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Head

Management at every brand, large and small, foreign or domestic, has to make choices about how they want to build a ski. Once they settle on a construction and the equipment devised to execute it is installed on the premises, they tend to stay with it for the long haul. Head’s wheelhouse construction could not be more fundamental or more sound: while other brands have obsessed with making a cheaper, higher margin ski, Head has stayed with what it knows will never fail them: a stout wood core, two sheets of titanal and carefully calibrated, pre-impregnated fiberglass to wrap it all up. To those who might quibble some of Head’s skis are over-built, we would counter, wouldn’t you rather own a brand that errs on the side of excellence?

As an Austrian brand, Head has always placed a premium on race results, and their investments in this area are paying impressive dividends.  Lindsay Vonn has already eclipsed the considerable achievements of Bode Miller; both are Head skiers, as is Ted Ligety, who may be the best technical skier in the world today.  In a sport where wins can be measured in the thousandth of a second, who comes out on top may appear serendipitous; when athlete after athlete is holding up a crystal globe recognizing a season of superiority, something other than serendipity is afoot.

While Head’s victories on the World Cup cannot be ignored, they’ve had their issues translating gold on the racecourse into dollars in the register in the US. To put it mildly, the American market is not race-driven. Americans want to go where they wanna go, do what they wanna, wanna do; we’re all about freeride, dude!  Head, to their great credit, is all about technique.  They were the first major brand to treat the Carving trend seriously and make it part of their identity. Hooking into the top of a turn is part of their essential make-up. The idea of an edge breaking loose mid-turn makes their product designers break out in hives. They understand what freeride skiers mean when they say they want the ski to smear; they just don’t understand why anyone would want that. 

Happily, Head’s designers are adept enough to change with the times. They added rocker to their Rev models without the world as they knew it coming to an end. While they’ve dropped the name from their line (since restored), their fat skis are still monsters, and these, too, have their place in the freeride world.

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2016 Addendum

Don’t tell Head’s owner, Johan Eliasch, but his massive investment in World Cup racing likely has had little impact on the brand’s steadily accelerating rise in popularity in America. Sales of race skis remain small in this country, but what Americans do have a keen eye for—technical innovation and a great deal—are finally earning Head a well deserved following among recreational skiers. 

Last season saw the debut of the women’s Joy series, the first application of Graphene™ in the ski world, and the market reception could not have been better.

Head also made hay with two cornerstone models, the Rev 85 Pro and Rev 80 Pro, which offered elite construction at an affordable price. For 2016 Head is replacing the Revs with a new system series for Frontside skiers, the Instincts, and bringing back the Monster name, applied to a 4-ski series of wider, off-piste skis.

The keynote of both the on-trail Instinct series and the off-trail-oriented Monsters is the tactical deployment of Graphene™, the one-atom thick latticework of carbon that allows Head designers to trim wood and/or metal, reducing mass while strengthening structure.

The top two models in the tight-radius Instinct series, the Power Instinct Ti Pro and the Raw Instinct Ti Pro, share the same wood-and-Titanal construction and the same appetite for high-throttle carving. When they’re glued to the ground, they feel as solid as granite; the lightweight advantage of Graphene is more evident whenever you need to whip them around or lift them off the snow.

The step-down Strong Instinct Ti and Supreme Instinct Ti use foam in lieu of wood so they respond in a lower gear than their beefier brothers. Easy to bow and light as a whisper, their low-speed maneuverability will appeal to the intermediate who aspires to be more.

The resuscitated Monster series all use a combination of wood, Titanal and Graphene, but how they distribute pressure varies by width.  The Monster 108 and Monster 98 move the pressure zones towards the tip and tail, while the Monster 88 and Monster 83 exert more force underfoot (as do the Instinct models).

Other Monster family traits include flat tails and flat topskins, meaning they’re directional off-trail skis, cambered all the way back from the rockered forebody and sold without bindings.  In a way we mean as complimentary, they ski like wide-body carvers rather than loose-steering off-piste skis.

In the interests of full disclosure, your Editor played a small hand in the launch of the original (87mm) Head Monster at the turn of the century, so bias no doubt influences my judgment.  Despite a wider-is-better Zeitgeist, I find the Monster 88 to be the avatar of all-mountain proficiency, quick on and off the edge and unintimidated by the worst off-piste conditions, such as set-up crud and frozen chicken heads. 

The Instinct and Monster series are joining a line that is otherwise intact and firing on all cylinders: globe-winning World Cup Rebels race skis, sublime i.Supershape carvers and the ultra-light, ultra-popular Joy women’s skis are all back and as beautiful as ever.

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In-depth reviews of 24 models—with key performance ratings ( ? ) and genre model comparisons ( ? ) —are in our member section

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new for 2016Worldcup Rebels i.SL RD

traditional

Power:  A+

Finesse:  A

Sidecut:  121/66/99 @ 165cm
Radius:  13.1m @ 165cm
Lengths:  156,158,165,16
Weight:  n.a.
MSRP: $1175

isl rd

If you follow the fortunes of Head-sponsored athletes on the World Cup circuit, you know that they own a lease on the podium in every event but slalom. Curiously, our testers, who of course aren’t wearing WC start bibs on the weekends and who struggle to bend the Rebels i.Speed and would probably wake up in the clinic if they ever essayed a true World Cup DH or SG ski, positively adore the Head Rebels i.SL RD. Just goes to show, as if any further proof were needed, how deep and un-bridgeable is the gulf between the planet’s best skiers and the rest of us. 

The point of this intro, aside from administering a dose of humility, is that Head keeps tinkering with this model even though what they had was already perfect from our panelists’ point of view.  The latest tweaks do nothing to dull its performance attributes, but the latest i.SL RD requires the full attention of its pilot if it’s to be fully appreciated. 

“Very sturdy, powerful machine,” assessed Footloose’s Corty Lawrence, “Push as hard as you want, go as fast as you want.  Have to be a tad careful at high speed not to pressure the tip too quickly, but rebound is symmetrical.”  Other testers concurred with Corty that the i.SL RD skied its best when tilted at a steep enough angle to allow the whole ski to bend.  “What a beautiful, balanced feel throughout the turn,” agreed one of The Sport Loft contingent who regularly rates race skis. 

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Worldcup Rebels i.SL

traditional

Power:  A

Finesse:  A

Sidecut:  122/66/107
Radius:  11.5m @ 165cm
Lengths:  150,155,160,165,170
Weight:  2064g @ 165cm
MSRP:  $975

This review is based on 2014 test results; the ski is unchanged.

isl

One of the best reasons for becoming a really accomplished skier is you get to enjoy skiing a stick like the Head Worldcup Rebels i.SL.  Just point and go. 

Our intrepid XXL tester felt he could maneuver with the same sinuous flow one feels on in-line skates, “even at slow speeds, if you’re willing to carve it. What a fun ride.”  The sensation of perpetual snow contact is palpable throughout the speed range, particularly on a firm, inflexible surface. 

Of Head’s troika of super-charged slaloms, the i.SL falls in the middle: it’s not the fall-line-focused, FIS-approved i.SL RD (for Race Department, connoting it’s the real McCoy), nor is it the slightly rockered, more supple i.Supershape Speed, which owns an even more open-minded attitude when it comes to conforming to terrain and varied turn shapes.   The i.SL behaves like a true race slalom with excellent manners; it knows it can do more than its handler can, but it has the decency not to show it. 

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i.Supershape Magnum

early rise

Power:  A+

Finesse:  A+

Sidecut:  128/72/106
Radius:  13.1m @ 170cm
Lengths:  149,156,163,170,177
Weight:  2034g @ 170cm
MSRP:  $1075

This review is based on 2014 test results; the ski is unchanged.

supershape magnum

Head makes four extraordinary Technical skis, all loaded with the same piezo-electric powered construction that Head calls KERS and you’ll call kick-ass. It uses the energy you create when you load the ski to stiffen the tail proportionately, so the more power you generate, the more the ski supports then projects you into the next arc. 

All this goes on without calling the slightest attention to itself, except you might notice you are suddenly skiing like a minor deity.  At 72mm underfoot, the Magnum is one of the narrower options in the i.Supershape collection that includes the Titan, Rally and Speed, yet you wouldn’t know it in a lot of off-trail conditions. It’s so stable and confidence building you’ll want to take it everywhere but in the backcountry. 

Wherever you want to head, the Magnum is up for it because it’s never encountered a condition that intimidates it. All this all-terrain talk shouldn’t obscure the fact that the Magnum is the epitome of grace and power on the hard snow where it will most likely spend most of its life.

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i.Supershape Speed

early rise

Power:  A+

Finesse:  A

Sidecut:  119/66/98
Radius:  14.3m @ 170cm
Lengths:  156,163,170,177,184
Weight:  2025g @ 170cm
MSRP:  $1075

This review is based on 2014 test results; the ski is unchanged.

supershape speed

The path of true love is unpredictable.  Who would have imagined a hard-charging, fall-line facing, long-turn habitué falling for a super-shaped little package like the Head i.Supershape Speed? (Do NOT mistake her for the Rebels i.Speed, an entirely different species. We now return to our budding romance.) 

This ski has “short turns only need apply” practically tattooed on its forebody, yet as I take her out on the dance floor and show her my go-to turns, she’s right with me. So to test the relationship I take her into gnarly, snowboard-chewed bumps and what does she do? Darts between them like she was a pair of ballet pumps, laughing at the ease with which she achieves the improbable.

I’m smitten, so when she asks if she can now (finally!) do her thing, I lead her to the steepest groomed pitch we know (we’ll call it ours from hereon after) where she proceeds to string short turns like pearls on an unbroken string.  If I haven’t tumbled all the way it’s because she can be demanding, doesn’t like to be pushed sideways and won’t go where she’ll be in over her head in powder.  But otherwise, she is both beautiful and fun to be with.

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i.Supershape Titan

early rise

Power:  A+

Finesse:  A+

Sidecut:  133/80/111
Radius:  14.3m @ 170cm
Lengths:  156,163,170,177
Weight:  2126g @ 170cm
MSRP:  $1075

supershape titan

Most ski lines are comprised of 3 to 5 distinct series, each with its own chassis, application and customer profile.  Within each series, there tends to be a star product, one that ends up being the main focus of interest and sales.  In Head’s i.Supershape series the Titan… is not that product.

For the i.Supershape collection is that rare breed, the all-star series in which every model is so talented and so delicious to ski, they all deserve to have their name at the top of the marquee.  As the widest in its family (80mm underfoot), the Titan was preordained to earn high marks for versatility, as indeed it does. It possesses the intoxicating quality of magnifying its pilot’s efforts.  If you can lay it over, the Titan will take care of the rest.

This isn’t just the euphoria induced by a strong yet tractable ski; the Titan actually has an on-board microchip and piezos that together turn vibration into acceleration.  {They call it the Kinetic Energy Recovery System; turgid terminology, but true.) “The system works,” one tester validated, “I could feel the tail stiffen and accelerate at the end of the turn.”

While the Titan can’t make the tiny turns of its bulimic-thin brother, the i.Supershape Speed, it’s no slouch at making slalom turns if that’s what you want.  In fact, it earned one of our highest ratings for short-radius turns.  This facility coupled with its penchant for exploring the speed limit gives the Titan a range of versatility that has earned it a devoted following.

The Titan is so well balanced between Power and Finesse traits that last season we listed it as a Finesse Favorite while this season we’re stressing its Power properties.  “It’s a high performance ski for experienced skiers,” pinpoints Michael from Footloose, “stiff yet playful. Stable at high speeds and even great making small turns in the chutes.” 

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i.Supershape Rally

early rise

Power:  A+

Finesse:  A+

Sidecut:  131/76/109
Radius:  13.6m @ 170cm
Lengths:  149,156,163,170,177
Weight:  2080g @ 170cm
MSRP:  $1075

supershape rally

So what’s the big difference between Head’s Titan and Rally?  Once you opted for one over the other, none. 

We suppose one could say that about any two skis vying for one’s affections, but with the Head Rally and Titan, it really is a choice with no possible bad outcome. Whatever the Titan can do, the Rally can do, and vice versa.  The skis are even priced the same and come with the same choice of Tyrolia binding.  All things being even, you might as well base your selection on your school colors.

To help illuminate the Rally’s allure, allow me to share a personal moment from a ski test last February at Mammoth Mountain.  The Rally was my 13th ski of the day, representing some 20 runs, and my tank was running low.  Perhaps it was my prayer for Ullr’s protection, but the Rally made the late afternoon sally effortless. It was a turn genie: all I had to do was think of an arc and off we went. 

The Rally has one talent that too often goes untapped: it actually handles off-piste conditions better than all the other Heads in this genre, but one.  If you guessed the Rally’s slightly wider clone, the Titan, you’ve cottoned on to the meaning of this review. 

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new for 2016Raw Instinct Ti Pro

early rise

Power:  A-

Finesse:  B

Sidecut:  124/78/110
Radius:  16.5m @ 170cm
Lengths:  149,156,163,170.177,184
Weight:  2054g @ 170cm
MSRP:  $975

raw instinct ti pro

Last year Head introduced the first skis – and one of the first consumer products of any kind – using Graphene™, the miracle material one-atom thick.  As the apotheosis of gossamer, Graphene was a perfect fit for women’s skis, so that’s where it was first applied, to universal acclaim.

This season Head introduced two new men’s lines featuring Graphene, the Monster series, sold without an integrated binding system, and the Instinct collection, a nearly parallel line built with bindings included.  The Raw Instinct plays second fiddle to the Power Instinct in the new line (although both are priced identically), but our panel placed the Raw’s performance at the head of the Instinct clan.

The addition of Graphene allowed Head to trim some excess weight from the Power and the Raw, but they retain a wood core and two Titanal laminates so they don’t end up in the same featherweight country as the women’s Joy models.  This is why the Raw skis like a strong, traditional ski with a flat (unrockered) tail, only revealing its relatively lighter heft when circumstances conspire to lift a ski off the snow.

The Raw out-performed the Power in our estimation as it proved easier to bow into a deep arc and more amenable to drifting to the edge, a subtle skill prized by the expert skier.  This raised our impression of its overall comportment, making it our pick as the best ski in the Instinct litter.

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Super Joy

early rise

Power:  A+

Finesse:  A+

Sidecut:  128/75/108
Radius:  12.5m @ 163cm
Lengths:  143,148,153,158,163,168
Weight:  1482g @ 163cm
MSRP:  $925

super joy

It’s safe to say no other ski has ever achieved the combination of strength and light weight embodied in the Head Super Joy.  Of course, no other women’s skis but Head’s Joy series have the benefit of using Graphene™, the one-atom thick matrix of carbon that is still finding its footing in the industrial world.

With the Super Joy, Head blends Graphene with carbon-reinforced fiberglass in a sandwich around a Koroyd core.  Koroyd is a honeycomb matrix first used by Salomon in the tips of their Rocker2 models for the same reason Head uses it here: it doesn’t weigh anything. The net effect is a ski so light you’d think it would need a tether to keep it from floating away.  Can such an ethereal body as the Super Joy’s possibly hold its own in variable snow conditions?

Oh, yeah.  The carving control is automatic, with a tidy 12.5m sidecut radius in a 163cm, which is more shapely than a World Cup slalom ski.  The snow feel is sensational, for the Super Joy lets the flow of the terrain shine through without being dulled by wads of rubber and metal.

Best of all, the edge grip exceeds anything you thought possible with a ski so light.  “Held a high speed GS turn,” said an awed Fox from Footloose.  “Fun, responsive, sturdy,” noted Kim from Cal Ski Co., the third adjective being the one that pops off the page.  The Peter Glenn crew encountered all kinds of conditions at their Aspen caper, allowing one of their number to explain, “Turns great in the hardpack, slush, crust, mashed potatoes and corn.” 

At the end of the day, the Super Joy defies every expectation. It shouldn’t hold so well. It shouldn’t be so energetic. It certainly shouldn’t go off-piste with such facility.  Be prepared to be proven delightfully wrong on all counts.

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new for 2016Monster 88

early rise

Power:  A-

Finesse:  B+

Sidecut:  133/88/114
Radius:  17.4m @ 177cm
Lengths:  163,170,177,184
Weight:  1947g in 170cm
MSRP:  $800

monster 88

After the standing ovation received by Head’s Joy skis for women when they debuted last season, the first use of Graphene™ in a ski, the market was keen to see what Head would do with the miracle, one-atom thick material in a series of men’s models. 

Perhaps no ski could have satisfied such lofty expectations, but whatever the gulf between imagination and reality (say, where are all our jet-packs, anyway?), suffice it to say the new Monsters take a few runs to figure out.  In the one-run-and-done world of ski testing, this is a fatal flaw.  When, due to heightened interest, dozens of testers submit cards, any doubts about performance will multiply, pulling scores down.

If this sounds like an overlong apology, it is, for the Monster 88 shouldn’t have to sit in the back at the awards ceremony.  In addition to Graphene, all Monsters are encased in two sheets of Titanal so they thirst for speed.  It’s when they’re shackled to a succession of short turns that they protest too much.  Left to exercise their right to charge, they slice through whatever’s in front of them.  Anyone expecting a lightweight pixie stick will be disappointed, but someone with skills and a dab of athleticism will be able to guide it through just about any terrain.

All of the new Monster models from Head are priced at the same MSRP and are likely to be market priced likewise. For our money, the 88 is the most marvelous of the Monsters.

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Total Joy

early rise

Power:  A+

Finesse:  A+

Sidecut:  133/85/113
Radius:  13.6m @ 163cm
Lengths:  148,153,158,163,168
Weight:  1585g @ 163cm
MSRP:  $925

total joy

Last year we placed the Total Joy among our Power Picks and it still has the chops to hang with that crowd, but more impressive than its puissance is its pussycat ease.

The Total Joy is assembled from the lightest materials in the ski-maker’s tool chest, carbon fiber and Koroyd honeycomb, and adds the ultimate in the strength-to-weight contest, Graphene™, carbon one-atom thick and absurdly stronger than steel.  Put it all together in a deep-dish sidecut and you have a kick-ass carving machine that weighs next to nothing. Liz Taylor owned necklaces that weighed more a pair of Total Joys.

We could have plucked superlatives from dozens of test cards like Natalie’s from Powder House, who raved, “Fun, quick, solid, maneuverable, excellent!”  Or Kayla from across the country at Aspen Ski and Board, who came away “super impressed!  Great edge hold, very stable… way more than I expected from this light a ski.  Fun in trees, fun all around!  Very versatile,” she added for emphasis.

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Venturi 95

rocker

Power:  A

Finesse:  A

Sidecut:  140/95/126
Radius:  16m @ 181cm
Lengths:  161,171,181,191
Weight:  2089g @ 181cm
MSRP:  $600

This review is based 2014 test results; the ski is unchanged.

venturi 95

Every ski test card I’ve ever encountered included as its final criterion a catchall bucket such as “Overall Impression,” that tried to capture in one score all the qualities delineated in the previous nine. On a realskiers test card, the one score that says it all is “Finesse/Power balance,” since our fondest wish is to find a ski with unlimited power that’s ridiculously easy to ski.

The Head Venture 95 doesn’t rise quite to that ideal level, but its balance between Power and Finesse properties is nearly perfect. For a ski this heavily rockered to feel so comfortable at speed is counter-intuitive.  The Venturi 95 pulls off this neat trick by using a design all their own that adds a matrix of shock-sucking elastomer covered in a fiberglass shell to both the tip and tail.  It must work, because one doesn’t notice any loose steering once it"s on edge.

Telluride’s Boot Doctor Bob Gleason describes the Venturi 95 as a “confidence-building ski,” getting right to the nugget of what makes the Venturi so fun.  “Accurate, smooth and predictable,” he adds, with “a clean, comfortable ride in varying types of terrain and snow.” 

The narrowest and most versatile of Head’s Big Mountain ski family, the Venturi takes to battered, worked-over snow like a dolphin to a wave. Head knows what the powder skier forgets in his euphoria, that all freshies come to an end, and then it’s back to the groom, like it or not.  The Venturi likes it, for despite its rockered baseline it hasn’t lost its carving skills and isn’t shy about accumulating speed.  Unintimidating to its pilots yet fearless in the face of adversity, the Venturi strikes a near-perfect balance between technical, Power properties like edge grip at speed and here-let-me-do-that-for-you Finesse qualities.

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Collective 105

rocker

Power:  A+

Finesse:  A

Sidecut:  146/105/128
Radius:  17.5m @ 181cm
Lengths:  171,181,191
Weight:  2280g @ 181cm
MSRP:  $700

This review is based on a combination of 2014 and 2015 test results; the ski is unchanged.

collective 105

Head’s phenomenal success as a racing brand overshadows its less lustrous history as a freeride line, and it’s hard to argue otherwise when one side has household names like Lindsay, Bode, Anna and Ted on its roster.  (The old Head Monster series had headline freeride talent such as Johnny, Allison, Jon and Rex, but we digress.) 

The same engineers who equip the Head racing stable design the rest of the line, the Collective 105 included. Perhaps that’s why the Collective deploys the deepest sidecut of any ski in the Big Mountain category. At Head, a ski has to carve; if you want to build it with a waist as wide as a semi, fine, but first it must be capable of etching an arc. 

The Collective earns its highest marks in the most prestigious criterion, Finesse/Power balance.  This grade is as close as we can get to an assurance that the ski possesses technical properties accessible to all.   

One other factor that increases the accessibility of the Collective 105 is its relatively modest price, making it the value leader among our Power picks.

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Big Joy

early rise

Sidecut:   149/110/132
Radius:   14.8m @ 168cm
Lengths:   158,168,178
Weight:   1867g @ 168cm
MSRP:   $750

This review is based on 2014 test results; the ski is unchanged.

big joy

Head’s R&D department owns the rights to use Graphene™, the lightest and strongest material known to man, in skis.  At one atom thick, Graphene won’t lose any “who’s got the lightest stuff?” contest any time soon. With 300 times the strength of steel, wherever Graphene goes, lots of other stuff comes out and the ski is stronger for it.

When selectively deployed along the ski’s length, it affects weight distribution, so on a fat mama like the Big Joy it’s used away from the center, towards the tip and tail.  This makes a ski that’s easier to pivot side to side in the soft stuff, but still strong enough to resist the buffeting the comes with skiing crud. 

The Big Joy is a quiet-riding wood core ski that thanks to Graphene feels like it’s made from pixie dust.  Its light-as-lint weight is complemented by a svelte 14.8m radius sidecut centered by a plump 110mm waist, a combination that creates a ski built for short turns whether you slice ‘em or smear ‘em.

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Cyclic 115

rocker

Power:  A+

Finesse:  A+

Sidecut:  148/113/131
Radius:  19m @ 181cm
Lengths:  171/181/191
Weight:  2386g @ 181cm
MSRP:  $800

cyclic 115

Just because Powder skis lie at the opposite end of the width spectrum from Technical skis, don’t think for a moment Head won’t bring all their technical talents to bear when concocting an obese board. 

Do they use all the highfalutin tech in their World Cup race skis?  Of course not.  Not only would such a move make the skis ungodly heavy, worse yet, the race tech wouldn’t even work. So Head went another direction, embedding a web of shock-absorbing elastomers at tip and tail and encasing it in a fiberglass shell to boost torsional rigidity. 

Called rather unromantically the Tip and Tail Stabilizer System, the method must work, for the Cyclic 115 is rockered to the moon and back yet motors along like it had four-wheel drive.  It does a couple of tricks you’d swear a 115 couldn’t, like slide through bumps or cut a short arc from a highly pitched edge, exiting the turn with a little burst of energy.

Of course as a 115 the Cyclic can smear like a finger painter, but the surprise is how easy it is to get on edge.   You can even go “super-carving” on a low-angle, groomed slope and the Cyclic slinks along on its smiley-face baseline as if this were the most fun it’s ever had.  (It isn’t.)

A lot of fat boys steer with the subtlety of a barge.  The Cyclic is no water nymph either, but it can go all day on a pow day without you ever thinking about changing skis. “So much in one ski,” says the pleasantly stunned Charlie from Peter Glenn.  You can almost hear, in those 5 simple words, the longing for another run.

Scored on 1.00 to 10.00 scale:

early to edge
continuous, accurate carve
rebound/turn finish
stable and accurate at speed
short-radius turns
low speed turns
drift and scrub
off-piste performance
forgiveness/ease
finesse vs. power balance
race
technical ( ♂ ~ ♀ )
frontside ( ♂ ~ ♀ )
all-mountain east ( ♂ ~ ♀ )
all-mountain west ( ♂ ~ ♀ )
big mountain ( ♂ ~ ♀ )
powder