Best Overall Women's All-Mountain Skis
Volkl Secret 92
: All levels | Lengths
: 149, 156, 163, 170
Thrives in all snow conditions
Quick and playful
Only 92mm underfoot, making it nimble
Not the most perfect powder tool
We admit an early prejudgment against the Volkl Secrets, but only because their name kept conjuring up uncomfortable images of 1980's deodorant commercials. From the moment we actually skied them, though, we were in love. What's in a name?! They provided us with outstanding stability in all contexts and at all speeds, cruised through tough cruddy conditions, and felt mobile and agile beneath us. After mobbing through the trees on a powder day, our lead tester proclaimed that these Volkls were a little dangerous - since she felt completely invincible on them, she probably wasn't making the smartest decisions.
Thanks to their slightly more sleek 92mm waist, they are fast and graceful, but they do not have quite the powder flotation provided by fatter skis with bigger rockered tips. If you're planning on skiing more powder than anything else (lucky you), something wider might be preferable. The Secrets still provide a solid ride in the fresh snow, though, and we loved how they always managed to find their way back to the surface. For a versatile ski that won't let you down in any terrain and give you an exhilarating ride everywhere you go, look no further than the Volkl Secret.
Read review: Volkl Secret 92
Editors' Choice For Powder
Rossignol Soul 7 HD W
: All levels | Lengths
: 156, 164, 172, 180
Versatile for a fatter ski
Excellent float in powder
Fat for the all-mountain category
Slightly slower edge-to-edge
The recently redesigned Rossignol Soul 7 HD W, with her fancy Air Tip technology and new Carbon Alloy Matrix, truly blew us away. The Soul 7 has grown up. She got tougher and more spirited at the same time and has earned her place as the alpha female of this pack of skis. Since they had won the award for best powder performance in the past, we already knew these skis would thrive in the deep stuff. Where its recent upgrades truly impressed us was in cruddy conditions and on-piste runs. The Soul 7 monsters her way through choppy conditions and then runs straight onto the groomers with the stability of a steam engine. Incredible rebound and awesome edge hold are icing on the cake for this fantastic ski.
The trade-off for the Soul 7's excellent powder performance is that their waist is on the thick end of the all-mountain spectrum. This means they take a little longer to get from one edge to the other. If you've never skied on something wider than something 90mm underfoot, it might be worth demoing these skis at a local ski shop for a day before committing to the purchase. The fatter waist and slightly wider stance that it requires takes a little getting used to. We think this minor issue is worth it for the range of conditions where these skis excel. If you're searching for a ski that you can take anywhere and enjoy in absolutely all conditions, the Soul 7 is your girl!
Read review: Rossignol Soul 7 HD W
Best Buy For Beginner Skiers
Icelantic Skis Oracle 88
: Beginner to Advanced Intermediate | Lengths
: 155, 162, 169
Quick edge to edge
Graphics are a beauty
Skinnier and not built for deep snow
Not as stiff and stable as others
The Icelantic Oracle 88 is an easy-to-ski affordable option suitable for a wide range of skiers. But it's ideal for upper-intermediate rippers looking to branch out into more challenging terrain. The sensible width underfoot, combined with a softness and dampness along the length, makes for a rewarding experience on the groomers, in the bumps and in moderate crud. The Oracle 88 surprised us with their adequate abilities in moderate powder (6 inches or less), despite their lack of a traditional powder-ski profile.
In deeper powder, they just aren't wide enough to keep their float. And they aren't as a stiff and stable as more advanced options, so ladies that never slow down should look elsewhere. Their laid back, easy to operate nature and versatility are what make them shine.
Read review: Icelantic Oracle 88
Best Buy for Advanced Skiers
Faction Dictator 2.0X - Women's
: Advanced to Expert | Lengths
: 155, 163, 171, 175, 179, 183, 187
Stiff and Stable
Not ideal for lower level skiers
Less flotation in the deepest powder
The Faction Dictator 2.0X is a perfect ski for the cost-conscious ripper-chick. It loves to cruise at high speeds, providing exceptional edge-hold and stability, and carves a clean arc with the best of them. When in cruddy 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 requires a highly competent skier to drive it accurately. It would not be the ideal choice for beginner to intermediate skiers who are still gaining confidence; these skis are bossy and they need to be put in their place, rather than being allowed to rule with impunity. The Factions also don't have the outstanding flotation in powder that many skis in our review have, but they perform well enough in half a foot or so. If you are a highly skilled and assertive skier who wants a reliable 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
: All levels | Lengths
: 156, 163, 170, 177
Lively and fun
Good in crud
Quick to turn
Not great at true carving
After seeing the resort bespattered with the wild hues of the Elan Ripstick 94, we knew there must be more to them than just the crazy colors. As it turns out, these boldly tinted sticks DO rip, and they do so in just about every type of snow. We absolutely fell in love with the animated, vivacious nature of the Rip Sticks — everywhere we took them they either floated or flew from one turn to the next. Their 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 Ripsticks soar like a dream in the soft stuff. But you can find them all over the mountain, zooming from one powerfully recoiled turn to another.
The one area that the Ripsticks do 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, these skis aren'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
: All Levels | Lengths
: 173, 181, 189
Incomparable stability at all speeds
Blast through all terrain
Loves to go fast
Doesn't like quick turns in trees
Not as playful
Very expensive (but, quality)
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 Kastles, particularly at speed. These skis do not chatter or slide out even when pushed to the limits. And while the Kastles certainly enjoy having a full-throttle driver, and cut a path through the crud like Valyrian steel, they are also just as stable and secure for the skier who doesn't leave the groomers or run gates.
All that stability keeps the FX95 HPs from feeling especially light and lively, and they're tricky to turn quick enough to snake through tight trees. The Kastles are also in a price bracket well above the rest, but their engineering is second to none. You will feel the difference instantly. If you're interested in extreme quality and versatility, these skis will not disappoint.
Read Review: Kastle FX95 HP
All-mountain skis should carve groomers, stay stable at speed, handle choppy conditions, and float reasonably well in powder. Many sacrifice a little skill in one area to shine in another.
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 student - from first-timers to professionals. Renee has great insider knowledge to which skis will work well for different types of skier, as she's spent years advising her own diverse clients on their personal ski purchases.
Hilary Roache has also spent the past 15 years teaching skiing back to back winter seasons in Austria, Vermont, Colorado, Utah, New Zealand, and Mammoth Mountain in California, so she understands many different snow conditions and how best to choose the right tool for each. She is a Level II certified PSIA instructor and Level II in NZSIA who has for many years taught ladies-specific camps, clinics, and seasonal development groups. Hilary always advises these students and friends on which ski is best for that day's snow, and which skis might be worth purchasing.
Often Hilary and Renee will put their own students on the skis they're testing for OutdoorGearLab to get a wide variety of feedback; they also offer the skis to fellow instructors, coaches, and skier friends to take their thoughts into account. We think the most important reason you should listen to these ladies' opinions is that it would be hard to find more passionate skiers anywhere. Both Renee and Hilary 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.
These gals love skiing!
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.
Related: Buying Advice for All Mountain Skis for Women
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, like the Elan Ripstick's knack for excitement.
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 and every 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, our absolute favorite ski overall, the Editors' Choice winner 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 skis inherently better, the Kastle is a beautiful piece of ski engineering which 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.
The Volkl Secrets blasted through everything in their path, leaving us grinning ear to ear in any condition.
Women's All-Mountain Skis — A Quiver of One
If, unlike our testers, you would prefer not to utilize every square inch of your condo'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: they are meant to take you all over the mountain. Certain manufacturers will use different terminology for this category of ski; usually they are titled "all-mountain" but occasionally "free-ride". Regardless, an all-mountain model strives to do it all - carve clean arcs on groomers, maintain stability at speed, withstand crud and bumps, and stay afloat in powder.
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 the page to help translate.
Some of our dedicated ripper chicks out for a "schuss" together at Mammoth.
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 know that they won't slip out from under us or chatter at high speeds. To this end, we examined how each pair performed at higher speeds. Do they offer a smooth and seamless ride, or do the tips flap incessantly? Can they keep their edge when carving through a fast, high-pressured turn, or do they tend to wash out? Are they dampening and manageable, softly absorbing bumps and uneven terrain, or do we get bucked and launched out of balance?
The results are in - the Kastle FX95 HP wins by a landslide as the most stable competitor in the test, followed by the Volkl Secret, Blizzard Black Pearl, the Faction Dictator 2.0X and the Rossi Soul 7 The Elan Ripsticks also performed well in this metric. The skis which 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 new Rossi Soul 7's.
The Blizzard Black Pearl 98s are a solid contender at high speeds, and they hold an edge well in many types of snow.
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, like the Liberty Genesis. The Atomic Vantage 90 Ti is also a less comfortable ride at speeds, not instilling the confidence we desired to reach our maximum velocity threshold.
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 Dynastar Legends, have enough sidewall underfoot that despite their flapping tips, you still have edge-hold and stability underfoot. The discussion of edge-hold is also related to the carving metric.
The Vantage is an easy ski on which to learn carving for upper-intermediate to advanced skiers.
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? All of these questions we asked ourselves when assessing how well each of these skis carves a turn. Models that have a smaller turn radius are sometimes better at carving, but this is not a given. The Head Kore have a very snug turn radius on paper, at 15.1m, but they certainly didn't feel that way to us; the Kores not only didn't love to carve and keep their edges engaged, they 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 critical to choose a ski that performs well in this particular category.
Turn shape and size are mainly products of a ski's sidecut. If a ski has the shape of an hourglass (fat at the tip and tail, and skinnier under foot), 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 their keenness to bend with the momentum and heft of a skier allows them to make more nimble turns than you'd expect.
Edge-to-edge quickness also factors into the carving metric. This is usually a function of the ski's width underfoot but is also related to the sidecut and turn radius. Some skis will flip from one edge to the next with agility, immediately entering the new turn as you engage the new edge. Other competitors are more sluggish.
With the Elan Ripstick's Amphibio profile, the downhill ski likes to grip and the uphill likes to skid - an interesting conundrum for those trying to carve them both.
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 width of the ski's waist, 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 beginning the new turn. Other contenders are a bit more sluggish. The Volkl Secrets, perhaps predictably thanks to their skinnier waists, were rapid in their shift from one set of edges to the other. They gave us a very fun ride on-piste, and made us feel quick and maneuverable.
The K2 FulLuvit 95 SKI are great to cruise through any soft snow and have a tight snappy turn radius.
A 2017/2018 upgrade improved the K2 FulLuvits' carving skills. Their turn radius tightened up to 14M, and they were quicker edge-to-edge as a result. They are also extremely responsive when you need to turn. You can't simply rely on specs to know how a ski will feel in this department. The Volkl 90Eights were lethargic and unresponsive during our testing. While the much wider Rossignol Soul 7 HD W feels wonderfully sprightly and quick.
Edge hold within a turn is an important element of our carving metric. 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 stutter or slip away? The Kastle has excellent stability and edge hold in its turns, particularly at high speeds. The Soul 7s, the Ripsticks, and the Volkl Secrets all love laying down tracks and can easily hold an edge throughout the turn.
Today was a fun day to butter and wiggle our way down the mountain on the Soul 7s.
A 2017/2018 upgrade improved the K2 FulLuvit's
carving skills. Perhaps as a result of having their turn radius tightened up to 14m, they became quicker edge-to-edge. They are now quite responsive when asked to turn. Unfortunately though, It isn't just numbers which determine a ski's performance; we wouldn't recommend simply reading the specs and guessing how a ski will feel in this department - it only works half the time. Both the Volkl 90Eights
and the Head Kores
have shorter turn radii, but they were lethargic and unresponsive during our testing. Shockingly, the far wider Rossingol Soul 7
feels wonderfully sprightly and quick. The Salomon QST Lumen 99
gave us quite the surprise too, since they seemed to make a much tighter turn than their 19m radius suggested.
The Faction Dictator loves to be on edge, and set us at ease with its carving prowess.
If you've only ever skied on rental skis, or skis less than 90mm under foot, 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 definitely 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.
Despite their skinnier waists, the Volkl Secrets performed surprisingly well in the fresh snow.
The Rossignol Soul 7 makes powder skiing feel like flying through the clouds, whereas the Volkl 90Eights' tips tended to dive deep under the 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 both our skinniest models out in more than six inches of powder - the Icelantic Skis Oracle 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 Secrets performed quite well in deeper, trickier snow even with their conservative 92mm waists.
Rocker and Waist Width — 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 if you're looking at a ski with an "early rise rockered tip", it's 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 which 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 outside edge of each of the Elan Ripstick 94s are shaped like bananas, so they float and skim around in powder with ease.
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 Rossi 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 their rockered and spatula'd tips. We were pleasantly surprised by their powder performance even on the deepest days. There are quite a few pairs of skis in this review which acquire floatation through their well-designed, wide tips, such as the K2 FulLUVit, Salomon QST Lumen 99, the Kastle FX95 HP, and the Dynastar Legend W 96.
We were blown away by how the Kastles blew threw any tough snow conditions we put them in.
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 forming 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. The Kastle FX95 HP, however, 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. The Kastle handles variable conditions with grace, cruising through it all without a moment's hesitation.
The Volkl 90Eights have a stiffness which allows them to blast their way through choppy conditions.
The K2 FulLUVits tended to buck their riders in the crud, throwing unsuspecting testers into the back seat. We felt slightly disappointed by the Atomic Vantage, the Liberty Genesis, 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 which excel in this category is the ski's rebound. A ski with 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 Ripsticks (with their bizarre Amphibio-profile) had unparalleled rebound.
When you want to take flight, the lighter Icelantic Oracle 88 lets you soar!
The Rossignol Soul 7 is playful in the soft snow, and their tapered tail shape let us wiggle our way down the mountain, leaving giggles echoing in our wake.
We found the Volkl Secrets to be so much fun, they were a tad frightening in their addictive qualities. These skis were so tuned in to 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 the conventional manner, the feeling of confidence they gave us inspired us to attempt new stuff, which is always fun in itself!
The incredible rebound of the Elan Ripsticks, combined with their love of flight, made them our award winner for Best in Playfulness.
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 cost, 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 turn radius, such as the K2 FulLUVit, perform better in tight, firm, evenly spaced bumps.
The Elan Ripsticks are a riot in the bumps and outperformed all the other competitors in this category, possibly as a result of their ease of turning and frolicking nature. While we appreciated the Icelantic Oracles in softer, smaller moguls, we wouldn't be thrilled to ski them through firmer Volkswagon-sized bumps. The Volkl Secrets yet again wowed us with their 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 chose a ski that has better crud-busting capabilities, such as the Blizzard Black Pearl. It's also a hoot to feel the Kastle FX95 HPs simply remold the mountain to their 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.
Hilary Roache shows us how to maneuver the Dynastar Legend 96s as bumps start to form on steeper pitches.
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 Secrets managed to impress us in all metrics as well, and surprised us with their powder abilities given how much smaller they seemed. They 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 unrivalled steadiness at high speeds, in any terrain, and while carving.
An all mountain ski's best quality is its ability to perform in any type of terrain. The Kastle FX 95 HP moves fluidly between corduroy and crud, powder to breakable crust, making it an incredibly versatile ski for use all over the mountain.
The least versatile skis are the ones that tend to specialize in a particular zone, such as the K2 or the Salomon QST Lumen 99. They're both a blast in powder, but in all the other metrics, they failed to impress us. The Black Crows Camox Birdie are also a kick in fresh snow, and might seem more playful for a park skier accustomed to stiff skis and straight lines, but they don't cut the mustard for the general public in a wide range of terrains. Since they're all 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.
The Pearls floated well and were a blast in the powder, getting us to show our pearly-whites!
Who We Are
OutdoorGearLab hand-picked a squad of both industry professionals and professional ski bums to put our all-mountain 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 which were gathered amongst a myriad of ski days over many seasons. And yes, these ladies DO love this job.
Renee Lemmer McCormack, Lead Tester
Renee Lemmer McCormack, Lead Women's Tester.
Renee McCormack has been tipping and ripping since her mom dressed her up in a pink piggy onesie and sent her off to ski school at age three in Colorado. She's taught skiing in Vail, and for the past ten winters in Mammoth Lakes, California. She is a fully certified Level III Alpine Instructor through 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 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, bumps, and trees 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.
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. This 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, Lead Women's 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 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 7s for deep days.
Hilary Roache, Contributing Tester
Hilary is a powder piggie! We can't believe she stood still for long enough for our photographer to get set up!
Hilary Roache grew up on a dairy farm in Australia. She only discovered skiing at 17 years of age and decided to swap gumboots for ski boots! The boots weren't as comfortable but the job was much more fun. She became a ski instructor and worked in Vermont, Colorado, Utah, Austria, New Zealand and finally settled in Mammoth, California where she has been for the past 8 seasons. Hilary is Level 2 PSIA and Level 2 NZSIA qualified. She enjoys skiing groomers and carving it up when she is teaching. However, her real passion is powder skiing and her favorite runs on the mountain are the Chair 22 steeps and chutes and the trees in the Dragon's Tail. She can be found chasing her husband and 3-year-old son out the door on a powder morning so she can get up on the mountain for first tracks.
In her downtime, Hilary can be found on the bunny slopes with her 3-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 certainly 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.
The gang is about to schralp the crud at Kirkwood with steeze.
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 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 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 sometimes can 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 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.
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 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 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.