On the lookout for the best skis for ripping groomers, blasting through chop, and floating through powder anywhere on the mountain in 2020? Our top-notch crew of testers has hands-on experience with 63 skis from 8 years of testing. This year we've purchased the 14 most promising skis on the market and put them on the feet of experienced skiers and patrollers. These hard-charging fellas spent 100s of hours on the mountain to identify which ski carves the best, which cuts through the chunder, and which will keep you floating through the white room. We've found the specialists, and also discovered the elusive "quiver of one".
The Best All-Mountain Skis
|Price||$679.99 at Amazon|
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|$799.95 at REI|
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|$699.95 at REI|
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|$1,098.95 at Backcountry|
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|$648.99 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Fast, solid, consistent, large sweet spot||Hard charging, fun, easy to ski||Great all around ski, great pop, easy to swing||Super stable at speed, hard charging||Excellent carving ski, quick|
|Cons||Minor chatter||Slight chatter at high-end speed||Sometimes feels soft, skis short||Expensive, geared towards experts only, unforgiving||Chatter in the tips, poor powder performance|
|Bottom Line||It tears down the mountains no matter the conditions or terrain, earning it our Editor's Choice award.||Our best of the best for 2019 has all the aspects of a great mountain ski for nearly every skier type.||A super fun do it all ski that is best applied to soft snow.||A ski that likes to go fast...real fast||If carving is your game, the Enforcer is your ski.|
|Rating Categories||Volkl M5 Mantra||Black Crows Daemon||Blizzard Rustler 10||Kastle FX96 HP||Nordica Enforcer 93|
|Stability At Speed (20%)|
|Specs||Volkl M5 Mantra||Black Crows Daemon||Blizzard Rustler 10||Kastle FX96 HP||Nordica Enforcer 93|
|Intended Purpose||All Mountain||All Mountain||All Mountain/Soft Snow||All Mountain||All Mountain/Firm Snow|
|Shape||134 - 96 - 117 mm||132 - 99 - 120 mm||135.5 - 104 - 125.5 mm||133-96-119 mm||126 - 93 - 114 mm|
|Available Lengths||170,177,184,191||170, 177, 183, 188||164, 172, 180, 188||172, 180, 188||169, 177, 185, 193|
|Radius||21.2m||20m||14.5m, 16m, 17.5m, 19m||18.1m||15.5m, 16.5m, 18.5m, 20.5m|
|Rocker||Rocker/Camber/Rocker||Full rocker, reverse camber||Rocker/Camber/Rocker||Rocker/Camber/Rocker||Rocker/Camber/Rocker|
|Weight Per Pair||4252||5265||4126||3817||4464|
|Core Material||Beech, poplar||Poplar wood||Multi-layer wood||Poplar/Beech/PAULOWNIA/Carbon/Fibergalss||Beech and poplar wood|
Best Men's All-Mountain Ski
Volkl M5 Mantra
The Volkl M5 Mantra is precisely what our testers imagine when dreaming about a true "one ski quiver." It absolutely charges through crud, yet is remarkably lively in the powder. It holds an edge extremely well in all snow conditions and speeds but also releases turns easily in choppy snow. It is lightweight enough to be comfortable in the air and when navigating mogul troughs. This ski is just as at home on an East Coast groomer as it is in blower champagne powder in Utah as it is in steep chutes and big drops in the Sierra Nevada. Volkl recently brought the M5 back to its Mantra roots and reintroduced camber underfoot. Although some people enjoyed the version of the Mantra's with a unique full rocker profile, most of our testers were pleased with the pop and energy the camber delivers. The M5 also has a much larger sweet spot and is more forgiving than previous models, which makes it more accessible to a wider range of skier abilities and put it back on top our the men's all-mountain ski lineup.
This year's version is unchanged, and as a result, there is still not a whole lot to complain about. Our testers did notice some minor chatter when flying down the mountain at speed, but it wasn't enough to compromise performance or lower its rating scores. All of the positive features found in these planks more than make up for this small flaw. Because of this we have once again awarded the Mantra M5 the esteemed title of best Men's All-Mountain Ski.
Read review: Volkl M5 Mantra
Best Bang for the Buck
Head Kore 93
The Head Kore 93 is one of the few skis that we tested in the men's all-mountain Ski category that was highly rated, but does not have metal inside. The Kore is a super fun and snappy ski that handles most every snow condition easily. Because it was such a close contender with our current AND former Editors' Choice award winners and retails for a lower price, the Head Kore 93 wins our Best Buy award. Feel confident in picking this ski for your one ski quiver. It will reward you with smiles all the way down.
The Kore falls behind our other top contenders because it can't keep up in the crud that you will inevitably encounter on the mountain, more specifically, in refrozen conditions. While the Kore 93 might be a little more soft snow oriented than other skis in this category with a similar width underfoot (93mm), it is an excellent ski in most conditions.
Read review: Head Kore 93
Best Soft Snow Ski
Blizzard Rustler 10
We think the Blizzard Rustler 10 is a perfect option if you tend to find your way to the mountain when the snow is fresh. It is an incredibly close finish between the Daemon, theM5 and the Rustler, with the Rustler being a clear favorite of our testers in powder. This ski has a slight soft-snow bias, but that should not dissuade you from buying this ski no matter where you live. The Rustler is effortless in the powder and can make any turn you want, but still snappy and responsive on the hardpack. It's also super playful and loves to be hucked off of rocks, logs, and park features.
This ski suffers a bit of tip chatter when the conditions firm up but still performed at a high level when our testers pushed them through the crud. The Rustler really is a do-it-all ski that will have most skiers feeling like heroes, especially in soft snow.
Read Review: Blizzard Rustler 10
Best On-Piste Carver
Nordica Enforcer 93
The Nordica Enforcer 93 wasn't the only model to earn high marks in the carving testing category, but it was the one that stuck out to our crew of testers. It hung in there with very stiff competition and blew away others designed for on-piste superiority with much smaller waists and more traditional profiles. The early rise tip and tail make it super easy to initiate turns and release out of them. The two titanal layers sandwich a wood core, which creates the power, consistent flex, and rebound our testers raved about while riding them. Despite all that, it is still relatively forgiving, and even an intermediate skier would be able to harness its power.
It fell behind compared to the others in our review when Mother Nature delivered the white goods. We attribute that lack of float to the relatively narrow waist and relatively narrower tip and tail. This is not to say the Enforcer 93 cannot handle a powder day, BUT, if you prefer on-piste and tend to run into firmer conditions, this may be the all-mountain choice for you. This is especially true if you like to roll skis over on their edges and pull some Gs while arcing beautiful turns.
Read review: Nordica Enforcer 93
Why you should trust us
We sought out expert opinion from three primary testers who were tasked with trying out these skis day-in and day-out, and comparing each of them in as many different conditions as a drought year would allow. Our testers come from different backgrounds, have unique styles, and differ in their taste. Many other friends and colleagues provided input for each test model to temper the strong opinions of our lead testers.
Andrew Pierce, Lead Test Editor
- Age: 28 HT: 6'1" WT: 185lbs
- Occupation: Professional Ski Patroller, Heavenly, CA
During the summer months, he continues his hunt for snow in South America where he works as a ski patroller and heli-ski guide in Chile. There, he throws explosives, skis the steeps, and takes guests to some of the best terrain in the summer hemisphere. Andrew has dedicated his life to finding the best snow on earth and then skiing it.
Ryan McPartland, Collaborating Tester
- Age: 35 HT: 5'8'' WT: 185 lbs.
- Occupation: Ski Patroller, Heavenly, CA.
Ryan's favorite models in this review are the Blizzard Rustler 10 and Blizzard Bonafide. His first day on the Rustlers happened to be a two-foot powder day (where the Rustlers shine the most), but he made sure to ride them through all sorts of conditions. When the snow firmed up, he trended towards an expert level charger on-piste charger, the Bonafide. He must have some Blizzard in his DNA…
Jason Scott, Collaborating Tester
- Age: 35 HT: 5'11'' WT: 185 lbs.
- Occupation: Professional Ski Patroller, Heavenly, CA.
Analysis and Test Results
The one-ski quiver may seem like a unicorn, especially when searching through the plethora of options out there, but the top-rated products in this review can handle any conditions, performing well no matter the snow quality or terrain. The skis that score well across the board are the most versatile, and this is the most important characteristic of a true all-mountain ski. The models that are the best for a broad range of terrain and conditions are consequently our two highest scorers — the Volkl M5 Mantra and Black Crows Daemon.
Some of the models in our test fell into sub-genres. They are slightly less versatile but excel in specific conditions. There are several that are stiff, quick edge-to-edge, and carving powerhouses, like the Rossignol Experience 88 TI. Then there is the surfy soft-snow specialist, the Rossignol Soul 7 HD, and the all-business hard-charging Kastle FX96 HP.
We rated each product on its stability at speed, performance in powder snow and crud, playfulness, and even its bumps performance. Instead of rudimentary kick-the-tires sort of tests (i.e., hand flexing and fondling), we tested these models throughout a variable snow season by having a team of testers with a wide variety of skills and abilities put in as many days as possible on each pair.
If you're looking to build a one ski quiver, chances are that value is an important factor in deciding on your next pair of boards. There is plenty of bang for your buck in this ski selection. The Head Kore 93 offers excellent all-mountain performance for a middle of the road price, which earns it our Best Buy award. Of course, for a relatively small price increase, you could buy the even more versatile Volkl M5 Mantra. If price is no issue and you want the highest quality materials put into a handmade ski, the Kastle FX96 HP could be your go-to.
Stability at Speed
A ski's stability is particularly important at speed. A ski is stable when it stays on the ground, doesn't chatter too much in a turn, and remains in control. We assess stability by testing in steep terrain where edge hold is critical, by going fast where a product is challenged to hold an edge and not chatter, and by testing on firm and icy snow where vibration can sometimes shake you enough to limit your confidence.
A ski's stability is related to many factors, including its rocker/camber profile and its construction and stiffness. Stiffness is measured torsionally (think twist) and along the length of the ski, particularly in the tip and tail. Stiff models take more energy to flex and drive, but the result is better edge hold and stability at speed. Stiff models like the Kastle FX 96 HP handle speed and firm snow with ease and can punch through variable conditions. Stable models like the Volkl M5 Mantra, Rossignol Experience, and our highest scoring Kastle FX96 HP, which take some of the highest stability scores, can hold an edge at high speeds and feel damp, suppressing vibration on firm and icy slopes.
Softer models like the Rossignol Soul 7 HD and even the burlier Fischer Ranger 94 FR chatter more at speed and struggle to hold an edge on hard-packed snow. They prefer to dance through harsh, bumpy snow rather than plow through it. Some of the chatter does come from the rocker, but the soft flex and lack of a metal laminate do not help them when things get firm and steep. The Rossignol Soul 7 HD is one of our lowest scorers for this metric. They are playful and easy to use but are nothing short of spooky at speed, especially on firm snow.
Weight can also be a factor in stability. Weight is primarily determined by the materials used and the ski's dimensions. Heavy models like to stay on the ground and can be more stable at speed. Lightweight versions, like the Fischer Ranger 94 FR tend to be easier to use and more maneuverable but may dance around more. However, high weight doesn't mean stiffer, and lightweight ones aren't always soft. Testers who enjoy being light on their feet and playing with the terrain tend to prefer lightweight models. Friends that push their gear hard and shred aggressively, plowing through bumps and going fast, liked heavier, stiff models.
Resorts are well-maintained playgrounds. Groomed terrain accounts for most beginner and intermediate trails at the majority of resorts. For the expert, groomed slopes are opportunities to open it up, make big turns, and push your limits in a more controlled environment. For this metric, we scored each model based on its edge-to-edge quickness, carving ability, and edge hold. There were quite a few top contenders for the best carving ski of the bunch this year. With plenty of groomers at our ski tips this season, and were able to really lay each and every ski over on edge.
All-mountain skis that have a more traditional design, like camber underfoot and a slightly narrower waist, are usually preferred for carving and on-piste performance. The Nordica Enforcer 93, and the Rossignol Experience 88 TI all standout as skis with designs that seem to lean towards carving and groomed snow, and they do it well. But skis like the Volkl M5 Mantra and the Head Kore 93 handle a carve nearly as well, or even better, and they are much more versatile.
The Nordica Enforcer, the top carver in the test, has a rockered tip for easy turn initiation, a bit of tail rocker for easy turn release, and camber underfoot, which results in lots of pop and energy. This ability helped the Enforcer 93 earn a top pick for its on-piste abilities. Conversely, the Black Crow Daemon has a fully rockered design that looks like a smooth, gradual bend from tip to tail. Though convention suggests that a fully rockered model would not carve well, this is not the case. The Daemon carves excellent turns.
Rocker technology is found in most of the skis reviewed here and is becoming more common in general. Skeptics are critical of this rocker shortening the effective edge and resent that newer designs are skiing short. Rockered tips don't make contact with the snow unless you are railing turns, and they can appear to be and feel a bit floppy when carving (see the Rossignol Soul 7 HD or Fischer Ranger 94 FR for an examples). On the plus side, rocker profiles enable skiers to use longer models and help wider versions perform better on firm snow and groomed terrain. Overall, we believe that designs that feature some amount of rocker are more versatile for most people.
Once you wander off the groomed trails, the mountain can throw any condition your way. While testing, we encountered a generous amount of powder, but also wind-buff, bumps, corn snow, breakable crust, boilerplate, and everything in between. The variability is immense, and we're asking a lot for a ski to shine in pristine to tough conditions. Because of this, we rate each competitor on its performance in different snow conditions. We begin this by evaluating everyone's favorite: powder. We scored this based on each ski's ability to float through powder and stay on top when the snow gets deep. We looked for a surfy and floaty feel. Almost every model is fun in perfect powder because perfect powder is fun and easy to ski! There were, however, some notable differences in their performances in the soft stuff.
Among the competitors, the Blizzard Rustler 10 shows the clearest preference for soft snow. The Rossignol Soul 7 HD is not far behind. With wide waists, big shovels, and lots of rocker, they were the obvious favorites in powder conditions. The less obvious favorite was the Volkl M5. Once again, the M5 impressed in this category keeping up with the very best and providing fun and float in the fluffy.
The Elan Ripstick 96 and Dynastar Legend X96 are also impressive in fresh snow, though both may struggle on truly bottomless days. From there, the skis are a little narrower or have a bit less rocker, and they don't float as well.
Most of the models in this review are a bit on the narrow side for a powder ski, ranging from 88mm to 102mm underfoot. In general, wider waists perform better in softer snow and struggle on-piste and firm conditions. But modern designs are changing that paradigm. Rocker designs help to keep ski tips float above softer, deeper, and more variable snow conditions.
Variable snow is a challenge. Even though crud is not a desirable condition to ski, we all encounter it, and having the right tool to get you through it is key. Our crud/chop/poor snow metric highlights well-rounded models that can hold their own anywhere on the hill. We rated crud performance based on each model's ability to dance through chopped up powder and plow through variable conditions. Think refrozen choppy snow, breakable crusts, heavy slush, and any other unpleasant type of snow. We asked ourselves, do these skis like to hook up, or can they still turn smoothly in harsh conditions? Can they plow through crusts, or do they dive? Does the chatter from frozen snow reverberate through the ski to your brain?
Stiff models like the Volkl M5 Mantra punch through crud well. The M5 earned our highest score in this category and the unofficial crown as King of the Crud. It tracks well through chunder and is damp enough to keep you comfortable and confident. Rocker tips and wider waist widths provide a lot of surface area help keep you floating on top of the muck, like the design of the Black Crows Daemon or Blizzard Bonafide. The Daemon is a close second to the M5 in this test. But, in the cruddiest conditions, the Daemon can buck you around.
Conversely, softer models tend to get bounced around in uneven snow. They make you more likely to resort to survival skiing techniques instead of riding confidently over the chop.
Playful models are easy to use, responsive, adapt well to changing terrain, and are fun! Planks that are a little loose and quick-to-turn with lots of pop are a go-to choice for the all-mountain terrain park. Gullies, little airs, and bumps are playgrounds for those who are light on their feet and creative with their terrain choices.
The Blizzard Rustler 10 and the Head Kore 93 are the most playful skis we tested. Our testers loved their surfy and flexy feel. The Volkl M5 impressed as well with its playful pop into airs and forgiving flex on the landing, and the Fischer Ranger 94 FR showed an ability to be ridden switch. These skis encouraged us to keep eyes peeled for potential launch points when heading downhill. While we don't expect any of these skis to perform like a designated park ski, in order for us to truly test them, we have to take them all over the mountain, and that includes the park.
Some models, like the Blizzard Bonafide and the Like Sick Day 95, felt a little dead and less forgiving than the top performers in this category.
When commuting around the mountain to find the best snow, you'll inevitably find skied up snow that is set up into seemingly endless mogul fields. These aren't the fun zipper lines that have some rhythm to them, they're more erratic in shape and spacing. There are some sacrifices to be made for a contender to handle the bumps well. They are a bit softer, to shape themselves to the terrain with plenty of pop to bounce quickly. Pairs with consistent flex and that are quick underfoot handle this terrain best. Sizing down to shorter skis makes them more nimble in the bumps as well.
While none of the products in this test are designed specifically with moguls in mind, skis like the Volkl M5 Mantra and the Head Kore 93 handled all sizes of bumps well. Neither of these skis, despite their length, felt like too much ski to maneuver quickly in tight bumps. The Kore 93 is incredibly light, which also helps. The tip rocker and slight tail rocker in both of these skis ensure easy turn initiation and release and do not hook up when bashing bumps. The Black Crows Daemons benefit from their full rocker profile in a very similar way. .
Skis like the Rossignol Soul 7 HD are too wide and hooky. As a result, we felt worked after a lap through the bumps on them. Find something less prone to holding you hostage in the turn if you seek out bump lines.
We've all been there, looking for a new pair for the season, but unsure of where to start and not wanting to dump your life savings into buying several pairs of skis. We hope we've been able to help you decide which pair of planks to spend your dough on. For the all-mountain review, we sought out products that are wide enough to handle soft snow but have dimensions and design features that allow them to rip up the hard-packed snow as well. Rest assured that there is a pair out there for everyone, and we've made it our mission to help you find them.
— Andrew Pierce