Shopping for the best pair of all-mountain skis can turn up a bounty of options. We purchased 10 of the most popular all-mountain planks for women and subjected them to tough scrutiny. La Niña dumped on the Sierra, leaving a foundation for great skiing all over the range and feet of fresh powder. We skied groomed runs, tracked-out crud, bullet-proof hardpack, spring snow, airy powder, and everything in between. We would have given each ski an award, but this isn't grade school, and someone needs to be the winner. With that in mind, what's the best women's all-mountain ski? The best for a single quiver? The best for the entire mountain? No matter the type of terrain that you like to ski, we've found something for you.
The Best Women's All-Mountain Skis of 2018
With winter in our hearts and on our minds, we've updated our review to bring you 10 of the top pairs of women's skis. What did we conclude? The Rossignol Soul 7 HD is the new winner of our Editors' Choice, while the Icelantic Oracle 88 steals the show as our Best Buy on a Budget, yours for only $599. We've also included the Head Great Joy, which is our Top Pick for Carving Performance. Our Top Pick for Playfulness, the Elan Ripstick 94 Wcomes in at $600 and is a second place scorer - another real steal.
Best Overall Women's All-Mountain Skis
Rossignol Soul 7 HD W
Weight per pair: 7.7 pounds | Available lengths: 156, 164, 172, 180
This year's Rossignol Soul 7 HD W, with her fancy Air Tip technology combined with a new Carbon Alloy Matrix, has truly blown us away. The Soul 7 has grown up, become tougher and yet more spirited at the same time, and has earned her place as the alpha female of this pack of skis. As last year's winner for powder performance, we already knew this ski would thrive in the deep stuff. Where it truly impressed us with its upgrades were in crud and on-piste; 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. 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 Bang for the Buck
Icelantic Skis Oracle 88
Weight per pair: 6.5 pounds | Available lengths: 155, 162, 169
The Icelantic Oracle 88 is an easy-to-ski affordable option for upper-intermediate skiers 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 both on the groomers as well as in bumps and moderate crud. They surprised us with their adequate abilities in less than six inches of powder, despite their lack of a traditional powder-ski profile. At a price point of $599, they offer quite the bang for the buck.
Read review: Icelantic Oracle 88
Top Pick for Best Carving Performance
Head Great Joy
Weight per pair: 8.2 pounds | Available lengths: 153, 158, 163, 168, 173
All of the products in this review are all-mountain, but some are more specialized and perform better than others in certain terrain. The Head Great Joy wins Top Pick Award because it is the most fun to carve on-piste. Its dramatic sidecut profile springs you in and out of 15.3-meter turns and its full sidewall construction provides excellent edge hold. Our testers love to carve snappy turns on this model. Although the Great Joy's stood out for carving, they can surf powder too! Their exaggerated fat tips and plump 100mm waist have great float in deep powder. Our expert testers tried these in a longer length, and we would suggest sizing up if you're on the fence in choosing a length.
Read review: Head Great Joy
Top Pick for Playfulness
Elan Ripstick 94 W
Weight per pair: 6.72 pounds | Available lengths: 156, 163, 170, 177
After seeing the resort bespattered with the wild hues of the Elan Ripstick 94 W, 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 soft stuff, but all over the mountain, they can be found zooming from one powerfully recoiled turn to another. Every move we made on them was fun, fun FUN!
Read review: Elan Ripstick 94 W
The One Ski Quiver
We had some exciting new additions to our lineup this year; our testers fell in love with several models and had a hard time choosing winners. If you plan to own one pair of skis, you'll want a setup that gets you down the mountain in comfort and style in all conditions. Depending on where and how you shred, it can be overwhelming to find a single setup that works for you. Our review finds your perfect plank and de-mystifies the buying process for you, speaking to skiers who want a quiver-of-one that can travel the entire resort.
The All-Mountain Category
All-mountain models are made for just that—skiing all over the mountain. Depending on the manufacturer you reference, this category can be called "all-mountain" or "freeride." These are resort models, but they should be able to transition from groomers to off-piste. These contenders cover a vast range. In general, an all-mountain model strives to do it all: carving turns on groomers, remaining stable at speed, and floating in powder.
We give a rundown of all the different skis you could possibly choose from and the differences between them in our Buying Advice article. We also highlight important buying considerations when finding the right pair for you. If you're new to the sport or just need suggestions before you commit, then reference this article.
Analysis and Test Results
We rated each model in this review on their stability at speed, carving performance, performance in snow types—like crud vs. powder—playfulness, and bump performance. We tested the ten models throughout multiple seasons with many days on each pair during work and play by as many different ladies as we could round up. Our top-rated products are capable of handling a wide variety of conditions, and they stand out as solid all-around performers, though we also found some pairs that excel at specific applications, like the Elan Ripstick's knack for excitement and the Head Great Joy's bent for carving.
The rating table above shows the cumulative scores of each ski in this year's lineup. Read on for details about each individual metric.
Stability at Speed
We want our skis to inspire confidence when flying down the mountain instead of making us pray for our lives. We want to be able to lay into them, knowing they won't wash out or chatter at high speeds. So we evaluated how each pair performs at speed. Does the contender provide a smooth ride, or are the tips floppy? Can they hold an edge when railing fast, hard turns, or do they slide out? Are they damp and controllable, absorbing bumps, or do they throw us around? The Volkl Aura is the most stable competitor in the test, followed by the Blizzard Black Pearl and the Rossi Soul 7. We also enjoyed the Dynastar Cham 2.0 97 on firm surfaces and high speeds.
Some manufacturers have updated their technology, adding carbon for stiffness, such as the Rossignol Soul 7s. The skis which are built to perform well in this category are both the Volkl models, as well as the Soul 7s and the Elan Ripsticks. Other models, perhaps attempting to be lighter weight or softer for a female audience such as the K2 Fulluvit, tend to feel unstable at speed and floppily trudge down the mountain. The Atomic Vantage was an uncomfortable ride at higher speeds, not instilling the confidence we wanted to reach our maximum velocity threshold.
Many of the off-piste models have rockered tips and have the appearance of being unstable at speeds, but many, like the Dynastar Legends and Great Joys have enough sidewall underfoot that despite flapping tips, you still have stability and edge underfoot. Stability is the one redeeming quality in our new addition this year, the Volkl 90Eight, which is otherwise unremarkable in every category. Once you get the 90Eight moving in the desired direction, it will stay the course with impudence. This metric is closely related to edge-hold, which we talk about in the carving metric below.
How turny is each contender? Do they like to turn when asked? What is the turn radius?
Models that have a smaller turn radius are usually better at carving, such as the Head Great Joy. If you prefer to spend most of your time shredding corduroy, you'll want a product that scored high in this department.
The "Carving" criterion also looks at edge hold. Do you trust it to hold its edge when you're carving turns? If you turn at speed, will your planks hold on through the turn, or will they chatter or slide out? The Volkl Aura has excellent stability and edge hold in the turns, especially at speed. The Head Great Joy loves tight turns, propelling you out on the other side while providing a smooth, snappy transition to the next turn.
These transitions are a result of the sidecut. Hourglass-shaped models are appealing to folks who are into that sort of thing. The Head Great Joy have the most dramatic sidecut in this review. They have a big shovel width of 142, a waist of 98, and tail width of 125; this dramatic sidecut makes for a snappy, carvy turn. The Rossignol Soul 7 and the Volkl Aura have the least amount of sidecut, with dimensions of 136-106-126 and 132-100-118, respectively.
Edge-to-edge quickness also factors into the carving metric. The planks will either turn as soon as you roll them on edge or they will take their time while turning. Some competitors are more sluggish. The Head Great Joy is fun and snappy with a small turn radius, and is quick to transfer from edge to edge. The Head pair was the favorite of one of our testers for its notable on-piste performance. Last year we were surprised with the upgrade to the K2 FulLuvits; their turn radius had been tightened up to 14M, and they were quicker edge-to-edge as a result. They are also extremely responsive when you need them to turn. The Volkl 90Eights were sluggish and unresponsive during our testing.
In powder, most of the models in this review will make you feel like a superhero. These boards keep you on top of the snow and make skiing feel effortless. Models with wider tips and waists help you stay on top, and others, particularly the skinnier models in this test, are more work in powder.
The Rossignol Soul 7 makes powder feel amazing, whereas the Volkl 90Eights' tips tend to dive under the snow, making the powder more laborious. These are not powder-specific models; once the snow gets deep, some just couldn't hang. We took the Atomic Vantage up to Canada to surf cold smoke, and once the powder got above the knees, the Vantage wanted to dive down.
We noticed that different tip shapes made a difference in float. Tips that are more tapered, with the widest part set back, have better glide in powder, like the Rossi Soul 7, which has excellent powder performance thanks to its fat waist and rockered tips. We were surprised with the Elan Ripstick's deep performance. They have a 95mm waist but hold their own in up to a foot of powder because of their fat, rockered tips. Other models with tapered tips in this review were the K2 FulLUVit and the Dynastar Legend W 96.
Good performance in powder and soft snow often has to do with waist width (wider = more float) and the amount of rocker. With a more turned-up tip, the product can float without added width underfoot. Rockered designs pull the contact points further toward the center, shortening the effective edge length. All of the models in this review have some rocker, and many feature a combination of camber underfoot (the arching shape resting flat on the snow), early-rise tips (rocker tip), or rockered tails. The Rossignol seems to have the most rocker of all the models in this review, and many of our testers described this pair as buttery in powder. The Volkl Aura is the only product in our fleet with "full rocker," meaning it is shaped like a banana, each end of which reaches up off the snow. This quality aids flotation in powder, and helps the skis to smear rapid turns in trees, but doesn't allow for the bite of regular camber when carving.
At OGL, we use this term as an all-encompassing category for variable snow (excluding powder) on ungroomed trails. The day after a powder day usually results in crud. Will your trusty friends plow through the irregular snow, whether it's slushy or frozen? At the end of the day, when even the groomers are trashed, does it still feel like you're carving? The Rossignol Soul 7 HD and the Blizzard Black Pearl both handle the chop with ease, either absorbing or skimming across any crud that came their way.
Some days the snow is frozen solid in the morning and slushy by mid-afternoon. Other days you will find breakable crust in one spot and chalky fun powder elsewhere. Can your planks handle it all?
The Atomic WMN Vantage 95 C let us down in this terrain; instead of absorbing the crud, they just threw us around, resulting in embarrassing face plants. How does each model transition from one type of snow to the next? The stiff and weighty Volkl Aura handles variable conditions with grace, plowing through it without batting an eye.
The K2 FulLuvit's tended to buck in the crud, throwing us in the backseat, but the Head Great Joy sucked up the crud and excelled in any off-piste conditions, from tracked-up powder to frozen chunks and wind buff.
The playfulness metric is an evaluation of how fun the product is to use. It can be subjective from tester to tester. Playfulness is pretty simple—do you have fun with this model? Are you excited to take them out and goof around on the mountain, ride switch, and jump off things?
Are they easy to use? Are they snappy and "turny"? Another quality which contributes to a ski's "playfulness" is the amount of rebound you feel when you release them.
After you've pressured them against gravity through the turn, and you let go, do they spring up and pop easily to the next set of edges? Or are they sluggish and lack energy? Generally, more traditionally cambered skis excel in this department, and we found the Elan Ripsticks to have unparalleled rebound.
The Head Great Joy is playful in a different way; they are carvy and responsive—fun to play with on groomers. The Rossignol Soul 7 HD were playful in soft snow; their tapered tail shape allowed us to wiggle down runs, giggling all the way.
Some love them, some hate them, but they are a fact of life at the resort. Even if you set out to avoid them, most days you'll find yourself at the top of a pitch of moguls. None of these all-mountain models are meant to cruise bumps, but some performed better than others. Models with tighter turn radiuses, like the K2 FulLuvit, are better when it comes to tight, firm, evenly spaced moguls.
If there are bumps forming in new snow, you may want planks that have better crud-busting abilities, like the Blizzard Black Pearls. We enjoyed ourselves in steep, small-ish bumps on the Icelantic Oracle 88s but wouldn't take them into anything firm or icy. If you want to spend more than 5% of your time in the bumps, we recommend looking into more on-piste-specific models.
A Note About Versatility
Versatility is not a specific metric, but a contender that scores well across the board is versatile, given our scoring metric. A decent all-mountain model is well-rounded, and so our highest-rated models will be the most versatile. The most versatile competitors in this review were the Rossignol Soul 7, because it is fun at speed on groomed runs, soars across off-piste crud, and floats on powder; and the Elan Ripstick 94 because of its excellent crud-busting ability, incredible playfulness both on and off-piste, and powder performance.
The Blizzard Black Pearl scored just around average for our evaluation criteria, making it an all-around versatile performer. The least versatile models were ones that specialized in one thing or another, like the K2 FulLuvit that is tons of fun in fresh powder but failed to significantly impress at most everything else and the Volkl 90Eights that were lifeless and hard to control in all conditions. We believe that an all-mountain pair should be versatile by design. All of our test models are somewhat versatile, but some handled a variety of terrain better than others.
Who We Are
OutdoorGearLab gathered a team of industry pros and professional snow bums to put our all-mountain models through the wringer. These ladies ski for a living or live to ski, and each woman skied many days on each model. With different styles and preferences, they liked different things about each product. We hope this helped us create a quality and fair overall impression of each ski and its strengths and weaknesses.
Renee Lemmer McCormack, Lead Tester
Renee is 5'10'' and 140lbs, so she's not a tiny creature. This has affected some of her ratings; many models seem a bit short and would have potentially rated higher if tested in a longer length. 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 as well as bumps and tree-skiing 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. Therefore, the Rossignol Soul 7 HD was her favorite, with the Head Great Joy coming in a close second, since they perform so well all over the mountain. She loves that they both have enough shape to carve a groomer like a Thanksgiving turkey, while their width and insanely fat shovels allow them to float in the fresh.
Jessica Haist, Lead Test Editor
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 likes the Nordica Santa Ana for its nimbleness and powder float but also had fun on the Rossignol Soul 7s for deep days. If she had to choose only one, she would go with the Volkl Aura; she loves these versatile, stable, expert sticks.
Glossary of Terms
Like the Inuit people of the north, skiers have a plethora of words to describe snow. We also use colloquialisms to describe other elements of the sport, including style and technique. Below we attempt to disseminate this mystifying nomenclature.
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 Utah and Interior British Columbia are familiar with this type of powder snow, although it occurs anywhere there is a cold snowstorm. This is the holy grail of powder: light and fluffy. Extremely easy to ski and sometimes described as bottomless, you may see snorkels in use on a cold smoke day.
Bullet-Proof/Hardpack: These conditions are often a result of melt/freeze situations or low snow years, and sometimes can be avoided by going out in the afternoons when things have warmed up. Bullet-proof can mean extremely hard, icy conditions where you hope your edges have been sharpened recently. Hardpack may be slightly softer than bullet-proof and has typically been skied or side-slipped.
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. Locals covet the wind buff and usually will not share its location.
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: Think about when you're cold and your teeth start to chatter. This is the same sensation as 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 the 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." It can also be used in reference to stylish clothing.
— Jessica Haist and Renee McCormack
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.