Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Skis for Women of 2022

We bought and tested skis from top brands like Nordica, Elan, Faction, Volkl, K2, Atomic, and others, to help you find the best
One of our new favorites, the Nordica Santa Ana 98 soars above the res...
Photo: Scott Rokis
By Renee McCormack ⋅ Review Editor
Friday October 22, 2021
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Our team of female rippers has tested 60 of the best all-mountain skis for women over the last 6 years, and recently bought 13 of the 2021-2022 ski season's best offerings for a side-by-side comparison on the snow. We rode these skis all over the mountain while floating through dreamy soft powder, muscling through thick Sierra cement, plowing through crud and chop, and shredding smooth groomers. We gave special attention to how each ski performs in a variety of conditions, taking into account the playfulness and stability at speed of each ski. We also identify the best budget model, making it easy for you to make the right choice, no matter what your price range.

Related: Best Skis for Men of 2022

Top 13 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 13
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Awards Best Buy Award   Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award 
Price Check Price at REI
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$569.95 at REI
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$679 List
Overall Score
74
63
31
77
74
Star Rating
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Pros Awesome powder tool, fabulous fun factor even for light skiers, affordable priceVery lively, makes pivoted tight turns, twin tips, beautiful artworkImpressive rebound and playfulness, nimble and quickCrud blaster, dependable, great one-ski quiver option, good for every ability levelGreat stability at high speeds, good on hard snow and crud, more affordable than others
Cons Gets bouncy in crud, slight tip flap, doesn’t carve perfectlyNot built for taller womenNose dives under fresh snow, skis short and soft, unreliable in trickier conditionsNo wow-factor, not a lot of reboundOnly for shallower pow days, needs strong skier to guide them
Bottom Line A fun and responsive toy for powder days, groomer antics, and bumps, with a value-oriented price tagA fun ski that likes to pivot and get airborne, but lacks high-speed stability, especially for larger womenA fun and lively ski for a lightweight or intermediate skier, this birdie likes to fly but is not reliable for higher-end skiers in difficult terrainA great all-rounder ski that we think is the most versatile option for a one-ski quiverThis model will do great in everything but the deepest powder and is ideal for an aggressive skier
Rating Categories Elan Ripstick 94 W Icelantic Riveter 95 Black Crows Captis... Nordica Santa Ana 98 Faction Dictator 2.0X
Stability At Speed (20%)
7.0
4.0
2.0
8.0
9.0
Carving Ability (20%)
7.0
6.0
3.0
8.0
8.0
Powder Performance (20%)
9.0
7.0
1
7.0
5.0
Crud Performance (20%)
5.0
6.0
2.0
9.0
9.0
Terrain Playfulness (15%) Sort Icon
9.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
Bumps (5%)
8.0
9.0
5.0
7.0
5.0
Specs Elan Ripstick 94 W Icelantic Riveter 95 Black Crows Captis... Nordica Santa Ana 98 Faction Dictator 2.0X
Waist Width (mm) 96 95 90 98 96
Shape (Tip-Waist-Tail) (mm) 136-96-111 130-95-117 118-90-109 132-98-120 127-96-117
Available Lengths (cm) 154, 162, 170, 178 155, 162, 169 149, 157, 164, 171 151, 158, 165, 172, 179 155, 163, 171, 175, 179, 183, 187
Length Tested (cm) 178 169 171 172 171
Radius (m) 16.2 16 18 16.3 18
Rocker Style Tip and tail, cambered inside edge Amphibio tech Tip and tail rocker, camber underfoot Tip and tail, camber underfoot Tip and tail, camber underfoot Tip and tail, camber underfoot
Weight Per Pair (lbs) 7.4 7.3 6.8 8.1 7.9
Construction Type SST sidewall Durasurf 2001 P-Tex sidewall Semi-cap construction Energy Ti W Sandwich
Core Material Tubelite wood Poplar Poplar and fiber Performance Wood & Metal Paulownia & Poplar
Intended Purpose All-Mountain All-Mountain All-Mountain All-Mountain All-Mountain, Big Mountain
Ability Level Intermediate-Advanced Intermediate-Advanced Intermediate-Advanced Expert Advanced-Expert


Best Overall Women's All-Mountain Ski


Nordica Santa Ana 98


77
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Stability at Speed 8
  • Carving Ability 8
  • Powder Performance 7
  • Crud Performance 9
  • Terrain Playfulness 6
  • Bumps 7
Ski Shape: 132-98-120 mm (Tip-Waist-Tail)
Available Lengths: 151, 158, 165, 172, 179 cm
Length We Tested: 172 cm
Excellent one-ski quiver
Blasts through crud
Reliable and stable
Not a lot of rebound
No stand-out characteristics

The Nordica Santa Ana 98 is the type of ski you could buy, throw in the rooftop box, and not have to worry about having enough space for the rest of your stuff. Instead of having to pack a ski for groomers and a ski for powder days, the Nordica provides you with an all-in-one option. The Santa Ana performed particularly well in the crud, staying stiff enough to punch through anything the mountain threw at it. It also floats well in powder, feels stable at high speeds, can carve a mean arc, and pivots easily around a mogul field.

While we appreciated the reliability of this ski, we didn't experience any wow-factor and didn't feel a lot of rebound or responsiveness under our feet. That said, it took us everywhere we wanted to go at the resort and handled every snow condition, so there's something to be said for dependability. If you don't need something to excite you and want a single ski that can do everything well, the Santa Ana is your match made in heaven.

Read review: Nordica Santa Ana 98

Great Value for Advanced Skiers


Faction Dictator 2.0X - Women's


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Stability at Speed 9
  • Carving Ability 8
  • Powder Performance 5
  • Crud Performance 9
  • Terrain Playfulness 6
  • Bumps 5
Ski Shape: 127-96-117 mm (Tip-Waist-Tail)
Available Lengths: 155, 163, 171, 175, 179, 183, 187 cm
Length We Tested: 171 cm
Stiff and Stable
Crud-busters
Affordable
Not ideal for lower-level skiers
Less flotation in the deepest powder

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 in charge 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

Great Value for Powder


Elan Ripstick 94 W


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Stability at Speed 7
  • Carving Ability 7
  • Powder Performance 9
  • Crud Performance 5
  • Terrain Playfulness 9
  • Bumps 8
Ski Shape: 136-96-111 mm (Tip-Waist-Tail)
Available Lengths: 154, 162, 170, 178 cm
Length We Tested: 178 cm
Great in all densities of powder
Awesome rebound
Fun accessible even to lighter, less powerful skiers
Affordable
Gets bouncy in crud
Slight tip flap at speed
Doesn't carve perfectly on the inside ski

There was a lot we loved about the Ripstick, but the most impressive was its ability to keep trucking along, no matter how deep or dense the snow. Whether you're a hard-charging West Coast chick who sometimes skis heavier fresh snow with higher water content, or you're new to powder skiing of any variety, this ski gives you a full access pass to the amusement park. While this new Ripstick doesn't have quite the extreme rebound that caused us to issue the old version an award for playfulness, it still gave even the lightest of us a thrill with its spring-back.

The Ripstick has an unusual design which helps it perform well in the powder but means that it's not built well for making perfectly carved turns, particularly on the fully-rockered uphill ski edge. The large rockered tips which allowed it to keep us cruising in deeper snow were also a bit floppy when brought to higher speeds on harder snow. In chunky, chopped-up terrain, the Ripstick wasn't the smoothest ride. However, the joy it gave us in powder and through its amazing poppiness all over the mountain made it one of our favorites, and the price tag made our wallets feel fine.

Read review: Elan Ripstick 94 W

Best for High-Speed Stability


Volkl Secret 96


71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Stability at Speed 9
  • Carving Ability 7
  • Powder Performance 7
  • Crud Performance 7
  • Terrain Playfulness 6
  • Bumps 3
Ski Shape: 135-96-119 mm (Tip-Waist-Tail)
Available Lengths: 149, 156, 163, 170 cm
Length We Tested: 170 cm
Very stable at high speeds
Great edge hold
High quality
A bit stiff for lighter ladies
Not nimble

The new Volkl Secret 96 is a versatile all-mountain ski with a penchant for speed and grip. We could take this ski anywhere, at any speed, and feel confident that it would maintain course and do so with style. Whether dropping into a steep couloir or mobbing down the groomer back to the chair, this ski had our backs and built our confidence. It feels as though it is a quality-made ski, not surprising from this manufacturer, and its construction remains steady all along the length of the ski from tip to tail. While it topped our charts for stability, it also performed well in nearly every other metric, making it an excellent choice for anyone wanting to ski the entire mountain in any condition.

The same qualities that make this ski so reliable at speed and in the steeps result in it being not particularly agile in trees or bumps. And while Volkl has made a concerted effort to construct the shorter skis a bit softer for smaller ladies, our testers found that even their appropriate length ski was fairly burly. We also missed the nearly perfect all-mountain all-rounder nature of the discontinued Secret 92, but most of us took our consolation in a very dependable and well-built ski.

Read Review: Volkl Secret 96

Best for Carving


Blizzard Black Pearl 88 - Women's


60
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Stability at Speed 7
  • Carving Ability 8
  • Powder Performance 4
  • Crud Performance 7
  • Terrain Playfulness 3
  • Bumps 6
Ski Shape: 128-88-110 mm (Tip-Waist-Tail)
Available Lengths: 147, 153, 159, 165, 171, 177 cm
Length We Tested: 171 cm
Quick edge to edge
Strong carving ski
Good in crud
Need to stay in the sweet spot
Not much excitement
Sinks in deeper powder

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 88-millimeter 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

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
77
$700
Editors' Choice Award
Perfect for those looking for a single ski to rule them all
74
$600
Best Buy Award
A blast to ski in fresh snow, mogul fields, and popping around on groomers
74
$679
Best Buy Award
A high-quality ski for all snow conditions, including up to 6 inches of fresh powder, but it takes a strong skier to bend and maneuver them
71
$700
Top Pick Award
For those who love to ski fast and also want to be confident exploring away from the groomers
63
$679
This ski is so much fun, pivoting on a dime and popping airborne instantly, but unfortunately it did not have the stability we wanted at higher speeds, particularly for our taller testers
62
$700
The stability we felt on the new Mindbender, especially compared to older K2 skis we remember, was a welcome sensation. Unfortunately, there's nothing that makes them jump out at us as a truly special ski
60
$600
We loved skiing this in bumps and in powder, but it wasn't as versatile as we'd hoped in other terrain
60
$650
Top Pick Award
A solid carving ski that is reliable on-piste if you can stay on top of it, but it lacks the waist width and pop to make it really fun elsewhere
58
$650
We enjoyed the Sheeva in powder but weren't as impressed with its stability or performance in crud
52
$800
Won’t replace the Soul 7 in your ski closet, but its not all bad news
42
$749
Decent showing in crud and powder, but a strange ski elsewhere
41
$650
Reliable choice for upper-intermediates, but not for expert skiers
31
$570
A blast for mellow skiers, but not dependable for more advanced birds

Our ski-shark mascot returns this season&#039;s test skis to the van for...
Our ski-shark mascot returns this season's test skis to the van for more testing tomorrow.
Photo: Scott Rokis

Why You Should Trust Us


Our two expert ski testers are industry professionals based in Mammoth Lakes, California, USA, and both come from a long history of both ski instruction and personal passion for the sport. Both women put in several days on the snow with each model, allowing them to assess each ski across the gamut of snow conditions. Each tester has different styles, preferences, and abilities, which helped us create a more complete understanding of each ski's advantages and faults.

Renee Lemmer McCormack, Lead Women&#039;s Tester.
Renee Lemmer McCormack, Lead Women's Tester.
Photo: Scott Rokis
Lead tester Renee McCormack has been skiing since she was a tot and teaching others for the past twelve years at both Vail, Colorado 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 skiers. She's spent years advising her own diverse clients on their personal ski purchases. Renee is 5 feet, 10 inches tall, and 140 pounds, so she's not a tiny creature. She generally prefers a stronger, stiffer ski with a decent sidecut. 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.

Hilary is a powder piggie. We can&#039;t believe she stood still for long...
Hilary is a powder piggie. We can't believe she stood still for long enough for our photographer to get set up.
Photo: Scott Rokis
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. She became a ski instructor and has worked in Vermont, Colorado, Utah, Austria, New Zealand, and finally settled in Mammoth Lakes, where she has been for the past eight seasons. Hilary is Level 2 PSIA and is Level 2 NZSIA qualified. She enjoys skiing groomers and carving it up when she is teaching, but her real passion is powder skiing. She can be found chasing her husband and 6-year-old son out the door on a powder morning so she can get up on the mountain for first tracks. Hilary is 5 feet, 3 inches tall, and 120 pounds, so some of the women's all-mountain skis in our test sizes were on the bigger side for her. We believe that testing the same skis will multiple testers helps us provide better feedback for you.

Hilary and Renee will often put their students on the skis they're testing for GearLab to get a wide variety of feedback; they also offer the skis to fellow instructors, coaches, and skier friends to take their thoughts into consideration.

Related: How We Tested All Mountain Skis for Women

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Click to enlarge
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Analysis and Test Results


We rated each women's all-mountain ski in this review on their stability at speed, carving ability, performance powder and crud, playfulness, and performance in the bumps. 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.

You are probably a sensible person who only wants to own a single rockin' pair of skis 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 through all types of snow conditions. Certain manufacturers will use different terminology for this ski category; they are usually 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, and stay afloat in powder.

Related: Buying Advice for All Mountain Skis for Women


Value


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 list prices and total scores for each model in order to lock down the best value-for-money purchases. The Faction Dictator and the Elan Ripstick are both well-seated high-value choices. The Faction is a decently versatile option particularly suited for high-level skiers who can reign it in, and the Elan is a powder hound and a wildly playful ski. The Salomon QST Lumen 99 is another powder-oriented option on the lower end of the scale. Conversely, if you're looking for something with more on-piste capabilities, then the Blizzard Black Pearl 88 is a good deal for a well-made ski.

The Nordica Santa Ana 98 is at the higher end of the group for cost; however, the value that it provides through its versatility will make it worthwhile for many. It is only slightly more expensive than the average, and if it means only purchasing one ski for every day of the season, the ratio of dollar-per-use is brought significantly down.

Stability at Speed


We want our all-mountain skis to make us feel like super-heroines while flying down the mountain instead of making tentative or unsure. We want to be able to exert pressure on them and make them bend and know that they won't slip out from under us or chatter around at high speeds. To this end, we examined how each pair of skis 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, softly absorbing bumps and uneven terrain, or do we get bucked around and launched out of balance?


This season, the Volkl Secret 96 takes the cake as the most stable competitor in the test, earning one of our awards for this metric. If you like to go fast and feel supported, the Volkl is a sure thing. The Faction Dictator 2.0X is another strong challenger in this category, and the Nordica Santa Ana 98 performs nearly as well. The skis that had success in this category did so because they're built for it; many ski companies even add carbon and titanal material for stiffness, such as the Volkl and the Nordica. Unfortunately, it does seem common that when a ski is very stable at higher speeds, it also tends to be stiffer and perhaps a little unwieldy for lighter, less powerful skiers. Our lighter testers found both the Volkl and the Faction to be more difficult to bend and maneuver, and we all felt these two skis weren't particularly versatile and lacked agility. The Nordica managed to break the mold - not only did our smaller testers have an easy time accessing both its steadiness and flex, but all the testers also agreed that it was nimble and fun in all types of terrain.

The Volkl Secret 96 is the best choice for ladies who especially...
The Volkl Secret 96 is the best choice for ladies who especially love speed, appreciate edge-hold, and want a reliable and well-made ski.
Photo: Scott Rokis

On the other hand, some models (potentially while trying to be lighter weight or softer for a female skier) feel unstable at speed and flap crazily down the hill, like the Black Crows Captis Birdie. The Atomic Maven 93 C is also a less comfortable ride at speeds, not instilling the confidence we desired to reach our maximum velocity threshold.

Most of the skis in the all-mountain division are now being produced with rockered tips, which are primarily 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). The Coalition SOS has such extremely rockered tips that it becomes difficult for them not to flop wildly when moving quickly on hard-packed snow.

However, some skis, like the Nordica Santa Ana 98, have enough sidewall underfoot that despite their slightly flapping tips, you still maintain enough edge-hold and stability underfoot. The discussion of edge-hold is also related to the carving metric. Others, like the Volkl Secret 96, have carbon in the tips to help dampen the ride.

The Nordica feels like there is solid construction underfoot and all...
The Nordica feels like there is solid construction underfoot and all along the length of the ski.
Photo: Scott Rokis

Carving Ability


How easy is it to 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? These are 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 Icelantic Riveter has a relatively tight radius at 16 meters, but because its construction is not quite as solid as other competitors, the edges don't always stay engaged. Other skis with a longer turn radius on paper, like the Atomic Maven's 17.9 meters, can make a much smaller arced turn, particularly if they are softer and easier to bend. If you absolutely love shredding fresh corduroy and leaving two deep trenches in your wake, then it's critical to choose a ski that performs well in this category.

The Icelantic Riveter 95 has an even snappier, tighter feel than we...
The Icelantic Riveter 95 has an even snappier, tighter feel than we expected from its 16-meter turn radius. The shock and joy is written on Renee's face.
Photo: Scott Rokis

Turn shape and size are mainly products of a ski's sidecut, though they are also affected by the ski's flex pattern (the way it bends as you ski it). 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. Conversely, when a ski has a straighter design from the tip to the tail, like the Coalition SOS, it can result in a larger turn radius. The Coalition has the least amount of sidecut in our review by a landslide, and its 25-meter radius feels barrelling compared to the rest of the group. Interestingly, the Black Crows Captis Birdie and the Atomic Maven both have sidecuts on the lower end of the median range (implying they are "straighter" skis - and they do have larger labeled radii), yet because of their softer nature and ability to bend, they actually feel like better-turning skis than much of the group.

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 (skinnier skis being generally faster to switch edges), 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 next slimmest ski, the Black Crows at 90 millimeters, was, in fact, quick from edge to edge, but we felt that its lack of grip strength and solid construction meant that we couldn't offer it high ratings in this category.

The Blizzard Black Pearl 88 takes top honors for carving...
The Blizzard Black Pearl 88 takes top honors for carving, consistently leaving two clean arcs in the snow behind us and holding an edge well in all types of terrain.
Photo: Scott Rokis

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 Volkl Secret 96 has excellent stability and edge hold in its turns throughout a range of speeds. The Nordica Santa Ana 98 and the Faction Dictator 2.0X both love laying down tracks and can easily hold an edge throughout the turn.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Powder Performance


If you've only ever skied on rental skis or skis less than 90 millimeters 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). 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 Elan Ripstick 94 makes powder skiing feel like flying through the clouds with the Amphibio profile that helps smooth out the ride. On the other end of the spectrum, both the Blizzard Black Pearl 88 and the Black Crow Captis Birdie 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 (110 millimeters and above in the waist). When the snow gets really deep, some of these all-mountain models just can't hang.

The Amphibio profile of the Elan Ripstick 94 means that the downhill...
The Amphibio profile of the Elan Ripstick 94 means that the downhill ski grips while the uphill ski skids, providing a smooth ride and easier transitions in powder
Photo: Scott Rokis

Waist Width and Rocker
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 160-centimeter on-piste ski, you may want to consider getting something in the 170-centimeter range if you're buying something with early-rise rocker.

The Coalition Snow SOS 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. Our winner in this metric, the Elan Ripstick 94 W, alternatively does not have a particularly wide waist nor an exceptional amount of rocker. What it does have is a very unusual design the manufacturer calls "Ambibio Technology," where there are dedicated left and right skis. The inside edge of each is built with regular camber to provide edge grip on harder snow. The outside edge is created with a fully rockered design, shaped like a banana, with each end lifting off the snow, allowing for more flotation in powder and agility in soft snow. This rockered edge is perhaps what sets the Elan apart in its powder performance and what makes it ski like a dream in the freshies.

Dropping into deep snow on the Coalition Snow SOS felt secure and...
Dropping into deep snow on the Coalition Snow SOS felt secure and reliable
Photo: Scott Rokis

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, Elan Ripstick is a prime example. The relatively narrow waist doesn't inhibit its powder prowess at all, thanks to their rockered and spatula tips. We were pleasantly surprised by their powder performance, even on the deepest days. The Salomon QST Lumen 99 shares the Elan's tip profile and performs nearly as well in the deep. There are quite a few pairs of skis in this review that acquire floatation through their well-designed, wide tips, such as the Volkl Secret 96 and the K2 Mindbender Ti.

Crud Performance


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 Nordica Santa Ana 98 and the Faction Dictator easily manage choppy snow like bullies on the playground, blasting through the rough terrain. They are both damp enough not to get tossed around in chunky snow, barrelling through it instead.

The Nordica Santa Ana 98 is a crud-busting machine, blasting through...
The Nordica Santa Ana 98 is a crud-busting machine, blasting through any chunky terrain in its path
Photo: Scott Rokis

Other skis take an alternative approach to the chop, using their lightness and agility to skim the surface. The Elan Ripstick and the Icelantic Riveter use this method, but as it isn't as effective as the more aggressive tactic, they don't score quite as high in this metric.

The Icelantic Riveter 95 has a different method of handling chunky...
The Icelantic Riveter 95 has a different method of handling chunky snow; instead of blasting through like stiffer skis, it helps absorb the undulations and easily changes direction when things get too tough.
Photo: Scott Rokis

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 Black Crows Captis Birdie in this type of terrain. It neither barged through it nor sucked it up, throwing us around and resulting in some minor humiliations.

Terrain Playfulness


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 across skier-types as well, depending on your ability level, height and weight, and preferences for turn shape and size. Playfulness can also 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 exceptional rebound.

The incredible rebound of the Elan Ripstick, combined with its love...
The incredible rebound of the Elan Ripstick, combined with its love of flight, makes it one of the more playful skis in this review.
Photo: Scott Rokis

The Black Crows Captis Birdie gave all our testers, regardless of their size, a very exciting rebound and made it fun to ski within appropriate terrain - nothing too steep, deep, or choppy. 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.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

The Salomon QST Lumen 99 stands out as a high-energy ski, in the same way, reacting quickly when our testers bent it and offering nice kick-back. Neither the Nordica Santa Ana 98 nor the Faction Dictator are 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 and of itself.

Some skis, such as the Rossignol Rallybird Ti just felt like dead boards under our feet and didn't make us feel much joy while skiing them. This was particularly disappointing in the case of the Rossi, as the old discontinued Rossignol Soul 7 HD W was one of the most responsive and playful skis we'd ever tested. 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.

Bumps


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 many of the other competitors in this category, possibly as a result of its ease of turning and frolicking nature. While we appreciated the Atomic Maven in softer, smaller moguls, we wouldn't be thrilled to ski it through firmer Volkswagon-sized bumps. Despite its penchant for higher speeds and larger turn shapes, the Nordica Santa Ana 98 can still hold its own in a mogul field. Even our smaller testers found it to be manageable and quick in the bumps.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

If moguls are only 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 Faction Dictator simply remold the mountain to its liking, basically just razing the bumps that accidentally got in its 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 specifically rate the women's all-mountain skis on their versatility because the most versatile and well-rounded skis will naturally perform well across all of our metrics and rise to the top of the podium. The least versatile skis are the ones that tend to specialize in a particular zone, thereby making performance sacrifices in other areas.

A versatile ski makes us smile, no matter what terrain we find...
A versatile ski makes us smile, no matter what terrain we find ourselves in.
Photo: Scott Rokis

The most versatile contenders in our review are the Nordica Santa Ana 98, the Elan Ripstick 94, the Faction Dictator, and the Volkl Secret 96. The Nordica is particularly adept at high speeds and in crud but performs well all over the mountain as well. The Ripstick is a powder hound but also has wonderful frivolity, both on-piste and off. The Faction is a crud-buster and high-speed machine, but it also competes in softer snow and moguls. The Volkl has unrivaled steadiness at high speeds, in any terrain, and while carving, it only misses a step when taken into tight bumps.

Conclusion


If you're seeking the perfect one-ski quiver to handle whatever goods Mother Nature throws your way, we have you covered in this women's all-mountain ski review. Whether you're looking for planks to help stay afloat in soft powder, shred the groomers, or plow through crud, our top-ranked skis have the versatility to excel in all kinds of conditions and take you anywhere on the mountain.

Renee McCormack

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