After testing 55 pairs of the best all-mountain for women over many years, we narrowed our current shortlist to 15 models to purchase for head-to-head testing. Searching for the very best women's all-mountain skis can be an overwhelming endeavor, but we've taken the grunt work out of it for you. We purchased them all and over multiple seasons of testing, we've skied first-thing-in-the-morning rock hard ice, soft-as-satin powder, perfect groomers, chopped up afternoon chunks, and everything in between. If you're wondering which skis we deemed the best overall, which are the best for your favorite type of terrain and snow, and which are the most versatile, then keep reading to find out.Related: Best All-Mountain Skis
Best All-Mountain Skis for Women
|Price||$509.96 at Amazon||$699.95 at Backcountry|
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|$679.20 at Amazon|
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|$599.95 at REI|
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|$699.00 at Amazon|
|Pros||Great float in powder, playful, decent stability||Incredibly versatile, easy to ski, fun and quick, only 92mm makes it nimble||Unparalleled stability at speed, crud-buster, lends you strength||A blast to ski, easy to turn, relatively stable, fantastic in powder||Great stability at high speeds, good on hard snow and crud, affordable|
|Cons||More expensive, slightly lumbering in bumps||Not the perfect powder partner||Very pricey, prefers faster straighter lines||Not perfect carvers, some deflection in crud||Only for shallower pow days, needs strong skier to guide them|
|Bottom Line||A great choice for a West Coast woman who loves getting out in the soft snow||The cat's out of the bag on the new Secret from Volkl - it's versatile performance makes it our favorite overall ski||If you're looking to blast all over the mountain at top speed with full support under your feet, the extra money is worth it||An absolute ripper ski, but you don't have to yet be a ripping chick to fully enjoy them||A high-quality, affordable ski for all snow conditions, including up to 6 inches of fresh powder, but it takes a strong skier to bend and maneuver them|
|Rating Categories||Rossignol Soul 7 HD W||Volkl Secret 92||Kastle FX95 HP||Elan Ripstick 94 W||Dictator 2.0X|
|Stability At Speed (20%)|
|Specs||Rossignol Soul 7...||Volkl Secret 92||Kastle FX95 HP||Elan Ripstick 94 W||Dictator 2.0X|
|Waist Width (mm)||106||92||95||95||96|
|Available Lengths (cm)||156, 164, 172, 180||149, 156, 163, 170||173, 181, 189||156, 163, 170, 177||155, 163, 171, 175, 179, 183, 187|
|Rocker||Tip and tail, camber underfoot||Tip and tail, camber underfoot||Tip and tail, camber underfoot||Tip and tail, cambered inside edge||Tip and tail, camber underfoot|
|Weight Per Pair (lbs)||7.7||8.2||9.6||6.7||7.9|
|Construction Type||Sandwich||Full sidewall||Sandwich||SST sidewall||Sandwich|
|Core Material||Paulownia wood||Multilayer woodcore, poplar/beech||Silver fir, beech, titanal, fiberglass||Tubelite wood||Paulownia & Poplar|
|Tested Length (cm)||172||170||173||170||171|
|Intended Purpose||All mountain powder||All mountain||All mountain stability||All mountain play||All mountain stability|
|Ability Level||All levels||All levels||All levels||All levels||Advanced/Expert|
Best Overall Women's All-Mountain Skis
Volkl Secret 92
We admit some early prejudgments against the Volkl Secret, and now we're sorry. It was only because the name kept conjuring up uncomfortable images of old deodorant commercials. Once we actually skied it, however, we immediately fell in love. What's in a name? This ski gave us incredible stability in all environments and at all speeds, cruised through rough-and-tumble crud conditions, and felt agile and mobile beneath us. After mobbing through the trees on a powder day, our lead tester decided that these Volkls were a little dangerous - since she felt completely invincible on them, she probably wasn't making the safest decisions.
With a sleeker 92mm waist, this ski is fast and graceful, but it does not have quite the powder flotation often offered by a wider waist and larger rockered tips. If you're planning on skiing more powder than anything else (lucky you), something fatter might be preferable. The Secret still manages to provide a solid ride in the fresh snow, though, and we loved how the skis always found their way back to the surface eventually. The Volkl Secret is a very versatile ski that you can rely on to give you an exhilarating ride through any type of terrain.
Read review: Volkl Secret 92
Best Overall for Powder
Rossignol Soul 7 HD W
The redesigned Rossignol Soul 7 HD W, with her fancy Air Tip technology and new Carbon Alloy Matrix, blew us out of the frozen water. The Soul 7 grew up and became tougher and more spirited at the same time and has earned her place as the alpha female of this pack of skis. We had a feeling this ski would shine in deep, fresh snow, as it had previously won our top award for powder skiing. However, it was in both choppy snow and groomed snow where the upgrades really stood out. The Soul 7 battles her way through cruddy conditions and then runs straight back on-piste with the stability of a mack truck. Incredible rebound and awesome edge hold are just bonus points for this fantastic ski.
The Soul 7 did sell its soul just a little in the effort to provide exemplary powder performance — it had to take on quite a wide waist, which puts it only barely within the all-mountain ski spectrum. The effect is a longer transition between sets of edges. If this would be your first time skiing anything wider than 90mm underfoot, we would recommend getting some demos at a local ski shop for a day before committing to the purchase. The slightly wider stance required to handle the fatter skis takes some acclimatization. We believe this small inconvenience is worth the huge benefits this excellent ski offers in all conditions. If you want a ski that will take you anywhere and show you a great time doing it, the Soul 7 is your girl.
Read review: Rossignol Soul 7 HD W
Great Value for Beginner Skiers
Icelantic Skis Oracle 88
The Icelantic Oracle 88 is an easy-to-ski affordable option suitable for a wide range of skiers. However, we found it to be perfect for upper-intermediate women who are interested in starting to move off groomed runs and begin exploring off-piste. The sensible width underfoot, combined with softness and dampness along the length, makes for a rewarding experience on the groomers, in the bumps, and in moderate crud. We were pleasantly surprised with its decent performance in moderate powder (half a foot or less), despite not having a traditional powder-ski profile.
In deeper powder, though, this ski lacks the width and large rockered tips to keep afloat. And it isn't as stiff and stable as more advanced options, so ladies that never slow down should look elsewhere. Its laid back, easy to operate nature and versatility is what makes the Oracle 88 shine.
Read review: Icelantic Oracle 88
Great Value for Advanced Skiers
Faction Dictator 2.0X - Women's
The Faction Dictator 2.0X is an ideal ski for the value-seeking ripper-chick. It loves to roll around at high speeds, providing outstanding edge-hold and stability, and carves a clean arc with the best of the skis in our test. When in choppy snow and difficult conditions, the Dictator mounts a military coup, razing down everything in its path. Faction is offering a powerful ski for an affordable price.
The Dictator definitely needs a highly competent skier to drive it precisely. This is not a great choice for beginner to intermediate skiers who are still gaining confidence; these skis are bossy, and they need to be told who is actually the boss, rather than being allowed to rule with impunity. This ski is also lacking the exceptional flotation in powder that some skis in our review boast. However, if you are a highly skilled and assertive skier who wants a dependable ski for a good price, look no further than the Faction Dictator.
Read review: Faction Dictator 2.0X
Best for Playfulness
Elan Ripstick 94 W
After seeing the resort bespattered with the wild hues of the Elan Ripstick 94, we knew there must be more to it than just the crazy colors. As it turns out, this boldly tinted set of sticks DOES rip, and does so in just about every type of snow. We absolutely fell in love with the animated, vivacious nature of the Rip Stick — everywhere we took it, it either floated or flew from one turn to the next. The Amphibio technology creates a buttery grace in the pow, trees, and wind buff, while still providing stability and edge control when back in firmer conditions. The Ripstick soars like a dream in the soft stuff. But you can find it all over the mountain, zooming from one powerfully recoiled turn to another.
The one area that the Ripstick does not excel in is carving tracks with both skis. The outside ski rails, but the inside edge tends to skid out. The outside edge keeps you stable, but for ladies who love to lay down two clean lines, this ski isn't ideal. If you can get past that, every other move you make on these skis will be fun, fun, FUN.
Read review: Elan Ripstick 94 W
Best for Stability
Kastle FX95 HP
Skiing on something as pricey as the Kastle FX95 HP felt very different and very exciting from the very first turn, and not just because we were terrified of ruining our expensive new toys on early-season rocks. We suddenly felt stability and clarity of purpose we'd never before experienced on all-mountain skis. There is simply nothing we've ever skied (with this versatile width underfoot) that provides the certainty and dampness of the Kastle, particularly at speed. This ski does not chatter or slide out even when pushed to the limits. And while the Kastle certainly enjoys having a full-throttle driver, and it cuts a path through the crud like Valyrian steel, it is also just as stable and secure for the skier who doesn't leave the groomers or run gates.
All that stability keeps the FX95 HP from feeling especially light and lively, and it's tricky to turn quick enough to snake through tight trees. The Kastle is also in a price bracket well above the rest, but the engineering is second to none. You will feel the difference instantly. If you're interested in extreme quality and versatility, this ski will not disappoint.
Read Review: Kastle FX95 HP
Best for Carving
Blizzard Black Pearl 88 - Women's
The Blizzard Black Pearl 88 earns recognition for its carving performance, since its stability underfoot and narrower waist help it cut deep tracks in the snow when tipped on edge. Our testers really enjoyed being able to seamlessly transition from one set of edges to the other; the 88mm waist makes this movement feel both quick and precise. We were also pleased with its performance in chopped-up conditions after a storm, or at the end of the day on the groomers. The Black Pearl's rigidity allows it to slice through crud and variable terrain. We would recommend this ski to ladies who most prefer front-side skiing, who already know how to carve deep trenches, and who can appreciate the quickness of a skinnier ski.
However, if you are already a true all-mountain skier, and you're looking for a one-ski quiver, the Black Pearl 88 lacks in versatility across the board. It does not remain on top of more than 6 inches of powder; the skier must muscle their way through a turn from within the snow. It also lacks some pizzazz in most conditions. We found it didn't have a lot of rebound unless we were really bending the ski at high speeds, and it doesn't feel very sprightly on rock drops or in the park. We also noticed that if we didn't stay right on top of the ski, accidentally got back, or felt tired, it lost some of its stability. Despite those downsides, if you are a hard-charging front-side ripper, this ski could make a dependable partner, especially for those early morning groomer carving sessions.
Read Review: Blizzard Black Pearl 88
Why You Should Trust Us
Our two Mammoth Lakes-based expert testers both come from a long history of both ski instruction and personal passion for the sport. Renee McCormack has been skiing since she was a tot and teaching others for the past twelve years at both Vail and Mammoth Mountain. She is a Level 3 fully certified PSIA instructor with many years of experience teaching all ranges of students — from first-timers to professionals. Renee has great insider knowledge as to which skis will work well for different types of skier. She's spent years advising her own diverse clients on their personal ski purchases.
You are unlikely to ski a day at Mammoth without seeing Holly Moseley's pink helmet bobbing around on the gnarliest terrain. A ski instructor for a time, she missed getting out there herself every day and now works nights so she can ski - constantly. Holly is committed and impassioned, has the instructor background to be able to describe sensations and understand ski construction, and is out there testing our skis in all types of conditions. Every. Single. Day.
Often Renee will put her own students on the skis she's testing for GearLab to get a wide variety of feedback; Renee and Holly also offer the skis to fellow instructors, coaches, and skier friends to take their thoughts into account. Every season, we host at least one ski-a-thon, where we get as many people as possible skiing the test skis back-to-back on the same terrain, in the same snow conditions, so that we can perform more precise side-by-side comparisons. We think the most important reason you should listen to these ladies' opinions is that it would be hard to find more fervent skiers anywhere. Both Renee and Holly spend nearly every day from November through May on the hill, whether teaching or playing for themselves. They would get a kick out of skiing even on unwaxed 2x4s with leather straps, but they really love skiing on the finest engineered skis money can buy — and they know the difference because they've skied them all and everything in between, every day, in all conditions, throughout the seasons. Take their word for it.
Analysis and Test Results
We rated each women's all-mountain ski in this review on their stability at speed, carving performance, performance in crud vs. powder, playfulness, and bump performance. We had a team of ladies (and a few guys) test these models during multiple seasons with tons of days on each pair for work and play.
The top-rated all-mountain skis are all capable of handling a wide variety of conditions, and they all emerged as high-performers within the women's all-mountain ski realm, where versatility is crucial. In addition, though, we also noticed a few pairs that excel at specific applications.
Due to the "jack of all trades" nature of all-mountain skis, they are already a cost-conscious skier's ideal purchase. We know everyone is looking to stretch their dollars where they can, so we compared MSRP prices and total scores for each model in order to lock down the best value-for-money purchases. The Icelantic Skis Oracle 88 and the Elan Ripstick 94 W are both well seated high-value choices. The Icelantic is a decently versatile option particularly suited for upper-intermediate or advanced skiers, and the Elan is a wildly playful ski. Interestingly enough, one of our absolute favorite skis overall, the Rossingol Soul 7, is actually very affordable itself nowadays. Even the new Volkl Secret isn't too expensive and really packs a lot of power into a reasonable price bracket.
At the top shelf of ski products, the Kastle FX95 HP is double the price of some lower-range options. While a hefty price tag does not make a ski inherently better, the Kastle is a beautiful piece of ski engineering that proves on its first turn that it is in a class of its own. The Kastle is the Porche of the ski world, but it's not just a status symbol - it truly performs like a different caliber machine.
Women's All-Mountain Skis — A Quiver of One
If, unlike our testers, you'd prefer not to utilize every square inch of your home's storage space with many multiple pairs of smashed-in skis, then you are probably a sensible person who only wants to own a single rockin' pair that will take you anywhere on the mountain, any day. This is the theory of all-mountain ski production: these skis are meant to take you all over the mountain. Certain manufacturers will use different terminology for this category of ski; usually, they are dubbed "all-mountain," or occasionally, "freeride." Regardless, an all-mountain model strives to do it all — carve clean arcs on groomers, maintain stability at speed, withstand crud and bumps, stay afloat in powder, and - if we're lucky - make us smile and laugh while doing it.
In this particular review, we are testing "resort skis," which just means that they aren't created specifically with backcountry skiing in mind (although some would perform just fine in that setting). However, this type of ski should ideally be able to transition from groomers to off-piste snow (or ungroomed terrain). If it seems like we're starting to speak a rare dialect of skier mumble-jumble, please see our Glossary of Terms at the bottom of this article to help translate.
Stability at Speed
We want our all-mountain skis to make us feel like super-heroines while flying down the mountain instead of making us pray to the heavens. We want to be able to lay into them, exert pressure on them and make them bend, and be confident that they won't start to chatter when the speed picks up or slide out from underneath us. With these qualifications in mind, we examined how each model performed at higher speeds. Do they offer a smooth and seamless ride, or do the tips flap constantly (or worse than just the tips, the whole length of the ski)? Can they maintain edge grip while carving through a fast, high-pressured turn, or do they have a tendency to wash out unexpectedly? Are they dampening and manageable, softly absorbing bumps and uneven terrain, or do we get bucked and launched out of balance?
The judges have spoken - the Kastle FX95 HP wins by a landslide as the most stable competitor in the test, followed by the Volkl Secret, the Faction Dictator 2.0X and the Rossignol Soul 7. The Elan Ripstick also performed well in this metric. The skis that had success in this category did so because they're built for it; some ski companies even add in carbon for stiffness, such as the Soul 7.
On the other hand, some models (potentially while trying to be lighter weight or softer for a female consumer) feel unstable at speed and flap crazily down the hill, though most companies seem to be doing a better job these days at managing the dreaded tip flap. The Atomic Vantage 90 Ti and the Head Kore 99 W though, are less comfortable rides at speed, not instilling the confidence we desired when attempting to push our limits.
Many of the skis in the all-mountain division are now being produced with rockered tips, which are mostly intended to help the skis stay afloat in deeper, fresh snow. When skied on groomers at high speeds, these rockered tips often have the appearance of being unstable (as they flap their wings); however, some skis, like the Blizzard Black Pearl 88, have a stiff enough core underfoot that despite their slightly flapping tips, you still have edge-hold and stability where it counts. The discussion of edge-hold is also related to the carving metric.
How easy is it to simply turn each competitor? Will the skis turn when requested, or do they prefer to go straight ahead? Can you tip them on edge, have them engage, and ride the rail? Do they stay engaged when you do? What is the turn radius, and does the ski feel like it wants to make a tighter or larger turn than this number suggests? We asked ourselves all these questions when determining the carving abilities of each ski. Models that have a smaller turn radius are sometimes better at carving, but this is not a given. The Head Kore 99 has a very snug turn radius on paper, at 15.1m, but it certainly didn't feel that way to us; the Kore not only didn't love to carve and keep the edges engaged, it also didn't have the feel of a ski with a small turn radius. If you absolutely love shredding fresh corduroy and leaving two deep trenches in your wake, it's essential to know whether your potential purchase can feed this need.
Turn shape and size are mainly products of a ski's sidecut. If a ski has the shape of an hourglass (wider at the tip and tail, and skinnier underfoot), then it will likely offer a smaller radius turn. The Rossignol Soul 7 surprisingly has the least amount of sidecut in this review, with dimensions of 136-106-126, but its keenness to bend with the momentum and heft of a skier allows it to make more nimble turns than you'd expect.
Another factor within the carving metric is a ski's agility when moving from one set of edges to the other. Edge-to-edge quickness is often a function of a ski's waist width, but it's also related to the sidecut and the turn radius. Some skis will rock quickly over from one edge to the next, instantly engaging the new edge and initiating a new turn. Other contenders are a bit more sluggish. The Blizzard Black Pearl 88 earned our recognition as the best carving ski because of its ability to arc a turn as well as the ease of transitioning from edge to edge. The Volkl Secret, perhaps predictably thanks to its skinnier waist, could also rapidly shift from one set of edges to the other. It gave us a very fun ride on-piste and made us feel quick and maneuverable.
Edge hold within a turn is an important element of our carving metric, and the one that overlaps with stability at speed. Can we trust the ski's edge to lock into the snow when we're railing turns? If we turn at speed, will these planks hold their course all the way through the turn, or will they chatter and skip away? The Kastle has excellent stability and edge hold in its turns, particularly at high speeds. The Soul 7, the Ripstick, and the Volkl Secret all love laying down tracks and can easily hold an edge throughout the turn.
It would make our jobs much simpler if we could just read the specs and accurately make assumptions about a ski's performance in this department; we wouldn't recommend buyers do this either - it only works half the time. The Head Kore 99 has one of the shortest turn radii in the group, but was lethargic and unresponsive during our testing. Shockingly, the far wider Rossignol Soul 7 feels wonderfully sprightly and quick. While the Blizzard Black Pearl 88 claims a 15m radius on their 171cm ski, our testers did not feel it wanted to turn nearly so tightly as that would imply. The Salomon QST Lumen 99 gave us quite the surprise, too, since it seemed to make a much tighter turn than the 19m radius suggested. Another shocker for us in this arena was the Icelantic Riveter 95, which claims a 16m radius, but our testers all felt they could take it in a slalom course and crush; the turn shape on it feels incredibly snug.
If you've only ever experienced rental skis, or skis less than 90mm underfoot, then all of the skis in this review are going to blow your mind in powder. Most of them will make even the seasoned fat-ski chick feel like a superstar in the soft stuff. These boards all do a decent job of keeping you on top of the snow, therefore making powder skiing feel effortless (not an easy feat). However, some make it easier than others, and we've been getting a bit spoiled by the great ones. In general, the wider the tips and waist, and the more rocker in the tips, the more the ski will help you float closer to the surface of the deeper snow, making it easier to maneuver as there's less resistance. Sometimes, the skinnier skis in this review were decidedly harder work in the powder since they sink down within the mire — making it tougher to make that turn happen.
The Rossignol Soul 7 makes powder skiing feel like flying through the clouds, whereas the Blizzard Black Pearl 88 tended to sink under deeper snow, which made skiing more laborious. While all of the skis in our review are a huge step up compared to a standard rental ski or a race ski, there is an equally huge jump up to the next best type of ski in these conditions — a true powder ski (110mm and above in the waist). When the snow gets really deep, some of these all-mountain models just can't hang. When we took all our skinniest models out in more than six inches of powder — the Icelantic Skis Oracle 88, the Blizzard Black Pearl 88 and the Atomic Vantage 90 Ti W — they provided us with some embarrassing face plants as they plunged underneath the deeper snow. Surprisingly though, the Volkl Secret performed quite well in deeper, trickier snow even with a conservative 92mm waist.
A ski's performance in powder is definitely related to its waist width (wider = more floatation) as well as the amount of rocker it has in the tips. Additional rocker (the more a ski's tip turns upward away from the snow at a certain point along the length of the ski) helps a ski float without the addition of extra width. Rockered designs shift the contact area between the ski and the snow towards the center of the ski, effectively shortening the "skiable" length. This "effective edge" length is felt more on groomers, but a ski with an "early rise rockered tip" is likely going to feel shorter than you're accustomed to for a given length. For instance, if you normally ski a 160cm on-piste ski, you may want to consider getting something in the 170cm range if you're buying something with early-rise rocker. All of the skis in this review do have some rocker, and many feature a combo of camber underfoot (the arching bridge shape under the bindings as the ski sits unweighted on the snow), early-rise tips (i.e., rockered tips), and/or rockered tails (great for landing your big drops switch, otherwise really only good for spraying those behind you with your rooster tail of snow).
The Soul 7 is a powder-slayer in part because it has the fattest waist and some of the most prominent rocker of all the models in our review. The most popular word used by our many testers to describe this ski in powder was buttery. Another ski design that functions well in powder is the full rocker set up, where the ski is shaped like a banana with each end lifting off the snow. None of the models in our current review have a full rocker profile, which does aid in flotation and allows the skis to skid quick turns around trees but does not give the ski the bite-grip when carving that a traditionally cambered ski would have.
The shape of a ski's tip also plays a role in its keenness to float. More tapered tips, where the widest part of the ski is set back from the end, seem to have better glide in powder. Once again, the Rossignol Soul 7 is a prime example. The relatively narrow waist of the Elan Ripstick doesn't inhibit its powder prowess much, even in up to a foot of fresh, thanks to its rockered and spatula tips. We were pleasantly surprised by its powder performance even on the deepest days. There are quite a few pairs of skis in this review that acquire floatation through their well-designed, wide tips, such as the K2 Mindbender 98Ti Alliance, the Salomon QST Lumen 99, the Kastle FX95 HP, and the Blizzard Sheeva 10.
For the purposes of our review, we refer to "crud" as any version of variable snow (but not powder) on an ungroomed (or groomed too long ago to be noticeable) trail. Many days in springtime, the snow will be frozen sheets of ice in the morning and then form giant slush-waves by the mid-afternoon. In mid-winter, you will sometimes find breakable crust in one spot and fun chalky wind-buff around the corner. Will your trusty toys blast through the irregularities, whether you're in soft or hard snow? When even the groomers have been thrashed to bits, will you still feel like you're carving and crushing?
Both the Rossignol Soul 7 and the Volkl Secret easily manage choppy snow, either absorbing or skimming across the crud in their paths. However, the Kastle FX95 HP is without-a-doubt the most capable crud-munching machine we'd ever skied, barreling through the roughest terrain without batting an eye. The stiff and weighty FX95 transitions effortlessly from one type of snow to another. It handles variable conditions with grace, cruising through it all without a moment's hesitation.
The Salomon QST Lumen 99 tended to buck its riders in the crud, throwing unsuspecting testers into the back seat. We felt slightly disappointed by the Atomic Vantage, the Black Crows Camox Birdie, and the Head Kore in this type of terrain. They neither barged through it nor sucked it up, throwing us around and resulting in some minor humiliations.
In this metric, we're evaluating how fun the ski is to use. This can certainly be a bit subjective from one tester to another, and throughout skier-types as well. Playfulness can be a fairly simple measurement — do you have fun on this ski? Are you looking forward to taking them on the hill and playing around on them — riding switch maybe, or jumping off small features?
One element of playfulness that seems to be consistent throughout the models that excel in this category is the ski's rebound. A ski with a nice rebound will release quickly and smoothly after you bend it (at the end of your turn), creating an energetic and exhilarating transition from one turn into the next. After you've pressured the skis through the turn, and you let go, do they pop back and spring easily towards the next set of edges? Or are they listless and lack energy and responsiveness? Overall, a more traditionally cambered ski will tend to excel in this regard, yet we did find that the Elan Ripstick (with a bizarre Amphibio-profile) had an unparalleled rebound.
The Rossignol Soul 7 is playful in the soft snow, and its tapered tail shape let us wiggle our way down the mountain, leaving giggles echoing in our wake. One tester called the Icelantic Riveter 95 a bouncy-ball of fun, given its propensity for popping in the air and springing easily in new directions.
Some skis, such as the Black Crows Camox Birdie just felt like dead boards under our feet, and didn't make us feel much joy while skiing them. Others, like the Blizzard Black Pearl 88, were reliable and strong, but didn't have the spring to their step to make us truly gleeful.
We found the Volkl Secret to be so much fun that it was a tad frightening in its addictive qualities. These skis were so tuned into our movements, it felt like they were an extension of our feet — completing every action before the brain signal had even been sent. And the Kastle FX95 isn't exactly "playful" in a conventional manner, but the feeling of confidence they gave us inspired us to attempt new stuff, which is always fun in itself.
Most skiers have either a love or a hate relationship with them, but regardless, moguls are a fact of life while resort skiing. Even if you plan to avoid them at all costs, if you're skiing past noon, you'll often find yourself atop a pitch of bumps, possibly cursing the Olympic skiers who make them look so easy. While none of the skis in our review are built for those Olympic skiers mobbing down the zipper-lines, some of them outdid others in a mogul field. Models with a tighter-feeling turn radius, such as the Icelantic Riveter, perform better in tight, firm, evenly spaced bumps.
The Elan Ripstick is a riot in the bumps and outperformed all the other competitors in this category, possibly as a result of its ease of turning and frolicking nature. While we appreciated the Icelantic Oracle in softer, smaller moguls, we wouldn't be thrilled to ski it through firmer Volkswagon-sized bumps. The Volkl Secret yet again wowed us with its ability to react to our movements, sending us soaring through snake lines we didn't think we could manage except on our bums.
If moguls are starting to form in fresh snow, it might be wise to choose a ski that has better crud-busting capabilities, such as the Blizzard Black Pearl. It's also a hoot to feel the Kastle FX95 HP simply remold the mountain to its liking, basically just razing the bumps that accidentally got in their way. We would say, however, that if you plan to spend any more than 5% of your time purposefully seeking out moguls, you may want to research more on-piste specific models.
A Note About Versatility
We chose not to rate the skis on their versatility, because by the nature of a ski performing well across all of our other metrics, it must therefore be versatile. A solid all-mountain ski must be well-rounded, and our highest-ranked models will all be the most versatile pairs.
The most versatile contenders in our review are the Rossignol Soul 7, the Volkl Secret, the Kastle FX95 HP, and the Elan Ripstick 94. The Rossi is fun and sprightly on groomers, zooms over the top of crud, and floats effortlessly in fresh powder. The Secret managed to impress us in all metrics and surprised us with its powder abilities, given how much narrower it is. It made us feel invincible at every turn, on every type of terrain. The Ripstick has wonderful frivolity, both on-piste and off, and scores highly in powder performance as well. The Kastle has unrivaled steadiness at high speeds, in any terrain, and while carving.
The least versatile skis are the ones that tend to specialize in a particular zone, such as the Salomon QST Lumen 99. It's a blast in powder, but in all the other metrics, it failed to impress us. The Black Crows Camox Birdie is also a kick in fresh snow and might seem more playful for a park skier accustomed to stiff skis and straight lines, but it doesn't cut the mustard for the general public in a wide range of terrains. Since these are all-mountain skis, every model we tested has more versatility than many models on the market, but some handled varied snow conditions better than others.
Who We Are
GearLab hand-picked a squad of both industry professionals and professional ski bums to put our all-mountain ski models through the wringer. These ladies either ski for a living or live to ski, and each woman put in many multiple days on each model, allowing testers to run the gamut of snow conditions. Each tester has different styles, preferences, and abilities, which helped us to create a more complete understanding of each ski's advantages and faults. The picture we have painted of each model reflects a plethora of opinions that were gathered amongst a myriad of ski days over many seasons. And yes, these ladies DO love this job.
Renee Lemmer McCormack, Lead Tester
PSIA, which means she can [mostly] manage to french fry when she's not supposed to pizza. When not busy feeding children hot chocolate and Starbursts, she and her husband teach scuba diving around the world, go rock climbing and mountain biking, and enjoy life with only the obligation of two mouths to feed.
Renee is 5'10'' and 140lbs, so she's not a tiny creature. She generally prefers a stronger, stiffer ski with a decent sidecut. Renee believes that making turns is the best part of skiing — if you want to go straight, get yourself a sled. She enjoys skiing Mammoth's steeps, bumps, and trees but believes that an all-mountain setup should be capable in all-conditions, including on-piste groomers where we all end up spending portions of our day.
The Rossignol Soul 7 HD was her favorite test ski, since it was so much fun to ski in absolutely all terrain. However, the Kastle FX95 HP blew her away with its incredible strength and power. While she didn't feel the pure joy she does on the Rossis, Renee felt she could nail any turn anywhere on the Kastles. She loves that they both have enough shape to carve a groomer like a Thanksgiving turkey, while their width and nicely tapered rockered tips allow them to float in the fresh. Last year's Volkl Secret was a surprise winner for her; it is such a nimble and versatile ski, she may end up purchasing a pair for herself.
Jessica Haist, Contributing Tester
Jessica Haist grew up in the Great White North, Ontario, Canada. She started skiing the icy slopes at the age of six. She has enjoyed being outside in frigid temperatures ever since. She took her skiing to the next level when she moved to British Columbia and spent years exploring the resorts and backcountry it had to offer. Her favorite resort is Red Mountain in Rossland, BC, where she was a resident for four years and a volunteer patroller for two. She loves all types of skiing, from cross-country to backcountry, but really loves ripping it up in steep treed terrain and powdery bowls. She now lives in Mammoth Lakes, California, where she works as a backpacking guide and outdoor educator in the summers and an OGL bum and administrator for Outward Bound California in the winters. In her free time, she likes cooking, gardening, mountain biking, rock climbing, and generally being outside.
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 also prefers the Rossignol Soul 7 for deep days.
Hilary Roache, Contributing Tester
In her downtime, Hilary can be found on the bunny slopes with her 5-year-old, or back in Australia on the beach catching some waves. The days of dairy farming are long gone.
Hilary is 5 foot 3 inches and 120lbs, so some of the women's all-mountain skis in our test sizes were on the bigger side for her. However, she still fell in love with the Rossignol Soul 7 — their versatility and playfulness allowed her to explore all the mountain had to offer. The Kastle came in hot pursuit as a runner-up; with their incredible strength and stability at speed, they said, "I've got your back" all the way down the mountain.
Holly Moseley, Contributing Tester
Holly loves a freeride, balls-to-the-walls type of skiing inspired by Angel Collinson and Lorraine Huber. She has competed in the Daron Rhalves Bonzai tour and the Free Ride World Qualifiers. She made a pilgrimage to South America and skied at resorts and in the backcountry all over Chile and Argentina. Holly has traveled and skied throughout the western United States, skiing resorts and backcountry lines all over California, Utah, Montana, and Wyoming. She loves wind buff afternoons lapping chair 23 at Mammoth mountain and skiing the trees on the Face of June mountain on powder days. Her late father, Andrew Raymond, is the one she claims to have infected her with the ski disease and Holly lives by two mottos passed down to her by him, "If you're not falling, you're not trying hard enough" and "No bad snow, only bad skiers" (original language edited for political correctness). Holly is a brick-house, stallion babe standing at 5' 9" tall and 205 pounds of passion, muscle and lovely, lady lumps.
Glossary of Terms
Like the Inuit people of the north, skiers have an abundance of words to describe snow. We also use colloquialisms to describe other elements of the sport, including style and technique. Below we attempt to illustrate this mystifying taxonomy.
Piste: Originally a French term that has been adopted worldwide to describe a marked trail with an artificially groomed 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 groomed runs have been skied out. Crud usually is heavier, denser, and warmer than chop, but some might use the same terminology interchangeably. Chop is still fun, but it requires a lot of work and often wears people out.
Cold Smoke/Blower: Residents of the Rockies and Interior British Columbia are familiar with this type of powder snow, although it occurs anywhere there is a very cold snowstorm. This is the holy grail of powder: light and fluffy. Extremely easy to ski and sometimes described as bottomless (unless you're hitting the icy bumps underneath), you may see snorkels in use on a cold smoke day.
Bullet-Proof/Hardpack: Bullet-proof can mean extremely hard, icy conditions where you better hope your edges have been sharpened recently. Hardpack may be slightly softer than bullet-proof and has typically been skied or side-slipped. These conditions are often a result of melt/freeze situations or low snow years and can sometimes be avoided by choosing the right aspect. Don't ski a shaded pitch the morning following a warm day.
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 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.
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.
Sastrugi: A Russian word describing the sharp and consistent ridges of ice and snow usually caused by strong winds. Sastrugi tends to look like the snowy version of sand ripples just underneath the surface of waves in the ocean — except instead of the waves coming down to smash you, the sastrugi reaches up to grab your skis, and then you smash yourself.
Chatter: When you are trying to rail a turn, and your boards act 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 on a monoboard. This entails keeping your knees close together while wiggling your bum. A onesie is a preferred outfit to Schnoodle in.
Schuss: Technically a German word meaning to straight-line downhill on skis, but we just use it for skiing, as in, "Do you want to go for a schuss today?"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." You can also use it in reference to stylish clothing.
— Renee McCormack and Jessica Haist