker. This model is for an expert, and it will drive if you are not ready to stay on top and ski with authority. If you are an advanced skier looking for sticks that you can go anywhere and take on anything with, consider the Volkl Aura.
Stable at speed
Great off-piste in powder and chop
Best Bang for the Buck
The Blizzard Samba is another hard-charging contender for the experienced female skier, and at a lower price than the Aura, it takes our Best Buy Award at $650. The Samba likes to dance its way through all kinds of conditions, keeping you floating through powder while remaining stable on groomers and hardpack. The Samba excels in variable conditions. For some, it will take a bit of time to figure the Samba out, but with patience you'll get in the rhythm.
Great off-piste and in soft snow
Excellent in chop
Takes some getting used to
Best Bang for the Buck
Armada Victa 93
Affordable and for the intermediate skier looking to get off the trails, the Armada Victa wins the Best Buy Award with its steadfast performance AND $500 price tag. The Victa are softer planks, but they have great carving performance, with a narrower 93mm waist, which provides edge-to-edge quickness on groomers. A fat, rockered tip plows through soft crud and floats on top of the powder. The Armada Victa can take your skiing ability to the next level at a reasonable price.
Easy to ski
Decent float in powder
Poor crud performance
Top Pick for Best Carving Performance
Head Great Joy
All of the products in this review are all-mountain, but some are more specialized and perform better than others in certain terrain. The Head Great Joy wins Top Pick Award because it is the most fun to carve on-piste. Its dramatic sidecut profile springs you in and out of 15.3-meter turns and its full sidewall construction provides great edge hold. Our testers love to carve snappy turns on this model. Although the Great Joy's stood out for carving, they can surf powder too! Their exaggerated fat tips and plump 100mm waist have great float in deep powder. Our expert testers tried these in a longer length, and we would suggest sizing up if you're on the fence in choosing a length.
Short turn radius
Fun in the powder
Can be hooky in crud and bumps
Top Pick for Best Powder and Soft Snow Performance
Rossignol Soul 7 - Women's
The first time we laid eyes on the Rossignol Soul 7, we knew it was special. Then we wiggled through powder stashes and knew we were in love. The Soul 7 wins our Top Pick Award for best powder and soft snow performance, because this is where they shine. Unique tip and tail shape and a 106mm waist floats you through coldsmoke and Sierra cement alike. They are an impressive all-around performer, neck and neck with the Aura for best all-mountain performance, but they are slightly less stable and will buck you in crud more than the Aura. That said, we love carving responsive turns on the Soul 7, and they're a great choice for the variable West Coast conditions.
Great float in powder
Tips deflect in crud
Analysis and Test Results
The One Ski Quiver
We had some exciting new additions to our lineup this year; our testers fell in love with several models and had a hard time choosing winners. If you plan to own one pair of skis, you'll want a setup that gets you down the mountain in comfort and style in all conditions. Depending on where and how you shred, it can be overwhelming to find a single setup that works for you. Our review finds your perfect plank and de-mystifies the buying process for you, speaking to skiers who wants a quiver-of-one that can travel the entire resort.
The All-Mountain Category
All-mountain models are made for just that—skiing all over the mountain. Depending on the manufacturer you reference, this category can be called "all-mountain" or "freeride." These are resort models, but they should be able to transition from groomers to off-piste. These contenders cover a huge range. In general, an all-mountain model strives to do it all: carving turns on groomers, remaining stable at speed, and floating in powder.
We give a rundown of all the different skis you could possibly choose from and the differences between them in our Buying Advice article. We also highlight important buying considerations when finding the right pair for you. If you're new to the sport or just need suggestions before you commit, then reference this article.
An all-mountain model is designed to do it all: handle well when on groomers and in firm snow, and float in powder. It is the epitome of versatility, and is the right choice for a woman who wants to own only one pair.
Criteria for Evaluation
We rated each model in this review on their stability at speed, carving performance, performance in snow types—like crud vs powder—playfulness, and bump performance. We tested the 11 models throughout multiple seasons with many days on each pair during work and play by as many different ladies as we could round up. Our top-rated products are capable of handling a wide variety of conditions, and they stand out as solid all-around performers, though we also found some pairs that excel at specific applications, like the Rossignol Soul 7's powder abilities and the Head Great Joy's bent for carving.
For the '16/'17 testing season, we added four new models. Of these, the Blizzard Samba and K2 FulLuvit 95 have updated technology. All of the models from last season have updated paint jobs, but are the same as the previous year.
The rating table here shows the cumulative scores of each ski in this year's lineup. Read on for details about each individual metric.
Stability at Speed
We want our skis to inspire confidence when flying down the mountain instead of making us pray for our lives. We want to be able to lay into them, knowing they won't wash out or chatter at high speeds. So we evaluated how each pair performs at speed. Does the contender provide a smooth ride, or are the tips floppy? Can they hold an edge when railing fast, hard turns, or do they slide out? Are they damp and controllable, absorbing bumps, or do they throw us around? The Volkl Aura is the most stable competitor in the test, followed by the Head Great Joy. We also enjoyed the Dynastar Cham 2.0 97 on firm surfaces and high speeds.
Many manufactures have updated their technology, adding carbon for stiffness. The FulLuvit's, Samba's and the Atomic Vantage 95 C are examples of this. Some pairs are built to perform in this category, like the Volkl Aura, but some, because they are meant to be lightweight, female-specific models, are soft and feel unstable at speed, like the Fisher Ranger W98. These prefer to floppily smear their way down the mountain. We found the Armada Victa to be disconcerting at speed and didn't like riding them on the hard pack in steep terrain.
Many of the off-piste models have rockered tips and have the appearance of being unstable at speeds, but many, like the Atomic Vantage and Great Joy's have enough sidewall underfoot that despite flopping tips, you still have stability and edge underfoot. Stability is the one redeeming quality in our new addition this year, the DPS Nina 99 Foundation which is otherwise unremarkable in every category. This metric is closely related to edge-hold, which we talk about in the carving metric below.
How turny is each contender? Do they like to turn when asked? What is the turn radius? Models that have a smaller turn radius are usually better at carving, such as the Head Great Joy. If you prefer to spend most of your time shredding corduroy, you'll want a product that scored high in this department.
The "Carving" criteria also looks at edge hold. Do you trust it to hold its edge when you're carving turns? If you turn at speed, will your planks hold on through the turn, or will they chatter or slide out? The Volkl Aura has great stability and edge hold in the turns, especially at speed, and the Dynastar Cham 97 - Women's also impressed in this department. Both the Head Great Joy and the Dynastar Cham love tight turns, propelling you out on the other side while providing a smooth, snappy transition to the next turn.
These transitions are a result of the sidecut. Hourglass-shaped models are appealing to folks who are into that sort of thing. The Head Great Joy have the most dramatic sidecut in this review. They have a big shovel width of 142, a waist of 98, and tail width of 125; this dramatic sidecut makes for a snappy, carvy turn. The Blizzard Samba and the DPS Nina 99 have the least amount of sidecut, with dimensions of 131-98-116 and 123-99-122, respectively.
Edge-to-edge quickness also factors into the carving metric. The planks will either turn as soon as you roll them on edge or they will take their time while turning. Some competitors are more sluggish. The Head Great Joy is fun and snappy with a small turn radius, and is very quick to transfer from edge to edge. The Head pair was the favorite of one of our testers for its notable on-piste performance. We were also surprised with the upgrade to the KS FulLuvit's; their turn radius has been tightened up to 14M, and they are quicker edge-to-edge as a result. They are also extremely responsive when you need them to turn. We found the DPS Nina 99 to be sluggish and unresponsive.
In powder, most of the models in this review will make you feel like a superhero. These boards keep you on top of the snow and make skiing feel effortless. Models with wider tips and waists help you stay on top, and others, particularly the skinnier models in this test, are more work in powder.
The Rossignol Soul 7 and the Dynastar Cham 97 - Women's make powder feel amazing, whereas the DPS Nina 99's tips tend to dive under the snow, making the powder more work. These are not powder-specific models; once the snow gets deep, some just couldn't hang. We took the Atomic Vantage up to Canada to surf cold smoke, and once the powder got above the knees, the Vantage wanted to dive down.
We noticed that different tip shapes made a difference in float. Tips that are more tapered, with the widest part set back, have better glide in powder, like the Nordica Santa Ana, which has great powder performance because of its fat waist and rockered tips. We were surprised with the Armada Victa's deep performance. They have a 93mm waist but hold their own in up to a foot of powder because of their fat, rockered tips. Other models with tapered tips in this review were the K2 FulLUVit, the Fisher Ranger, and the Dynastar Cham.
Good performance in powder and soft snow often has to do with waist width (wider = more float) and the amount of rocker. With a more turned-up tip, the product can float without added width underfoot. Rockered designs pull the contact points further toward the center, shortening the effective edge length. All of the models in this review have some rocker, and many feature a combination of camber underfoot (the arching shape resting flat on the snow), early-rise tips (rocker tip), or rockered tails. The Fischer Ranger 98 seems to have the most rocker of all the models in this review and many of our testers described this pair as buttery in powder. The Volkl Aura is the only product in this review with "full rocker," meaning it is virtually flat underfoot with no camber.
At OGL, we use this term as an all-encompassing category for variable snow (excluding powder) on ungroomed trails. The day after a powder day usually results in crud. Will your trusty friends plow through the irregular snow, whether it's slushy or frozen? At the end of the day, when even the groomers are trashed, does it still feel like you're carving? The Nordica Santa Ana and the Blizzard Samba both handle the chop with ease, absorbing any crud that came their way.
Some days the snow is frozen solid in the morning and slushy by mid-afternoon. Other days you will find breakable crust in one spot and chalky fun powder elsewhere. Can your planks handle it all? The Fischer Ranger 98 let us down in this terrain; instead of absorbing the crud, they just threw us around, resulting in embarrassing face plants. How does each model transition from one type of snow to the next? The stiff and weighty Volkl Aura handles variable conditions with grace, plowing through it without batting an eye.
The Armada Victa's tended to buck in the crud, throwing us in the backseat, but the Head Great Joy sucked up the crud and excelled in any off-piste conditions, from tracked-up powder to frozen chunks and wind buff.
The playfulness metric is an evaluation of how fun the product is to use. It can be subjective from tester to tester. Playfulness is pretty simple—do you have fun on this model? Are you excited to take them out and goof around on the mountain, ride switch, and jump off things?
Are they easy to use? Are they snappy and "turny"? Generally, the park-inclined models in this review came out on top, with twin tips and softer flex adding a playful feel; models like the Armada Victa were fun to butter and smear on.
The Head Great Joy is playful in a different way; they are carvy and responsive—fun to play with on groomers. We loved to ride all conditions on the Dynastar Cham and found them very playful as well — they have a quick, short turn radius and great float in the powder — a winning combination! The Rossignol Soul 7 were playful in soft snow; their tapered tail shape allowed us to wiggle down runs, giggling while doing it.
Some love them, some hate them, but they are a fact of life at the resort. Even if you set out to avoid them, most days you'll find yourself at the top of a pitch of moguls. None of these all-mountain models are meant to cruise bumps, but some performed better than others. Models with tighter turn radiuses, like the K2 FulLuvit, are better when it comes to tight, firm, evenly spaced moguls.
If there are bumps forming in new snow, you may want planks that have better crud-busting abilities, like the Blizzard Samba. We enjoyed ourselves in steep, small-ish bumps on the Armada Victa but wouldn't take them into anything firm or icy. If you want to spend more than 5% of your time in the bumps, we recommend looking into more on-piste-specific models.
A Note About Versatility
Versatility is not a specific metric, but a contender that scores well across the board is versatile, given our scoring metric. A good all-mountain model should be well-rounded, and so our highest-rated models will be the most versatile. The most versatile competitors in this review were the Volkl Aura, because it is fun at speed on groomed runs, plows through off-piste crud, and floats on powder; and the Rossignol Soul 7 because of its great carving ability, playfulness, and powder performance.
The Blizzard Samba scored just around average for our evaluation criteria, making it an all-around versatile performer. The least versatile models were ones that specialized in one thing or another, like the Fischer Ranger 98 - Women's that is tons of fun in fresh powder but failed to impress at most everything else and the DPS Nina's that were somewhat lifeless and hard to control in all conditions. We believe that an all-mountain pair should be versatile by design. All of our test models are somewhat versatile, but some handled a variety of terrain better than others.
Who We Are
OutdoorGearLab gathered a team of industry pros and professional snow bums to put our all-mountain models through the wringer. These ladies ski for a living, or live to ski, and each woman skied many days on each model. With different styles and preferences, they liked different things about each product.
Jessica Haist, Lead Test Editor
Jessica had a hard time choosing her favorite model in the review, and fell somewhere in the middle of Renee's diverse preferences. She likes big lines off-piste, but also loves cruising groomers and making snappy turns. She really likes the Nordica Santa Ana for its nimbleness and powder float but also had fun on the Rossignol Soul 7s for deep days. If she had to choose only one, she would go with the Volkl Aura; she loves these versatile, stable, expert sticks.
Renee Lemmer McCormack, Collaborating Tester
Renee is 5'10'' and 140lbs, so she's not a tiny creature. This has affected some of her ratings; many models seem a bit short and would have potentially rated higher if tested in a longer length. She generally prefers a stronger, stiffer model with decent sidecut. Renee believes that making turns is the best part of skiing; if you want to go straight then get yourself a sled! She enjoys skiing Mammoth's steeps as well as bumps and tree-skiing, but believes that an all-mountain pair should be capable in all-conditions, including on-piste groomers where we all end up spending portions of our day. Therefore, the Dynastar Cham was her favorite, with the Head Great Joy coming in a close second, since they perform so well all over the mountain. She loves that they both have enough shape to carve a groomer like a Thanksgiving turkey, while their width and insanely fat shovels allow them to float in the fresh.
Glossary of Terms
Like the Inuit people of the north, skiers have a plethora of words to describe snow. We also use colloquialisms to describe other elements of the sport, including style and technique. Below we attempt to disseminate this mystifying nomenclature.
Piste: Originally a French term that has been adopted worldwide to describe a marked trail with an artificially prepared surface of packed snow. Off-piste is any route on the mountain that is not on-piste and can consist of all types of snow (see snow terms below).
Chop/Crud: Any type of snow that has been chopped up or pushed around. This typically occurs after a powder day but could be on a spring day when the groomers have been skied out. Crud usually is heavier, more dense, and warmer than chop, but some might use the same terminology interchangeably. Chop is still fun, but requires a lot of work and often wears people out.
Cold Smoke/Blower: Residents of Utah and Interior British Columbia are familiar with this type of powder snow, although it occurs anywhere there is a cold snowstorm. This is the holy grail of powder: light and fluffy. Extremely easy to ski and sometimes described as bottomless, you may see snorkels in use on a coldsmoke day.
Bullet-Proof/Hardpack: These conditions are often a result of melt/freeze situations, or low snow years, and sometimes can be avoided by going out in the afternoons when things have warmed up. Bullet-proof can mean extremely hard, icy conditions where you really hope your edges have been sharpened recently. Hardpack may be slightly softer than bullet-proof, and has typically been skied or side-slipped.
Slush/Elephant Snot: You can find slush on warm days in the spring, especially at lower elevations. Slush can be fun because you can smear on it. Elephant snot is a step down from slush—the kind of snow you find transitioning from shade to sun.
Chalky: Imagine skiing on a huge block of compacted chalk. You can find chalky snow in shaded, off-piste areas and it is almost always firm but edgeable and fun.
Wind Buff: A phenomenon oft-experienced at Mammoth Mountain, which can make for surprise almost-powder days. When there are high winds and snow available for transport, it will deposit in pockets around the mountain. If you are lucky enough to find one of these deposits, it is a lot of fun. Locals covet the wind buff and usually will not share its location.
Death Cookies: When there has been a lot of melt freeze going on, death cookies, or large chunks of ice, will form. Sometimes these are also created by a groomer plowing over something icy. You will know you have hit a patch of death cookies when it feels like you are skiing over rocks.
Chatter: Think about when you're cold and your teeth start to chatter. This is the same sensation as when you are trying to rail a turn and your boards acts like your teeth, chattering under your feet. This usually means you're asking the ski to do something it does not want to do.
Schralp: Shralp is a verb and means to "rip," "shred," or "tear" something up, like the slopes. We use this to describe the mountain after it has been skied out on a powder day: "Man, the mountain is totally schralped." You can also schralp a sick line.
Schnoodle: Although Urban Dictionary says otherwise, to schnoodle, or schnoodling, is a verb meaning to turn like you are from the '80s or are on a monoboard. This entails keeping your knees close together while wiggling your bum. A onesie is the preferred outfit to schnoodle in.
Steeze: We have covered this term before in our Women's Ski Jacket Review, but it deserves mention here. When you perform a trick in the park with style and ease, it is "steezy." It can also be used in reference to stylish clothing.
— Jessica Haist and Renee McCormack
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