Best Powder Skis
|Pros||Surfy, fun, quick on edge|
|Bottom Line||This surfy ski is fully dialed in the powder and energetic on the groomers|
|Rating Categories||Elan Ripstick 116|
|Stability At Speed (20%)|
|Specs||Elan Ripstick 116|
|Waist Width (mm)||116|
|Available Lengths (cm)||185, 193|
|Radius (m)||20.3 m|
|Weight Per Pair||8.8 lbs|
|Core Material||Wood (tubelite)|
|Tested length (cm)||185|
Best Overall Powder Ski
DPS Alchemist Lotus 124
New to the lineup this year is the coveted DPS Lotus Alchemist 124 — a longstanding overachiever from the company that is known for unapologetically fat skis. DPS cut their teeth in the industry by making pow-tools inspired by a deep passion for skiing in the Wasatch. They proclaim that the Lotus 124 is one of their best ever, and many dedicated big-mountain pundits agree with them. An undeniably huge shovel and pronounced rocker profile secure the Lotus in the quiver ski category, but if you're looking to fill the relentless pow-slayer niche, the hat fits. The ski's dimensions and generous tip splay provide the type of effortless float that only a powder-specific tool could. Add to that a lighter-than-average construction, and you'll find yourself questioning your standards for deep snow setups. You'll get smoother turn entry, greater stability, and better top-end performance from this model than pretty much any ski in the same big-mountain canon.
It is crazy expensive and isn't thrilling on piste. But to call the Lotus a one-trick-pony would be a little unfair. While it can't pull radius like some of the rest, it out-performs nearly all of its peers in soft snow and has enough firm-snow fidelity to survive high-speed pursuits to the bottom. Fluid across the fall line and easy to control at a variety of speeds, the Lotus hasn't compromised turn intuition for floatability — it can do both with style. Bottom line: the DPS Lotus Alchemist 124 is a soft snow Maverick that can charge in the deep. This type of uncompromising powder performance has earned the Lotus top recognition in our review.
Read review: DPS Lotus Alchemist 124
Best Bang for the Buck
Back by popular demand, the Moment Wildcat is the people's champ. Moment revived this beloved shape in 2016, and fat-board fans rejoiced. Whether or not you knew the original, it's worth knowing that the Wildcat got better. Still sporting the classic dimensions of 141/116/131, the Wildcat was upgraded with carbon fiber stringers and a UHMW sidewall with semi-cap construction. The result is an ultra-burly, lightweight, and stunty ski that can destroy everything in its path. These planks float with the best of 'em but are also a go-to setup regardless of snow types. The relatively moderate waist width coupled with a camber-friendly Mustache Rocker gives it phenomenal edge hold while also remaining playful and surfy. Blending floaty, freeride surfability with an aggressive, top-end stability, there isn't much that the Wildcat can't do. It's also got one of the lowest price tags in the review. Lucky you.
Our reviewers agreed that this ski performed well across the board, though it preferred to be driven through deep snow and high-angle terrain. This is a hard-charging, in-your-face powder weapon that never hesitates to send. User be warned: the Wildcat is radder than you. If you're looking for excellent powder skiing but want to shed ounces for the backcountry, look no further than the Moment Wildcat Tour. The Wildcat received minor updates to the semi-cap design for 2018, and a new top sheet.
Read review: Moment Wildcat
Best for Big Lines
Nordica Enforcer Pro
Founded in 1930 high in the Italian Alps, Nordica has a long-standing reputation for their commitment to quality construction. Nordica began pressing skis in Austrian factories near the turn of the century and quickly gained their spot on World Cup podiums. The Nordica family has grown to include Freeride and Big-Mountain products. The Nordica Enforcer Pro is arguably the chef-d'œuvre of the brand's freeride lineup. It is the result of years-long research and development efforts to create a highly-tuned big mountain ski that is strong as it is buoyant. Following cues from Nordica's racing dynasty, the Enforcer Pro has two layers of titanal and greater-than-average camber underfoot for the powder category. Coupled with generous sidewall and a stiff flex pattern, this ski isn't limited by high speeds or challenging surfaces. But in true powder ski fashion, the Enforcer has plenty of surface area and double rocker to keep you afloat when the going gets deep.
It is a heavy ski, and it's less maneuverable at slow speeds. But if prefer top-end speeds and lots of stability across the fall line, then we'd emphatically recommend the Nordica Enforcer Pro. This is the go-to powder board if you come from a traditional alpine background or primarily ski rugged lines that are steep and fast. All in all, we'd say that it is a capable powder ski and an unabashedly confident big mountain slayer.
Read review: Nordica Enforcer Pro
Analysis and Test Results
A powder ski review necessitates deep snow, but a well-rounded one isn't a one-trick-pony. You need to be able to trust it to get you around the mountain even when the conditions are less-than-legendary. Powder takes many forms, can be found on nearly any type of terrain, and can require a specialized style of skiing if your gear isn't cut out for the crud. We believe it's important to see how the contenders match up in variable snowpack as well as legendary deep stuff because fresh snow is always fun.
These boards are intended to cruise over deep snow, not to hold an edge on a watered racing surface. But in the spirit of all-mountain savagery, we tested it all — powder, corduroy, crusty, tracked-out, and firm snow surfaces. Don't get us wrong — this is a powder review and floatation was our primary consideration. Though with modern advancements in ski technology, there is no reason that a fatty becomes a fish out of water when it comes to all-mountain shred-ability.
We identified six metrics that are integral to a powder ski's performance — float, stability at speed, playfulness, crud-busting performance, carving, and versatility. We ran each contender through a gauntlet of metric-specific performance objectives like straight lining The Slot and coming to a complete stop in peppered avalanche debris. The cumulative, weighted scores determine the overall rating of each model.
Putting together a new ski setup is an expensive endeavor. If you're looking to maximize the value of your next powder ski purchase, look no further. When we're out in the elements, all we care about is performance. But when it comes to recommending the best skis for our friends, we also consider your budget. While it's tough to get the best of both worlds in the ski category, we feel that there are plenty of great options for every price point in this review. The DPS Lotus Alchemist is our favorite ski in this lineup — it's also one of the most expensive. The Moment Wildcat is a high-scoring model with a much smaller price tag, offering an excellent value.
Float is without-a-doubt the most important metric in this review—which is why we weighted it the most heavily. If nothing else, a powder ski is bred to perform as an unrelenting, snow-slashing floatation device. It is the tool you rely upon when the snow is deep, and the stoke is high.
To assess float, we rated each ski on its ability to plane and glide on top of deep snow. We also paid attention to how quickly each ski rebounds if pushed below the surface, and how well it could hover without us having to adjust our riding stance. We took note of how easily the ski maneuvers in powder as well. Thankfully, modern ski technology has given us the ability to float and turn in soft snow without burning our legs out. We prefer surfy, playful boards to the stiff and boaty variety.
Powder skiing is undeniably fun, but there were some nuanced differences in performance that are worth recognizing. It's also worth recognizing that powder comes in many varieties. From storm-to-storm and season-to-season, you will want a ski that can adapt to ever-changing conditions and still keep you afloat.
By no surprise and much to our delight, all the skis we reviewed performed well in powder. There were, however, some standout models that have a knack for surfing the deep stuff. The Line Pescado and DPS Lotus Alchemist received top scores in the floatation department. They are both designed with key attributes aimed at enhancing floatiness and providing tremendous maneuverability in deep snow.
The Pescado, drawing inspiration from old-school surfboards, delivers exceptional buoyancy that is reminiscent of actually floating in water. Meanwhile, the Lotus can pull off surprisingly nimble turn shapes no matter how deep or heavy the snow gets. As expected, the Moment Wildcat is also a top-performer in this category.
Most of the contenders had waist widths over 115 mm. Fatness aside, there are other design features that help you find the perfect float. Rockered profiles and dramatic shovel shapes keep your tips tracking on top of the deep stuff, so you don't submarine and lose momentum. Lightweight construction and mixed core materials have also lightened the swing weight of these portly boards, allowing you to turn and slash them swiftly.
Stability at Speed
A ski's stability is often defined by its ability to remain firmly planted on the snow surface without chattering or erratic movement in variable snow. Powder-specific skis aren't exactly known for their stability on firm snow. But they should be able to provide a damp and comfortable ride on variable snow. Pow skis are made soft and wide for a reason, which can sometimes have an adverse effect on how well they handle high-speed runouts. Heavily-rockered skis can track over terrain fluctuations but can be a bit squirrelly on firm surfaces and are notorious for slapping around on anything but fresh snow. While stiffer skis are considered to have greater stability at speed, this can compromise floatation and rebound ability—especially when driven by lighter, more intermediate skiers.
We assessed stability by finding steep, multi-surfaced pitches to let the skis reach full speed. After letting the ponies run, we would make full turns across the fall-line at varying radii — paying close attention to the smoothness and reliability of ski-to-snow contact. We also tested this metric by executing high-speed hockey stops in steep terrain because going fast tends to get hairy when you can't shut it down in time. The stability scores area a measure of the skis overall steadiness and the skier's confidence to complete these maneuvers without losing control.
Striking the perfect balance between stiffness and dampness and rocker and camber can be exceptionally difficult. If you already understand that, then you won't be surprised to recognize that this category had the widest range of scores. Softer skis tend to get bossed around when ridden at speed. They prefer to bounce in and out of low-angle bumps rather than crushing through steep, tracked-out snow. Stiffer, heavier skis like the Volkl Confession and Nordica Enforcer Pro had seemingly no speed limit and ate up vibrations with ease. The Enforcer Pro, Confession, and DPS Alchemist Lotus sped away with the highest scores in this category.
Stiff skis aren't always heavy, though weight can give you some extra oomph when hitting the gas. Because of these tradeoffs, stability can fluctuate depending on how you intend to use the ski. Testers that enjoy playful, energetic, easy-driving skis prefer the lighter and more flexible options. They rarely hit the speed limit for these skis and stability wasn't much of an issue for them. Those who prefer aggressive turn shapes and big lines felt more comfortable on beefier boards like the Enforcer Pro or Confession.
When you're getting tubbed in the deep stuff on an inbounds day, you're bound to run into some rough patches. Off-piste skiing sometimes necessitates the techniques and tools to blast through choppy snow without getting mangled (notice how we put technique first). A powder ski's ability to manage variable snow is arguably more important than its ability to carve. Thus, we've rated this metric twice as heavily as the carving category. Trust us on that one.
We rated crud-skiing performance based on each model's dampness, plowing ability, resistance to grabbing or hooking, and its ability to link turns in variable snow. We skied all kinds of beastly conditions — manky bumps, twice-baked potatoes, and re-frozen, bombed-out traverses — to discern which skis could handle chop with grit.
By nature, powder skis are better suited to glide over chunky snow than other skis. Fatter shapes and rockered construction let you cruise over variable snow without much kickback or physical consequence. The caveat being that lighter, flexier powder boards tend to get bossed around when not in a deep float. Stiffer models like the Nordica Enforcer Pro are more assertive when it comes to breaking through crust and crud at high speeds. The Enforcer was the highest scorer in this metric, but the Volkl Confession also earned some high marks for its crud-busting prowess.
Softer, more playful models can bounce in and out of cushy contours but don't handle icy crud or high-angle chop with confidence. Progressively-flexed models like the Elan Ripstick 116 have enough rocker to pop over crud, but not enough backbone to drive through it.
A ski that is playful often feels energetic, easy to engage, and overall more responsive to the driver's commands. Fun is, of course, a subjective qualifier, just as playfulness is in the eye of the shredder. Thus the requirements for a playful, fun ski evolves with speed, terrain, and skier type. To provide the most baseline overview of this metric, we were objective in our assessment of playfulness.
We monitored the performance and liveliness of each ski in a variety of snow conditions through all types of mountainous playgrounds. We buttered our turns, aired off of obstacles, spun off of spines, and hit ridge transfers. There were ollies and nollies, tail taps and backies. We rated playfulness by the ski's responsive energy, agility, and pop.
There is one standout model when it came to playfulness in the powder category — the Moment Wildcat. Softer models could snap all kinds of fun turn shapes but tend to get jumpy at higher speeds. On the other hand, the Wildcat has a bit more beef to back up those big drops and high-speed jibs.
You wouldn't expect to find carving in the lexicon of a powderhound. Terms like slarving, slashing, and shmearing seem more fitting for their turn-shape vocabulary. Nevertheless, the ability to link arcs is an important consideration when judging a ski's overall performance — no matter which niche they cater to. Given the average waist width in this lineup, the contenders aren't going to roll over as quickly as a dedicated carver would. However, our testers were pleasantly surprised by their ability to set an edge and bring it across the fall-line.
For this metric, we rated each model based on ease of turn initiation, exiting power of each turn, and confidence in edge hold. Our testers were asked to find a firm, consistent surface with a considerable pitch on which to make aggressive turn shapes. By carving rhythmically with consistent edge pressure, they were to complete turns at the smallest possible radius for the ski.
The two standout models for carving are the Volkl Confession and the Nordica Enforcer Pro. All of these choices have stout sidewall construction, considerable camber, and stiffer-than-usual tails for a powder ski — all characteristics more commonly found in a full-on frontside carver. Not surprisingly, each of these models come from brand families traditionally seen on World Cup podiums. With an appetite for speed, they are quick to initiate and accelerate through the finish of each turn.
Of our favorites in this category, the Volkl Confession takes the cake for carvy-ness. With titanal bands for torsional flex and a sidecut radius of more than 21 meters, the Confession handles aggressive edge pressure and top-end turn shapes with ease — winning it our highest score for carving.
A Note on Camber/Rocker
Nowadays, powder boards are a blend of rockered and cambered construction, so they typically have a shorter effective edge. (The effective edge is the length of the ski that makes contact with snow when you stand on it.) With even a moderate amount of camber underfoot, shaped skis can arc nice turns on firm snow when adequate boot pressure is applied. This is a simple maneuver for intermediate skiers and above.
Rockered tips (AKA early rise) bring the contact point closer to boot center and allow for quicker, easier turn initiations. Since rocker is common on powder skis, long powder boards have a shorter-than-expected turn radius while still providing better float and stability in chop when compared to a fully cambered ski. In addition to aiding float, rockered tips and tails help the skier execute varying turn shapes by offering different contact points when skied in powder. So in essence, the effective edge of a rockered ski changes depending on the conditions. You'd be hard-pressed to find a dedicated powder ski that doesn't have rocker.
Some alpine purists scoff at rockered skis becoming so pervasive. Skeptics will argue that having less effective edge is a noticeable stability and carving performance trade-off. When it comes to powder skis, this trade-off is negligible if not welcome to provide more float in deep snow. And if you're using these skis to find the deep stuff, the firm snow you encounter likely comes in the form of crusty wind slabs and not tasty groomers.
Powder skis are undoubtedly designed to fill a particular niche. But that doesn't necessarily mean we want to sacrifice performance when skiing anything but creamy hero snow.
You probably won't find a quiver-killer in this pow-ski lineup, but it's prudent to know how well each model operates across-the-board. We rated versatility by considering how confident we are taking each ski out on any given day. It is a relative measure of the skis ability to perform in all of the listed metrics, not simply powder.
It may not be surprising that our skinniest ski also received the highest score for versatility. The Nordica Enforcer Pro was well-rounded in all-mountain performance, while the Line Pescado had a noticeable preference for the soft stuff.
You'll notice a trade-off here, the best carvers, the most stable skis at speed, and the best crud-busters are also the worst floaters. You simply have to figure out which conditions you encounter most and which performance is the most important to you.
Who We Are
Our reviewing method used a collaborative testing model that relied on input from a variety of skiers. Our chief review editor and primary testers are professionals in the ski industry and depend on their equipment to perform reliably in all conditions. They also have a background in alpine racing, where you are often very exacting of your equipment. We asked these experts, along with their colleagues and friends, to put these powder boards to the test on a diverse collection of terrain and snow types. By utilizing testers of different size, gender, skier type, and geographical backgrounds, we aimed to grab a comprehensive data set that avoided any possible bias.
Rob Woodworth, Lead Test Editor
- Age: 27 HT: 6'2" WT: 200 lbs.
- Occupation: U12 Head Coach, Squaw Valley Ski Team
Rob is a lifelong adventurer and perennial student of the outdoors. He trains in the winter months as an alpine ski racing coach at Squaw Valley and spends his shoulder season roaming the great American west in his super-groovy '83 Chevy camper van with a trail hound named Wrennie Mae. When not in his coaching boots, Rob can be found playing guitar or getting after the steep-and-deep of the Tahoe backcountry with said trail hound and rowdy company.Rob's favorite model for powder skiing in this review was the DPS Lotus Alchemist 124, though he was also quite fond of the Nordica Enforcer Pro when the conditions were mixed. He is fond of fat skis that are both damp and stable at speed, eager to get on edge, and stiff enough to get driven hard without sacrificing any float. Specific to the Alchemist, he liked the playful sidecut radius and rockered tail that allowed for beautiful washouts in the exit of each turn.
— Rob Woodworth