La Sportiva Vapor Nano Review
Cons: Get pushed around in chunky and poor snow, wobbly at speed
Manufacturer: La Sportiva
Our Analysis and Test Results
Hands-On Review of the Vapor Nano
Weight, as a scoring category, is the most powerful single category in our matrix. The sum of downhill scoring categories is more important than the weight and uphill performance to us, but no one category is as valued as highly as weight. In this way, the La Sportiva Vapor gets an early head start in overall ratings. Not only is the Vapor the lightest in absolute terms, but it is also quite wide. The calculated weight/surface area leads the pack, and by other accounts leads the entire industry.
Finally, further enhancing the weight score is the fact that the top sheet is essentially pure white. In sunny, soft, and dry snow conditions, the top of skis gets warmed by the sun. This warm top melts some snow. The liquid water thus formed collects dry snow which can then refreeze in place. Depending on the width of the ski and the exact temperature and snow conditions, this can add considerable mass to the ski. Light colored skis (the K2 Wayback 104 are also at least mostly light-colored) collect less snow and therefore stay closer to their manufactured mass in actual usage.
Stability at Speed
In our experience, stability at speed and in high-energy steep skiing is a function of weight, length, and stiffness/integrity of construction. Heavier, longer, and stiffer skis are more stable. The Vapor is not heavy and its rockered tips and tails make for an effectively shorter ski. The one thing it seems to have in its favor is the carbon construction. Indeed, as long as the snow is smooth or predictable, the ski seems to handle just fine with more energy. When it gets chunky, however, the Vapor gets pushed around and wobbles until the user reigns in the speed. Something like the slightly heavier Dynastar Mythic or even the K2 Wayback 96 offers greater stability. At the extreme opposite end, stability wise, is the Top Pick Dynafit Chugach. The huge and heavy Chugach charges through anything, while the Vapor Nano requires a slow dance.
Firm Snow Performance
It is a testament to La Sportiva's carbon construction that they can make such a light, wide ski survive so well in firm conditions. On a lift-served, side-country avalanche course on Vail Mountain, our lead tester skied miles of groomed and scratchy snow. The Vapor is far from a race stock carver, but it does surprisingly well. As compared to close competitor, and Top Pick winner, DPS Wailer Tour, the Vapor is far better on the firm stuff. If your powder skiing regimen occasionally requires some hard stuff, the La Sportiva will get you through. If your ski habits regularly take you to the steep and hard as their own objective, something narrower (like the Hannibal) or beefier and even narrower will serve you better than these lightweight powder harvesters.
All of our tested skis slayed the powder. It is in perfect snow that weight seems to matter the least. When it is firm or chopped up or poor snow, more mass rewards. In perfect dry powder snow, light skis' liabilities are less. We had a great time in the dry and light on the Vapor Nano.
Crud/Poor Snow Performance
Initial snap judgements of the Vapor Nano confused our anticipation of its performance right off the bat. We expect light skis to get pushed around by poor snow. We expect wide and rockered skis to do better. The La Sportiva is 103mm underfoot, with a ton of both tip and tail rocker, but it is the lightest ski we tested. In actual usage, we found the poor snow performance to sit near the bottom of the middle of the pack.
Basically, in assessing poor snow performance, we can lump skis into three categories. There are those that make bad snow fun, there are those with which we can make normal, though not fun, turns in all but the worst conditions, and there are those that require resorting to survival turns as soon as the snow gets weird. The Vapor Nano is in the middle category. We were never able to fully relax when the snow was sloppy or breakable, but we could also stay on top of them to make proper parallel turns. With snow at its worst, with tired legs, or under newer backcountry skiers, the Vapor Nano required we step back, almost literally, into survival skiing and step turns.
The Vapor Nano is one of the most specialized skis in our test. Its ultralight, mid-fat profile is perfectly suited for miles and miles of powder ski touring. If you ski Teton Pass or anywhere in British Columbia outside of the steeper zones of Rogers Pass and the Whistler Coast, you could be stoked with this powder specialist. Of course, as part of a quiver, the Nano has its place too.
This is by far the most expensive ski in our test. It is almost twice the cost of the Best Buy Fischer Hannibal. You have to really want it to be willing to pay that much.
While we had nothing other than cosmetic issues with the durability of the Vapor, that featherweight design sure makes one skeptical. On our very first touring steps, literally, the topsheet began to flake off. It never progressed beyond cosmetic, but it did suggest issues.
Backcountry skiers who can count on skiing mainly excellent, cold powder and ski lots of it on any given day, can really appreciate and employ the Vapor Nano.
Like most backcountry ski companies, La Sportiva sells climbing skins for use with its skis. In our comprehensive Climbing Skin Review we tested the skins they recommend for use with the Vapor Nano. These skins are branded by La Sportiva, manufactured by a company called Pomoca, and use K2 tip and tail connection. Regardless of the mess of corporate agreements (and it doesn't stop with skins. The Italian company La Sportiva, contracts with an American carbon ski manufacturer, Goode, to make the Vapor Nano), we found the La Sportiva skins to be excellent. While we do not always do so, with the La Sportiva skis, we recommend pairing with the La Sportiva LS Tour Skin.As for bindings and boots, these deserve the absolute lightest. Mount them with race bindings and ski them with some sort of two buckle boot from our backcountry ski boot review.
— Jediah Porter
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