The famous Volkl strength is prevalent in this ski, and its penchant for steady high-speed ripping earned it our Top Pick for Stability. The Volkl Secret 96 is very reliable at top speeds in any groomed and most steep terrain. It has the most dependable edge-hold of our test group, and won’t let go of its arc in a carved turn on any terrain. Despite the manufacturer’s efforts to graduate the stiffness as ski length increases, the Secret 96 is still quite burly at any size. Lighter, less powerful women may not be able to bend it with ease, and it isn’t the most agile or playful in our test. But it's a solid ski for those who love to ski fast.Editor’s Note: We updated this Volkl Secret 96 review on March 6, 2022, to include background information about our testing process, an honest appraisal of value, and recommendations for other skis that may better fit your specific needs and budget.
Volkl Secret 96 Review
Cons: Too burly for lighter gals, not nimble
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|Pros||Superbly stable at high speeds, great edge hold||Crud blaster, dependable, great one-ski quiver option, good for every ability level||Awesome powder tool, fabulous fun factor even for light skiers, affordable price||Great stability at high speeds, good on hard snow and crud, more affordable than others||Quick edge to edge, strong carving ski|
|Cons||Too burly for lighter gals, not nimble||No wow-factor, not a lot of rebound||Gets bouncy in crud, slight tip flap, doesn’t carve perfectly||Only for shallower pow days, needs strong skier to guide them||Need to be engaged to ski it well, not much excitement, sinks in deeper snow|
|Bottom Line||A good choice for hard-charging speed demons that still performs decently off-piste||A great all-rounder ski that we think is the most versatile option for a one-ski quiver||A fun and responsive toy for powder days, groomer antics, and bumps, with a value-oriented price tag||This model will do great in everything but the deepest powder and is ideal for an aggressive skier||Though not especially playful in deep powder, this ski is our top choice for carving with its skinny waist and quickness edge to edge|
|Rating Categories||Volkl Secret 96||Nordica Santa Ana 98||Elan Ripstick 94 W||Faction Dictator 2.0X||Blizzard Black Pear...|
|Stability at Speed (20%)|
|Carving Ability (20%)|
|Powder Performance (20%)|
|Crud Performance (20%)|
|Terrain Playfulness (15%)|
|Specs||Volkl Secret 96||Nordica Santa Ana 98||Elan Ripstick 94 W||Faction Dictator 2.0X||Blizzard Black Pear...|
|Waist Width||96 mm||98 mm||94 mm||96 mm||88 mm|
|Available Lengths (cm)||149, 156, 163, 170||151, 158, 165, 172, 179||154, 162, 170, 178||155, 163, 171, 175, 179, 183, 187||147, 153, 159, 165, 171, 177|
|Length Tested||170 cm||172 cm||178 cm||171 cm||171 cm|
|Turn Radius||16 m||16.3 m||18 m||18 m||15 m|
|Camber Profile||Rocker tip and tail, camber underfoot||Rocker tip and tail, camber underfoot||Rocker tip and tail, cambered inside edge, Amphibio tech||Rocker tip and tail, camber underfoot||Rocker tip and tail, camber underfoot|
|Weight Per Pair||8.5 lbs||8.1 lbs||7.4 lbs||7.9 lbs||8.0 lbs|
|Construction Type||Full sidewall||Energy Ti W||SST sidewall||Sandwich||Sandwich compound sidewall|
|Core Material||Beech and poplar||Performance Wood & Metal||Tubelite wood||Paulownia & Poplar||True Blend Woodcore|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Volkl Secret 96 is a solid ski for a strong skier, but it might be a little much to handle for less experienced ladies. We were disappointed that this ski didn't quite compare to the discontinued Secret 92, one of our favorite skis of all time for its agile nature, reliable strength, and all-around versatility. This new iteration is a bit of a one-trick pony compared to its predecessor.
Stability at Speed
Speed is where the Secret 96 shines, finding its comfort zone in the fast lane. When we wanted to go fast, on groomers or otherwise, we reached for this ski. The Secret 96 is dependable across the entire ski length, even at the highest speeds, and easily earns our award for stability.
We experienced little to no edge chatter on hard-packed snow or early morning ice, and when we cruised downhill at top speed, we were thrilled not to experience the tip chatter so prevalent in many all-mountain skis.
Volkl has integrated new technology into this ski called "Tailored Titanal Frame." They have adjusted the amount of titanal material for each ski length, making the longer ones stiffer and the shorter ones softer. As a result, at the longest available length of 170 centimeters, the Secret 96 is heavier than many other skis we tested.
Since we only tested the skis in one length, we cannot comment on whether this tactic is effective or not. However, our smaller testers did feel that the 170-centimeter length (which was still an appropriate length for them) was also a little too beefy to bend easily. Our larger testers felt they could bend the ski but that it lacked much rebound or agility. However, testers of all sizes and abilities enjoyed the dependability of this freight train when the goal was speed and stability.
As already noted, the Secret 96's ability to hold an edge on any type of snow impressed us and made us feel extremely confident rolling onto an edge and carving a turn. The steeps' edge hold was excellent at slower speeds and made us feel confident that we would stick every turn.
Volkl's "3D radius" technology can only be truly understood by the most deeply geeky of ski engineers. Still, they claim that the tip and tail of the ski have a longer radius than the center, allowing for easier turn entries and exits. We weren't sure what to make of this assertion, but we certainly didn't find it very apparent in the ski's behavior.
The advertised 16-meter turn radius of the Secret 96 seemed a tighter exaggeration than we all felt. If we were made to blind test this ski, we guessed it had a turning radius more like 18 meters, based on how it sometimes refused to release an edge.
Our testing determined that the Secret 96 does indeed have a 16-meter radius, but the way it held an edge meant that it was easier to cut a long carve than a short, quick turn. Because we felt comfortable going fast on them, we could get them to bend and arc at those higher speeds. Although this ski carved well, we did not feel a ton of rebound or responsiveness from them.
The Secret 96 has a very wide shovel at the tip, plowing a pathway for the rest of the ski through deep conditions. However, these same fat shovels tend to clank together when skiing in powder with a slightly narrower stance. We found this to be more annoying and distracting than actually detrimental, though.
This ski works fine when the snow is lightly stacking up, but it's no secret that a ski that is 96-millimeters underfoot isn't going to float as well as fatter, surfier skis. With this stiff ski, a less advanced skier may find it more difficult to navigate powder.
Overall, the Secret's 96-millimeter waist and large rockered tip keep it floating on medium-depth days. However, if it were to get truly deep and light, it might be difficult to bend the ski against that type of soft snow. We can see how this ski's stiff construction could impair your skiing on powder days.
Even though this ski performs decently off-piste, it became obvious as soon as we got into the powder that this ski should be carving up groomers. Especially for some of our lighter testers, the Secret 96 wasn't a playful pair of powder planks.
The Volkl stiffness propels this ski through most chunky terrain, but it doesn't seem to slice through with the same nonchalance as the old Secret 92. However, it remains capable, and we found ourselves reaching for this ski in the days after a storm.
The wide shovel tends to get bounced around slightly, occasionally putting us off balance. Luckily, a little tip deflection on this powerful ski is a bit like a bullet train hitting a pebble on the tracks: there's not much consequence.
Playfulness is another metric in which this ski did not compete well with its predecessor, as we found ourselves missing the Secret 92's agility. The Secret 96 did not give us a fun pop of rebound at the end of the turn, nor did it feel particularly sprightly or quick.
It is fine enough to get airborne, but the best part of a drop on this ski is getting back to the ground where it belongs and cruising away at top speed. There is an element of joy in the confidence this ski inspires, but we wouldn't call it traditionally playful.
The Secret 96 is not the ideal tool for mogul skiing. It doesn't bend easily between bumps, doesn't feel quick enough to maneuver in tight spaces, and generally feels large and cumbersome in this environment.
Skiing moguls is easily the greatest weak spot of this otherwise versatile ski. A heavier weight, wide shovel, and full-sidewall make the Secret 96 anything but nimble in the bumps.
Should You Buy the Secret 96?
For anyone who wants to blast down the slopes at top speed on a reliable piece of German engineering, then the Volkl Secret 96 is a sure thing. It is a well-made, reliable ski that excels at going fast and holding on tight. The Secret 96 is a high-quality ski that provides a decent ride in most terrain but isn't as versatile as other skis we tested, which might make its price tag difficult to face for some looking for more of a true all-mountain ski.
What Other Women's All-Mountain Skis Should You Consider?
At this point, it should be plain that the Volkl Secret 96 is best suited to frontside carving. If your happy place is in the moguls, the Icelantic Riveter 95 is our top choice. If you like skiing bumps, but you like skiing powder more, then the Elan Ripstick 94 W is a playful pair of skis that excel in both realms. Even though we loved the Secret 96 for its stability and carving ability, the Blizzard Black Pearl 88 is our favorite ski to take out on early morning groomers.
— Renee McCormack
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